Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gillard softens immigration detention policy

JULIA Gillard has dramatically altered the government's policy on asylum-seekers, opening two more detention centres to house 2000 would-be refugees.

The PM has bowed to pressure to release children and their families into the community.

As Australia's detention centre network nears breaking point, with more than 5200 asylum-seekers and crew currently under guard, the Prime Minister yesterday announced plans for new centres in Northam, northeast of Perth, and Inverbrackie, in the Adelaide Hills.

Ms Gillard denied the plans indicated the government had ditched its regional approach to processing asylum-seekers. She said the new centres represented a short-term solution and would allow the closure of temporary detention housing currently being used, including tents and motels.

The decision to release children and their families into communities - effectively subcontracting their day-to-day care to church groups and non-government organisations - was welcomed by the Greens and refugee advocacy groups, who had fought a vigorous campaign to have minors released from detention. The changes will be rolled out over the next eight months.

The new detention centre at Northam will house about 1500 men, while the Inverbrackie facility will be used for about 400 members of family groups. The Northam centre will cost $164.5 million and Inverbrackie $9.7m. Some of this funding has already been provided in the budget and the July economic statement. The government said the new funding of $54.9m would be offset by cuts to follow in other areas.

Ms Gillard said the government was also prepared to use the 11 Mile Antenna Farm outside Darwin and further expand the Melbourne immigration transit accommodation if numbers of unauthorised arrivals continued to swell.

The Rudd government's decision in March to freeze new Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims for six and three months respectively and a fall in the proportion of applicants accepted as refugees have led to serious bottlenecks in the detention system. Ms Gillard said the new centres would lead to the closure of inappropriate detention housing, including on Christmas Island and the use of tents. "I don't think it's the Australian way to have kids behind razor wire in the hope that will be a deterrent," she said.

The Prime Minister said the government would continue to pursue a regional solution to the rising number of asylum-seekers coming to Australia. "But in the short term, these measures will give the Department of Immigration a chance to decommission inappropriate accommodation," Ms Gillard said, highlighting the use of temporary tents as accommodation on Christmas Island and motels.

It is not clear exactly how many asylum-seekers will be housed in the community, but with 738 minors in detention - about half of whom arrived as part of a family group - the number is likely to exceed 1000 by June next year.

Church and non-government organisations will be expected to provide accommodation for those under their care, as well as basic services that will include ensuring children are able to attend school.

Asylum-seekers will be subject to reporting requirements to ensure they do not abscond. They will be eligible for a Centrelink payment, under the asylum-seeker assistance scheme, to cover day-to-day living expenses. Government sources told The Australian similar schemes had been trialled with very low absconding rates.

The Prime Minister denied the government's backdown on children in detention was in response to negotiations with the Greens.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it would cost about the same amount to have children and families housed in the community as in detention centres. Refugee advocate Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said yesterday's changes were "long overdue". She said immigration detention put more stress on asylum-seekers, particularly children. "The parents are doing their best to maintain an air of normality, against the odds," Ms Curr said. "(But) if you've got a guard walking into the bedroom, counting the heads of your children, it's very hard to pretend this is normal."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said more beds would not stop more boats, and condemned the decision to open more centres.

When asked about the Coalition's position on releasing children from detention centres, Mr Morrison said that if the Coalition were in power, they would all be housed in Nauru.

He said he believed Labor was preparing to overuse the provisions in the Migration Act with its changes. "These provisions were intended to deal with exceptional cases," he said. "They will now be used for a broad-scale exodus for hundreds of adults as well as minors from detention places."

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the decision to remove children and unaccompanied minors and some family members from immigration detention was "testament to the long public campaign by the Greens, key NGOs and concerned members of the community". But she expressed concern that their removal from detention was entirely up to a minister's discretion, and that it would take too long to release the children.

"No new detention centres should be built until there is a legislated time limit placed on the holding of asylum-seekers in detention," she said.


Muslim woman removes niqab for Perth fraud trial -- after men ejected from court

A MUSLIM woman who sparked a national debate when she asked if she could give evidence in a Perth court wearing a niqab, has uncovered her face to give evidence in a fraud trial. Tasneem, whose last name has been suppressed by the Perth District Court, gave evidence for just 15 minutes on Monday in the trial of Anwar Sayed.

Sayed is accused of falsifying student numbers at the Muslim Ladies College of Australia in Kenwick, in Perth's south, to fraudulently obtain part of $1.125 million the school received in state and federal government grants.

The 50-year-old, from nearby Canningvale, is the director of Muslim Link Australia, which runs the school.

He allegedly knowingly signed a declaration that in the 2006/07 census year, more than 180 students were enrolled in the school when there were 80 to 100 fewer than that. The school received about $164,000 from the state government and about $961,000 from the federal government.

Tasneem, 36, has worn a niqab since the age of 17 and wanted to wear it while giving evidence in the trial.

But Judge Shauna Deane in August ruled she must remove the niqab so that the jury could read her facial expressions.

Tasneem only removes the niqab when she visits the doctor and dentist, at customs in airports and when she has her driver's licence photograph taken.

Otherwise, the only males to see her without it are her husband, children and blood relatives.

