Another death in detention
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.
The Australian government is currently holding over fifteen hundred people in immigration detention centres across the country.
Some are convicted criminals with a foreign nationality, some are visa overstayers and at least 500 are asylum seekers. Many have been held in detention for years.
Today, The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent, Karen Middleton, on the fate of one those detainees, and the secrecy surrounding our immigration detention system.
Karen, you’ve been reporting on Daniel Harvey, who died in an Australian detention centre last week. What do we know about the last 24 hours of his life?
Well, he was detained, as you say, in a Melbourne detention centre, and some of the others who were detained with him had observed that he looked unwell - one person said to me that he looked grey and really didn't look very well.
He was on medication, an antipsychotic drug. He'd had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. So he had to front up to the nurse's station twice a day for his dose of medication. And he was usually pretty punctual about that, according to his family and the people who knew him in the detention centre.
He turned up the night before he died and people standing around observed that he was not looking great. And somebody said to him, you know, are you all right, mate? And he said, yea yeah yeah, I'm fine, which puzzled some people because he was supposed to have taken it in front of the nurse. And somebody said that they thought he sounded a bit slurry, so they thought it was weird that he was asking about that.
He reappeared about midnight, may have gone to bed and gone to sleep in between and went outside to have a cigarette, and people then thought he looked a little bit better. In the morning, he didn't show up at the 08:15 medication dispersal and the guards were sent to look for him. And that was when he was found in his room unconscious and he wasn't able to be revived.
Let's talk about the place that Daniel Harvey was being held in Broadmeadows in Melbourne. What is the purpose of it?
Well, it's known as MITA, the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Centre. There are actually two of them in Melbourne, North and south, and this was the northern one in Broadmeadows. It's a detention centre, one of many around Australia. But it's a place that holds a lot of the people who've had their visas refused or who've served time in jail for convictions of serious offences. And it's a place that houses a lot of people who are foreign nationals who either had their visas cancelled because they've served time in jail for criminal offences, or they've been refused visas on character grounds under Section 501 of the Migration Act. So a lot of the people in relation to those things are in that centre. So it's a reasonably high security place.
And so why was Daniel there?
Well, he'd been in and out of jail. He'd served time in jail for various offences, drug offences, and we understand sexual assault involving a minor. His last stint in jail ended about four and a half years ago, and he'd been in detention ever since - because he was born in New Zealand and even though he'd lived in Australia since he was eight, when his parents split up and his mother brought the children to Australia, he had never done any of the paperwork to change his citizenship to Australian. So he was a Kiwi and under the government's rules, he was therefore a foreign national. And once you've got a criminal conviction or a number of them, in his case, the government cancelled his visa and said you're no longer allowed to stay in Australia, so he was held in detention.
He'd been challenging that ruling. And these things can take up a while, but it's really not clear why he had been held for that long. His sister told me that his health had deteriorated quite considerably while he was in detention, that he put on a lot of weight. So they had been quite concerned about him, but that's why he was there.
And in your story, you wrote that before Daniel died, he was worried about being moved from that centre in Melbourne. Why was that?
The week before Daniel Harvey died, there was a briefing for detainees at the MITA Centre by the Australian Border Force. And they told them that people were going to be transferred to Christmas Island. They didn't know who was going.
Daniel Harvey didn't know if he was going or not. But he certainly spoke to other detainees and to his family about it. And he was really worried that he would have to go. And that would be far away from any kind of support with not very good mobile phone coverage or Internet coverage.
He was even talking about the possibility of trying to get an injunction to avoid that happening. So he was very concerned about it.
We'll be back in a moment.
Karen, can you tell me more about the government's decision to reopen Christmas Island? What is the reasoning behind that?
Well, it is Covid-19 related, according to the government, and they are targeting the detainees that they think are of bad character. A lot of them are coming out of prisons around Australia. And because they've had visas cancelled, because they're foreign nationals, they're being moved straight into detention. When you don't have a visa, you are not allowed out into the community, and they're being held in detention centres. And the government is arguing it's a space issue - they just don't have the room with the physical distancing arrangements in place.
They're doing it via the Yonga Hill Detention Centre in Western Australia. So anyone coming from other states and territories have to be quarantined at Yonga Hill for 14 days first, and then sent to Christmas Island. So there was a movement of some existing Yonga Hill detainees to Christmas Island late last week in order to facilitate that onward transfer of people. So it's a musical chairs situation all driven, the government says, by Covid-19.
Can you tell me more about what the long term plan is for these people like Daniel who are in immigration detention, the government is trying to deport them?
Yes. It says you are not entitled to stay in Australia if you have broken the law and you're a foreign citizen. The government has toughened its stance against people they call ‘unlawful non-citizens’ in recent years. And they say you forfeited your right to be in Australia and you have to go.
Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:
“If people have been doing the wrong thing, if they’re here on a VISA, we can cancel that VISA and deport them. And we’ve done that in record numbers, particularly for outlaw motorcycle gang members, for rapists, for people who’ve committed serious crimes against Australians…”
There's been a lot of controversy around this and particularly around New Zealand citizens, because many of them have spent almost their whole lives in Australia. In the case of Daniel Harvey, he does have some distant extended family in New Zealand, but he didn't know them. He was anxious, as I said, about going there. And he'd been here since he was a child.
