Villawood ban on UNO, scrabble and home cooked meals

Federal MP for Macquarie Susan Templeman has spoken out in Parliament about her concerns about proposed government legislation which would see mobile phones banned and other ‘draconian’ measures brought into immigration and transit centres.

The proposed Migration Amendment Bill amends the Migration Act of 1971 to allow the Immigration and Home Affairs Minister to determine ‘a thing’ as prohibited within immigration detention facilities. It strengthens screening and seizure powers – including the use of detector dogs for screening detainees and visitors.

“This Bill will give the broadest possible powers to the [Immigration and Home Affairs] Minister [Peter Dutton], allowing him to ban items in detention, to conduct searches and to change the rules at whim,” Ms Templeman said in Parliament last month, one of a dozen MPs who spoke against the proposal.

“The measures in the Bill are disproportionate to the stated risks ...[it] further worsens the conditions of people who’ve undergone more pain or suffering than most of us can fathom. In a time where we should be restoring the human rights to those in detention, this seeks to demolish them.”

It’s a move that is supported by Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group [BMRSFG] who fought against the Bill which has now passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting consideration by the Senate.

Members of the BMRSG visit the Villawood Detention Centre weekly and have already witnessed tougher security measures at the centre.

Deputy chairperson, Joy Connor, said late last year their group was told they could no longer visit multiple detainees or bring home cooked meals in. Games like scrabble and Uno are now also banned items at the centre, she said.

“Already draconian procedures are making life even more miserable for detainees [and] have destroyed all normality,” Mrs Connor said.

“Previously visitors could visit up to four people a time with 24 hours notice and bring in home cooked food and play games such as UNO and scrabble. Families who were separated by the father being kept in detention could get together and eat as a family, little children could bond with their dad and visitors could bring a sense of normality and fun to the grim reality of detention. 

“Wives and friends without English language and computer skills cannot cope with the rigorous 11 page online document which has to be filled in seven days ahead of any visit.”

But a media spokeswoman from Mr Dutton’s office denied that board games were a banned item and said “decisions to allow certain items into the detention centre is made on a case-by-case basis by an appropriate ABF [Australian Border Force] officer and in addition to this, board games are provided by the centre”.

She said the crackdown on home made food was introduced in September for food safety reasons but security was also an issue as some visitors had used various food items to “smuggle contraband into detention centres”.

The spokeswoman said phones were dangerous in the centres as they had recent evidence one detainee had tried to organise a contract killing on another detainee through the use of a mobile phone.

The Bill also prohibits narcotic drugs and child pornography in detention centres.

“These measures are required to address the significant shift in the composition of the cohort held in immigration detention facilities. 

“Immigration detention facilities now accommodate an increasing number of higher risk detainees (over 70 per cent of detainees have a high risk rating or above) awaiting removal, including child sex offenders and members of outlaw motorcycle gangs and other organised crime groups,” she said.

Ms Templeman said the Law Council of Australia, Legal Aid New South Wales, the Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International had all expressed concerns about the Bill.