Judge Deane on Friday ruled that to make it easier for Tasneem to give evidence comfortably, men would be removed from the court. The only men allowed in the courtroom while she gave her evidence were male jurors, the judge's usher, Sayed and the lawyers.

While female journalists were allowed to stay in the court to report on Tasneem's evidence, male journalists were ejected.

A lawyer representing Network Ten and the Seven and Nine networks made an application on Friday to alter the order so that male journalists could remain in court, but the application was rejected.

Giving evidence via video link on Monday, Tasneem appeared comfortable, flanked by a security person and a support person, both of whom were female.

During her brief evidence she explained that she worked at the school as an Islamic studies teacher for two hours a day, five days a week.

Tasneem said that "from time to time" some students would go overseas on holiday or to visit family, mostly in Afghanistan, so it was possible they were enrolled at the school, but did not attend for long periods of time.


Bureaucracy burns down a house

The bureaucrats concerned could benefit from a bullet in the head

NSW Fire Brigade officers had to sit in their station and do nothing as a house burned down just 10 minutes away because of a farcical rule.

As the house burned at Port Macquarie on September 11, the NSWFB members, who were ready to respond, were grounded by their superiors as the home was in the jurisdiction of the Rural Fire Service.

But it took the local North Shore rural brigade more than 15 minutes to arrive and another 30 minutes for support units to arrive from Lake Cathie, Pembroke and Telegraph Point. In the meantime, the fire had gutted the Riverside Drive house.

The Daily Telegraph has been told archaic laws had kept the urban firefighters inside their station.

Ashley Grady and her mum Susan lost everything in the blaze. Ashley, 19, said yesterday she could not understand why firefighters would not be sent if they were available. "Yes I have heard about what happened. It's disappointing," she said.

A NSWFB spokeswoman said "in line with agreed protocols, the RFS was notified of the call, because the house was located in an RFS fire district". But she said "additional resources can be provided by either agency upon request".


Queensland police communications centre can't cope with calls

There's lots of cops driving desks. How about putting some of them on the phone?

CALLS for help to Queensland police are going unanswered because the state's main communications centre is understaffed. Frustrated operators say dozens of callers each day are forced to wait in long queues or fail to get through to the QPS call centre in Brisbane because overstretched operators cannot cope with surging demand.

The delays affect callers reporting incidents ranging from burglaries and noise complaints to car crashes.

Queensland police yesterday admitted the situation was "not ideal", but said life-threatening triple-0 calls were still being answered promptly. [Not always]

Figures provided by the QPS show the Police Communications Centre handled more than 1100 calls a day last year, including 480 to the triple-0 number. The statistics represent a 50 per cent increase on 2005, yet staffing levels have not kept up, improving just 20 per cent in the same period. The Courier-Mail has learnt the PCC regularly operates with a staff of just 12 officers and radio operators – six fewer than the agreed minimum staffing level.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said delays in answering calls could "cost lives". "It is critical that the safety of the public is put first when staffing levels for communication centres are determined," he said.

On a busy shift, call takers can handle more than 160 calls each. At the request of Inspector Paul Fogg, the QPS recently installed a massage chair in the centre's meal room.

But frustrated officers said it was simply impossible to answer all calls with many going unanswered or waiting up to half an hour in phone queues. "At one point on New Year's Eve, we had 20 triple-0 calls in a queue. We weren't able to answer any of them on the first presentation," an officer said.

"One caller waited 28 minutes to be answered (on the normal line). Most people wouldn't have the patience, but this was from a police officer who wanted to see how long it would take."

A QPS spokesman said triple-0 calls were given priority by the PCC which meant there could be "some delay in answering non-urgent calls". "On average, 90 per cent of triple-0 calls are answered within nine seconds of being presented to the PCC," he said.


More on 000 calls

A Morningside family bore the brunt of staff shortages at the weekend when an emergency call to police about a confrontation with a group of drunken teenagers in their yard failed to raise a response.

Dennis Trovas said his three young children were asleep inside his home on Saturday night when his fiancee called triple-0, fearing the youths outside were about to bash him.

"My fiancee was pretty much terrified at the time and I'd assumed we'd get a quick response," he said. "When no one arrived she rang Morningside station and was put through to Mount Gravatt. "They told us to go to Morningside station on Monday morning and make a complaint then."

A Queensland Police Service spokeswoman said police had responded to the call but were diverted to another incident.

A supervisor from Morningside station contacted Mr Trovas yesterday to address his concerns about the lack of a police response, a police spokeswoman said.

"In an effort to prevent further incidents, local police will endeavour to conduct patrols around these streets for people causing incidents," the spokeswoman said.

In a separate incident, a man from Cairns in far north Queensland, who did not want to be named, said he and his wife waited 40 minutes for police after calling triple-0 during a terrifying home disturbance – despite living only 500m from the Smithfield Police Station.

The Courier-Mail revealed earlier this year that police were taking an average of 37 minutes to begin driving to crimes across Queensland.



Paul said...

You know, with the increasing failure of policing (except with regard to collection of fine revenue), there exists a case for American-style gun ownership laws in this country for our own self-defence.

Anonymous said...

We really dig the silver statue/Balthasar check out them.

Anonymous said...

There are a great number of great jobs out there, particularly for those
that have some work experience.