The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with hardening works at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre (YHIDC). YHIDC is located at Northam, approximately 90km east of Perth in Western Australia.
The project is estimated to cost $27.427 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee for inquiry on 1 December 2016.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received one submission and two confidential submissions from DIBP. It also received submissions from the Refugee Rights Action Network Western Australia (RRANWA) and the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees Inc (CARAD). A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 3 February 2017, the Committee conducted a public and in-camera hearing with the DIBP. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
In its submission, DIBP discussed the changing profile of those held in immigration detention centres:
The held immigration detention population is reducing given lower risk detainees are generally placed in the community as soon as practicable. This has significantly changed the profile of the held immigration detention population, with a growing proportion of the population being medium to high risk. An increasing number of the immigration detention population have had their visas cancelled on character grounds, due to criminal convictions and links to organised crime or outlaw motorcycle gangs. Others are not able to be released into the community for security reasons, or because of behavioural concerns while residing in an immigration detention facility.
As a result of this shift, DIBP states that its current facilities are not fit for purpose ‘to manage an increased higher risk cohort, and to maintain separation between cohorts’, as existing facilities were ‘largely designed to accommodate a low to medium risk caseload’.
The lack of fit-for-purpose facilities to accommodate the higher risk cohort led DIBP to review its Immigration Detention Network (IDN) ‘with a view to contracting the immigration detention footprint’. DIBP states that the remaining IDN will need to provide facilities that allow sufficient ‘flexibility to manage a range of cohorts, including higher risk groups, and provide sufficient security to support the maintenance of good order’.
In the 2016-17 Budget process, the Government announced the closure of three immigration detention facilities over the next 24 months given the reduction in the held detention population, and the decision not to extend the lease of a fourth. It also announced investment in three key remaining facilities in the network to make them fit for purpose to manage the increasing numbers of higher risk detainees.
The three remaining facilities are the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation facility, the YHIDC, and Villawood IDC. DIBP notes that the timing of the closure of other facilities ‘is linked to the establishment of new higher security capability’ at these three sites.
DIBP submitted that YHIDC is the preferred facility for adaptation to accommodate detainees in Western Australia:
YHIDC was the only existing facility of a suitable size to meet the long term immigration detention requirements. It was on Commonwealth owned land, and leveraging off an existing facility and services reduced the costs of establishing new higher security capability.
The closure of the other IDCs in Western Australia will be timed to coincide with the completion of the proposed security upgrades at YHIDC. According to DIBP:
Perth Immigration Residential is closing at the end of 2016, as it is a low security facility and not suitable for the increasing risks posed by the immigration detention population. It is also not required given the reduced numbers in immigration detention.
Perth IDC is suitable for a short-term caseload only, as it is small and does not have suitable amenity for a long-term population.
In its submission, DIBP argued that YHIDC was best placed to adapt to the changing need for high security accommodation within the IDN:
YHIDC, therefore, has been selected to be the primary facility in the west. It is a low to medium risk facility, and must be modified to provide capacity to separate different cohorts, and to provide flexibility to house high to extreme risk detainees in some compounds. This will reduce the need for additional guarding which is more expensive.
The Department’s submission stated that during its consideration of ‘options for compressing the immigration detention footprint in the west’, it considered the establishment of a new facility. However, this idea was discounted because it would be ‘much more expensive’ than adapting an existing facility.
Scope of the works
YHIDC became operational on 27 June 2012 and was designed for 600 low to medium risk detainees. Capital works of this value would usually be referred to the Committee for inquiry prior to parliamentary approval. In this case, due to the ‘urgent nature of the works’, the House of Representatives approved the work without a referral to the Committee in November 2010.
DIBP has proposed substantially re-building two compounds at YHIDC. New accommodation buildings would be constructed with beds for 120 higher risk detainees. Two existing compounds would continue to accommodate lower to medium risk detainees.
According to DIBP, the following operational requirements have been used as the basis for planning the proposed works:
The provision of hardened accommodation to meet the shift in the type of cohorts coming through the centre;
Provision of smaller compounds that can be more easily managed;
Provision of a new detainee reception and dispatch building with search and vetting capability suitable for the type of cohort accommodated in the hardened accommodation;
Introduction of new movement control to enable movement of cohorts on site in a way that is safe for both cohorts and staff;
Provision of equitable access to amenities including recreation, health, welfare and educational facilities for cohorts; and
The compounds must be built in a staged way, as there are not sufficient beds in the IDN to allow closure of two compounds concurrently.
