This inquiry has been a politically-motivated public-relations stunt on
the part of the Labor Party and the Greens Political Party designed to tarnish
the success of the Coalition’s strong border protection policies by inference
and hearsay. Government Senators condemn Opposition Senators for failing to
support policies which have saved lives, secured the border and restored
integrity to the immigration system. Their reckless actions also put into
jeopardy Australia’s strong relationships with Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
The committee's majority report (the report), by the Chair’s own
admission, relies heavily on evidence from previous inquiries—evidence that is
in many cases no longer current, no longer relevant, or has since been
disproven or otherwise clarified.
The report is highly speculative and relies consistently on anecdotal
evidence, second- and third-hand reports, and on unsupported allegations that
are presented as fact. The report also paraphrases evidence rather than
providing direct quotes and uses this technique to introduce highly emotive and
pejorative language that does not reflect the true state of affairs.
The report references media stories as 'evidence' and 'reports' of
alleged incidents at the RPCs. Government Senators would suggest that the
Australian people deserve a higher standard of veracity from Parliamentary
inquiries. If stories from a media outlet are the basis of fact for the report,
then this inquiry should have been abandoned completely and permanently
following the dissolution of the 44th parliament.
One of the report's key
themes relates to the financial impacts of operating RPCs, and claims that the
Coalition Government has failed to properly manage or report on the costs of managing
Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMAs). Government Senators are astonished by the
hypocrisy of these claims. Last September’s ANAO Report into Regional
Processing Centres exposed the dysfunctional establishment of the Regional
Processing Centres under Labor. The chaos the Labor Party and Greens Political
Party unleashed on our borders placed the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection (the department) under immense pressure, resulting in significant
process failures in that period.
The Coalition Government
is committed to maintaining Australia’s border security and managing
hard-working Australian’s tax revenue in a responsible and effective manner. It
was the Labor-Greens Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government that opened the Regional
Processing Centres on Manus Island and Nauru. It was the Labor-Greens
Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government that perpetuated the people-smuggling trade and
allowed a flood of illegal arrivals to enter Australia. And it was the
Labor-Greens Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government that wasted billions of dollars on a
failed and broken system. In 2013 the Coalition Government committed itself to
the task of repairing this broken system and has largely succeeded at the task.
Labor and the Greens
completely lost control of Australia’s borders, and every Australian continues
to bear the burden of their disastrous legacy. Border agencies were restricted
by budget cuts, and control of our borders was handed over to people smugglers.
The integrity of our migration programme was destroyed by 50,000 illegal arrivals
on more than 800 successful people smuggling ventures. Under Labor and the
Greens’ failed border protection policies, over 8000 children were put into
detention. This included almost 2000 children at the one time. Tragically,
there were at least 1200 deaths at sea due to the Labor-Greens
Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government’s arrogance and complacency.
The Coalition has been diligently working to clean up this mess through
Operation Sovereign Borders. The Government will not waver in its commitment to
keep Australia's borders secure. Regional processing is a key component of the
Government’s border protection framework which has stopped the boats and
therefore the deaths at sea. The Government is operating the largest and most
capable maritime surveillance and response fleet Australia has ever deployed.
Any people smuggling boats that attempt to reach Australia are intercepted and
Under the Coalition Government
there has not been a successful boat arrival in over 980 days which has put an
end to the tragic deaths of asylum seekers at sea. Having stopped the boats,
the Government had set about its next task: to empty and close detention
centres. The Coalition Government removed all children from detention
and closed 17 detention centres, contributing $3 billion to Budget savings.
Having now disrupted
the criminal people smuggling syndicates and removed the children from
detention, the Coalition Government is acting decisively to resolve Labor's
offshore legacy: the illegal maritime arrivals in regional processing centres
on Manus Island and Nauru.
A dividend of the
Coalition Government's strong control over Australia's borders has been the
additional intake of 12,000 refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
continue to be a leader in the permanent resettlement of refugees. The Government
has committed to increasing the number of places under the Humanitarian
Programme to 16,250 in 2017-18 and then 18,750 places in
Responsibility for the operation of Regional Processing Centres (RPCs)
in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG) lies with the respective Governments of
those sovereign nations. The department continues to support those Governments
by funding the RPCs, and providing capacity-building support to local services.
Coalition Senators commend these efforts.
Coalition Senators welcome the refugee resettlement arrangement with the
United States of America.
The Committee Majority's Recommendations
Recommendation 1 of the report recommends that recommends that the department,
as a matter of urgency, commission an external review of its medical transfer
procedures in offshore processing centres.
