Introduction and background
Referral of the Inquiry
On 26 March 2015, the Senate resolved to establish the Select Committee
on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the
Regional Processing Centre in Nauru, to inquire into and report by 15 June 2015
on the responsibilities of the Commonwealth Government in connection with the
management and operation of the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru.
On 12 June the committee tabled an interim report,
and on 15 June the Senate extended the reporting date for the inquiry to 31
On 31 July 2015, the committee reported that due to unforeseen circumstances it
was unable to complete its work and would seek to be re-established on the next
sitting day. The committee was re-established on 10 August 2015, with the same
terms of reference, with a reporting date of 31 August 2015.
The committee's terms of reference required it to report on:
...the responsibilities of the Commonwealth Government in
connection with the management and operation of the Regional Processing Centre
in Nauru (the Centre), with particular reference to:
- how the Commonwealth Government
is fulfilling its obligations under the Memorandum of Understanding between The
Republic of Nauru and the Commonwealth of Australia relating to the transfer to
and assessment of persons in Nauru, cost and related issues;
- the performance of the
Commonwealth Government in connection with the Centre, including the conduct
and behaviour of the staff employed at the Centre, to the extent that the
Commonwealth Government is responsible;
- the Commonwealth Government’s
duty of care obligations and responsibilities with respect to the Centre;
- the circumstances that
precipitated the Moss Review, including allegations made regarding conditions
and circumstances at the centre and the conduct and behaviour of staff employed
by contracted service providers, the timing of the Commonwealth Government’s
knowledge of the allegations, and the appropriateness of the response of the
Commonwealth Government to these allegations;
- factors relating to the timing
of the release of the Moss Review;
- the response of the
Commonwealth Government to the recommendations of the Moss Review, including
timelines for implementation; and
- any related matters.
Conduct of the inquiry
In accordance with usual process, the inquiry was advertised on the
website of the Australian Parliament, and the committee also wrote to relevant
persons and organisations inviting submissions to the inquiry by 27 April 2015.
A number of submissions were received and considered by the committee after the
closing date for submissions.
The committee received 101 submissions to the inquiry, including a
number of confidential submissions. The list of submissions received is at Appendix
1. The committee also received a large volume of correspondence, much of which
was accepted on a confidential basis.
The committee held public hearings in Canberra on 19 May, 9 June, 20
July and 20 August 2015. The witnesses who appeared at the public hearings are
listed at Appendix 2, and additional information received by the committee
during and following the hearings is at Appendix 3.
The committee thanks all those who made submissions, gave evidence at
its hearings, and otherwise assisted the inquiry. The committee recognises that
for many submitters, particularly asylum seekers, staff and former staff and
others directly involved with circumstances and events at the Nauru processing
centre, it was difficult and for some, distressing, to provide evidence to the
committee. The committee has benefited from their willingness to assist in its
inquiry and expresses its gratitude to them.
In its interim report, tabled on 12 June 2015, the committee noted the
substantial volume of sensitive information received to that date, and that the
committee required additional time to consider the evidence and prepare its
The committee made one initial recommendation, in relation to ensuring
that Commonwealth expenditure on public works in the Republic of Nauru is
appropriately considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works in
accordance with the Public Works Committee Act 1969.
This issue is further discussed in Chapter 2, under 'Costs and
prioritisation of resources'.
Structure of this report
The report is structured as follows:
the remainder of this chapter provides background on the Republic
of Nauru, the establishment and operation of the immigration detention centre
on Nauru, jurisdiction over the centre, and allegations of sexual and other
chapter 2 examines evidence received by the committee in relation
to the obligations and performance of the Commonwealth government in relation
to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, including questions of legal
jurisdiction and Australia's role, the management and conduct of staff, systems
of transfer and processing of asylum seekers and costs;
chapter 3 sets out concerns raised over living conditions, and
includes information on the provision of services and facilities;
chapter 4 discusses issues relating to the protection of asylum
seekers, including matters arising from the Forgotten Children and Moss
Review reports, the evidence received by this committee in relation to sexual
abuse, fear and safety, and particular concerns regarding the protection of
asylum seeker children; and
chapter 5 summarises the committee's conclusions and
recommendations on the issues explored during the inquiry.
A note on terminology
The Australian Government refers to the immigration detention facility
in Nauru as the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. Within the facility, the
separate sites are referred to as Regional Processing Centre One (RPC 1), Two
(RPC 2) and Three (RPC 3). Some submitters and witnesses have used other
terminology for the centre and the sites such as OPC (offshore processing
centre) or Nauru detention centre. Except where directly quoting others, this
report generally uses the term Nauru Regional Processing Centre or RPC, and the
site identifiers RPC 1, RPC 2 and RPC 3.
Individuals detained at the RPC are referred to by the Australian
Government as 'transferees'. Other stakeholders variously use other terms,
notably 'detainees' and 'asylum seekers'. Except where directly quoting others,
this report generally refers to persons detained at the RPC as asylum seekers.
