By Chris Hook
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has attacked the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC), accusing it of uninformed
speculation and hearsay over comments made in an ACSJC article on immigration detention centres.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock makes the claims in a letter to the just-published May edition of the
ACSJC’s Justice Trends newsletter. The article the minister objects to appeared in the February edition of Justice Trends.
The article dealt with concerns over the treatment of asylum seekers, including
involuntary sedation of asylum seekers, victimisation and general abuse of asylum seekers, as well as the manner in which accusations of child sexual abuse in the detention centres are handled.
sexual abuse at the detention centre in the remote South Australian town of Woomera sparked an internal inquiry by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs last year.
A subsequent report,
released in March, found instances where allegations of abuse were not dealt with according to legislative, departmental or even detention centre management instructions. The report made 16 recommendations for
improvements – all accepted by Minister Ruddock.
In addition, a Commonwealth Ombudsman’s investigation lasting 18 months and released just days after the departmental inquiry, also raised serious concerns
about deficiencies in the treatment of asylum seekers.
Despite this, Minister Ruddock wrote to Justice Trends just three weeks after the two reports were released, accusing the ACSJC of “high levels of
uninformed speculation, hearsay and assumption”, and “emotionally charged” statements.
Minister Ruddock also claimed that detention centre facilities were better than many Australians enjoyed in their own
ACSJC director, Sandie Cornish said she was both surprised and horrified at the minister’s response to the article.
Ms Cornish repudiated the minister’s statements, saying they were “profoundly
“Now we have to wonder how serious the minister is about reforms (resulting from the recommendations),” said Ms Cornish.
Dale West, director of South Australian Centacare, whose staff
first raised the abuse allegations following counselling of Woomera detention centre staff, said Minister Ruddock’s claim that detention centre facilities were better than those enjoyed by many Australian homes were
He said the claim was offensive to those interned in the centres and added that the more punitive the centres became the more those interned would take protest action like the riots seen at West
Australia’s Curtin detention centre in the past few weeks.
In the wake of the riots, Broome’s diocesan office of Justice, Ecology and Peace has called for the Federal Government to adopt a new approach to the
treatment of asylum seekers.
“Clearly the current system is not working,” said office coordinator Br Shane Wood.
“If people who are anxiously waiting a favourable outcome to their case are driven to
undertake actions that could clearly jeopardise that outcome, surely it is a sign that they are desperate.
“These people are housed in a very confined area, in a very harsh climate in close proximity to
people they would not normally associate with. They are kept in these conditions for long periods of time with little or no contact with the outside world. Why are we surprised that frustration is the result?” said