Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page


The Department's administration of its contract with Serco


3.1        This chapter examines the key contractual obligations of Serco Australia Pty Ltd (Serco) as the detention service provider, and the effectiveness of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) in relation to contract management. Firstly, an outline of Serco's key obligations under the contract is provided, as well as key issues that arose during the course of the inquiry.

3.2        The Committee has identified areas where Serco's performance can be improved, and areas where the contract needs to be revisited. In large part the issues identified by the Committee have already been commented on by oversight bodies, DIAC and even Serco itself. The Committee recognises the pressure placed on Serco to quickly respond to a sharp increase in the number of detainees over 2010–2011. Nevertheless, the Committee identified a number of gaps between what Serco's policies provide should happen in particular circumstances and the reality on the ground.

3.3        The Committee also identified weaknesses in the detention services contract. The contract has been described by both Serco and DIAC as outcomes focused. The contract does not provide clear guidance on how Serco's obligations under the contract should be achieved. This presents challenges for contract management, particularly when it comes to staffing ratios.


3.4        The Australian Protective Service, a Commonwealth Government agency, managed detention facilities on behalf of the Department up until 1997. Following a competitive tendering process, the government outsourced the management of Immigration Detention Centres to Australasian Correctional Services (ACS).[134] Under contract ACS was required to guard, feed and transport detainees, and ensure that health, education and welfare needs were met.[135]

3.5        Amidst concerns that the contract did not represent value for money, and rising numbers of people in detention, the contract was retendered in 2001. On 27 August 2003 the government entered into a contract with GSL Australia Pty Ltd.[136]

3.6        Following reforms in immigration detention standards, DIAC released a request for tender on 24 May 2007 for the provision of services for detainees in immigration detention centres, immigration transit accommodation and immigration residential housing, which are variously described in Chapter 2. As a result of the tender, two contracts were entered into with Serco.

3.7        On 29 June 2009, DIAC, on behalf of the Commonwealth, entered into a contract with Serco for detention services for a five year period.[137] A phased transition from the former detention service provider G4S Australia Pty Ltd started from the contract signature date.[138]

3.8        On 11 December 2009, the Department entered into a second five-year contract with Serco to provide services to people in immigration residential housing and immigration transit accommodation throughout Australia. Transition from the previous detention service provider G4S Australia Pty Ltd was completed in January 2010.[139]

3.9        The two contracts are referred to throughout this report as 'the contract'.[140]

3.10      When the contract was negotiated the detention population was under 300 and located at seven sites. The detainee population was compliant and low risk. These circumstances have changed. Following a recommendation from the Hawke-Williams Review, DIAC and Serco are currently discussing an amendment to the Objectives section of the contract to improve the expression of the immigration detention values.[141]

Serco's key obligations under the contract

3.11      When the contract was executed in June 2009, Serco agreed to be responsible for managing seven immigration detention facilities (IDF).[142] Since 2009 Serco has agreed with DIAC to provide services to eleven additional IDFs.[143] Some of these facilities, such as the Asti Motel in Darwin, are no longer in operation. As discussed previously, Serco is responsible for maintaining infrastructure. However DIAC is responsible for sourcing and providing detention facilities.

3.12      Under the contract Serco is required to provide a wide range of services to detainees on behalf of DIAC. These services include:

3.13      Serco is also required to report on incidents, maintain perimeter security, act in accordance with the immigration detention values and maintain facilities.

3.14      The terms of DIAC's contract with Serco are flexible and allow DIAC to request a reduction or, more commonly, an increase in services provided by Serco. When a new IDC is opened, Serco is required to respond promptly. During the Canberra hearing, Mr John Moorhouse, Deputy Secretary, DIAC, particularly highlighted Serco's responsiveness to DIAC's need to accommodate a rising number of detainees:

I would like to have it on the record that what they have done in standing up facilities in challenging locations at very short notice is a considerable achievement for any organisation, and, as a senior manager, I would not like to have had to do the scale of what they have had to do in the time frame that they have had to do it. I am not wishing to be an apologist for them. We do actively work with them. But I do think that, at the same time, the scale of the challenge with which they have been presented needs to be acknowledged, and their capacity to respond to that.[145]

3.15      Each month DIAC considers Serco's degree of compliance with the contract. In every month since the abatement process commenced Serco has been subject to abatement – that is, a penalty fee for failing to comply in full with its terms. No incentive payments have been paid.[146]

3.16      The Committee received evidence from detainees about the quality of services received from Serco. Many detainees expressed contentment or indifference to the services provided by Serco. However there were some recurring complaints, particularly from detainees in remote areas. These issues are discussed in detail in Chapter 5.

3.17      In this chapter the Committee discusses the key issues that arose during the inquiry. For a detailed assessment for Serco's services to people in detention, readers are referred to detailed inquiries conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.[147]

Support to people in detention

3.18      Serco advises that it is committed to supporting and promoting the wellbeing of people in detention. This can be achieved by ensuring that IDCs are humane and that workers within the centres respect human dignity. Serco's key policy document is the Wellbeing of People in Detention policy and procedure manual.[148] The manual is designed to give staff an overview of Serco's approach to assisting detainees, and also provides specific guidance to equip officers in responding to physical and psychological elements associated with detainee health and wellbeing.[149]

3.19      The Wellbeing Policy, and the contract, provide for the creation of individual management plans (IMPs) for each detainee within five days of their arrival in a centre. These plans:

3.20      Serco must participate in a weekly department review of the individual management plans with the Regional Management of DIAC and the Health Services Manager, or more frequently as directed by DIAC.[151] The contract also requires Serco to allocate each detainee to a staff member, as part of the Personal Officer Scheme (POS).

3.21      The Commonwealth Ombudsman, other oversight agencies and the Hawke-Williams Review have reported concerns that in some facilities, due to the high number of detainees and pressure on Serco staffing levels, Serco has not been compliant with these requirements. Dr Hawke and Ms Williams observed that the personal officer scheme had not been fully implemented on Christmas Island or Villawood IDC. Individual Management Plans were not in place for all detainees on Christmas Island, and those that were in place were not being regularly reviewed.[152]

3.22      Serco acknowledged in its submission to the inquiry that the Personal Officer Scheme was not in place in all facilities due to 'external pressures':

This program is yet to be implemented in some facilities, due to difficulties created by overcrowding and other external pressures. Serco believes that the Personal Officer program is extremely valuable and is committed to deploying it universally once circumstances allow. In the meantime, in facilities where it has not yet been possible to implement the program, Serco ensures that all employees are trained to make certain that clients feel able to communicate all issues without fear of negative consequences.[153]

3.23      Mr Steve Johnson, State Director South Australia, explained to the Committee that the implementation of the Personal Officer Scheme is audited by the local DIAC contract manager at each facility. For example, in South Australia:

