24 October 2022

Face off between United Nations and NSW Govt as inspectors denied access to Queanbeyan Courthouse cells

| Claire Fenwicke
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Queanbeyan Local Court

UN representatives were denied access to Queanbeyan Courthouse cells on Tuesday night (18 October). Photo: File.

A United Nations (UN) delegation has suspended its visit to Australia after it was refused access to Queanbeyan Courthouse cells when they arrived for a surprise inspection.

A Corrective Services spokesperson said the group of seven representatives was turned away last Tuesday night (18 October) as they “did not have prior approval”.

They were a delegation of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT).

In a statement, the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) said the UN had taken the “drastic measure” due to the “obstruction” it experienced in NSW and QLD.

“We therefore condemn in the strongest possible terms decisions that necessarily serve to obstruct or impede the preventative mandate of the SPT which is focused on a proactive approach to preventing the torture and ill treatment of vulnerable adults and children,” it said.

“Governments that are committed to the protection and promotion of international human rights standards in places of detention have nothing to fear from the granting of SPT access to all places of detention.”

ALHR said it was concerned this would be a “harbinger” of future refusals.

“Recalling that the right to be free from torture is a non-derogable norm of international law, we call the New South Wales and Queensland governments to affirm their commitment to the rules-based international legal system, reconsider their decisions to block access to places of detention and to instead co-operate fully with the SPT,” it said.

NSW Corrections Minister Geoff Lee was questioned about the visit on 2GB on Thursday (20 October), when he claimed the inspectors had turned up without uniforms or identification.

“The whole role of our jail system is to keep people safe … it’s not to just allow people to wander through at their leisure,” he said.

“Coming to Queanbeyan, turning up and demanding to be let in, is beyond the pale.”

He said the jail system was “highly regulated” by both state and independent agencies, and that he felt it was “unnecessary” for them to also be inspected by the UN.

“We run a safe and orderly system here … we don’t torture people, why should our taxpayers have to foot the bill for the United Nations to come to Australia?” Mr Lee asked.

“Aren’t they better off going somewhere like Iran?”

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But comments such as this have been slammed by Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Lorraine Finlay.

She said claims by the NSW Government around funding and that the inspections were “redundant” were “simply not true”.

“The NSW response is disappointing. First, the UN visit is self-funded. Second, no other state government has raised any objections. And third, if existing prison scrutiny in NSW means the UN inspections is redundant, why not let them in and show the rest of Australia how NSW is leading the way?” Ms Finlay said.

“What compliance with Opcat [Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment] actually represents for NSW and other Australian governments is an opportunity for all of us to feel more secure about how we protect the human rights of detainees by agreeing to greater oversight and accountability in our detention regimes.”

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC had announced the delegations’ arrival to the country last Monday (17 October), as part of the Opcat, which was ratified by the Turnbull Government in 2017.

While his office wouldn’t speak directly to the Queanbeyan incident, a spokesperson for Mr Dreyfus’ office said no state or territory had objected to the ratification at the time.

“Since that decision, Australia has been required to facilitate visits to detention facilities by a team from the United Nations,” they said.

This was the first visit by the subcommittee, who would inspect prisons and other places of detention.

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On Monday, Mr Dreyfus said the group would spend a week visiting places of detention run by the Commonwealth, states and territories.

“I would like to thank the Governments of Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT for their cooperative approach to facilitating visits by the delegation,” he said.

“This visit complements [Australia’s] existing regulatory bodies, and is an important part of honouring our international commitments.”

In answer to questions by Region, his office said NSW was the only jurisdiction not to cooperate.

“All states and territories except NSW agreed to facilitate the current visit and uphold Australia’s international obligations,” they said.

When questioned about the visit by media on Tuesday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the United Nations representatives would not be allowed into any correctional facilities until a number of concerns had been addressed.

“There are safety and operational concerns from Corrections and in addition to that, this is a requirement from the Federal Government without there being any funding requirements … [or] considerations in place,” he said.

He pointed out there were already measures in place to ensure the state’s places of detention were up to scratch.

“We have a custodial inspector in place and we have an ombudsman in place,” Mr Perrottet said.

Region contacted both the United Nations itself and its Australian branch for comment.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on About Regional.

