Additional comments by the Australian Greens
The establishment of the Select Committee on Recent Allegations relating
to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru was,
in part, a reaction to the findings of the Moss Review, including that:
asylum seekers had concerns about their personal safety and
it was possible that sexual favours were bartered for access to
marijuana and access to amenities;
there was likely to be under-reporting of sexual abuse by asylum
there was no substantiating evidence to support allegations of
misconduct by Save the Children Australia (STC) employees.
When first asked about the findings of the Moss Review, the Prime
Minister the Hon Tony Abbott MP responded by saying on 20 March 2015 'occasionally,
I daresay, things happen.'
This committee was also established because the Moss Review raised more
questions than it answered, including:
- why are assaults going under-reported in Nauru? How many assaults and
abuses have not been reported?
if incidents are not being reported because of concerns about the impact
this may have on the processing of asylum claims, or due to a belief that
nothing would be done about complaints, as suggested by Mr Moss, what is the
cause of these fears and what can be done to redress this?
- what has the Nauruan Police Force done with the numerous cases that have
been referred to them?
- are the Nauruan government and the Nauruan police force capable of
upholding the basic human rights of asylum seekers and refugees in their care
in the face of a deteriorating rule of law situation in Nauru?
- why are Wilson Security staff carrying out investigations into
misconduct that were in many cases alleged to have been perpetrated by Wilson
- if there was no evidence to substantiate any wrongdoing by the ten STC
employees who were summarily dismissed and deported from Nauru, why was this
- if these dismissals were directed by the department with the Minister’s
foreknowledge, why was Philip Moss commissioned by the department to
investigate this matter?
Further, the Moss Review did not adequately address the breakdown of the
rule of law in Nauru. This included the lack of independence of the police
force, as outlined in chapter 2 of the majority report, which has continued to
deteriorate during the course of the committee’s inquiry. In fact, many of the
Moss Review recommendations assumed that the Nauruan Police Force (NPF) is
capable of functioning as an independent and professionally competent law
enforcement body. This committee process has shown that this is not the case.
Dozens of recommendations further to those set out in the Moss Review in
relation to the above and other matters have been made to this committee by
Prior to the Moss Review, the Forgotten Children report by the
Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) raised concerns over children being
held in detention, finding that:
Children on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of
physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress. The Commission
is concerned that detention on Nauru is mandatory for children and that there
is no time limit on how long they will be detained.
The AHRC concluded their findings regarding detention on Nauru by putting
the Australian Government 'on notice':
Given the well documented evidence regarding the negative
impacts of lengthy detention on Nauru, the Australian Government can be
considered to be on notice as to the risk of serious harm to the children and families
that are detained there.
Successive reports, including the Forgotten Children report and
the Moss Review, and the substantial evidence published by this committee, have
brought into focus the conditions in the Regional Processing Centre (RPC) on Nauru.
The committee has received a large body of evidence from asylum seekers
currently or formerly detained on Nauru, former staff members of contracted
service providers, legal and human rights bodies and advocacy groups. This
evidence has relayed disturbing allegations of sexual and physical abuse of
women and children, assault, sexual harassment, neglect and very low standards
While the committee endeavoured to publish as much material as it could,
a large amount of evidence was received in confidence owing to its sensitive or
identifying nature. This evidence has been used to inform views on the main
issues raised in connection with the RPC on Nauru. The sheer volume of this
evidence demonstrates the systemic problems with the operation and management
of the RPC, with information provided alleging assault, corruption, ineptitude
and mismanagement of contracts.
The Australian Greens agree with the majority report of the committee
that conditions must be improved, accountability strengthened and transparency be
made a focus of the ongoing operation and management of the RPC. However, the
Australian Greens believe that no amount of oversight or funding can overcome
the fundamental damage done to vulnerable people that occurs through mandatory
and indefinite detention. The Australian Greens further believe that this
damage is exacerbated in the particularly harsh, abusive and lawless
environment of Nauru. Ultimately, the Nauru RPC must be shut down.