Government Senators do not agree with this recommendation.
A robust process is
in place for the timely medical transfer of transferees and refugees requiring
medical treatment that is not available in Nauru or Manus. As the department
noted in its submission to the inquiry:
Transferees and refugees requiring medical treatment not
available in Nauru or Manus may be transferred to another location to receive
treatment. Medical transfers to Port Moresby from both Nauru and Manus are
undertaken on medical advice from IHMS. The Department makes logistical travel
arrangements for all medical transfer cases. Emergency evacuations are
undertaken by air ambulance as a priority, whereas commercial or charter
aircraft are used to transfer more routine, non- urgent cases.
The department's response to QON RPC002 outlines the process for
transfer to Australia:
those patients where transfer to Australia is recommended, the health care
provider, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) will generate a
Request for Medical Movement (RMM) form which states the reason for transfer
and a recommended timeframe which can range from immediate or within 24 hours
for an emergency to a few months for an elective matter.
- The Departmental
clinical review checks to see that advice is supported by appropriate
specialist opinion, and that the necessary services are not presently available
offshore or the capability to provide the service cannot be commissioned.
decision to permit a person to travel to Australia as a transitory person, under
the Migration Act 1958, is made by the Assistant Commissioner, Detention,
Compliance and Removals, based on the clinical IHMS advice and Chief Medical
The department provided
evidence that it considers a range of complex factors when an asylum seeker is recommended for specialist care that is not
available on Manus or Nauru. This
availability of treatment options in third countries and the capacity of service providers to deploy enhanced capability to
Manus and/or Nauru to provide clinical assessment and treatment in-country.
The department gave
further evidence to the Committee at the 15 March hearing that urgent transfers
are undertaken when medically necessary:
CHAIR: But, if it is very urgent, you
might need something quicker than 24 hours, surely? If it is urgent, it is like
calling an ambulance; it needs to be immediate.
Mr Woodford-Smith: Yes, and we will absolutely work in
whatever that time frame is. So, if IHMS says, 'This person is absolutely
critical and will die without intervention,' then we will make sure that the
appropriate intervention—if it is a condition or an issue that cannot be dealt
with on island, then we will make sure that we are getting an immediate
response to that particular incident. That is without a doubt.
Recommendation 2 of the report recommends that the Australian
Government undertake to seek advice in relation to whether improvements are
required to the medical treatment options available to asylum seekers and
refugees in the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea, particularly mental
health services. Government Senators disagree with this recommendation and are
of the view the provision of health services to IMAs currently in the Republic
of Nauru and Papua New Guinea is conducted to a high standard.
The Australian Government,
through the department, has provided over $1 billion dollars for infrastructure
projects on Manus and Nauru, including hospital facilities in Nauru, the Nauru
Primary School, a Community Resource Centre on Nauru and the East Lorengau
Refugee Transit Centre on Manus. This includes almost $500 million on Manus and
more than $550 million on Nauru.
The department gave
evidence that, in 2014, a new multipurpose primary and mental healthcare
facility that provides 18 separate consultation rooms was constructed at RPC1
The department gave further
evidence that, in June 2015, a new medical centre was commissioned and handed
over for use as part of the Manus RPC2 enhancement works. The medical centre
provides a dental unit, x-ray facility, pharmacy, six-person in-patient
facility, and mental health and general practitioner consultation rooms.
Health care is
provided to all transferees at the RPC's, consistent with Australian public
health standards, with transferee health services provided in modern clinics at
the RPCs, staffed by general practitioners, registered nurses, psychologists
and counsellors. Healthcare clinics are open at the RPCs seven days per week,
and after-hours medical staff are able to respond to any after-hours medical
Mental health care,
including torture and trauma counselling services, is provided by the department’s
Health Services Provider through general practitioners, mental health nurses,
psychologists, counsellors and psychiatrists. Mental health screening is
routinely provided by mental health clinicians at the RPCs, in line with the
screening policies in operation in Australia
Recommendation 3 of the report recommends that
that the Australian Government recognise the impacts of long-term immigration
detention, including by commissioning an independent assessment of its impacts
on physical and mental health. Government Senators disagree with this
physical or mental health impacts during immigration detention are actioned on
a case-by-case basis. Expending taxpayers’ resources on broad-based study will
not, in the view of Government Senators, add value. For such a study to yield
useful data it would need to be conducted over a prohibitively wide-ranging sample
of detainees, detention sites, climates, and geographical conditions. The
effectiveness of the Coalition Government’s border-protection scheme means that
a wide-ranging sample of this kind is simply no longer in existence to be
The physical and
mental health care services that are provided to immigration detainees reflect
the extensive nature of the Department’s engagement in this area. Conducting
additional expensive and lengthy studies will not add value to service-delivery.
