Parliamentary Committee finds ratification of the OPCAT in Australia’s interests

Friday, June 22, 2012

21 June 2012 - The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), a bipartisan committee of Australia’s Federal Parliament today unanimously recommended that Australia ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).


The report argues that ratification is in Australia’s national interests, as it would lead to better outcomes for detainees through a more comprehensive system for visiting places of detention, as well as through savings to government from the avoidance of costly litigation and compensation payments for cases of ill-treatment in detention. The report referred to submissions that highlighted the significant costs that the Federal and State and Territory governments currently incur through paying compensation for immigration detention cases, as well as in response to claims against the police or correctional institutions.

The report also drew on Australia’s role in the international community, stating ratification would support the country’s commitment to the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), and Australia’s "efforts to ensure that other countries meet the … standard" in the UNCAT.  This is particularly relevant given Australia’s recent calls at the first session of the second cycle of the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review for other countries to improve conditions of detention. In the review of Indonesia, for example, Australia recommended that the government "ensure … detention standards that meet international norms".

Although not strictly binding, the recommendations of JSCOT are generally followed by the government of the day. Thus the key remaining step is for the Australian Parliament to pass legislation to enable UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) visits and then for the government to deposit the instrument of ratification with the UN in New York. Will Australia be the 64th State Party to the OPCAT, and 5th State Party in the Asia Pacific region? There is some strong competition from South Africa, so we will have to wait and see…