So Daniel Harvey's sisters were encouraging their mother to actually migrate with him in the event that he was ultimately deported so that he wasn't by himself - so they were worried about him trying to support himself on his own and his emotional state if he had to go to New Zealand. The New Zealand government have protested against Australia's policy, which is quite uncompromising, of sending back people that really have never lived in New Zealand and have no connection to it.
Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:
“We are not arguing that Australia should not have a deportation policy - they should, we do as well. What we are asking for is a reciprocal arrangement. New Zealand does not deport those that we consider, for all intents and purposes, to have established themselves as New Zealanders. We only ask that Australia does the same.”
But the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been unsympathetic to that argument and says, nope, they've broken the law or they are of bad character in the government's view and they're going.
Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“That is not in Australia’s national interest to not deport non-citizens who have committed crimes in Australia, as I’ve stressed. We deport non-citizens.”
And so Daniel was facing deportation then?
As far as we know, that was the likely outcome, although he did have a court challenge in train and he was waiting for a ruling on that. He'd been to court some months ago now and was waiting for a decision which, of course, had not occurred by the time he died.
But there are a number of people who've been in detention for many years, more than that, more than a decade in some cases for various reasons - some of them are asylum seekers still waiting for a decision or who've had to challenge the decision or who've had a decision made and been rejected. And the countries that they came from won't take them back or who've had a decision made and been accepted as refugees. But the government has concerns about their character and won't let them out.
So there are a number of people who are really in limbo. And the government watchdog agencies like the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission have repeatedly raised concerns about the length of time people are being held in detention with no movement anywhere in the foreseeable future.
And so do we know how Daniel actually died?
We don't. The family is awaiting the results of a coronial investigation, which they hope to get this week some time. They have scheduled a funeral date for later in the week, but that is all dependent on whether the coroner comes back with a finding.
They do tell me that he was known to have used drugs in the past. And certainly, a range of people have told me there are drugs in these detention centres, and in fact, the government has acknowledged in front of parliamentary inquiries that they do have controlled substances coming in, but they blame mostly visitors or relatives or what they say ‘in person transfers of drugs’ or drugs being thrown over the wall. They don't say what in-person transfers are, but certainly Daniel Harvey's family want to know whether that is a euphemism for the staff or contractors working in detention centres. There've been questions asked in parliamentary enquiries about the likelihood of that.
The government is always very cautious in its discussions about the possibility that staff might be involved in drug trafficking.
But certainly detainees anecdotally suggest that they suspect that although there's nothing to confirm that, I have had conversations with people who believe that that may be occurring. And certainly there've been no visitors in detention centres for five months. So the drugs, if they're there, and they tell me they are, are getting in somehow, and not recently via visitors.
Karen, has the government addressed Daniel’s death directly? Have they spoken about it publicly?
Well they have to be very careful about how they speak about individuals, especially when there's a coronial investigation.
The Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge was asked about it last week, and while he didn't name Daniel Harvey - the name wasn't used at the time - he did confirm there'd been someone who had died in MITA...
Archival Tape -- Alan Tudge:
“There has been a death in one of the immigration detention centres in Melbourne. I can’t give you much details about obviously who the person is, or the nature of his death…”
...said he offered his condolences and that there was an investigation and that he was very concerned and that any death is a tragedy, but he also described him as having a serious criminal background and that he was slated for deportation.
Archival Tape -- Alan Tudge:
“He was certainly a person that has had very serious criminal history. And that’s all I’ll say at this stage PK, and that’s why he was in the detention facility, because he was being evicted from the country, because he was not an Australian national…”
That did upset Daniel Harvey's sister, who said she felt that the way that was being depicted, the government was suggesting that, you know, they’d done the world a favour. And his sister, Ray Harvey, was particularly distressed about that. But the minister did say that he was sorry about what had happened. What we don't know is exactly what did happen to Daniel Harvey. And that's what his family want to find out.
Karen, thank you so much for your time today.
[Theme music starts]
Also in the news…
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged that a potential vaccine for Covid-19 could be mandatory for all Australians.
Morrison said that the country had a target of 95 per cent of the population being vaccinated, if a vaccine was found, and that it would be “as mandatory as you could possibly make it”.
And Victoria Police have declared that the most common reason those being directed to self-isolate weren’t at home was due to either incorrect address details or because they were permitted to leave.
The explanation comes after fines were increased to nearly $5000 for those breaching self-isolation orders.
I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.
[Theme music ends]
The Australian government is currently holding over fifteen hundred people in immigration detention centres across the country. Some are convicted criminals with a foreign nationality, some are visa overstayers and at least 500 are asylum seekers. Today, Karen Middleton on the fate of one those detainees, and the secrecy surrounding our immigration detention system.
Guest: Chief political correspondent for The Saturday Paper Karen Middleton.
Daniel Harvey’s death in detention in The Saturday Paper
7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.
Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.
Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.
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More episodes from Karen Middleton