Circumstances precipitating Moss Review
One of the terms of reference of this Committee was as follows:
d. 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;
The Moss Review was commissioned on 3 October 2014. As noted in the
majority report, the Moss Review was commissioned with the dual purpose of
investigating claims of sexual and other physical assault of asylum seekers in
Nauru and the conduct and behaviour of staff members employed by contracted
service providers. The Moss Review made it clear that the contracted service
providers in question were the ten STC staff stood down and deported from Nauru,
at the department’s direction, without notice and without the opportunity to
respond to any allegations of wrongdoing, on 2 October 2014.
Prior to this on 26 September 2014, Senator Hanson-Young wrote to the
former Minister for Immigration, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, raising claims that
asylum seekers were being sexually exploited by guards in exchange for access
to showers, cigarettes and marijuana. Subsequently Senator Hanson-Young raised
further claims of mistreatment of asylum seekers in Nauru with the Minister. No
response was received from the Minister to these letters.
Shortly after these claims were raised with the Minister, the Australian
media also published these claims. These claims had already been reported to
case managers by asylum seekers in Nauru and ought to have been known by the
Minister and the department through the RPC complaints and reporting processes.
The department confirmed to this committee that it did in fact have this
knowledge prior to the commission of the Moss Review. Or, perhaps more
importantly, prior to these matters being raised in the Australian media, as
early as November 2013.
On 3 October 2014, The Daily Telegraph published an article
carrying the headline Truth overboard: Claims of asylum seeker abuse on
Nauru were ‘fabricated’. This article stated that:
An intelligence report provided to the federal government has
revealed that staff from the Save The Children organisation based at Nauru had
also been involved in “encouraging and coaching” self-harm to “achieve
evacuations to Australia”.
On the same day this article was published, Mr Morrison announced the
commission of the Moss Review, saying:
If people want to be political activists, that’s their
choice, but they don’t get to do it on the taxpayer’s dollar and working in a
sensitive place like Nauru ... The public don’t want to be played for mugs.
They are employed to do a job, not to be political activists.
Making false claims, and worse allegedly coaching self-harm and using children
in protests is unacceptable, whatever their political views or agendas.
The department gave evidence to this committee that:
- it was provided with an intelligence report regarding possible
misconduct by STC staff by Wilson Security on 30 September 2014; and
- Minister Morrison met with the department on 2 October 2014 to discuss their
mutual concerns over the actions of STC.
On the same day as this meeting, the department ordered STC to remove
The 30 September 2014 intelligence report relied on by the department to
order the removal of the ten staff was tabled by Senator Hanson-Young in the
Senate on 5 March 2015. The intelligence report simply contains a series of
vague allegations without any actual evidence of inappropriate action by any STC
staff member in the centre.
The above facts and timeline leaves one with the strong impression that:
- the former Minister commissioned the Moss Review in October 2014,
despite first being made aware of claims of child sexual abuse in November
2013, in response to negative press coverage on the conditions for asylum
seekers in Nauru;
- the order to remove staff without any evidence of wrongdoing, without
putting any allegations of wrongdoing to the staff and without investigating
these allegations was an attempt to counter this negative press. They did this
by putting these allegations of wrongdoing on an equal footing with the more
serious and credible allegations of harm to asylum seekers, with the intention
to cast doubt on the harm experienced by asylum seekers and to distract from
these allegations of harm; and
- either the former Minister or the department leaked the Wilson intelligence
report to The Daily Telegraph as part of the government’s strategy to
counter this negative press.
This committee provided Minister Dutton and the department with the
opportunity to disabuse the public of these conclusions if they are wrong. This
opportunity was not taken up. Senator Hanson-Young asked several specific
questions regarding why the intelligence report was prepared, who requested it
to be prepared, how the decision to remove the STC staff was reached and how
the report ended up on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. None of
these questions were answered directly.