DIBP’s submission outlined the broad scope of construction:
Decommissioning of existing bedroom and ancillary amenities accommodation in Eagle and Swan compounds;
Construction of 120 hardened beds in four compounds at an estimated cost of $27.4 million, including the following amenities and facilities:
60 new ensuite bunked bedrooms providing 120 beds across four compounds;
Small medical services space for routine drug dispensing and consultations;
New higher risk detainee reception and dispatch;
New internal movement control points;
A central spine of facilities for each compound including: recreation room, gym, classroom, tea point, laundry, servery and telephones;
The introduction of a new sterile zone with visible deterrents and active security surveillance; and
The proposed secure accommodation includes the following components:
Decommissioning and removal of existing accommodation from within Eagle and Swan compounds at the YHIDC, where possible retaining existing amenity;
Construction of a new secure 120 hardened bed accommodation within four compounds. DIBP has identified a suitable modular accommodation solution based on correctional service style accommodation;
The compound will provide capacity for internal separation of detainee groups;
The compound is to be self-contained and include detainee amenities such as laundry, telephones, internet facilities and recreational space;
The project will introduce a new sterile zone to secure both the perimeter via anti-climb fencing and internal separation fencing to meet functional requirements;
Other security elements will include closed circuit television capability, perimeter detection and security lighting;
The project will include completion of all necessary civil works including connection of existing services; and
As YHIDC will remain operational during the works, all works will have to be staged with the successful contractor(s) to ensure interruptions to the management of the Centre are minimised.
As mentioned above, the Committee received two submissions to this inquiry focused on concerns held by asylum seeker welfare organisations about the extent to which the proposed facilities are appropriate for the full range of individuals held in immigration detention.
In its submission, CARAD stated:
The documents provided [to the Committee] misrepresent the composition of YHIDC population and do not take account of the facts that many vulnerable asylum seekers remain there. Continued mixing of asylum seekers with other cohorts, including people with serious criminal records, is an issue of great concern. Any assessment of the need for the hardening works should clearly distinguish between the groups who are accommodated at YHIDC.
In its submission, DIBP states that after the proposed works are completed, YHIDC will have the two compounds to house high risk detainees, and two compounds to house low and medium risk detainees.
At the public hearing, DIBP told the Committee that ‘in normal operations’, DIBP expects that the various populations of YHIDC ‘would probably mix without too many restrictions’. However, DIBP also stated that separating the low and medium risk cohort from the high risk cohort ‘is certainly open to the management of the centre’:
It would really depend on the nature of the population there at the time. The intention here is to give flexibility to our management side, to be able to do a more restrictive and separated regime in [the high risk] section of the compound.
Another concern was raised by RRANWA regarding the extent to which the proposed works would provide for the needs of detainees:
A striking aspect of DIBPs proposal is that its focus is entirely on accommodating high risk individuals; how the proposal will affect low risk, high needs individuals has been overlooked. No indication has been provided as to whether placements in the ‘hardened’ accommodation are intended to be short term or long term, or as to what access people in the Eagle and Swan compounds will have to activities and excursions. Access to appropriate recreation, particularly for people detained for extended periods of time, will be important to support peoples’ mental health and will be critical to maintain ‘good order’. Likewise, there is no apparent strategy to address the rehabilitation needs of ‘high risk’ individuals who may be dealing with substance abuse issues.
In regard to the health and welfare needs of detainees, DIBP’s submission notes that ‘existing protections and welfare arrangements for detainees will be maintained’, and that appropriate physical and mental health services will continue to be available to detainees.
Additionally, at the public hearing, DIBP told the Committee:
The Department’s master plan leverages off the existing infrastructure as far as practicable to contain costs, and we are working within the current perimeter of the current facility. The master planning also ensured that there was adequate amenity for both low- and higher risk detainees and capacity to separate these groups if required. The Department takes its duty of care seriously. The facility operating model will ensure adequate amenity for all detainees regardless of their risk rating, equitable access to medical treatment and structured programs and activities.
DIBP also provided more detail on how the health and medical needs of detainees would be provided for:
All of the detainees have access to health services delivered by our contracted healthcare provider, International Health Medical Services (IHMS). As the existing medical centre within the centre remains, we continue to provide general practitioner, nursing and mental health care clinics. They are available at the centre five days a week; they will be supplemented by this new smaller medical dispensing centre as part of the upgrade. That facility will be used for routine dispensing of medical drugs for the detainees.
The evidence received from asylum seeker welfare organisations raising concerns about the extent to which low and medium risk detainees would be able to mix with high risk detainees was concerning. Given that many high risk detainees are awaiting deportation after having their visas cancelled on character grounds due to criminal convictions, the potential for low risk detainees such as asylum seekers and airport turnarounds to mix with people convicted of serious criminal offences raises many issues.
