Thursday, 14 May 2020
Media release

Stronger search and seizure powers for immigration detention

The Morrison Government will today introduce legislation that will make Australia’s immigration detention centres safer for detainees, staff, visitors and the public.

The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 will give Australian Border Force officers strengthened powers, including to search for and seize illegal drugs and other items that put at risk the health, safety or security of people in immigration detention.

Under current legislation, officers are not legally able to search for or confiscate dangerous items, such as illicit drugs, child abuse material or extremist material.

Officers must rely on local police or the Australia Federal Police to attend the facility to search for and seize the items.

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said current legislation is inadequate to manage the large number of detainees who have a criminal history and who seek to continue their criminality while in detention.

“As we cancel the visas of more foreign criminals, more end up in immigration detention and current powers are not adequate to keep those facilities safe,” Mr Tudge said.

“These are people who often have a history of child sex abuse, violence and drug use and many have links to criminal gangs such as bikies and organised crime.

“Currently a detainee could have a bag of cocaine, instructions on how to build a bomb, or child exploitation images in their room, and the ABF would be powerless to seize it – clearly this is unacceptable.”

There are currently 1400 people in immigration detention, down from a record 10,200 in July 2013 under Labor. More than 60 per cent of those currently in detention have a criminal history.

Between 1 January 2020 and 30 April 2020, 332 incidents of contraband have been detected in immigration detention facilities. This includes improvised weapons, illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The Bill will also set up a framework to allow the Minister to prohibit items from immigration detention.

Mobile phones, tablets and other internet-enabled devices will be listed as prohibited items, meaning officers can seize them if they are being used for criminal activity or because they are putting at risk the health, safety or security of persons in the immigration detention facility.

Mobiles phones have been used by detainees to coordinate escapes, riots and attempted hits. They have been used to smuggle illegal drugs, access child exploitation and extremist propaganda videos, and threaten and intimidate staff.