For example, the following question on notice was put to the department:
Asked: Please provide a timeline of events and actions and
all high level documents regarding the ...deportation from Nauru of all SCA staff
for alleged misconduct. The timeline requested should include who made
recommendations and when, who made decisions and, who was consulted in making
decisions, what directions were given, by whom and when, and when SCA staff
were informed of decisions.
The answer the committee received was as follows:
Answer: Any deportation notices are matters for the
Government of Nauru.
At the committee’s public hearing on 19 May 2015, representatives from
Wilson were asked on a number of occasions who requested the intelligence
report and why. Wilson provided a number of written answers to these questions
on notice which skirted around these questions, and ultimately failed to answer
The committee heard evidence from Ms Natasha Blucher, one of the ten STC
staff ordered to be removed from Nauru by the department. Her evidence was that
a spate of self-harm incidents, mass suicide pacts and protests by the asylum
seekers was a direct result of a video message delivered to them in Nauru from
Minister Morrison in September 2014.
The Australian Greens support a hard line being taken against illegal
people smuggling activities. However, too often this government has blurred
this line in both its rhetoric and actions to vilify vulnerable and desperate
asylum seekers, as well as people smugglers. This misdirected vilification is
not only unfair and misleading, it is also counter-productive. This was clearly
demonstrated in the reaction to Mr Morrison’s harshly-worded video
message, a message which came as a shock to many on Nauru. Putting aside the
Australian Greens’ opposition to the policy being announced in this message,
had the messaging itself been softened, taking into account the sensitivities,
vulnerabilities and desperation of the audience it was being delivered to, the
unrest that followed may have been avoided.
The Australian Greens consider that greater and more open communication
with asylum seekers regarding the status of their claims process and their rights
generally, as described in recommendations 2 and 4 of the majority report, would
go some way to redressing these issues.
Ms Blucher also gave evidence to the committee on how STC staff dealt
with the unrest caused by Minister Morrison’s message and her shock at the
allegation that she was acting inappropriately in doing so:
Ms Blucher: We were desperately trying to talk people out of
harming themselves and out of these suicide plans.
Senator Hanson-Young: That is very different to what the
intelligence report suggests.
Ms Blucher: That is correct.
Senator Hanson-Young: That report was obviously leaked to The
Daily Telegraph and suggested that in fact you were coaching self-harm.
Ms Blucher: At that time I was distraught at the allegation,
because you can imagine that I and my colleagues were terrified and we were
desperately attempting to convince people not to harm themselves. I attempted
to convince seven men who had stitched their lips to unstitch their lips and
write a letter to the Refugee Council in lieu of that and had explained to them
that stitching their lips was not in their interest, that the department would
not listen to them if they did that and that there were more appropriate ways
to do that. I was signing incident reports desperately supporting caseworkers
to try to give them strategies to talk their clients down from self-harm or
from suicidal ideation, and I was going to bed at night terrified that I would
wake up in the morning and find that more clients had harmed themselves. And then
to be told that I was accused of having tried to facilitate that was beyond
Understandably, the department’s decision to summarily stand down ten
staff, and the emotional, reputational and financial consequences of this
decision, have had a profound effect on these staff. As a result of the
department’s order, STC terminated the employment of these ten staff on 9
The staff were given no notice of the decision, but were intercepted on
their way to work and removed from Nauru on the same day, without the
opportunity to properly hand over their clients’ cases to remaining colleagues,
in an extremely sensitive environment. As Ms Blucher stated in evidence:
One of the most upsetting things—one of them—was not being
able to work with our clients anymore. We were all working very hard to the
best of our ability to protect our clients, to advocate for our clients and to
provide the best service that we could to them.
The staff may have believed their ordeal was coming to an end when the
Moss Review found no evidence to substantiate the allegations against them and
recommended the department review its decision to remove them and the
government announced it would accept all recommendations of the review.
