The federal process to implement independent detention oversight under the UN’s OPCAT treaty has again failed. The UN’s SPT has suspended a visit to Australia – which aimed to provide advice on implementing independent detention oversight – because several governments obstructed their work. Australian governments have already missed several deadlines for the implementation of independent detention oversight.

Victoria must establish independent detention oversight. Victoria cannot continue to fail its responsibility to prevent torture because the federal process is not working.

In the last 12 months, 3 Aboriginal people have died in Victoria’s prisons, and a 16 year old Aboriginal boy is being held in an adult prison and subjected to extended periods of solitary confinement. Independent detention oversight is critical to end Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody.

The Victorian Parliament passed legislation recently to enable the SPT’s visit, and many politicians highlighted their commitment to preventing torture. Below are some quotes from the debate:

  • “The government supports the principles of OPCAT… Increased accountability in places of detention will help to safeguard the integrity and transparency of our system” – Sheena Watt MP, 20/9/2022
  • “The reason that the Victorian Andrews Labor government is introducing this legislation is that we are actually supporting the role of the United Nations in monitoring and having some oversight of places of detention, because we do have a belief in human rights and that all people have a right to certain basic standards of dignity and all those sorts of things” – Bronwyn Halfpenny MP, 1/9/2022
  • “OPCAT is certainly part of that toolbox of improving our system” – Fiona Patten MP, 20/9/2022
  • “Australia has always regarded itself—or we would like to regard ourselves—as being one of the stronger, if not one of the strongest, countries when it comes to protecting human rights” – Michael O’Brien MP, 1/9/2022
  • “I have written to the [SPT] urging the committee to inspect Victoria’s two youth justice facilities and once again shine a spotlight on the human rights abuses” – Matthew Bach, 20/9/2022
  • “Whilst torture is illegal in Australia, our history is littered with torturous and degrading practices against vulnerable people in state care or detention… I believe that this is a case where we can make a significant leap forward towards protecting liberty and human rights in Victoria” – David Limbrick MP, 20/9/2022.

The behaviour of other state governments during the SPT’s visit makes it clear that the federal process will not meet Australia’s second deadline in January 2023.

The Victorian government has argued that it needs funding from the federal government to meet its commitment to prevent torture, but the Victorian Government has spent billions of dollars on prison and police in recent year. A small fraction of that spending could be used to establish independent detention oversight that meets Victoria’s obligations under OPCAT.

A 2021 IBAC report found that prison expansion and privatisation are contributing factors to corruption and shocking abuse within Victoria’s Corrections system. This means that Victoria’s politicians should feel an even greater responsibility to implement independent detention oversight.

Independent detention oversight is one of VALS’ key election asks for the upcoming Victorian state election.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS

“It is incredibly disappointing that the UN’s SPT committee was forced to suspend its visit to Australia due to the behaviour of a few recalcitrant state governments.”

“Three Aboriginal people died in Victoria’s prisons in the last 12 months. Earlier this year, at the Coronial Inquest into the passing of Veronica Nelson, there was shocking evidence about the treatment of people in prison and the poor quality of healthcare in custody. It’s clear the current oversight system is not working.”

“Many Victorian politicians have gone on the record to highlight the importance of OPCAT and independent detention oversight.”

“Victoria’s commitment to preventing torture should not be limited or abandoned because of the failing federal process.”

“Victoria has increased spending on prisons and police at double the rate of other states over the last decade. If they have money to build more and bigger prisons, then they have the responsibility to spend some of that money ensuring people are not tortured in those prisons.”

“Victoria should show leadership and establish world class independent detention oversight. They have a responsibility to get this right and get it done quickly.”

GLOSSARY

OPCAT – Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

SPT – Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment