On November 23rd, the Senate voted to pass four key amendments to the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2015 put forward by The Australian Greens' Immigration spokesperson Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young.
1. Children out of detention
All children currently in closed immigration detention within Australia must be released and placed in the community with their parents.
Children (and their parents) currently in Australian detention centres back from Nauru (i.e. for medical treatment, while they await judgement in the HCA case) must also be placed in the Australian community while they are in Australia. This does not mean they can't be sent back to Nauru.
Getting kids out of detention and off Nauru remains one of our main priorities. While the amendments passed yesterday apply to children in Australian detention centres, we are planning on introducing a Bill shortly that aims to address the situation on Nauru.
2. Mandatory reporting of abuse
All child abuse and other assaults witnessed in detention centres must be reported to the relevant, independent authorities.. A person cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for disclosing information if they believe it is in the public interest to do so. This extends to Department staff and staff contacted by the Department working in Australia and on Nauru and Manus Island - such as Transfield staff, Wilson staff, medical staff, teachers etc.
Currently departmental staff are required to report abuse only to the department and can be liable for 2 years imprisonment if they disclose it to an independent authority or external source.
3. Media Access
All reasonable requests for access to detention centres, including those on Nauru and Manus Island, made by the media must be granted and reasons for any refusals must be tabled by the Minister.
4. Reversal of secrecy provisions
Section 42 of the recently-passed Border Force Act made it a criminal offence for Departmental staff and contractors, including Doctors, to disclose knowledge acquired in their capacity of working for the Department.
This amendment makes it clear that disclosure of matters that are in the public interest are lawful, despite any law or contractual provision to the contrary.
Frequently asked questions
1) What happens next?
The Bill (with amendments) now goes back down to the House of Reps which must then pass it with a majority vote for it to become law.
2) Will the children be released with their parents?
Yes - including all immediate family members. Maintaining the family unity is paramount.
3) What if the parents are being held in detention because of valid security concerns? Will the children be separated from their parent/s?
The Immigration Minister must be satisfied that there is no threat to national security by placing a particular family in the community.
The vast majority of children currently in detention do not have parents who have been subjected to an adverse security threat by ASIO.
Where this is the case, the child can still be placed in the community with one of the parents, or the family can decide to remain in closed detention as a family unit.
4) What about the children who are here from Nauru for medical reasons? Will they be sent back?
Children (and their parents) currently in Australian detention centres back from Nauru (i.e. for medical treatment) must also be placed in the Australian community while they are in Australia. This does not mean they can't be sent back to Nauru.
5) Will their parents be permitted to work in the community?
In most cases, no.
6) How many kids are currently being held in detention onshore in Australia at the moment?
112 according to the most recent report from the Department of Immigration which can be found here.
7) Why doesn't this include children on Nauru?
Getting children off Nauru remains one the highest priorities. However, due to the Government's current policies, advocates are only able to take one step at time to release all children. Passing these amendments through the Senate is a huge step, and we must keep up the pressure now to get them passed through the House of Reps.
We are planning on introducing a Bill shortly that aims to address the situation on Nauru.
8) When will this be put before the House of Reps?
There is no definite time, but it could be very soon - therefore it is essential that we call on the Prime Minister not to vote to keep kids locked up.
9) What about everyone else in detention? Don't we want everyone to be freed?
Yes; this is a first and important step that we hope to build upon.
10) What will happen when they are released? Where will they go? What is a 'residence determination'?
If the House of Reps passes the amendments, the Minister will have a maximum of 30 days to place children in the community with their families.
A residence determination allows children and their family to live in the community in residential housing while their claims for protection are processed. It is an alternative to immigration detention - service providers (such as Red Cross) assist families to find housing and access services, and children can attend school. It allows for some form of normal family life - for example, families may cook their evening meal together.
There's no reason these families cannot live in community detention during this time. Department officers regularly check in with the families while they are in community - in this sense, it is kind of like parole.
11) Why by Christmas?
The goal to have all children out of onshore detention by Christmas is one that is important as, soon before Christmas, the parliament goes into recess for many weeks.
12) What do we do now?
Now we must increase the pressure on PM Turnbull and our local representatives to get these amendments through the House of Reps and into law.
You can do this by writing to PM Turnbull at https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm
And your local MP here: