The AHRC has called for an overhaul of Australia’s immigration detention system.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has issued a series of recommendations for the Albanese government to change the nation’s violent immigration detention policies. 

The commission said the system should be considered only as a last resort.

In its detailed report following an inspection of the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia (PDF), the AHRC highlighted systemic issues and made 33 recommendations, aimed at addressing the various concerns with safety, healthcare, and the legality of current practices.

Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay noted the critical state of the system, the increasing resemblance of immigration detention environments to penal institutions, and the facilities’ violence and poor mental health outcomes.

One of the most pressing issues raised was the indefinite and mandatory nature of detention.

The AHRC report advocates for a shift towards a system where detention is a last resort, limited in time, and used only when necessary for public safety or to prevent absconding. 

This approach aligns with international human rights standards, aiming to treat all detainees with humanity and respect.

The Department of Home Affairs, in response, rejected several recommendations, including those pertaining to the expansion of search powers and the improvement of healthcare services. 

While the government says it accepts some recommendations, it has indicated that significant changes would require additional resources or further governmental review.

The report also documented the detainees’ experiences, many of whom described feeling unsafe and having less access to programs that they had seen in the prison system. 

The AHRC called for the decommissioning of inadequate low-security compounds at Yongah Hill and the introduction of better facilities to reduce the risk of criminal behaviour.

Despite these challenges, some positive steps were noted, such as the ongoing review of alternatives to held detention, including community-based arrangements and the establishment of an independent review panel to consider the release of low-risk detainees.

The report detailed an alarming increase in drug-related incidents and other criminal behaviours, exacerbated by a lack of suitable healthcare services, especially for mental health and trauma. 

The report found inadequate search powers played a role in the proliferation of these issues too. The AHRC criticised the current legislation, which restricts the ability of staff to conduct comprehensive searches necessary to control contraband effectively. 

It proposed amendments to allow more targeted personal and room searches when there is reasonable suspicion of contraband concealment.

The Albanese government has expressed its commitment to treating immigration detention as a measure of last resort. 

It has not taken up the broader call for substantive legal and operational reforms to ensure the system's alignment with Australia’s human rights obligations.