However, the department’s ineptitude and callousness towards them has continued
since this time.
The Moss Review recommendation for a department review stated:
The review would include providing:
- Save the Children with the
information the Deportment relied on; b. The opportunity for Save the Children
to address the allegations concerning its staff members.
Ms Blucher provided evidence to the committee that neither of the above
two aspects of the Moss Review recommendation were followed by the department,
despite her lawyers making numerous requests of the department for this
information and opportunity.
Further, despite the Moss Review recommendations being accepted by the
government on 20 March 2015, as at the time of writing this report in late
August 2015 the review of the removal of staff from Nauru has still not been
released. This is obviously distressing for the staff, as Ms Blucher stated:
It is now over 10 months since my colleagues and I were
removed from Nauru and still no allegations have been put to us so as to give
us the opportunity to respond to the insinuation and inference of wrongdoing.
As a result, our reputation has been smeared and the Department has allowed
this to continue for over 10 months without redress.
The department appointed former Registrar of the High Court, Christopher
Doogan, to conduct the review of the department’s decision. Mr Doogan has
informed Ms Blucher’s lawyers that he would not be making any adverse findings
against the ten STC staff. At the public hearing on 20 July 2015, Secretary
Pezullo informed the committee that Mr Doogan’s report had been provided to him
and would be released by the department in due course.
The department release Mr Doogan’s report immediately.
If no adverse findings are made in Mr Doogan’s report against the ten
Save the Children staff who are the subject of the review, the department and
Minister Morrison issue an apology to the staff and the Commonwealth offer
compensation to the staff for the financial, reputational and psychological damage
caused to them by the removal decision and the associated allegations in the
Minister Morrison’s public statements on the matter.
Submitters put to the committee that there is no existing child
protection framework in operation on Nauru. For example, Mr Paul Ronalds, Chief
Executive Officer of STC, told the committee that:
...there are laws on Nauru that go to issues of assault and
sexual assault. What I am advising is that there is no child protection
framework, as we would understand it in Australia, which is much broader and
goes beyond that.
Ms Kirsty Diallo, a former STC employee, told the committee:
There is no child protection legislation that would protect
children from harm. There are no specialist police that could investigate
allegations of child sexual abuse that would occur in Australian detention
The committee heard that there was a disparity in engagement procedures
followed between expatriate and locally engaged staff who work with children.
For example, working with children checks cannot be conducted for locally
engaged Nauruan staff. Mr Brett McDonald, Security Contract Manager at Wilson
There is not a currently a jurisdiction in Nauru to conduct
working-with-children checks. What we do in substitute of that is we have some
specific behavioural questions, we have a specific statutory declaration that
employees sign during the recruitment process and we also have a code of
conduct that we go through. We also undertake a local police check in Nauru.
STC submitted that prolonged detention in the RPC has had a negative
impact on the mental and physical health of children:
Save the Children has observed and is concerned by
developmental regression and mental ill-health amongst children, as well as
instances of family violence and the effects of family breakdown and separation
from family members and close relatives. These observations together with the
documented incidents, very clearly and comprehensively demonstrate how prolonged
immigration detention threatens the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of
asylum seekers, particularly children.
Ms Samantha Betts, a former STC worker, told the committee that she
observed 'distress markers' in children, during her period as a recreation
officer in the RPC:
These markers included predominately unpredictable behaviour,
outbursts and emotional collapse, disturbing depictions in artworks relating to
their trauma, rapid and very extreme mood swings. They included children becoming
mute and refusing to talk, being clingy and wanting to stay close to us Save
the Children workers. They also included significant changes in friendship
groups and relationships, very short attention spans and regression in children
up to the age of 13, with behaviours such as thumb sucking, sleepwalking and
Best interests of the child
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Australia
has an obligation to consider the best interests of the child. The CRC sets out
all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social
welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative
bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
ChilOut argued that detention can never be in the best interests of the
The ongoing detention of children in the Nauru RPC where serious and credible allegations of sexual and other physical abuse arise cannot
be in the best interests of the child.
