UN suspends Australia anti-torture mission after inspectors barred
Published: Oct 24, 2022 10:59 PM
The United Nations has abruptly suspended its anti-torture mission to Australia after inspectors were barred from several jails, with a key oversight body condemning on Monday the "embarrassing debacle."

Tasked with touring facilities under a voluntary agreement to prevent cruelty to detainees, the inspectors said they made the "drastic" decision after they were refused entry at "several" jails and detention facilities.

Lead inspector Aisha Muhammad, a Supreme Court judge in the Maldives, said Australia was in "clear breach" of its international obligations.

Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in 2017, committing to reforms safeguarding detainees and making facilities subject to inspection. 

Former prison inspector Steven Caruana coordinated the domestic body responsible for tracking Australia's implementation of the convention.

"Australia will now have to answer for this embarrassing debacle in front of the United Nations Committee against Torture," he said. 

Australia's refusal to welcome the inspectors boiled down to a funding dispute between the federal and state governments.

The federal government ratified the convention, but individual states and territories were responsible for putting it into action.

New South Wales and Queensland - eastern states with roughly half Australia's population between them - have hamstrung the process, saying they needed more funding to put the convention into practice.

New South Wales last week blocked UN inspectors from a small courthouse jail, the UN delegation said.

Queensland refused to let inspectors visit inpatient units at mental health facilities, according to the Queensland Health department.