The implementation of the Personal Officer Scheme is one of the contract performance measures which is audited by the DIAC contract team on each of the sites in South Australia. We have a performance metric. We look at a range of the performance issues which lead to that abatement or incentive scheme...The Personal Officer Scheme is audited in terms of the number of entries, the regularity of entries, around the case noting by Serco staff against their individual client allocations... we organise an audit program to deal with what we think are the pertinent issues for each particular site in terms of ensuring the optimum performance and dealing with issues which we think are contemporary at that particular place.[154]

3.24      DIAC advised the Committee that the Personal Officer Scheme had been audited once during the previous 12 months at Northern IDC and the Darwin Airport Lodge Alternative Places of Detention.[155]

Committee view

3.25      The Committee believes that the Personal Officer Scheme and Individual Management Plans are important mechanisms to support people in detention. The Committee notes that DIAC has accepted a recommendation from the Hawke-Williams Review in relation to improved monitoring of these programs and that the Auditor-General is currently conducting an audit of DIAC's management of Serco's compliance with these contractual obligations.[156]

Programs and activities

3.26      Serco is required to provide meaningful programs and activities to people in detention. This must consist of structured and unstructured programs, both within the facility and on supervised external excursions. Two programs must be provided per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The contract does not say whether this means that two activities must be available to each detainee a day, or whether there just needs to be two activities each day in each centre. [157] Serco advised the Committee that it interprets this requirement broadly and provides more than two activities a day per a centre.[158]

3.27      Since the surge in arrivals in late 2009, Serco has struggled to meet the requirements of the contract for provision of activities. In part this is due to a lack of facilities. For example, recreational rooms on Christmas Island and at Curtin IDC were used to accommodate detainees, while other facilities such as Northern IDC were not properly equipped to begin with.[159] The challenge has also arisen because of a lack of suitable staff to run the activity programs and the increased risk profile of detainees.[160]

3.28      The members of the Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution (CISSR) documented concerns about Serco's provision of programs and activities in 2010, particularly in Villawood IDC and Christmas Island.[161] CISSR tracked Serco's work in this area and was able to identify improvements over time. In June 2011 Serco presented information to CISSR about its new activities model and pilot scheme of activities for single adult men, single adult women, minors and families. The Chair of CISSR, Mr Paris Aristotle, was critical of Serco. The minutes record Mr Aristotle asking:

[W]hen [will] the concept...move into actual activities given that Serco is contractually obliged to provide these activities now and isn’t delivering. He asserted the project is a good exercise but was concerned it would only further delay implementation of activities.


The Chair questioned why there are no penalties on Serco given they have had three years to deliver these activities. As good as the proposed model may be he stressed that something needs to be done now.[162]

3.29      During the CISSR meeting DIAC is recorded as observing that the abatements it had imposed on Serco for failing to meet activities requirements had not resulted in 'the impacts needed but should also be balanced against the necessary speed of upscale in the system'.[163]

3.30      The Hawke-Williams Review found that at the time of the incidents at Christmas Island and Villawood, March and April 2011, meaningful programs were not fully operational, and made recommendations for the program to be overhauled.[164]

3.31      The AHRC visited Curtin IDC in May 2011 and reported a number of concerns relating to programs and activities available to detainees. The AHRC recommended that DIAC improve the facilities available to detainees, and ensure that Serco provided a sufficient number of meaningful activities as required by the contract. The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that many recreational buildings had been converted to accommodation dormitories, the playing field was under construction and there were insufficient telephones and internet access.[165]

3.32      In late February 2012 the Committee asked DIAC to provide an update on the status of the implementation of the Hawke-Williams recommendations in relation to activities. DIAC informed the Committee that progress had been made, but there is still a way to go. Mr Ken Douglas told the Committee:

There is an active working group that comprises people from both the department and Serco who are presently working their way through a detailed set of programs and activities to enhance what is already being rolled out. That working group is expected to come back to the department with its findings in the course of the next few weeks, so we should expect to see some further increased activity in this area in the next month or two.[166]

Committee view

3.33      The Committee recognises that activities within the detention centre environment are important for detainees. This reality is reflected in the detention services contract. However, as the Hawke-Williams Review noted, Serco has failed to provide activities to the standard required by the contract. Hawke-Williams recommended that Serco and DIAC deploy a revamped programs and activities model. This recommendation was accepted by DIAC, and Serco is developing a revised activities model.[167]

Recommendation 1

3.34      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship continue to robustly contract manage Serco's obligation to provide appropriate activities for detainees.

3.35      The Committee observed during site inspections that while DIAC has planned improvements for a number of facilities, such as Northern IDC and Villawood IDC, the amenity of such facilities is greatly reduced during the construction phase. For example, when the Committee visited Northern IDC it viewed plans for new playing fields.[168] The Committee is concerned that during the construction phase, which can run into months and sometimes years, detainees do not have adequate access to open areas for exercise. At Villawood IDC the Committee also viewed detailed plans for improvements to Villawood IDC, a project which is due to be completed in 2015.[169] Again, the Committee is concerned in this instance of the loss of amenity that may be inconsistent with the immigration detention values.

Recommendation 2

3.36      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship consider other accommodation or recreation options for detainees when the amenity of a facility is compromised due to construction or maintenance projects.

Serco's ability to subcontract

3.37      Under its contract with DIAC, Serco may subcontract some services.[170] For example, Serco has engaged MSS Security and Wilson Security to provide assistance with security at IDCs. Subcontracted security staff are intended to supplement rather than replace Serco officers. Serco described the distinction between its officers and contracted staff:

Serco officers continue to occupy positions that require direct client contact and subcontracted staff are generally allocated to roles with relatively minimal client interaction (such as perimeter security and staffing surveillance or monitoring stations).[171]

3.38      Serco explained in its submission the standard of service delivery required by its contractors:

Both MSS Security and Wilson Security are required to hold all appropriate licences and staff made available to Serco must have appropriate expertise and qualifications sufficient to enable them to be authorised as officers under the Act. Regular checks are undertaken to verify that subcontractors’ licences and qualifications are in order. Were either MSS Security or Wilson Security to fail to meet the required standards, they would be exposed to contractual penalties including, potentially, termination.[172]

3.39      The Committee received evidence during hearings which raised concerns about the roles that contracted security staff performed in some IDCs, particularly on Christmas Island. Ms Kaye Bernard, General Secretary, Union of Christmas Island Workers told the Committee that the distinction between MSS guards and Serco officers was not clear in practice, and that detention centres are altered when politicians visit:

MSS work in all positions within the detention facilities as...client service officers or detention officers. They work in all areas. When politicians come to town, things change. My understanding is that there was a drag to pull the MSS workers out, those who are not meant to be—or who the committee has been told are not meant to be—in the compounds.[173]