Similarly, the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International
Refugee Law (Kaldor Centre) submitted that:
...the current process of transferring children to Nauru
appears to breach Australia’s human rights obligations with respect to those
children, including the obligation to make the best interests of the child a
primary consideration in any decision affecting them; to refrain from detaining
children except as a measure of last resort; and to make adequate provision for
the protection of children.
The Kaldor Centre wrote that while the concept of the best interests of
the child can be 'flexible and dynamic', there were guidelines for how the
assessment might be undertaken and:
...neither international law nor Australian law prescribes what
is in the best interests of a particular child in a given situation. However,
they do provide guidance on how the best interests of a child should be
They further set out the function of a 'best interests assessment',
which should occur according to the following criteria:
the best interests assessment should be performed on a
case-by-case basis; and
the decision maker must identify the best interests of the child,
and consider any flow-on consequences.
The AHRC found that although the department's best interests assessment
explicitly acknowledges the obligation, the assessment was not undertaken on a
...the Department’s Best Interest Assessment appears to be
irrelevant in the decision to transfer a child to Nauru. This is because the
Australian Government has made a blanket decision that, in every case, the best
interests of the child are outweighed by other primary considerations...
The department's Best Interests Assessment for transferring minors to
an RPC (forming part of the Pre-Transfer Assessment) sets out:
...the Australian Government's view is that in making the
transfer decision, the best interests of such children are outweighed by other
primary considerations, including the need to preserve the integrity of
Australia's migration system and the need to discourage children taking, or
being taken on, dangerous illegal boat journeys to Australia.
Accordingly, while this assessment considers a range of
factors to ensure that care, services and support arrangements are available to
meet the needs of the individual child, it does not consider whether the best
interests of the child would be served by the individual child being
transferred to an RPC.
Further to this acknowledgement by the department that the best
interests of the child is outweighed by other ‘primary considerations’, a
submission from Ms Viktoria Vibhakar (former Child Protection Worker with STC)
argued that there were gaps in the ability for STC to also provide welfare
services which were in the best interests of the child:
Although [STC] was contracted by the Commonwealth to provide
child protection services to children on Nauru, they were not given authority
by DIBP to remove children from harm, to prevent additional incidents of harm,
or to act to protect the best interests of children.
STC outlined their response framework to children who experience family
violence, which confirms Ms Vibhakar’s submission on this point:
[STC] does not have legal authority to remove a child from
the care of parents or guardians on Nauru, and employs a collaborative and
multi-stakeholder approach, to the extent possible, when supporting children
and families who are at risk of family violence. This includes involving the
Nauru Police Force where appropriate, as was the case with this particular
Ms Vibhakar told the committee that, in her view, government policy,
rather than the best interests of the child, was the primary consideration of
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection employees
that I interface with and that were on Nauru made it clear that their primary
responsibility was to ensure that the government policy was implemented. What
that meant was that, even though on numerous occasions they were always aware
of assaults that had occurred to children, the children remained in situations
of ongoing harm.
The department advised that the Nauruan Minister for Justice and Border
Control is the legal guardian of unaccompanied minors in the RPC on Nauru:
Under the Asylum Seekers (Regional Processing Centre) Act
2012 (Nr), the Minister for Justice and Border Control is the legal guardian of
every unaccompanied minor who arrives in Nauru. The Minister has delegated most
of his powers and functions as guardian to Connect.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians' statement on the health of
people seeking asylum argues that there is a potential conflict of interest in
the appointment of the Minister for Immigration as the legal guardian of
unaccompanied minors in the RPC:
A key issue impacting on the wellbeing of unaccompanied
minors seeking asylum is the automatic appointment of the Minister of
Immigration as their legal guardian. In this capacity, the Minister is
responsible for protecting the child and their best interests, however the
Minister is also responsible for placing children in immigration detention. The
RACP considers that immigration detention is not in the best interests of any
child, and echoes concerns that there is a potential conflict between these
Lack of parental agency
The committee heard evidence of the impact the detention environment has
on the family unit and relationships. This environment changes the interaction
between parent and child, of provider and dependent, to the entire family unit
being dependent on an external entity. The inability of parents to have direct
influence over the care of their child places the parent in a state of stress,
with no opportunity for them to change this. Being a parent on Nauru means not
being able to parent at all.