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That is the problem with “surprise inspections”, no uniforms, no recognised ID, no way they should just walk in. Unfortunately, scheduled visits tend to end up as a waste of time.

Australia had a significant role in the creation of the UN all those years ago and the Declaration of Human Rights. Our role in its creation is something to be proud of. Google it people!! Despite corruption and scandals diminishing the UN’s role over the years, Australia is still a signatory to the declaration. Australia has not become a soft target for the UN!! Australia’s human rights record, particularly under conservative governments, is something to be ashamed of. Our country has one of the worst human right’s records in the world. This record is disgraceful and continues to go downhill. This is despite our country continuing to be a signatory to the declaration. UN inspectors have now left our country, suspending all inspections of our prisons. Let’s put this into context. Human Rights Watch reports that about 50% of Australia’s prison population has a disability, whether physical, cognitive or a mental health condition. Children are incarcerated in adult prisons. Many of these prisoners are Indigenous with high rates of deaths in custody. Let’s not forget the Don Dale prison in the NT and the hostile conditions faced by detainees (mostly young and Indigenous). Media reporting of the appalling conditions at this facility prompted a Royal Commission. In Goulburn’s maximum security prison, prisoners spend 16 hours a day in their cells, change cells once a month and are x-rayed after every visit. All mail and conversations are monitored. Prisoners are prohibited from speaking non-English languages. In Queensland’s Lotus Glen prison prisoners are locked in small and sealed cells in solitary confinement with no meaningful social interaction for typically 22 hours or more. These are just a few of the prisons and the conditions prisoners face.

Worst hum rights record – well yes if you live in Victoria and subjected to Dictator Dan’s jackboots

There is a big difference between “worst” and “one of the worst” Futureproof. Well hum, if you want to quote me get it right!

Oh Jack – please stop commenting on things you have no knowledge about. You’re making it too easy for those of us who do.

“Our country has one of the worst human right’s records in the world.”

Compared to whom? China? Syria? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan?

“Many of these prisoners are Indigenous with high rates of deaths in custody.”

Most deaths in custody are by natural causes, suicide pre-existing health issues. Not, as the left and PC brigade would have you believe, at the hands of the cops or correctional staff.

“In Goulburn’s maximum security prison, prisoners spend 16 hours a day in their cells, change cells once a month and are x-rayed after every visit. All mail and conversations are monitored. Prisoners are prohibited from speaking non-English languages.”

Prisoners in every jurisdiction have their mail monitored (except for legal mail), and have phone calls (again, except for legal calls) for the safety and security of the prisoners and staff in the gaol.

Prisoners in the HRMU at Goulburn aren’t there for shoplifting. They are some of NSW, and Australia’s, worst people (including terrorists). The fact they are x-rayed after every visit is a positive thing. Up until recently ALL prisoners were strip searched.

Not sure about other jurisdictions HR Acts but in the ACT prisoners can be locked inside their cells for up to 23 hours a day. So being inside your cell for 16 hours a day seems pretty reasonable.

Heey it’s Gary Stuart! Well Gary I hate to break the news to you, but I do know quite a bit about human rights and the UN. I won’t even begin to start on your comments about Indigenous detainees in our prisons. Your comments say it all about racial biases and Australia’s human right’s record!!

G’day mate. I’m not doubting your knowledge on both human rights and the UN. Your comments about human rights (or your perceived lack there of) in Australia’s prison system, is just not true.

Hum was supposed to be human – fingers were too fast for my brain. Anyway, the UN gets access to prisons in countries with democratically elected governments, but never seems to get access to North Korea, Russia or China. Why’s that? Oh that’s right, the UN only assess the west, because that ensures a nice junket in first class, a five star hotel stay and a few days shopping

Capital Retro8:28 am 25 Oct 22

Lucky for us they didn’t come across the border to the AMC.

The UN are redundant.

I agree with Minister Lee. If the UN were fair dinkum about human rights they would be investigating a dozen other countries before coming here. Australia is seen as a soft target by other countries, and now we can include the UN. I say good on the staff at Queanbeyan for stopping the bullies from entering their facility.

Aboriginal deaths in custody?

Caucasians, Asians, Indians, Pacific Islanders, Africans and people of middle eastern descent die in custody too – what’s your point?

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