3.40      United Voice, the union that represents about 80 per cent of Serco Immigration Officers on mainland Australia, reported that for the most part subcontracted security staff 'are used exclusively for security purposes and do not engage with detainees'.[174] However, it has been reported to United Voice from mainland officers who have gone on secondment to Christmas Island facilities, that MSS security guards are being used there more extensively. United Voice reported:

Members sent on recent secondments to Christmas Island confirm this, saying that MSS Security guards were being deployed in all areas of the IDC at North West Point, including as escorts for interviews and activities. The Serco-employed officers at the centre reportedly manage the situation by providing the MSS guards on-the-job training in order to prevent serious incidents from arising. However, the use of untrained subcontractor staff inside detention centres creates unnecessary risks for both staff and detainees.[175]

3.41      The Committee asked Serco to respond to these concerns. Serco reiterated its intention that MSS officers have a different and distinct role to Serco officers and are not generally in contact with detainees. During the Darwin hearing Mr Chris Manning, Managing Director, Serco, told the Committee:

The role of MSS is typically to provide additional security on perimeters, which allows Serco to free up staff to carry out the duties that are provided for in the contract. Day to day there are many MSS staff operating around the network, and they will fulfil those responsibilities. From time to time there may be a local variation, but in general terms that is their role.[176]

3.42      During the course of the inquiry the Committee received a sample of incident reports produced by DIAC.[177] In one report, a detainee was found wounded in his room by a MSS officer. The presence of the MSS officer appeared to be inconsistent with assurances provided by Serco about the role of contractors. The Committee asked DIAC to comment on Serco's use of security subcontractors, in the context of the incident report. Mr John Moorhouse informed the Committee:

We have tried to be brutally honest. We do not want to gild the lily in terms of what we are dealing with. In relation to that particular incident it is absolutely true that people who provide security services should not be dealing with clients. But I am pleased that, as any other Australian would, when they saw someone in a situation of need they helped. You do not say, 'It's not my job; I'm going to wait for the right person to come along.' I think that incident report needs to be seen in that context. It is not the situation that should happen. The MSS guards should be providing perimeter security and that is the end of it—not necessarily perimeter security, but security for particular facilities.[178]

3.43      The Committee urges DIAC to remain vigilant in auditing this aspect of the contract with Serco. The issue is more profound on Christmas Island than in mainland facilities, perhaps in part because of Serco's difficulty is attracting suitable numbers of qualified staff. The Committee believes that MSS officers are less likely to encroach on the role of Serco officers where the ratio of Serco officers to detainees is appropriate.

Adequate Serco officer staffing

3.44      A recurring issue as the Committee travelled to detention facilities and held hearings was the ratio of detention centre staff to detainees. Inadequate staffing numbers can have an adverse impact on detainees, Serco officers and security. The contract does not stipulate the ratio of Serco staff to detainees. Serco is simply required to provide sufficient numbers of adequately trained staff to provide a proper service.

3.45      The Union of Christmas Island workers reported that employees had raised concerns about staff to detainee ratios since 2009, but had not observed any improvement in this area.[179] United Voice reported that 72 per cent of members it surveyed felt like the immigration facility they worked in was under staffed, and this was their principal complaint. Mr David McElrea explained to the Committee during the Sydney hearing the impact this has on a centre:

The principal problem is a lack of staffing, a lack of people on the ground to deal with issues and to deal with what might happen in the course of the day. If people have to take detainees off site and there is an escort, your numbers drop and all of a sudden you can be left with one person for, say, 200, which is unsafe for the staff member and also for the detainees.[180]

3.46      DIAC advised the Committee that it did not require a particular level of staffing in detention centres, it was concerned with outcomes:

[W]e have contract managers and detention operations staff who are responsible for making sure that the outcomes are delivered, that the facility is managed properly and that the services that are meant to be delivered are delivered. The government has contracted Serco because of its expertise in managing facilities to appropriately manage this contract and the detention facilities. It would be simply inappropriate for us to then say, 'We don't trust you to make the appropriate judgments and we're going to monitor your deployment of staff and tell you how to do the work.[181]

3.47      DIAC emphasised that while it would not dictate staffing numbers to Serco, it was still interested in Serco's staffing levels, particularly where this impacted on the quality of services provided to detainees and security:

I would not want to give the impression that we are not interested in what Serco's staffing levels are. They are the subject of quite active and quite vigorous dialogue at times. There have been a number of issues in relation to this, including the availability of adequate staff for things like programs and activities as new facilities were being stood up and also the issue I mentioned in terms of what was Serco's role in relation to public order management or the good order of the facilities. So there have been a number of aspects of the operation of the centres that have been the subject of active and sometimes vigorous dialogue between us.[182]

3.48      DIAC assured the Committee that it will, and has, imposed abatements on Serco for breaches of the contract that occur as a result of low staff numbers. For example, if insufficient activities are provided or if a detainee absconds.[183] As discussed earlier, abatements do not always result in a change in behaviour.

3.49      The Committee asked DIAC to respond to the United Voice Survey results. DIAC advised that determining an ideal ratio of staff to detainees was a complex task:

[The] the level of staffing in a centre varies over the course of the year in anticipation of the number and type of people who will be positioned in that centre. So, at any given point in time, it is likely that people will have a view about whether or not the staffing is adequate. The number on any given day is likely to be affected by unscheduled absences. There are a whole range of factors. If I can reflect on my own personal experience, I do not think I have worked in a single workplace in my career where the majority of people in that workplace believed they had sufficient staff to do the job.

It is a really difficult set of interpretations...where we have focused most of our attention is on whether the staffing and activity levels provided in a centre are sufficient to meet that centre's needs in terms of programs and activities, in terms of access to services and amenities, and in terms of meeting the company's commitment to us about the activities or the way that it would engage with the clients of those centres. It is a matter we take under constant review, but I also think at times it is a 'how long is a piece of string' question...[R]eally the issue is whether or not there are activities and engagement with the clients and whether the services that are undertaken to be provided are being delivered. No doubt everybody at some stage would like to think that, with more staff, they could do better.[184]

3.50      The Committee is concerned that the staff to detainee ratio can be further diluted by the requirement that Serco officers must escort detainees during activities outside the centre, for example, to attend the emergency department. Serco assured the Committee that the staffing levels are determined to manage this risk:

The staffing profiles that are developed take into account the requirement to provide transport and escort activities. That could include school and trips to the medical centre. There is a proportion of staffing built into the daily entitlement at that centre to support those activities. Of course, if there is an emergency or a significant number of clients are going on an excursion, it would be reasonable to expect that some of the staff from the centre would accompany that particular excursion, because the majority, or a fair proportion, of the clients could be outside with the excursion.[185]

3.51      Sometimes additional staffing services this will mean that Serco can recover a further payment from DIAC. The Committee asked in what circumstances this would occur:

For example, additional security staff may be needed if an infrastructure project is underway. That would obviously fall within the infrastructure project costs. By and large, the routine management of the centre would fall within the fixed price of the contract, but there are examples where we would seek recovery of additional costs.[186]

3.52      Comcare found that DIAC failed to comply with health and safety obligations in relation to staffing ratios, including in relation to Serco staffing levels. Comcare advised that:

DIAC failed to have a staff/detainee ratio level identified and implemented. Nor did it have a system for ensuring that ratios are adjusted according to identified levels of risk. In doing so, it failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to provide a working environment (including systems of work) that was safe for DIAC employees and contractors (and without risk to their health).[187]

3.53      Comcare recommended that as part of a comprehensive risk assessment DIAC should document a staff/detainee ratio and identify adequate levels of staff and coping strategies if the optimum ratio is unachievable at a particular time.[188]

3.54      Dr Hawke and Ms Williams also identified a staffing shortage at North West Point in the lead up to the riots and recommended that DIAC agree on a system for collecting Serco staffing metrics and assessing staffing capability at each centre and that this be distributed for use across the network.[189]

Committee view

3.55      The Committee remains concerned about the staff to detainee ratios in many immigration detention centres. The Committee notes DIAC's acceptance of the Hawke-Williams Review recommendations that DIAC conduct robust auditing of Serco staffing levels. This would involve collecting Serco staffing metrics and assessing staffing capability, and ensuring both are adequate to respond to the risk profile of each detention facility.

Recommendation 3

3.56      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship conduct robust auditing of Serco staffing ratios and training, in line with the recommendations in the Comcare report and the Hawke-Williams Review.

Serco's incident reporting

3.57      The contract outlines the process that Serco must follow when reporting incidents. Serco is required to provide a verbal report of an incident within a specified period and to record the incident on DIAC's system. Serco must also maintain an Incident Management Log. This log details the time, date, and location of the incident and action taken.[190] Serco must also work to prevent incidents arising, and manage the length and extent of incidents once they arise.[191]

3.58      The Committee received evidence that questioned the adequacy of Serco's incident reporting, and was particularly concerned by allegations made by the Union of Christmas Island Workers that Serco does not report all incidents.[192] The Committee asked Serco to respond to this allegation. Serco acknowledged the seriousness of the claim and rejected it. Mr John Couttie, Deputy Regional Manager, Serco, told the Committee:

I would refute the matter most strongly. As I am sure you are all aware, the contract that we work under comes under the closest scrutiny from the department, and the department work hand in hand with us on a daily basis and are therefore aware of any incidents that take place. All incidents that take place are also recorded in the department's database, known as PORTAL. I think if you look, for example, at last month, we recorded over 400 incidents, raising from minor all the way through to critical. There is clear evidence that we document and, in fact, report every single incident from minor, as I say, through to critical.[193]

3.59      Comcare found that DIAC was not properly reporting incidents to Comcare. While DIAC had improved its incident reporting in recent months, Comcare observed that it still often becomes aware of incidents in detention centres through media reports rather than through DIAC.[194]

3.60      The Commonwealth Ombudsman's Office is also dissatisfied with Serco's incident reporting, advising the Committee:

The Ombudsman has investigated complaints and matters arising from detention reviews and visits to detention centres which have raised serious concerns about the consistency, competency and integrity of incident reporting within the detention network.[195]

3.61      For example, the Commonwealth Ombudsman observed that incident reporting into allegations of sexual assault contained inaccuracies and omissions of crucial material. Further, competent and consistent descriptions of the circumstances of the matter and action taken by Serco are lacking and detainee witness statements are not routinely taken.[196]

3.62      The Commonwealth Ombudsman suggested that DIAC conduct a review of the quality and management of incident reporting across immigration detention network, and also assess Serco's capacity to monitor its own compliance with the reporting guidelines.[197]

Committee view

3.63      The Committee remains concerned about Serco's incident reporting. The Committee recognises Serco's intention to report all incidents, however, queries the adequacy of the reporting that is provided.

Recommendation 4

3.64      The Committee reiterates the recommendation made by the Commonwealth Ombudsman that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, conduct a review of the quality and management of incident reporting across immigration detention network, and also assess Serco's capacity to monitor its own compliance with the reporting guidelines.

Training of staff

3.65      As part of its obligations under the contract, Serco staff must meet minimum training standards.[198] Serco must employ two levels of custodial staff:

3.66      CSMs have a Certificate Level IV in Security Operation (or equivalent) and a minimum of five years experience in managing security. CSOs have a Certificate II in Security Operations (or equivalent) or can obtain these qualifications within six months of commencing employment.[199] Both classifications are responsible for ensuring that detainees are safe, secure and are required to personally interact with detainees on a daily basis.

3.67      Serco advised the Committee that all CSOs complete a one month induction course that includes training in:

3.68      The Committee is aware of a number of concerns raised by advocacy groups, peak bodies, unions and staff about the standard of training for Serco officers. Comcare found that DIAC had failed to ensure that Serco staff were sufficiently trained and therefore competent and confident to perform their roles.[201]  Particular concerns were also raised about the adequacy of mental health training received by Serco officers. During the Sydney hearing, Serco acknowledged that this consisted of 4.5 hours during induction training.[202]

3.69      During the Christmas Island hearings Ms Kaye Bernard, from the Union of Christmas Island Workers, told the Committee that Serco officers she had spoken to were concerned about a lack of training:

They are very concerned because they believe that they are ill equipped to deal with what they are dealing with out there in particular in relation to the mental health of some of the people that they are posted on SASH watch with. If it is a high-risk person they are meant to stand at arm's length from that person.[203]

3.70      Some Serco workers also reported to Ms Bernard that they had not completed the four week induction program before commencing work:

They are being trained on the floor. Serco say in their advertisement that it is a four-week training course. Some of our members, most recently a group from Perth, believe they were misled as to the training that was going to be delivered to them. They did 10 days in Perth and then were told that the rest of their training would be undertaken on Christmas Island. They thought they were coming to a training school here on Christmas Island and that was not the case. They were put into the detention facility and in control of compounds after 10 days and after not receiving the certificate II in security operations. They were put in there on their own. Many of them were put in there without even having a facilities induction, so they did not actually know where things were.[204]

3.71      Ms Bernard made the point that a number of improvements had occurred recently at Christmas Island since the new Regional Manager had arrived, as he had commenced implementing the training requirements that are in place under the contract. [205]

3.72      United Voice identified a number of weaknesses in Serco's training. The general complaint was that training was inadequate, and the training that was provided was generally inappropriate to the particular work environment.[206] Particular issues raised by members include:

3.73      A survey conducted by United Voice indicated that its members particularly want more mental health, human rights, and suicide prevention training. They also do not feel equipped to dispense medication to detainees once IHMS staff have left for the day.