One submission alleged that some parents had relinquished care of their
children while they received treatment for mental health issues:
It has now occurred on a number of occasions that parents
have relinquished care of their children, with the system unprepared for this,
children are left to be cared for by Save the Children case managers and
recreation staff in facilities for asylum seekers who are having extended
medical treatment or being medically observed, including asylum seekers who
have attempted suicide.
Children whose parents are not able to care for them within the RPC are
especially vulnerable, and require a greater level of protection and a
guarantee that they will be safe while in the RPC.
Children exposed to extreme
Submitters, including former employees of STC submitted that children in
the RPC are routinely exposed to acts of extreme violence such as suicide
attempts and physical assault.
Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) submitted
that asylum seekers had reported to them the challenging conditions parents
face in the RPC:
Parents talked with despair about the conditions they were
trying to care for their children in, with nowhere to play, constant exposure
to violence and anger, no privacy, and inadequate health care.
Mr Tobias Gunn, a former STC employee, submitted that he had witnessed a
suicide attempt by a 15 year old boy who had threatened to jump from the roof
of a toilet facility. Mr Gunn submitted that minors were witnesses to the
...security had not closed off the area and children were
walking past, some sitting down to watch. I had a young girl under ten come up
to me and ask if this boy ‘would be coming to recreation tomorrow? Or do you
think he will jump?’
of inadequate Commonwealth response to assault of a child
The alleged sexual assault of a minor was put to the committee by
She submitted that:
On 16 November 2013 a child was sexually assaulted by a
government contractor. That information was investigated by Wilson Security and
an incident report was completed. That was forwarded onto the department of
immigration and in December 2013 I asked the Save the Children director if that
incident report had been forwarded on to the Minister for Immigration and
Border Protection. I was advised that the minister had seen that incident
Ms Diallo was the Child Protection and Support Worker for the alleged
victim. As a result of a lack of available private facilities, she was required
to speak with the minor in an open part of the RPC.
Ms Diallo stated that she had 'offered the family counselling with the
specialist torture and trauma services (STTARS), as there was no sexual assault
counselling available on Nauru':
The family expressed fear of attending this service as they
had concerns about potential repercussions from local security staff that were
present at the STTARS office. Both the boy and his Mother, also expressed fear
of pursuing the matter with the local Police, and stated that they were scared
the local Nauruan staff in the RPC would blame them and subsequently they would
experience further threats and abuse.
Ms Diallo submitted that she 'would never advise a family to pursue
criminal charges if they remained in an environment where they could still be
subject to further abuse'.
The inability for alleged victims of assault and abuse to be removed
from their surroundings or from the alleged perpetrators was discussed in the
committee's report, and so will not discussed further in these additional
Ms Cindy Briscoe, from the department, advised that the 'incident was
reported at the time, through the appropriate system, to the department. An
investigation was conducted by the [Nauru Police Force (NPF)] and it was left
in the hands of the NPF'.
Further, she notes:
My understanding is that the mother decided not to progress
that complaint any further and the treatment that was provided was according to
However, the committee received evidence on a confidential basis that
alleged further incidents of assault and harassment against the family of the
alleged victim occurred and that these were seen as retribution against the
family for speaking out about the assault. It would seem more likely that these
further assaults, rather than satisfaction at the way their complaints were
handled, were behind the family deciding not to progress the complaint any
The Australian Greens recommend that as a matter of priority,
children and their families be released from the Nauru Regional Processing
Centre and be transferred into the community in Australia.
