“We’ve been concerned for some time about the lack of safety for detainees and staff in detention centres, which of course includes hotels that have been used by the Department of Home Affairs and Border Force,” Australian Lawyers Association spokesperson Greg Barns said.
“Comcare, the government regulator of workplaces, should be taking a very active role in making sure the COVID risk to detainees and staff is minimised, and if that means removing people from those workplaces, then that should be happening.”
Comcare is responsible for workplace health and safety inside Commonwealth workplaces, including detention centres.
“It has jurisdiction, there is no doubt about that.” Mr Barns said.
In a joint statement earlier this year, the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases and the Australian College of Infection Prevention Control called on the government to consider the release of immigration detainees into community housing or risk an outbreak.
Labor MP Ged Kearney, whose electorate covers the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne where a guard tested positive, also said the opposition had warned the government about the risk of coronavirus within immigration detention centres.
"We warned the Morrison government about the risk of COVID spreading in places of detention months ago. They could have moved the men into the community to minimise the risk. They did not," she said.
In March, a Serco guard working at a Brisbane hotel that has been turned into a makeshift immigration detention centre also tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, this week, an undisclosed number of employees at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre are in isolation after visiting the coronavirus hit Crossroads Hotel.
As of March, 1,373 people were in Australian immigration detention, including Alternative Places of Detention (APODs) such as hotels. So far there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among immigration detainees.
The Department of Home Affairs has so far ignored calls to remove people from immigration detention centres during the pandemic, but banned visitors to the facilities during the pandemic.
An Australian Border Force spokesperson said they were focused on preventing the entry of COVID-19 into immigration detention facilities and have implemented a range of preventative measures. "The safety and welfare of our staff and detainees is our number one priority," they said.
A Comcare spokesperson said they were aware of the issues raised by the Australian Lawyers Association and had undertaken site visits to the facilities. "We continue to monitor these issues and where necessary will undertake further monitoring and compliance activities," they said.
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