3.74      United Voice advised the Committee that Serco had responded to the concerns that it raised about training and significant improvements had been made.[208] Mr David McElrea attributed the improvement to a combination of union representation, the Comcare inquiry and this parliamentary inquiry. Mr McElrea noted that training for the most recent Pontville facility recruits was of a high standard, and hoped that this would continue.[209]

3.75      Dr Hawke and Ms Williams observed that while training provided by Serco to staff appeared to be well designed and tailored to particular roles, 'it was not possible on the evidence available to determine whether all of their staff had received appropriate training or were appropriately qualified'.[210]

3.76      DIAC has a role in monitoring the training provided to Serco officers as part of its contact management processes. DIAC was able to advise how many staff had received refreshed training, but was not able to comment on how many staff had not received training.[211] DIAC expressed concern over the training of Serco officers, commenting that the officers may meet the requirements of the contract, but this requirement may not be high enough to equip officers to perform their duties:

It is the case that client service officers can begin their duty without having the full qualification they need, but they are given specific, limited roles and mentored by an experienced person until they have the qualifications. So they do not have the full qualifications, but they do meet the requirements of the contract. It is not what we would like—we would like everyone to be fully trained—but they are, in a sense, qualified in the terms of contract. That is probably the wrong way of putting it, but they do meet the requirements of the contract if they have limited duties and they are being mentored.[212]

Committee view

3.77      Client Service Officers (CSOs) are required to have a Certificate II in Security Operations (or equivalent) or be able to obtain these qualifications within six months of commencing employment. Given the cultural diversity in detention centres, the risk profiles of detainees and the high rate of self harm the Committee is concerned that the standard of training required for CSOs is inadequate for the demands of this position, particularly as full qualification is not necessarily required from a CSO's commencement. The Committee appreciates that this standard of training is set by the contract, but considers that consideration to should be given to revising the standard.

Recommendation 5

3.78      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship appoint an independent expert to inquire into the appropriate qualifications for Serco Client Service Officers and make appropriate amendments to its contract with Serco.

Implementation of DIAC'S Psychological Support Program

3.79      The Committee has concerns about Serco's implementation of DIAC's Psychological Support Program (PSP) through its own Keep Safe Psychological Support Program Policy (Keep Safe).[213] Both policies are designed to support detainees at risk of self harm or suicide. The Committee is especially concerned about the ability of individual Serco officers to implement these policies.

3.80      As discussed in Chapter 2, the PSP policy is jointly administered by DIAC, Serco and IHMS. Once a detainee is put on the PSP, the detainee is reviewed every 12 hours by IHMS. In addition there is a meeting every day between DIAC, IHMS and Serco to consider the ongoing support needs of the detainee.[214]

3.81      During site visits the Committee witnessed many detainees sitting or standing with a Serco officer in very close proximity at a number of facilities across the network. Serco officers told the Committee that the detainees were on suicide watch, requiring the officer to stay within 1.5 metres of the detainee, and check on them every 30 minutes. A psychologist employed by IHMS on Christmas Island during 2010 explained the process:

One of the most available and frequently used methods the mental health team would use was to put the client on suicide watch (referred to as "SASH OBS" by staff at that time) with or without the client's consent. This would usually [mean] that (at that time) an untrained Serco officer was given responsibility to care for and accompany an acutely suicidal client through a very difficult time for the next 24 hours, at least.

I would hear varying accounts of what kind of 'care' the Serco officer would be able to offer. Some were very good at being a kind and beneficent presence that the person needed to shepherd them back to mental stability, while I heard that others just said "hello" every now and then and made sure they had not created a noose for themselves with their bed sheets while they were not looking.

The constant monitoring of the SASH OBS intervention would often be perceived as punitive by the client, and (depending on which type of "care" was offered by the Serco officer) would sometimes increase the detainee's distress and paranoia about the situation they were in.[215]

3.82      DIAC, IHMS and Serco all told the Committee that this approach was not dictated by the PSP or the Keep Safe policies. During the Sydney hearing IHMS confirmed that the requirement that Serco officers be within an arms length of a detainee on suicide watch was not an IHMS policy, or approved by IHMS.[216]

3.83      The Keep Safe policy does not specify that Serco officers must maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from detainees who are at risk of self harm, but it does specify that Serco must provide 'constant one-on-one monitoring of and engagement with the individual in a safe and secure place'.[217] During the Melbourne hearing, Serco advised the Committee that the Keep Safe procedure had been prepared by Serco, in consultation with IHMS and DIAC:

The best way to describe the policies and procedures within the detention environment is that there is a hierarchy of procedures and procedural guidance. The PSP policy is implemented by Serco, and it is the overarching policy by which we manage the PSP. We have written an additional policy that supports that document. Its principal aim is to provide our management and our staff on the ground with procedural guidance—things such as standardised documentation to be able to support the PSP.[218]

3.84      The person who monitors the Keep Safe policy in Serco appears to be qualified to perform that role.[219] Serco was at pains to emphasise that the Keep Safe policy was developed in light of the PSP policy.[220]

3.85      The Detention Health Advisory Group (DeHAG) confirmed that it had no involvement in developing the Keep Safe policy, and indeed considered the implementation on the policy to be extremely damaging to detainees.[221] Professor Louise Newman, Chair, explained why the policy was so concerning:

We have advised the department of this in the development of the PSP approach, that what was called the suicide and self-harm, or SASH, policy that Serco was operating with was contributing to people getting worse and more agitated. We have been trying to get a bit of a cultural change around that. We only had that sort of level of observation, when someone really needed to go to hospital and should not have been maintained in detention for immediate safety concerns. It is not best practice and in most cases it is contraindicated. Part of the issue is the lack of training, and we are trying to get information on the lack of roll-out of training on basic mental health processes and how to actually deal with these situations, particularly for Serco, who are not trained. They should not necessarily be seen as clinicians but they have an important role in being the front line in response to behavioural disturbance.[222]

3.86      Professor Newman advised that the Department had initiated a response in relation to these concerns, and an advisory panel had been established. However, in her view progress on this review had 'stalled'.[223] DeHAG placed responsibility with Serco for not implementing the policy correctly, but also with DIAC for failing to properly contract manage Serco's implementation.[224]

3.87      The Australian Human Rights Commission expressed 'serious' concern about the implementation of the PSP policy across the network:

The Commission also remains seriously concerned about the ongoing selfharm that is occurring in immigration detention facilities. The prevention of self-harm in detention and psychological support for people at risk of self-harm are addressed by DIAC's Psychological Support Program policy (PSP policy). The Commission is concerned that the PSP policy has not been adequately implemented across the detention network. In particular, the Commission has been concerned during a number of detention visits to learn that many staff have not received PSP training. It is not appropriate that monitoring is done by Serco staff who do not have appropriate qualifications or training. There is a need for a national framework for the delivery of PSP training on a rolling basis to ensure that all relevant Serco, DIAC and IHMS staff are provided with initial and refresher training.[225]