Those persons who have been determined to have refugee status and resettled in
the Nauruan community are referred to as refugees.
The Republic of Nauru is a small island state situated north east of
Australia in the central Pacific Ocean, 42 kilometres south of the equator.
Nauru consists of a single coral atoll 21 square kilometres in size, and
surrounding waters. The population is approximately 10,000 including a
non-Nauruan population of 1,000.
Nauru's executive government is comprised of its President and Cabinet, who
are drawn from and collectively responsible to an elected parliament of 19
members. Nauru's judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, subordinate District
Court, and Family Court. The High Court of Australia has jurisdiction to hear
appeals from civil and criminal judgements of the Supreme Court, with certain
Under the control of various colonial and occupying powers from the late
nineteenth century, Nauru was a United Nations trust territory under Australian
administration at the time of its independence in 1968. At that time Nauru
derived significant revenue from phosphate mining, and for a period after
independence, Nauruans enjoyed enormous wealth. By the end of the twentieth
century, however, declining phosphate royalties and financial mismanagement had
virtually bankrupted the nation.
Secondary phosphate mining commenced in 2005, and Nauru currently
derives some revenue from licensing commercial fishing in its waters, but its
economy remains limited and fragile. While reliable economic statistics are
difficult to obtain, it is evident that the government of the Republic of Nauru
has limited sources of internal revenue, very little local commercial activity
and extremely high unemployment, with the public sector dominating employment
on the island.
The gross domestic product (GDP) of Nauru as at 2012 was estimated at
$121 million USD, a significantly higher figure than the estimate for 2010
which was $62 million USD.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reported that GDP grew by 10 per cent in 2014,
with expected growth of eight per cent in 2015. According to the ADB this
growth was largely attributable to externally funded infrastructure projects,
particularly construction work following the recommencement of operations at
the Regional Processing Centre.
Establishment of an immigration
detention facility on Nauru, 2001-2008
In response to a rising number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia
by boat in 2001, the Howard government commenced discussions with a number of
Pacific nations about the potential establishment of offshore processing
centres, which became known as the 'Pacific solution'. Australia signed an
Administrative Agreement with Nauru on 10 September 2001 for Nauru to
accommodate asylum seekers for processing. This was replaced by a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) signed on 11 December 2001.
Between 2001 and 2008 a total of 1,322 persons were housed at the Nauru
centre. The population at the centre peaked at 1,155 asylum seekers in early
2002, and there were 82 asylum seekers remaining by the time of the centre's
closure in early 2008.
The centre was managed and operated by the International Organisation for
From March 2005, the Nauru centre was maintained on an 'open centre'
basis, under which residents were allowed free movement outside the centre
between 8.00am and 7.00pm six days a week, subject to certain exclusions.
Following its election in 2007, the Labor government announced that the
'Pacific solution' would cease. On 8 February 2008, the last asylum seekers
were removed from Nauru, and the government announced that the Nauru centre
would no longer be used.
The recommencement of offshore processing
in Nauru, 2012
In June 2012 the then government established an Expert Panel to provide
it with advice and recommendations on policy options available to prevent
asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia.
This followed high numbers of asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat in the
first half of 2012.
The Expert Panel's report was released on 13 August 2012, and made 22
recommendations and four sub-recommendations. The report recommended the
reintroduction of regional processing arrangements:
The Panel recommends that capacity be established in Nauru
as soon as practical to process the claims of IMAs [irregular maritime
arrivals] transferred from Australia in ways consistent with Australian and
Nauruan responsibilities under international law.
The Panel proposed the establishment of processing facilities in Nauru
as a short-term 'circuit breaker' to the surge in irregular migration to
Australia, while '[o]ver time, further development of such facilities in Nauru
would need to take account of the ongoing flow of IMAs to Australia and
progress towards the goal of an integrated regional framework for the
processing of asylum claims'.
The Panel identified a number of conditions upon which processing in
Nauru should take place, including 'protection and welfare arrangements
consistent with Australian and Nauruan responsibilities under international
law, including the Refugee Convention', and that '[d]ecisions in relation to
how IMAs in Nauru would be processed would be determined by Australian
officials in accordance with international obligations and in the context of
prevailing circumstances'. The Panel also proposed that the involvement of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International
Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Nauru arrangements 'would be highly
desirable and should be actively pursued as a matter of urgency'.
Upon the release of the Expert Panel's report, the government announced
that it accepted all of the recommendations and that it would commence
arrangements immediately to resume offshore processing in Nauru. The Migration
Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and other measures) Act 2012 took
effect on 18 August 2012, Australia and Nauru signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) on 29 August, and the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (RPC)
received the first group of asylum seekers on 14 September 2012.
On 3 August 2013, a second MOU was signed between Australia and Nauru,
providing for the resettlement of refugees in Nauru.
The Nauru Regional Processing
From its reopening in 2012 to June 2015, a total of 2,238 persons had
been transferred to the RPC.
