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Question regarding mental health services in immigration detention

23/11/10
Asylum Seekers

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (2.36 pm)-My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Carr. Given recent reports of an increase in self-harm by asylum seekers and the two suicides at the Villawood detention centre in recent weeks, will the government commit to reviewing the mental health services currently provided in immigration detention facilities as a priority?

 Senator CARR-I thank the senator for her question. I can confirm that there have been a number of incidents at a number of immigration centres of recent times. There have been well-publicised issues. The government is obviously very concerned about people who are undertaking actions of self-harm. However, the government has provided an extensive array of services to help people through these difficult periods and is obviously very concerned to ensure that the welfare of people that are kept in detention is maintained at the highest level. The government of course does not in any way condone actions of self-harm undertaken by people that are held in detention. We are concerned to ensure that the mental health of detainees is protected.

The advice that I have been given is that appropriate support is being provided to ensure that those objectives are being met.

 

Honourable senators interjecting-

 

Senator HANSON-YOUNG-I will take that as a no, that the government is not committed to reviewing the mental health services. That was the direct question I asked and the minister did not respond. Mr President, I have a supplementary question; perhaps in his answer the minister might like to clarify. Last week Dr Louise Newman, who heads an expert panel advising the government, questioned whether Australia should be accountable for some of the damage that immigration detention causes people. Given that we have seen the number of incidents of self-harm increase on Christmas Island and in mainland detention centres, will the government commit to a review of mental health services?

 

Senator CARR-The government does have a mental health advisory group who provide advice to the government on these matters. As Minister Bowen has stated, the government has suitable healthcare programs in detention facilities. I am advised that, in light of the increasing number of people in immigration detention and concerns that this may result in increasing numbers of clients experiencing mental health issues, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has increased mental health support at places of immigration detention. The advice that I have is that the minister is confident that the range of healthcare services, including mental health support, currently available to people who are in immigration detention centres is superior to that provided in the past while remaining commensurate with those available within the broader Australian community. The government is concerned about these issues and is providing the necessary support-

 

(Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting-

 

Senator HANSON-YOUNG-Mr President, I have a further supplementary question. I must say I do find

it astonishing when we are talking about issues of self harm and suicide that people continue to heckle across the chamber. Some people who have already been found to be in genuine need of protection, who have already been found to be refugees, are still in detention. What duty of care does the government have for those who have already been found to be in genuine need of protection and remain in immigration detention, to ensure that that prolonged detention does not impact on their mental health? What is the duty of care?

 

Senator CARR-The senator is obviously concerned about these issues, as is the government. The

government is providing, as I have already indicated to the Senate, a higher level of support for detainees, including on questions of mental health support, at a superior rate to that in the past and it remains commensurate with that available in the broader Australian community. The government does have a duty of care and is exercising that duty of care by providing the necessary support to ensure that detainees aregiven propermedical support. We are concerned and we provide advice through health experts such as the Detention Health Advisory Group to ensure that detention health policies for people in immigration detention are informed by evidence and based on the very best practice available.

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