QUESTION: Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) Agreement

In Question Time, Mark asked the Leader of the Government, representing the Attorney-General, whether the Government supports the implementation of OPCAT, whose primary objective is to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention. 


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Three years ago, Australia ratified an international agreement known as OPCAT, which stands for the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The primary objective of OPCAT is to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention. At the time of signing, the then Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hailed the treaty as a significant victory for human rights.

Under OPCAT, Australia has agreed to establish an independent, national preventative mechanism to conduct inspections of all places of detention and closed environments by the end of this year. In addition, Australia has also agreed to international inspections of places of detention by the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. Given what we have seen in recent days from overseas and interstate in relation to the brutal treatment of powerless people, the need for this international regime has never been clearer.

We also have the ongoing shame of Aboriginal deaths in custody, 432 since 1991, with no convictions, and many of the Royal Commission's recommendations still not implemented after nearly 30 years. It was alarming to read the front page report in The Australian today which claims that the South Australian corrections minister, Corey Wingard, wrote to the commonwealth Attorney-General Christian Porter last November effectively rejecting OPCAT on the basis that existing oversight mechanisms were sufficiently robust without United Nations inspections. The newspaper quotes Mr Wingard's letter as stating:

It was the collective opinion of the Ministers that such mechanisms are already an adequate means of preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Australian further claims that the South Australian government remains strongly opposed to the treaty's implementation.

My questions to the Attorney-General are:

1. Does the Government support the implementation of OPCAT?

2. Does the Government intend to nominate a national preventative mechanism for South Australia by the end of this year and, if so, which organisations or bodies are likely to be involved?

3. Does the Attorney-General agree with the views attributed to minister Corey Wingard that OPCAT is not necessary and that existing oversight mechanisms are sufficient to prevent torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): I am happy to refer the honourable member's questions to my ministerial colleague and bring back a reply. However, in relation to my, again, hardworking ministerial colleague Minister Wingard, I would be surprised—although I don't profess to be the expert in this particular area—if he would be issuing a statement on behalf of the Government himself without having properly consulted with all of us as cabinet colleagues. Given that he has referred—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Given that he has referred the question not to Minister Wingard but to the Attorney-General, I shall seek the Attorney-General's response to the question.

Response received on June 30, 2020: 

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): The Attorney-General has provided the following advice:

The Government remains committed to the effective implementation of OPCAT in South Australia, including the establishment of a framework for the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) in South Australia.

The Government is carefully considering its options with respect to an NPM model, ensuring that all government agencies are compliant. It is expected that an NPM model for South Australia will be formally agreed to by the Government later this year, prior to the required commencement date.

The Attorney-General's Department is currently in consultation with other government agencies regarding the establishment of the NPM. It is the Attorney-General's intention to consult broadly with relevant affected agencies and statutory bodies once a model for the NPM has been agreed to by the Government.

The Attorney-General notes the current inspectorate bodies which already exist and operate under government agencies. Work is actively occurring to ensure these bodies are fully compliant with OPCAT standards.