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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 9 Hansard (24 August) . .

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Australian government announced its intention to ratify the optional protocol to the convention against torture by December 2017.

The ACT government welcomes the commonwealth's announcement that it intends to ratify the optional protocol and has begun engaging with other jurisdictions to prepare for its implementation. OPCAT, as it is known, establishes a monitoring system to ensure that all governments are observing their obligations under the United Nations convention against torture and are taking effective legislative, administrative and judicial measures to prevent acts of torture in their territories.

In pursuit of this objective, OPCAT mandates regular visits by both independent international and domestic bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty. In the ACT, these places include the Alexander Maconochie Centre, juvenile detention, secure psychiatric units, court cells and prison transport. The purpose of the visits is to make recommendations that strengthen safeguards against torture or other mistreatment in detention environments.

OPCAT recognises that the prohibition on torture and other mistreatment is a fundamental right that must not be limited. This is especially true in places where people are involuntarily deprived of their liberty and so may be more vulnerable to abuse. Once it is ratified, OPCAT will immediately require the ACT to grant the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture unrestricted access to any place of detention in the territory and any relevant information the subcommittee requests to fulfil its mandate.

As an expert inspection body, the subcommittee draws on diverse cultural insights and professional experience to inform its recommendations. I anticipate such insights about global best practice may offer improvements to ACT safeguards against mistreatment.

The bill I am presenting today supports subcommittee visits to places of detention within the ACT. It does this by creating a flexible system where responsible ministers will be empowered to make arrangements to accommodate particular subcommittee visits to places of detention within their ministerial portfolio. Such arrangements will clearly authorise ACT officials to satisfy the territory's obligations under OPCAT for these visits, including to allow the subcommittee unrestricted access to places of detention and relevant information, and to conduct private interviews with detainees.

The bill also provides privileges and immunities for officials that provide information or access to subcommittee members acting in accordance with their mandate. This is not the first time that a bill of this kind has been introduced in this Assembly. The ACT previously introduced national model legislation in March 2013 to support visits of the UN subcommittee to ACT places of detention. Because ratification was not progressed, the legislation was not debated and the bill lapsed.

The bill largely mirrors that previous bill but with some important minor changes to better preserve detainees' rights to privacy. I am advised that UN subcommittee visits will not involve significant costs for the territory. The subcommittee's accommodation, insurance and transport costs are borne by the United Nations, and


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