At 13 July 2015, there were 637 asylum seekers detained in the Nauru
RPC. These comprised 551 adults and 86 children.
This group was composed of 167 asylum seekers from Iran (140 adults and
27 children), 123 from Sri Lanka (96 adults and 27 children), 74 from Pakistan,
42 from Bangladesh, 37 from Afghanistan, 21 from Iraq, 12 from Nepal, 17 from
Burma (11 adults and 6 children), 14 from India (7 adults and 7 children), 9
from Somalia, 13 from other nations and 104 stateless persons, including 15
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (the department)
advised that as at 30 April 2015, the average length of time asylum seekers
spent in the RPC was 402 days.
The total operating and capital costs of regional processing and refugee
settlement in Nauru from 1 July 2012 to 30 April 2015 were provided by the
department as set out below:
Costs of Regional
Processing and Settlement in Nauru
(to 30 April 2015)
RPC Operational Costs
DIBP Staff Costs
Of this amount, the department reported that in the 2014-15 financial
year, up to 30 April 2015, $359,013,000 of the operational cost was for the
operation of the RPC, with the remainder spent on settlement.
The RPC comprises three sites: RPC 1, RPC 2 and RPC 3. Site RPC1
consists of accommodation for staff and service providers in permanent
structures, as well as some facilities used by both staff and asylum seekers.
RPC 2 houses single adult male asylum seekers in vinyl marquees with dormitory
style sleeping arrangements, and various communal facilities. RPC 3
accommodates single adult female asylum seekers and families in vinyl marquees
internally divided for family groups, as well as a number of communal
facilities. The department has advised that the accommodation facilities are
self-sufficient in water storage, power and sewerage treatment.
The department advised the committee that it was originally planned that
the RPC would operate as an 'open centre', comprising 'community living
institutions' with minimal security, from which asylum seekers would come and
go with relative autonomy, and engage with the local community. In ensuing
consultation with the Government of Nauru, the model 'evolved' such that from
its conception the centre operated as a closed facility, with movement outside
the RPC only allowed on an escorted basis. On 25 February 2015, open centre
arrangements were introduced at the RPC for certain cohorts of asylum seekers. The
department advised that this was being 'incrementally expanded to include all
eligible asylum seekers'.
Refugee status determination of asylum seekers detained at the RPC is
undertaken by the Government of Nauru. As at 30 June 2015, 506 positive refugee
status determinations had been made, and 89 had been declined.
The refugees had been resettled in the Nauruan community, while those whose
applications were declined were still at the RPC, while judicial and merits
review processes remained in train.
The 485 determined refugees from the RPC settled in the Nauruan
community at 30 March 2015 comprised:
159 single adult males;
39 single adult females;
276 refugees in family groups;
11 unaccompanied refugee minors; and
one unaccompanied minor who had yet to receive a refugee status
As at 30 June 2015, the department reported that two asylum seekers had
voluntarily returned to their country of origin from the Nauru RPC, one to Iran
and one to Iraq. Four refugees had been resettled from Nauru to Cambodia.
These reportedly included three single men and one woman.
Jurisdiction over and management of
the Nauru RPC
The department characterises jurisdiction over the RPC as follows:
Nauru owns and administers the Nauru Regional Processing
Centre, under Nauruan law. Australia provides capacity building and funding for
Government of Nauru's operation of the centre and coordinates the contract
The department advises that under the terms of the two Memoranda of
Understanding and related arrangements between the Governments of Australia and
Nauru, Nauru's Secretary of Justice is responsible for the 'security, good
order and management of the centre, including the care and welfare of persons
residing in the centre'. The RPC is managed by three Operational Managers
appointed by the Government of Nauru, assisted by Deputy Operational Managers.
According to the department, it and its contracted service providers
support Nauru's Secretary of Justice and the Operational Managers in fulfilling
their roles, as agreed between the two parties. The terms of the MOU require
that activities undertaken by the Australian Government comply with Australia's
Constitution and laws. 'In some cases, where no relevant Nauruan standard
exists, services contracts require providers to adhere to Australian standards
in the delivery of services'.
Two reports released in the first quarter of 2015 were key precursors to
the establishment of this inquiry. The Australian Human Rights Commission
(AHRC) released The Forgotten Children report in February 2015,
detailing an inquiry undertaken over ten months in 2014 into children in
immigration detention, both in Australia and offshore.
The report included a chapter specifically related to children detained at the
Regional Processing Centre in Nauru.
In March 2015, the Review into recent allegations relating to
conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (the
Moss Review), commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection in October 2014 and conducted by Mr Philip Moss, was partially
The Moss Review was commissioned following various reports of misconduct and
abuse at the RPC, including sexual abuse, received by the department and aired
in the media in September 2014, as well as concerns raised about the conduct of
certain service provider staff.
The Forgotten Children report and the Moss Review, and evidence
relating to safety and abuse received by this committee, are discussed further
in chapter 4.
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