The Australian Greens recommend that a royal commission be established
to investigate the detention of children, and the impact of detention on their
mental and physical health, as previously recommended by AHRC in their Forgotten
This is not the first time that a royal commission into abuse in
Australian-controlled immigration detention facilities has been called for.
Recommendation 15 of the AHRC’s Forgotten Children recommended
that a royal commission be established to examine, among other matters, the
long term impacts of detention on the physical and mental health of children in
In an open letter dated 7 April 2015, a group of 24 current and former
employees from the Nauru detention centre who have first-hand knowledge of the
conditions in which children and adults are detained requested the Australian
people to support a Royal Commission into abuse allegations in the Nauru
detention centre and the government’s response to those allegations.
One of the signatories to that letter was Dr Peter Young, the
International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) medical director for mental
health from 2011 to 2014.
In his evidence to this committee at the public hearing on 9 June 2015,
Dr Young highlighted the “specific similarities of this institutional
environment in immigration detention to other institutional environments in
which abuses have occurred and which have been shown to cause abuse and abusive
Dr Young elaborated on these similarities:
Wherever there is a situation in an institution where there
is a vulnerable group that is under supervision, and where there is a power
differential between those who are being supervised and those who are
supervising them, you create the conditions in which abuses tend to occur. The
other factor that adds to that, in this situation particularly, is when there
is non-transparency and when there is a lack of capacity for independent
oversight. The final thing that really has a very powerful effect—and we have
seen this in other institutions where abuse has occurred very regularly—is when
there is this overriding concern that the interests of the institution, the
preservation of the institutional interests, override everything else. We have
seen this in the current royal commission that is occurring in relation to the
reputation and the wealth of organisations overriding the concerns of duties of
care, and we see it in this example where the policy position of stopping the
boats and maintaining the offshore processing facility and its reputation is
the overriding concern.
Dr Young has identified, in his evidence before this committee and
elsewhere, numerous factors that make immigration detention, particularly in
Nauru, prone to abuse on the same scale as the institutional abuses being
investigated by the Royal Commission. Among these factors are:
Physical isolation of detention centres;
Lack of transparency;
Lack of independent oversight;
Pre-existing vulnerabilities by virtue of being asylum seekers;
Linguistic and cultural barriers;
Indefinite nature of the detention;
The nature of detention itself;
The institutional policy and reputational interests conflict with the
interests of the welfare of individuals in their care.
While the institution of immigration detention makes child abuse prone
to occur in Nauru, this committee has heard many incidents of child abuse that
have actually occurred and are continuing to occur.
Transfield Services gave evidence that there had been 67 allegations
of child abuse in Nauru.
12 of these were referred to the NPF, but the police had not charged anyone in
relation to any of these alleged incidents as at 20 July 2015.
In only the last reporting period (February to May 2015) there have been
two incidents of child sexual assault and 11 incidents of other assaults
against children in immigration detention centres in Australia.
In the six months to May 2015, there were 48 incidents of self-harm by children
in immigration detention centres in Australia and 26 incidents of self-harm by
children in the Nauru RPC.
The Forgotten Children report found that there were 33 incidents
of reported sexual assault (the majority involving children) and 233 total assaults
involving children from January 2013 to March 2014.
Of course, the figures for Nauru do not take account of the
under-reporting that the Moss Review found prevalent in Nauru.
These figures are also limited to the instances of sexual assault and
violence occurring to children themselves and do not take account of the number
of sexual assaults the children are witness to in Nauru. For example, Transfield
Services gave evidence that there had been 33 allegations of sexual
assault and 5 allegations of the exchange of sexual favours for contraband
among adults in Nauru.