3.88      The Committee asked DIAC whether it had any ongoing concerns about Serco's implementation of the PSP policy. DIAC explained that it had discussed this issue with Serco:

There was a point where we had to ensure that the policies that we were applying were reflected adequately in the Serco policies. The SERCO Keep SAFE policies were policies that they had brought as an international organisation dealing with a number of different scenarios, prisoners and so on, where people are in detention and needing care. Our psychological support program in many respects overlapped with Serco's Keep SAFE program and we have had to make sure that their policies align with our expectations. There was a period when that was a subject of active negotiation.[226]

3.89      In late 2011 DIAC advised that it had recently developed a revised mental health awareness training program which had been piloted and now was being rolled out to Serco, DIAC and IHMS staff.[227] The evidence before the Committee suggests that the problem is not necessarily with the Keep Safe policy, but its implementation by officers who have not had adequate training. The Committee fervently hopes that once this training is complete some of the issues identified above will be addressed.

Committee view

3.90      The Committee is concerned that Serco's implementation of DIAC's Psychological Support Program through its Keep Safe policy may not achieve the outcomes intended. The Committee is especially concerned by criticism of the policy by the Detention Health Advisory Group, who argued that Serco's on-the-ground implementation of the policy may be harmful to detainees. The Committee also received evidence that Serco officers have not received sufficient mental health training to properly implement the Keep Safe policy.

Recommendation 6

3.91      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship effectively contract manage Serco's implementation of the Psychological Support Program Policy.

Recommendation 7

3.92      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship work with Serco and the Detention Health Advisory Group to reform the Keep Safe policy to ensure it is consistent with the Psychological Support Program Policy, as soon as possible.

Recommendation 8

3.93      The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship ensures that Serco provides adequate Detention Health Advisory Group-endorsed mental health training to Serco officers who implement the Psychological Support Program Policy.

Support for Serco officers

3.94      The Committee received evidence from Serco employees and unions that criticised the adequacy of support provided to Serco officers, particularly following distressing incidents.[228] The unions also advised that many Serco employees felt           ill-equipped to handle the heightened tension and despair in immigration facilities.

3.95      During the hearings on Christmas Island, Ms Kaye Bernard, General Secretary of the Union of Christmas Island Workers advised the Committee:

[Serco officers] are very concerned because they believe that they are ill equipped to deal with what they are dealing with out there in particular in relation to the mental health of some of the people that they are posted on SASH watch with. If it is a high-risk person they are meant to stand at arm's length from that person.[229]

3.96      A similar concern was expressed by Mr David McElrea of United Voice during the Sydney hearings. Mr McElrea described the support provided to detainees as 'quite limited', explaining

I know there is the employee assistance service that Serco provides, but I do not think there is any proactive support. Our members feel somewhat abandoned with respect to things like cutting people down, dealing with self-harm and so forth. I do not think they feel like they are adequately supported or there is enough of a proactive attempt to speak to them about how that might be affecting them. I have spoken to them. Some of them are big tough blokes and they break down talking about it. I am sure you have spoken to them yourselves. I think the assistance that is provided is quite typical of this company. There are great glossy brochures and paper systems, but on the ground it is quite lacking.[230]

3.97      United Voice also cited a number of disturbing examples of threats being made against Serco staff.[231] Following questioning by the Committee, DIAC has reported 871 incidents of alleged or witnesses inappropriate behaviour by detainees towards Serco officers, during 1 October 2009 to 30 June 2011.[232]

3.98      Serco provides support to employees through its Employee Assistance Program. This program makes counselling and psychological support available to employees free of charge.[233] Serco assured the Committee that it was serious about supporting its workers, explaining that:

We have the employee assistance program. We are particularly focused on ensuring our staff have the right support. We care passionately about their safety and wellbeing. We have a process in place to call upon an employee assistance program which would provide for counsellors to come on to the site to talk to the staff. There would be other actions carried out by management to make sure that the staff were properly cared for and had the opportunity to reflect on what had happened. We also employ permanent, appropriately-qualified psychologists to support that process as well. Serco outlined recent improvements that it had made to its training program for officers, including regular refresher training.[234]

3.99      Serco informed the Committee of the steps taken to support staff following a serious incident, explaining that:

We do critical incident debriefing and, if we do have a serious incident, one of the two full-time psychologists will attend that centre as soon as possible and provide ongoing critical-incident debriefing to those staff at the centre. They will identify any people that we feel could be at risk and maintain contact with those individuals. Then they will follow that up if necessary with more specialist support as required.[235]

3.100         The number of workers compensation claims across the network appear high. For example, Serco advised that as at 31 October 2011 there were 14 live workers compensation claims at Northern IDC and there were 13 at Inverbrackie APOD.[236] The Committee asked DIAC whether it had discussed the high rate of claims among Serco staff. DIAC advised the Committee that this was a matter for Serco, not DIAC.[237]

3.101         In addition to the obvious impact of self harm on detainees, the Committee recognises that the high rates of self harm adversely impact Serco Officers. Mr John Moorhouse recognised the unusually difficult environment that Serco and DIAC staff work in:

It is not something that most people in the working community have to face in their job; it is a profoundly challenging thing to have to deal with people who are self-harming. I want to convey a sense that we do understand the pressures on Serco staff. We want to support them to the extent we can with proper training and also, very importantly, we want to try to reduce some of the profound challenges they are facing through better management of facilities, through better management of behaviour and through reduction in self harm. I would like to put on the record that we have had substantial reduction in the level of self-harm since August. I think that comes not just from reducing populations but from more active management of these issues, better staff capability, and a range of other issues which we have been trying to put in place.[238]

3.102         In its report on the Curtin IDC, the AHRC expressed concern about the impact that a lack of training had on Serco officers who were required to conduct the Psychological Support Program observation.[239] This view was reflected by United Voice, who told the Committee that the support provided by Serco to staff was limited, and reactive rather than proactive.[240] DIAC reported that 1800 staff had received general mental health training as part of the Psychological Support Program Policy rollout in 2010, however were not able to identify how many staff had not received this training.[241]

Committee view

3.103         The Committee recognises that working in a detention centre environment can be challenging at times. The Committee notes that in some facilities detainee threats of self harm and actual self harm occur daily, and Serco staff have high rates of workers' compensation claims. The Committee believes that adequate counselling and training can go some way to relieving the pressures felt by some Serco officers.

Recommendation 9

3.104         The Committee recommends that Serco develop and implement improved proactive procedures to support staff following critical incidents.

