Mobile Phones Bill – the Senate will oppose this Bill!

October:  the news is in!  The Government does not have the numbers in the Senate to pass this Bill.  Senator Jacqui Lambie had the final casting vote.  She put out a call on  her website and over 100,000 people  responded with 96% saying NO!  She listened.

Thank you Greens Senators, ALP Senators, Senator Rex Patrick, Senator Stirling Griff and Senator Jacqui Lambie.  Thank you to the thousands of people who wrote, called, made submissions, signed petitions, to show our outrage that this Bill would even be considered.


We’ve used the opportunity to tell Senator Jacqui Lambie how to vote.  Now it’s time to contact your State Senators, to ask them to oppose this Bill.  If you’ve written already, write again.  If you’ve called already, call again!

The Government is trying to take even more punitive action against refugees in detention. Please take action. We call on RAR groups, members and supporters, to:

  • sign the petition from ASRC
  • sign the petition from Get Up
  • sign the petition from #GameOver
  • Write a letter to your local paper, explaining to the community what is proposed and why it is wrong (many Australians genuinely don’t know what is happening in immigration detention centres.)
  • Call your Member of Parliament
  • Write to Senators in your State or Territory.

RAR has made a submission, based on the points we outline here.  The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will report back on 8 August, 2020.  So we can use the next two months to let our politicians and local newspapers know why we oppose this Bill.

You can find copies of the submissions here.  All submissions, except for the Serco submission, were opposed to the proposed changes.

Here is information about the Bill and why we oppose it.

MIGRATION AMENDMENT (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) BILL 2020

This Bill was originally introduced in 2017 but was not voted on in the House of Representatives and never tabled in the Senate. Now the Government has introduced it again. The Bill will give ‘authorised officers’ (i.e Australian Border Force or contractors such as Serco) the powers to search and remove ‘prohibited items’ from detainees. While the Government talks about contraband items such as drugs, it also applies to mobile phones and internet-capable devices.

The Government maintains that there are increasing numbers of people with a criminal background in immigration detention facilities, because it has changed section 501 of the Migration Act. This applies to people sentenced to prison for 12 months or more. Yet immigration detention is administrative in character – you only go to these facilities if you do not meet visa requirements, not because you have committed a criminal offense. Housing detainees with people of criminal background should never have occurred and is part of a disturbing trend to criminalise asylum seeking activities.

Here is a summary of the Bill, taken from Parliament House website

“Amends the Migration Act 1958 to: enable the minister to determine, by legislative instrument, prohibited things in relation to immigration detention facilities and detainees; enable authorised officers and assistants to search Commonwealth immigration detention facilities without a warrant; strengthen the search and seizure and screening powers of authorised officers; and enable the minister to issue binding written directions to authorised officers in relation to the exercise of their seizure powers.”

Ban on mobile phones in immigration detention unnecessary, unjustified and harmful

The Refugee Council of Australia speaks out against this proposed Bill

RAR objects to this Bill for a number of reasons:

  1. Mobile phones are an essential life-line for refugees and people seeking asylum who are detained in these facilities.
    • Many members of RAR visit people in immigration detention regularly and know how vital mobile phones are to the well-being of detainees. Often this is their only connection to family, friends and access to lawyers and refugee support services. The impact on the mental health of refugees and asylum seekers in immigration detention, many of whom have spent years incarcerated, of this Bill will be devastating.
    • Men detained in APODs, such as the Mantra in Melbourne and the Kangaroo Point Hotel in Brisbane have been there for nine months, awaiting medical treatment. They spend 23 hours a day in their rooms. Their mobile phones are a source of entertainment, as well as video contact with their families.

Source: Buzzfeed: I WhatsApped Refugees To Ask Why They’re So Freaked Out About The Government Taking Their Phones Away

Amin:  I use my phone to search the internet, read books and most importantly to video call my family and my little son to see them.

He’s just 9 years old. When I left Iran, he was 2 years old.

Yes, I’m trying my best to make him know me as his father. I’m trying to show him myself in video calls so he will recognise me as his father.

    • The ability to use mobile phones to record abuses of authority and to call advocates is critical for detainees. It is the ONLY way detainees can have a voice, and not be totally controlled by ABF or Serco guards.
  1. The Bill does not distinguish between convicted criminals and refugees and asylum seekers who are innocent and vulnerable people to whom we owe protection under various international conventions we are signatories to. Coercive powers in this Bill are normally only applied to criminals. Legal experts assert that it is of paramount importance that administrative detention is not of a punitive nature.
  2. Minister Tudge said in the second reading of the Bill: “While not introducing a blanket ban on mobile phones in detention, we are proposing to allow the minister to direct officers to seize mobile phones from certain categories of people, while providing officers with the discretion to search and seize for mobile phones in other circumstances”
    The discretionary powers given to ‘authorised officers’ is ill defined. It is too far-reaching and open to abuse, particularly given that these powers can be delegated to Serco guards.
  3. There is no requirement for there to be at least the minimum of a suspicion to be established before the coercive powers of the Bill are used. So it is again open to abuse.
  4. There is not sufficient justification for the broad and non-specific changes proposed. The Government has not demonstrated the need for these changes, for a population of 1,373 detainees (as at 31 March 2020). RAR believes that these changes are to further disempower detainees and deprive them of what little contact they have with people beyond the detention facility.
  5. Searches undertaken of detainees should adhere to the standards recommended by the Australian Human Rights Commission, as appears not to be the case in the Bill. Use of strip searches and detector dogs should only occur in exceptional circumstances with the protocols to do so clearly defined and adhered to.