National Security

No offenders redetained under new law

February 13, 2024

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Olivia Ireland and Angus Thompson

The Age

None of the 149 detainees released after the landmark High Court ruling outlawing indefinite immigration detention have been locked up again under laws rushed through parliament last December to allow high-risk offenders to be returned to custody.

Documents tabled in the Senate on Monday reveal that of the 149 freed detainees, seven had previously been convicted of murder or attempted murder, 37 of sexual offences and 72 of assault and violent offending, kidnapping or armed robbery.

Other crimes included domestic violence and stalking, serious drug offending, people smuggling or crimes of serious international concern. They were being held in immigration detention until the High Court’s November 8 ruling forced the government to release them.

The government in December rushed through parliament preventative detention laws to refer the “worst of the worst'' of the cohort, made up of non-citizens who cannot be deported, to judges to decide if they still posed a risk to the community and should be redetained.

Coalition home affairs spokesman James Paterson on Monday accused the government of a “shocking failure” on community safety and national security after Senate estimates heard no applications had been made to date.

But Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said officials had to meet a high threshold before referring applications to lock up former detainees and it was unrealistic to expect them to be turned around in the two months since the regime began.

“We’ve been working towards putting together applications for the … most serious offenders and we’ll keep working closely with state and territory law enforcement on these applications,” said Watt, who was answering questions on behalf of Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.

“We want to get it right, we don’t want to be defeated in a court.”

Senate estimates also heard there were people due to be released from prison who would have gone into immigration detention were it not for the High Court decision.

“There are people in the prison environment who are scheduled for release that may meet the new test,” a Home Affairs official said.

While none of the released cohort have been redetained under the preventative detention laws, the documents showed six had been arrested and charged with offences for breaching their visa conditions as of February 1. Another 18 had been charged by state and territory police.

Paterson described the tabled information as “the document that the government didn’t want the public to see”.

“What was the point of rushing that legislation through before Christmas if the government planned to wait two months before even using it, and still to this day, have not made a single application to a court to have any of these high-risk offenders redetained to take them off the streets?” Paterson said.

Faced with a barrage of questions from the opposition over the lack of applications for preventative detention during question time on Monday, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the government had put in place a range of processes to keep the community safe.

“We also have now four layers of protection, including stringent visa conditions, electronic monitoring and curfew arrangements, as well as preventative arrangements,” he said.

The tabled information revealed 36 of the 149 freed detainees were not required to wear electronic monitoring bracelets imposed on the rest under laws passed last year.

Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram told Senate estimates the board set up by the government to advise on whether former detainees should be redetained – which includes former Victoria Police commissioner Graham Ashton and former Queensland Police deputy commissioner Peter Martin – had met seven times since December, most recently on January 25.

Asked whether Home Affairs was also conducting a review of immigration vetting, department secretary Stephanie Foster said it had been “looking at our system end to end … so that we can prevent having people who are going to cause risk”.

“And so, it may be that there are ways that we can relook at, say, the granting of visas in particular cases,” she said.

Sixty of the released detainees are living in NSW, while Victoria has 40, Queensland and Western Australia have 20 and the ACT and South Australia have fewer than 10. As of December 31, it had cost the government more than $13 million to manage them.

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