Australian Greens spokesperson for legal affairs Senator Penny Wright has moved a motion to implement greater scrutiny of places where people are detained in Australia, including jails, police lock ups and psychiatric facilities.
Senator Wright has called on the Government and the Opposition to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) – which Australian signed up to in 2009.
Senator Wright said that ratifying the Optional Protocol would signal that Australia is serious about ensuring people held in detention are not subject to sexual abuse or other cruel or inhumane treatment while they are out of public sight.
“OPCAT offers the hope that, regardless of the political climate, we in Australia will not authorise, permit, facilitate or condone the type of treatment that is outlawed by the Convention Against Torture,” Senator Wright said.
“In recent times we have seen deaths in custody, allegations of restraint and sexual abuse and other breaches of basic human rights. The Optional Protocol would allow independent and impartial bodies to monitor conditions where people are detained, and expose abuses.
“We have seen time and time again that when people are “out of sight, out of mind” it can lead to egregious harm.
“ OPCAT would provide legal protections for some of the most overlooked and powerless people in Australia, and enable professionals such as doctors, lawyers and journalists to adhere to their ethical obligations to expose any wrongdoing they become aware of.
Once ratified, OPCAT would mandate independent bodies to visit places of detention, interview detainees and employees and report on their findings, having regard to international human rights obligations that Australia assumed voluntarily.
“We don’t have to look far for a success story. Across the Tasman, New Zealand implemented the OPCAT in 2007 and it has been very successful, with real “buy-in” from staff in the institutions being monitored. It has even led to some cost savings in their prisons.