The Government has
secured several pathways for refugees to resettle in third countries, including
in the United States. This is the best possible outcome for refugees on Manus
Recommendation 4 of
the report recommends that an external audit and investigation be conducted
into all incident reports over the life of the Transfield Pty Ltd and
Broadspectrum Australia Pty Ltd contracts at the Manus Island and Nauru
Regional Processing Centres, including an analysis of:
incidences which were downgraded in severity;
any inconsistencies in relation to incidents being downgraded in
evidence of follow-up activities in relation to reported
Government Senators do
not agree with this recommendation and do not believe that further
investigation is necessary.
The department gave
evidence that it does not allow offences to go unreported. Within the Regional
Processing Centre (RPC), where the alleged victim consents or where mandatory
reporting applies, all allegations of assault are reported to the Government of
Nauru for referral to the Nauru Police Force (NPF) for investigation. All
residents, refugees and asylum seekers involved in incidents are encouraged and
supported to report incidents to the appropriate agency.
The department continues
to assist and support service providers, the Government of Nauru, and local
Nauruan authorities to support continuous improvement to incident response and
reporting practices, including referrals for additional services or to the
Nauru Police Force in cases of possible criminal wrongdoing. These continuous
improvement processes have seen a significant strengthening of incident
response and management capabilities, including how the department tracks
incidents reported to it and appropriate response actions.
providers are contractually required to report and record all reportable
incidents to the department that occur in RPCs. The department maintains a
record of all reported alleged incidents. Robust reporting protocols govern the
reporting of all incidents.
Recommendation 5 of
the report recommends that that the Australian Government undertake to work
with the Government of the Republic of Nauru to establish an independent
children's advocate who would have both the jurisdiction and authority to advocate
for the rights of children being held in the Republic of Nauru. Government
Senators do not agree with this recommendation.
A Commonwealth Child
Advocate would not have jurisdiction to operate in the sovereign nations of
Nauru and PNG, which operate the respective regional processing centres in
Nauru and Manus Island.
There are existing
entities with similar responsibilities to what a Child Advocate would
presumably hope to achieve. For example, the Government of Nauru has
established a dedicated Child Protection Unit with a staff of 6 people. The
Child Protection Unit has the lead responsibility for the care and protection
of children in Nauru and has established systems and processes to respond to
cases of child abuse and neglect.
The Coalition Government
has worked determinedly to introduce measures that ensure the safety of
children. The Coalition:
established the Moss Review in 2014;
established the Child Protection Panel;
establish a departmental taskforce in 2016 to support the Child
funded the deployment of five Australian Federal Police officers
to Nauru to support, mentor and train NPF officers dealing with the
investigation of child abuse and sexual assault claims reported to the NFP; and
assisted the Government of Nauru (GoN) in establishing its
dedicated Child Protection Unit.
In addition, current
oversight of the RPCs is undertaken by the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the
International Committee of the Red Cross. These organisations separately
conduct regular inspection visits of the RPC, and the post-visit reports are
actioned by the Australian Government and service providers as appropriate.
Recommendation 6 of the report recommends that
the department confirm publicly that any asylum seeker or refugee who has been
transferred to Australia for medical or other reasons, or who remains in
Australia pursuant to domestic legal action, can apply to participate in the USA refugee resettlement arrangement, and
that they will not need to return to either the Republic of Nauru or Papua New
Guinea to do so. Government Senators disagree with this recommendation because
it suggests that all asylum seeker cases are identical and do not need to be
assessed on their individual merits.
The Coalition Government
has entered into an arrangement with the United States to support the
resettlement of refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
of the three leading countries in global humanitarian resettlement, Australia and
the US have a long history of bilateral cooperation on mutual and respective
will conduct their own assessment of refugees to determine which refugees are
eligible for resettlement in the United States. Throughout the process of this
Inquiry, Opposition Senators have been intent on attempting to undermine, and
ultimately de-rail, this agreement. They do not care about the best interests
of those on Manus and Nauru; they only care about playing politics.
is one-off and no-one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally in the
future will be resettled in the US.
resettlement of UNHCR-referred refugees from regional processing countries will
take time and will not be rushed. The arrangement entered into with the United
States to support the resettlement of refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea
As at 30 March, more
than 1,500 people have registered their interest in being considered for US
resettlement. US officials, including those from the Department of Homeland
Security, have visited both Nauru and Manus to collect biometrics and conduct
interviews. The priority remains the resettlement of the most vulnerable
refugees, with an initial focus on women, children and families.
is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the
Coalition Government continues to engage with UNHCR on its implementation.