Dispensing medication

3.105         The Serco confirmed during the Sydney hearing that Serco officers are required under the contract to carry out secondary dispensing of medication. Mr McIntosh explained to the Committee:

We have a very detailed and comprehensive policy that covers the issuing of secondary medication. There are a number of clear guidelines. It needs to be done under the written direction of the health services manager, the senior IHMS person. It is only carried out during the hours that IHMS are not in attendance. There is very detailed documentation that needs to be provided. The medication is handed over from IHMS to the Serco staff at the end of the IHMS shift. It is provided in blister packs or Webster packs. Serco staff are not unscrewing vials of pills and issuing the pills from there. It is prepackaged and provided with very clear directions on how it is to be issued to the clients. But we are happy to provide that policy also on notice if required.[242]

3.106         Serco advised the committee that Serco officers are not directed to dispense medication and staff who dispense medication do so voluntarily. Those who do assist are usually 'relatively senior staff members and are paid at a slightly higher rate.' The Serco officers who do dispense medication receive local on the job training from IHMS.[243] Professor Louise Newman, Chair of the Detention Health Advisory Group advised the committee that in her professional view, Serco officers should not be dispensing medication, as they are not properly trained to do so.[244]

3.107         During the Adelaide hearings, the Committee asked Serco to comment on what would happen if a Serco officer accidentally gave the wrong medicine to a person. Serco confirmed that staff provide the relevant dosage prepared by IHMS in a blister pack to the detainee, and the detainee administers the medication themselves.[245] In relation to liability, Serco advised:

The employer would be responsible for certain elements of the administration of its staff, including to provide the appropriate training and so on, and that is how we would apply every case and review every case on a case-by-case basis. Clearly you would not expect an employer to say that in all obvious cases there was no liability by any employee, but clearly there are degrees. If there were negligence, for example, there would be degrees of negligence. But in general terms my understanding is that the employer is responsible for the actions of its staff. Any employer would be, in accordance with Australian law.[246]

Committee view

3.108         The Committee was unable to form a view on whether or not junior staff were required to dispense medication to detainees. Serco has advised the Committee that only senior managers at some facilities dispense medication, and that a rigorous process is followed. However the Committee is aware of claims that junior officers who feel that they have not had adequate training have nonetheless been required to dispense medication. The Committee accepts that if this has occurred, it is not in line with Serco procedures. The Committee also accepts that primary dispensing of medication is done by trained and appropriately qualified IHMS staff.

Recommendation 10

3.109         The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship ensure Serco has appropriate procedures and training in place so that only where International Health and Medical Services personnel are not available can senior Serco managers participate in the secondary dispensing of medication.

Serco's role in providing security services

3.110         Serco acknowledges that it has a responsibility to provide security services in IDCs, in collaboration with DIAC, the Australian Federal Police and local state or territory police.[247] Disturbances in IDCs during 2011 highlighted a need to clarify the extent to which Serco is responsible for ensuring good order in centres it manages. The Hawke-Williams Review particularly concerned itself with this question, and this is discussed in Chapter 8.

3.111         Serco describes its security model as a combination of 'dynamic security' which 'overlays established security systems'. Dynamic security is apparently an approach that focuses on the interaction between staff and detainees.[248] This approach, while arguably consistent with the Immigration Detention Values, is not an effective approach when faced by people who are non-compliant with the system.

3.112         Serco observes that the Minister is specifically granted powers under section 273 of the Migration Act to establish and maintain detention centres. The Minister may also make regulations in relation to the operation and regulation of IDCs, including in relation to supervising detainees. Serco accepts and supports the strict limits on the powers that it may exercise in relation to detainees, particularly in relation to the use of force during serious disturbances.[249]

3.113         However, Serco believes that this has resulted in a lack of clarity about its role and the limits of its powers. Serco explained to the Committee:

As a consequence, there is insufficient clarity for detention centre operators around the limits on their obligations and powers in relation to use of force, to ensure the good order and control of immigration detention facilities.[250]  

3.114         For this reason Serco has highlighted to the Committee a need for final and binding interagency co-operation and communications protocols between Serco, DIAC, the AFP and relevant local police.[251] The Committee understands that such a protocol is currently being drafted and is in the final stages of negotiation.[252]

3.115         Following the disturbances in Villawood and on Christmas Island in early 2011, DIAC has worked with Serco to increase its emergency response capabilities. Serco has trained over 90 staff to be part of the Emergency Response Team (ERT), and is working towards equipping a total of 120 people in the ERT.[253]

3.116         The Hawke-Williams Report considered this issue as well, finding that the lack of clarity around Serco's role contributed to the delayed response to the riots. Serco's role in providing security services is discussed in more detail in Chapter 8.

Committee View

3.117         The Committee recognises the importance of Serco having a clear understanding of its power and responsibilities for security. The Hawke–Williams Review illustrates problems that can arise during a serious disturbance when all relevant parties do not know where their responsibility begins and ends.

Recommendation 11

3.118         Consistent with the findings of the Hawke-Williams Review, the Committee recommends that the government finalise a security protocol between Serco, the Australian Federal Police and local police in each state and territory.

Visitor arrangements

3.119         As discussed in Chapter 2, DIAC and Serco have agreed on a process for arranging visits in detention facilities. Generally, an online form must be completed and lodged at least 24 hours prior to the visit containing the prospective visitor's details and the reason for the visit.

3.120         During the hearings in Darwin, Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network explained to the Committee that their members find it difficult to arrange visits in the NIDC. Forms must be lodged not only 24 hours before the intended visit, but also during business hours. Sometimes a response is not received, and the visit cannot proceed. DASSAN explained that it has raised these concerns with DIAC:

We have spoken extensively with the department and with Serco about trying to address some of those issues. Some of them are logistical issues, or that is what we are told. The impact on people in detention and the impact on people in the community who are all really busy and try to organise their time to offer support for people is really negative. Our position, which is what we have said to DIAC and to Serco, is that they have to get it right. It is not really a difficult thing to do. Our understanding is that in other places in Australia it is much easier. Supporting people in detention is something that is supported; it is something that we get constant feedback on, including from DIAC and Serco, that it is very positive for people in detention. One of the issues here in Darwin is that we would like to see that process be more actively supported by the department and by Serco, and we would like to see it happen more easily.[254]

3.121         Ms Walker, from the Adelaide Hills Circle of Friends explained the challenges encountered when visiting detainees in Port Augusta:

I will give an example of the difficulty in getting to visit people at Port Augusta. Last year I became aware that there were Afghani young people there. I have quite a good network throughout the country but I was unable to find anyone who could help me find a name to put on my visit application form. The Afghanis came and went. More recently, I managed to befriend a friend of a friend and I went to visit Port Augusta last Saturday for the first time. So it took me 18 months to gather one single name to put on a visit form, gather that person's consent and go up and visit them.[255]

3.122         Ms Lesley Walker said that the system an Inverbrackie worked well, as long as the the prospective visitor had sufficient information about the detainee:

