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Council to investigate permit breach at Mantra ‘prison’

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Jane Salmon Friday 24 July 2020

Darebin Council is investigating the use of the Bell City Mantra Hotel to detain refugees as a possible breach of planning permission. It is also questioning the hotel’s use as Covid-19 ‘isolation cells’ and its compliance with quarantine requirements.

More than 40 men brought to Australia under medevac laws are being locked up in hotel rooms at the Mantra hotel in Preston. Credit: Jason South Source

“This place has metamorphosed from a hotel into a prison,” said Cr Gaetano Greco following the passage this week of a council resolution calling for a commercial boycott of the Mantra hotel group.

Cr Greco confirmed that council officers were now “drilling down” into the permit conditions which allowed the former Preston and Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH) site to be redeveloped as hotel accommodation.

“It will be 12 months come August-September that refugees have been held there in prison-like conditions and the hotel management need to show cause as to why the current use still fits with their accommodation permit conditions.

“There would be totally different requirements if it were operating as a prison,” Cr Greco said.  Border Force and the Commonwealth Department of Immigration designate the Mantra facility as an APOD – a place of alternative detention.  Government authorities have control of the third floor of the Mantra facility where 65 men are held under guard.  Hotel guests are prevented from accessing the floor.

In a recent development, detainees showing Covid-19 symptoms were moved from the third-floor shared rooms and bathrooms to the first floor where they could be isolated in single rooms. It is understood that the men were belatedly tested for Covid-19 although results of the tests are not known.

Council on Monday resolved to write to Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, requesting ‘an investigation into whether Mantra Bell Hotel is compliant with Vic Health protocols regarding the establishment of Isolation Cells.’

The Mantra hotel in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane is also used by the Federal Government as an APOD where around 120 men are detained after being evacuated from PNG and Nauru for urgent medical treatment.  At least one staff member at Kangaroo Point has tested positive to Coronavirus.

Darebin Council is calling for Brisbane and Adelaide City Councils to join its commercial boycott of Mantra hotels. Darebin Council has previously used the Mantra Hotel for occasional official events and Councillors often attended business events there before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is on our doorstep, 200 metres from Town Hall,” Cr Greco said. “Darebin Council has been concerned about refugees for many years when they were on Manus and Nauru.  But now they are right here in our municipality, and there is an extra onus on us. We have to stand up for them,” he added.

Grandmothers for Refugees has welcomed the move by Darebin Council to investigate the ‘grossly inappropriate’ use of the hotel and the conditions in which the men are held.

“We support the commercial boycott of all properties under the Mantra brand,” said Jean Ker Walsh, Chair of Grandmothers for Refugees.  “Decent businesses don’t use their assets to make money out of the misery of desperate people.”

Dr Ker Walsh called on the Federal Government to end mandatory detention of refugees and release all people seeking asylum into the community. 

Photo shows refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne's Mantra Hotel. Source: SBS News


Cr Gaetano Greco                    

Dr Jean Ker Walsh Chair Grandmothers for Refugees

Jane Salmon

Refugee Advocate

NSW Australia Notice of Motion (Darebin Council Meeting, Monday 20 July 2020) “That Council: (1) Writes to Mantra to advise that it will boycott all activities held at Bell City and other Mantra facilities while refugees and asylum seekers are held in prison-like conditions in any of its facilities. (2) Calls on Mantra to use its corporate influence to publicly advocate to the Federal Government for the humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers detained at Bell City and ensure the provision of vital health and medical services and other supports addressing the significant physical and mental health concerns of detainees. This would include enabling these vulnerable people to have freedom of movement, access to education, training and employment opportunities, and use of health, community and recreation facilities and services such as those that have already been offered by Darebin Council and other local organisations. (3) Writes to local MPs, neighbouring councils, NORTH Link and other local business networks and associations asking them to join Council in a ‘Business Boycott of Bell City’ until a humane outcome is provided for refugees and asylum seekers currently detained at Bell City. (4) Writes to Brisbane City Council, Adelaide City Council and any other councils with a Mantra facility in or near their council area asking them to take a similar approach to Council in the interests of human rights and basic decency (5) Notes that the first-floor rooms of the Mantra Bell Hotel are currently being used as Isolation Cells for possible virus cases however there is no confirmation that area has been subject to Vic Health protocols  (6) Immediately writes to the office of the Chief Health Officer of Victoria requesting an investigation into whether Mantra Bell Hotel is compliant with Vic Health protocols regarding the establishment of Isolation Cells. (7) receives a report at the next Council meeting regarding any possible breaches of Mantra Bell Hotel planning permit given the hotel has now metamorphosed into a detention centre or virtual prison.


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