Recommendation 7 of
the report recommends that the Australian Government give serious consideration
to all resettlement offers it receives, including the Government of New
Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Papua New Guinea and the Republic of
Nauru. Further, if particular resettlement offers are considered unsuitable,
the Government should clearly outline the reasons. Government Senators do not
agree with this recommendation because its premise – that the Government does
not consider all resettlement offers – is mischievous and false.
arrangement detailed in paragraphs 3.23 to 3.30 of this Dissenting Report amply
demonstrates the Coalition Government’s commitment to viable resettlement
options that will result in good outcomes for IMAs, and the ultimate
de-commissioning of the Nauru and Manus Island RPCs.
Recommendation 8 of the report recommends that
the Australian Government give consideration to supporting refugee and asylum
seeker family members to pursue options to resettle together. Government Senators do not agree with this
majority has not provided enough detail about the proposed architecture or
funding of such a scheme to allow Government Senators the opportunity to make a
useful assessment of its merits. Government Senators are concerned by the
recommendation's use of the word 'supporting' which could be taken to be
suggesting that the Australian taxpayer should bear the cost of making
satisfactory familial arrangements for persons who are not Australian citizens.
Government Senators do not believe that this would be a responsible use of
taxpayers' dollars and think it unlikely that the wider community would support
such an idea.
Recommendation 9 of
the report recommends that the Australian Government increase Australian
funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Government Senators do not agree with recommendation.
would point out that this recommendation is a generalised notion about the
UNHCR. Once again the committee majority have strayed from the subject matter
of the Inquiry, which relates to the operation of RPCs and the experiences of
the IMAs who are detained there.
government is a generous contributor to the UNHCR. In the financial year
2015-16 the Australian government contributed $57.98 million of funding. In the
2016-17 financial year, to 31 December 2016, the Australian government has
already contributed $32.92 million.
of support and assistance for refugees is second-to-none and Government Senators
find it offensive in the extreme for the committee majority to suggest that
Australia is lacking in its commitment to humanitarian aid. The Australian
taxpayer already performs a disproportionate amount of the heavy-lifting when
it comes to refugee intakes and resettlements. What the Australian Government –
and the Australian people - will not abide, however, is lax border security, a
thriving people-smuggling trade, 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals, 8000
children in detention and 1200 deaths at sea. These things are all the legacy
of the Labor and Greens Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government. It is the Coalition Government
that is rectifying this mess.
Recommendation 10 of
the report recommends that the Australian Government commit to increasing
Australia's annual refugee intake. Government
Senators disagree with this recommendation and refer to the above statements
regarding Australia’s refugee intake and humanitarian commitment. Australia
will continue to be a leader in the permanent resettlement of refugees.
note that the Coalition government has committed to increasing the number of
places under the Humanitarian Programme to 16,250 in 2017-18 and then 18,750
places in 2018-19.
Recommendation 11 of
the report recommends that the Australian Government undertake to work with
Australia's Asia-Pacific neighbours to establish a regional framework for the
processing of claims for asylum. Government Senators disagree with this
recommendation on the basis that it is their view that such cooperation already
Australia is a leading
state actor in the fight against people smuggling and human trafficking in the
region. The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and
Related Transnational Crime is the preeminent regional forum on people smuggling
and human trafficking, and is co-chaired by Australia and Indonesia. The
Australian government continues to work closely with other countries in the
region to disrupt people smuggling ventures and, in the process, save lives at
sea and preventing vulnerable people being exploited.
Recommendation 12 of
the report recommends that the Australian Government review the Work Health
and Safety Act 2011 to ensure that Comcare can exercise its regulatory
powers in relation to Australian workplaces outside Australia's geographical
jurisdiction, in a timely and straightforward manner. Government Senators do
not agree with this recommendation.
are of the view that there is no need for a review of the Commonwealth Work
Health and Safety Act 2011 as recommended by the Committee. Government
Senators do not consider that any evidence provided to this inquiry indicates
that Comcare is not appropriately exercising its regulatory powers in relation
to Australian workplaces. Furthermore, this recommendation is beyond the scope
of the inquiry.
Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald Senator
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