Immigration detention is one of the most complex, controversial and debated areas of government policy. Over the past three years, the number of people in immigration detention has increased significantly. Around 1000 people were accommodated in immigration detention in June 2009, compared to around 7670 in ‘held’ detention and an additional 1688 in community detention as at 30 September 2012. Over the same period, the total number of immigration detention facilities in Australia and on Christmas Island increased from nine to 19. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) manages the contracts with the service providers to operate the facilities and provide a range of services to people held in immigration detention. The two five year contracts with the main detention service provider are currently valued at $1.77 billion. The contracts for health services and services to unaccompanied minors are valued at $679.81 million and $29 million, respectively.
The growth in the number of irregular maritime arrivals in recent years has necessarily required DIAC and the key service providers to focus on immediate priorities for the provision of services to people in detention. Nevertheless, the contractual and administrative arrangements put in place by the department envisage a range of defined services being provided to detainees to meet their basic needs and to manage and engage with the detainee population. These services are expected to be provided across the full network of immigration detention facilities. In practice, however, there has been considerable variability in the level and standard of services delivered, in particular for the more complex types of individual management and engagement services.
The inconsistency in service provision has arisen largely because DIAC has not exercised sufficient strategic direction and national management oversight in response to the growth across the network to achieve consistent service provision by contractors.