‘501s’ demand Labor keep its promise to end indefinite detention

May 3, 2023
Protesting indefinite detention at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Photo supplied.

People being held in indefinite detention under section 501 of the Migration Act are holding peaceful protests demanding to be released. The protests started on April 28 at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) and spread to detention centres across the country on May 2.

One of the protesters told Green Left that “Labor made promises to us and lied”.

He said there will be demonstrations held inside Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia, Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney and MITA.

There were many hunger strikes in the detention centres. “The food here is the worst you can ever imagine,” he said. “We are deprived and allowed to go hungry.”

“Many people being detained for so many years are physically and mentally sick.

“Some of us have severe health problems. We don’t have access to painkillers.

“They have taken away medication, toasters, kettles. For six months, there was only one dirty mop to clean our rooms. It was so dirty, I could not mop my room.” These conditions sparked a recent rooftop protest at MITA.

Many of the people held under section 501 have finished serving their sentence. But because they are not citizens, after their sentence is completed, the government throws them into detention centres to await deportation.

Left with no choice, many detainees are asking to be deported rather than stay in indefinite detention.


Demanding release from indefinite detention at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation. Photo supplied.

The Anthony Albanese government budgeted $1.3 billion for keeping refugees in onshore detention in 2022–23 and has committed more than $1 billion every year for the next four years. This exceeds spending by the Scott Morrison government over the same period when compared to the previous budget.

Before the federal election, Labor said it would abolish indefinite detention and clear the backlog of refugee visas.

Some hope was raised when Ministerial Direction 99 replaced Ministerial Direction 90 — a Morrison-era policy that expanded the grounds under which his government could refuse visas — on March 3, to place “greater emphasis” on those who have lived in Australia since childhood.

But little has changed under Labor. “When you win your case at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the minister still won’t sign off on it,” the protestor said.

“In opposition to the previous government, [home affairs minister] Claire O’Neil said she opposed our treatment. She said we need to ‘clean up’ home affairs and will start by releasing people from detention as soon as she gets into office.

“Since she became Minister for Home Affairs of Australia, she has ignored the whole lot.

“It’s been one year and they have not released anyone.

“Are they going to keep me in detention for the rest of my life, to die?

“Everybody in the detention centres; their lives are on hold — we are all just waiting.

“What is the difference between Labor and Liberal? They are both the same: they just wear different coloured hats.”

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.