Women's Commission speaks out against detention indignity

The head of the Commission for Australian Catholic Women has said she is appalled that male prison officers are able to view female detainees in a special unit at the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre in South Australia.

The Catholic Leader reports that Commission chairwoman Geraldine Hawkes said she wanted to initiate a campaign to bring the issue to the attention of all federal politicians.

Mrs Hawkes said the issue had come to light after complaints made by Fr Paul Bourke of Whyalla in South Australia.

"Fr Paul Bourke is a member of a community management group that visits Baxter Detention Centre and he wrote to the Immigration Minister (Senator Amanda Vanstone) about this weeks ago, asking for the practice to be stopped."

Mrs Hawkes said Fr Bourke's concerns involved women in the management support unit which was designed to allow close observation of occupants.

She said after the issue was aired on ABC Radio, Fr Bourke received a response from Senator Vanstone that gave no guarantee the practice would stop.

She said the minister's response to Fr Bourke noted the bathrooms did not reveal a full view and because of operational requirements and staffing rosters it was not possible to guarantee the women's privacy.

She said she understood a guarantee was given to male detainees in the unit about two years ago that female officers would not be able to view them while they are in the showers or toilets.

"This speaks to me of discrimination. If that assurance has been given to men to ensure their privacy then it should also be given to women, but it's horrendous either way."

When asked about the guarantee to male detainees two years ago, Senator Vanstone's office referred to a letter sent to Fr Bourke but made no direct response to the guarantee to men.

Senator Vanstone said in the letter: "My department and the detention service provider are concerned with the welfare of all detainees, whether male or female, and that their supervision is appropriate to their circumstances.

"I am also advised that wherever possible supervision of female detainees is undertaken by female officers."

"However, because of operational requirements and staffing rosters, this cannot always be guaranteed."

Detention indignity exposed (Catholic Leader 12/6/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Geraldine Hawkes: [Letter to Minister for Immigration] (Commission for Australian Catholic Women 8/6/05)
Commission for Australian Catholic Women

Editorial: Indignities of the detention system (Catholic Leader 12/6/05)
Concerns raised over privacy violations at Baxter (ABC Radio AM 4/6/05)
Difficult to guarantee privacy: Vanstone (The Age 4/6/05)

10 Jun 2005