However, the evidence presented by DIBP indicating that YHIDC will have the capacity to separate low and high risk cohorts has assured the Committee that arrangements are in place to ensure that low risk detainees are not put at risk. Further, the means by which these issues are dealt with are largely operational, and outside the scope of this inquiry. The Committee is satisfied by the fact that the capacity to separate the cohorts exists, and that the design of the proposed works allows the management of the centre the operational flexibility to put appropriate arrangements in place as needed.
The Committee also notes the evidence received from asylum seeker welfare organisations that immigration detention is inappropriate and that alternatives to detention should be pursued. These concerns relate to the policy adopted by Government towards immigration issues, and thus falls outside the functions of the Committee as defined in the Public Works Committee Act 1969. As such, the Committee would encourage organisations like CARAD and the RRANWA to continue to raise their concerns with DIBP and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
The Committee was also concerned by evidence indicating that some high risk detainees can also be characterised as ‘high needs’. The evidence presented by DIBP indicating that all future detainees at YHIDC – both low and high risk – will have access to appropriate physical and mental health facilities and treatment, as well as recreational facilities and programs, has reassured the Committee on this issue.
In light of the assurances the Committee received regarding the capacity to separate cohorts and access to appropriate facilities within YHIDC, the Committee finds that the proposed scope of works is suitable for the works to meet its purpose.
In late 2016, the Committee considered a proposal from DIBP to install a new perimeter fence at YHIDC. At the public hearing, DIBP provided details on the new fencing:
The new internal fence will be 5.1 metres high, with a barrel top and detection, and is currently being installed at the cost of $2.7 million, as agreed by the Committee in December of 2016. These fences are separated by a sterile zone that incorporates electronic intrusion detection and security technologies such as cameras and duress alarm buttons which are monitored from a central control room.
DIBP’s submission states that it conducted consultations with DIBP, the Department of Finance, Serco, and International Health and Medical Services.
At the public hearing, DIBP discussed its efforts at public consultation:
We have had some limited informal consultation with community members. I describe that is limited and informal. We have been relying on this process to ensure that the broader public are aware of the nature of the project.
When questioned on whether DIBP had engaged with the YHIDC Community Reference Group (CRG), DIBP stated that ‘has not met that regularly’, and that ‘some of the membership had fallen away in recent times’.
In a supplementary submission, DIBP provided further detail on the CRG:
A CRG was established to support the initial construction of the Yongah Hill facility and was chaired by the Regional Manager for Detention Operations Western Australia. The group met on a monthly basis. Following the cessation of the construction of YHIDC, this group merged into the community consultative group (CCG).
The CCG meetings provide an opportunity for community members to raise any issues of concern, particularly around detainee welfare. A meeting was scheduled for late last year however only three stakeholders were available. The next meeting of the CCG is scheduled for March 2017.
DIBP told the Committee that it has proposed the reestablishment of the CRG, with the support of representatives of the local Shire Council. It is intended that the CRG will be composed of representatives of Northam Shire Council, the Western Australia Police Force and local business groups, and will meet quarterly to:
Provide regular updates on the proposed capital works program;
Address any issues of concern to the community; and
Provide regular opportunities for Serco to advise interested community members of their recruitment processes and opportunities for local businesses.
In the Committee’s view, DIBP’s initial attempts at community consultation were severely lacking. The Committee is particularly disappointed with DIBP’s assumption that this inquiry alone is sufficient to ensure that the general public are aware of the proposed works and their potential impact on nearby residents and communities.
Proponent entities should always seek to engage with local communities, including local councils, state and federal members of parliament, and any relevant community groups, prior to or during the Committee’s consideration of proposed works. This consultation process is a vital and necessary component of any major public works project, in that it gives local communities an opportunity to understand how the proposed works may impact them, what opportunities proposed works can offer them, and to ask questions and raise concerns about projects.
However, the Committee is pleased to note that despite the lack of early efforts at consultation, DIBP has since made much greater efforts to engage with the Northam community regarding the proposed works. The Committee believes that DIBP should make such consultation processes a standard feature for all proposed works at immigration detention centres in Australia, including for projects that fall below the $15 million threshold for referral to the Committee for inquiry.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection seek to establish community consultation groups for all of the immigration detention centres in Australia, and to use these groups as:
A means of providing the local community with information on all construction works undertaken at immigration detention centres; and
A means for local residents and groups to ask questions, provide feedback on, and raise concerns about proposed construction projects.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will provide the Committee with three-monthly updates on the progress and outcomes of community consultation for the hardening works at Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre until the completion of the project.
Cost of the works
The project has a budget of $27.427 million, exclusive of GST. This includes contingencies, cost escalation and associated professional fees. Funding for the project is being sourced from funds appropriated to the Department.
The Department provided further detail on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre hardening works.
Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.