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"OPCAT is an unusual treaty in that it creates no new substantive rights. Yet it could be the single most positive development this decade in improving conditions in all Australian places of detention."
When the words ‘Don Dale Youth Detention Centre’ are mentioned it is difficult for most people to disassociate it from the image of a young Dylan Voller, hooded and strapped into a mechanical restraint chair. This powerful image shocked all of Australia and in response the Prime Minister launched a Royal Commission to expose the cultural and administrative problems that allowed this mistreatment to occur.
The Royal Commission found evidence of widespread mistreatment, verbal abuse, humiliation and isolation and recommended that Don Dale be shut down in what could be said was an affirmation that this should never have happened and should never happen again.
The recent ratification of the OPCAT is yet another powerful affirmation that mistreatment within detention should never occur. It is a practical mechanism for preventing another Don Dale by providing Australia with a national system of regular, independent, preventive visits to all places of detention. Its aim is to foster a collaborative approach to safeguarding human rights with detaining agencies that combines the safety and dignity of detainees and staff alike.
OPCAT’s effective implementation depends in great part on decisive political will and action. NPM’s necessarily require the assurance of functional independence, unabridged access to all detention settings, the right to all information it deems relevant, an ability to conduct private interviews with detainees and staff free from the threat of reprisal and an empowerment to comment on legislation, policy and other issues pertinent to its mandate.
This Churchill Report presents the findings of my nine weeks of travel abroad to gather knowledge from other implementation experiences, visiting methodologies and relevant experts. The report provides an exploration of the ‘preventive visiting’ concept and highlights several examples of well-developed practice. The report also examines the essential framework for an effective NPM drawing on experiences and advice from abroad and supporting these findings with academic literature and authoritative guidance.
The recommendations made within the report are relevant at the Federal, State and Territory Government levels and to the NPM Coordinator, the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Seventeen recommendations are made. These recommendations relate to the creation of appropriate legislation, the assurance of adequate resources, the inclusion of the Australian Human Rights Commission in the NPM and the development of comprehensive strategies for education, collaboration and the promotion of best practice within the Australian NPM.
In making these recommendations the report echoes sentiments made by numerous domestic commentators on the OPCAT including the Victorian Ombudsman who previously said ‘the ratification of OPCAT is an important symbol of Australia’s commitment to human rights. Its implementation, through setting up, resourcing or empowering independent agencies, is equally important in ensuring that commitment is not merely symbolic.’
To support the recommendations of this report, it will be distributed through the Australia OPCAT Network and to other interested tertiary and civil society institutions. Additionally, it will be provided to potential NPM bodies, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is intended that the report has relevance to other international NPM’s and will also be shared through the APT.