The system here works really well as long as you have the name and house number of a person in Inverbrackie detention centre. It is a bit clumsy, in that in other detention centres you can fax through your visitor application form. But I am told there is no fax facility at Inverbrackie so one must scan the form, sign it, scan it and email it. Apart from that, which is a bit inconvenient for some people who do not have access to those processes, it goes fairly smoothly and processing of the application happens within about 24 hours.[256]

3.123         The Committee asked Ms Walker how she knew who to visit:

Usually it is through a friend of a friend—maybe someone who has been in detention and knows someone who is still in detention—who is out on community detention or a visa. They say, 'Lesley, I'd like to visit my friend,' or 'Will you visit my friend?' And I say, 'Will you please check with your friend that they want you or me to come.' There is phone contact, so that is easily arranged.[257]

3.124         The Committee was told that the Serco Centre Manager, in conjunction with the DIAC duty manager, has responsibility for approving applications from visitors.[258] Serco explained that 'it is not our policy to allow unapproved visits. If a visit is approved at short notice, we do our best to facilitate it'.[259]

Committee view

3.125         The Committee believes that it is important that detainees have access to visits from friends, family and legal advisors in the community, and notes that this is one of the Immigration Detention Values.

3.126         The Committee received evidence across the country from people who encountered difficulties attempting to visit detainees. More complaints were received by people attempting to visit centres in remote areas. The Committee notes that DIAC has detailed information on its website about the process to be followed, including that a form must be filled out and 24 hours notice must be given. However, evidence provided to the Committee suggests that Serco and DIAC's implementation of this procedure is not consistent across the network.

3.127         The Committee also received complaints about the facilities available to visitors in facilities across the network. For example, at Inverbrackie APOD detainees and visitors have access to outdoor picnic tables. However the Committee acknowledges that DIAC is working to improve this and had recently built a visits area. The Committee also notes improved visitor facilities at Villawood IDC.

Recommendation 12

3.128         The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship require Serco local managers to apply a consistent practice and procedure protocol to visits across the network, in accordance with the information provided on the Department website.

Recommendation 13

3.129         The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship continue to improve visitor facilities across the network.

DIAC's administration of the contract

3.130         The DIAC regional management team at each IDC is responsible for effective administration of the contract, and ensuring that Serco provides services in a manner consistent with the terms of the contact and key DIAC policies. Dr Hawke and Ms Williams explained that the team:

3.131         The Hawke-Williams Review found that DIAC staff needed to be better trained in contract management, and more familiar with the provisions of the contract.[261]

3.132         As discussed earlier, the Department quite deliberately takes an outcomes based approach to auditing Serco's compliance with the contract. The Secretary of the Department explained:

This contract was conceived and written in response to the Cornelia Rau case. It was very much focused on delivering outcomes rather than being prescriptive. It was a quiet conscious policy decision taken by the previous government in relation to setting up a contract where the service provider would be held accountable for the results, rather than trying to tell them how to do their job. The tender process commenced on that basis and, of course, it is a matter of record that the number of people in immigration detention when Serco took on the contract was far smaller than it has been in recent times.[262]

3.133         DIAC informed the Committee that it had contracted Serco to provide a service on its behalf, and that DIAC considers Serco to be the experts in detention services and consequently does not attempt to intervene on matters of detail:

One of the things that we have sought to do in our higher level discussions with Serco is to allow them to do their job. This might be a strange way of putting it but, through the contract, we have bought their expertise. We have sought to allow them to use their expertise to do their job well. We hold them accountable for the outcomes—please do not misunderstand me; I am not trying to say this is a hands-off, laissez-faire approach; we do hold them accountable for the outcomes—but we do not try to tell them how to do their job.[263]

3.134         DIAC advised that it has never made a payment to Serco, based on the incentive payment scheme, since the contract was signed. Rather, it has imposed abatements every month since the abatement period commenced in March 2010.[264] The Secretary, Mr Andrew Metcalfe, acknowledged that there were areas where the contract could be improved, however DIAC worked within the existing contract:

I will be surprised if this committee does not provide us with recommendations as to changes to the contract. Indeed, there may be a philosophical issue some members pursue as to whether the services should be provided in an outsourced manner or within government. That is an issue for politicians to deal with. But we have a contract, we are committed to making it work and we constantly are seeking to refine and change the procedures to improve outcomes. I think we can claim some success in that respect.[265]

3.135         The abatement indicator matrix includes items such as catering, programs, activities, transport, security, maintenance. Self harm and disruptive behaviour have not been included, as these are matters that are considered outside Serco's control.[266]

3.136         DIAC and Serco are required to conduct an audit each month against the abatement indicator metrics. This has been conducted each month since March 2010 for each IDC. The total abatements during March 2010­–June 2011 is $14.8 million. The IRH/ITA Contract provides that a similar audit must be conducted quarterly. Four reviews were conducted over May 2010 to April 2011, and the total abatements during that period was $215,000.[267]

3.137         The Auditor-General is conducting an audit of DIAC's management of Serco's delivery of services to detainees, which will be tabled in 2012.[268]


3.138         The Committee notes that Serco has been required to respond to serious logistical challenges presented by the surge in detainees. This surge, the Committee notes, was not anticipated at the time that the detention services contracts were negotiated.

3.139         The Committee also recognises that the overwhelming majority of Serco officers come to work each day with the intention of providing adequate services to people in detention, and that generally Serco has developed policies and procedures to assist Serco officers to perform their duties.

3.140         However, the Committee cannot ignore the fact that Serco is being paid a very large sum of money to provide these services to the Commonwealth, and that payments are based on a contracted level of service. It is therefore disappointing and disturbing to learn of numerous shortcomings in service delivery. Staffing levels are inadequate, and place detainees and staff at serious risk. The program of activities in detention, one of the few things a detainee can do to keep themselves occupied, is still at a pilot stage and not fully implemented. Implementation of visitor protocols is haphazard, and can lead to confusion and frustration, a scenario the network cannot afford to encourage.

3.141         At least as alarming as these examples is the fact that a significant proportion of officers on duty in centres are not adequately trained to perform the roles expected of them, in spite of the clear widespread existence of complex mental health issues, and high rates of self harm.

3.142         The Committee's overall view is that Serco has not performed to the standard expected. While each detainee is housed, fed and clothed, the contract requires a higher standard than this and, even given all the complex and difficult circumstances of the detention environment, the Committee simply received too many examples of Serco failing to make the grade. The Committee hopes that implementation of the recommendations in this chapter will go some way to addressing these shortcomings.

3.143         The Committee is pleased that the recommendations from the Hawke-Williams Review has prompted further reforms of Serco's service delivery and has also highlighted the need for DIAC staff to be equipped to actively manage delivery of the contract.

3.144         In the next chapter the Committee examines the delivery of health services to people in immigration detention.

Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page