Further, the figures do not take into account the generalised
sexualisation of children in Nauru, which is the inevitable result of the
living conditions and number of sexual assaults occurring in Nauru. For
example, Ms Vibhakar gave evidence in relation to a four year old girl
named “Tiana” who had been sexually assaulted:
...there were ongoing concerns related to inadequate
supervision of Tiana. Furthermore, concerns regarding the inappropriate
boundaries observed in relation to touch/physical affection that she was
receiving from Commonwealth contracted staff was noted in a multi-Commonwealth
contractor meeting as early as January 2014. The DIBP detention centre manager
was present at this meeting. Tiana also exhibited progressively alarming
sexualised behaviours that were consistent with indicators of sexual abuse
- Sexualised play with dolls
- Sexualised dancing inappropriate for her developmental
- Often found wandering outside her tent with only her
- An incident report was filed alleging that she entered the
tent of another asylum seeker, pulled down her underwear and tried to get
adults to insert their finger into her anus.
The figures for Nauru are also limited to incidents within the RPC. They
do not take account of the spate of sexual assaults and rapes that have taken
place in recent times outside of the RPC. This particular issue will be
The department has stated that it has taken a number of steps to improve
the situation for children in Nauru, beginning with the child safeguarding
protocol it says was introduced in November 2013. But numerous cases of child
abuse have occurred since this time and ongoing cases of child abuse continue
to be reported to the committee. While the steps taken by the department may be
well-intentioned, they are token measures that miss the point of the
institutional nature of the problem; the conditions in Nauru make systematic
child abuse an endemic problem and if removal of children who are at risk of
abuse or already have been abused is not an option, other child protection
strategies are meaningless.
An example of an ongoing case of child abuse reported to the committee
is contained in the submission of Ms Katherine Cole, a former primary school
teacher employed by STC who submitted that she had a seven year old female
student named ‘Charlie’ who was sexually assaulted in early 2015. No details of
this were given to Ms Cole, despite requests. The child remains in Nauru and
according to Ms Cole her condition is deteriorating because she is not
receiving the care she needs and cannot possibly recover while remaining in
detention in Nauru.
As Ms Cole wrote in her submission:
As Charlie’s classroom teacher I was spending up to six hours
with her a day, five days a week. I was never told any solid information about
Charlie’s assault; where it took place, who was involved, any possible triggers
that could occur or any other details that could have assisted me in the after
care and prevention of further distress for this child.
The RPC1 school is located under 100 meters away from the
R.A.A, where the alleged perpetrator to Charlie’s assault was and still is
being held. As none of the teaching staff were told any details of the assault
in the weeks and months thereafter, we were unaware that every time Charlie was
outside the classroom, there was every possibility that she would see the
perpetrator, as he could often be seen sitting outside, next to the fence
facing the school.
I believe that being in an environment where Charlie knew
there was a possibility that he could see her, would have been a terrifying
daily ordeal. The potential for this lurking presence to retraumatise Charlie on
a daily basis for months after the alleged assault, I believe has caused
Charlie’s emotional, social, intellectual, and physical state
have all severely deteriorated since the alleged assault.
Charlie’s overall resilience has dropped significantly since
the alleged assault.
Academically Charlie is falling well below the outcomes of
Nothing seems to be able to remain a special or safe object
To the best of my knowledge most if not all scientific and physical
evidence for the case would have been lost several months ago, so now the main
sources for the case will be anecdotal evidence from three children under the
age of ten, with English as a second language, numerous months after the
alleged incident occurred.
Ms Cole’s evidence was put to Transfield Services on 20 July 2015. They
were asked if anything was done to make sure that the alleged perpetrator could
not continue watching the child while she was in a learning environment.
Transfield Services responded that the alleged perpetrator’s bail
conditions prevented him from being within a certain distance of the child, but
could provide no further details of the case and agreed to take further
questions on notice.
Answers to these questions were due on 24 July 2015. As at the time of writing
this report, that answer has still not been received.
On the basis of the evidence before the committee at this time,
therefore, it seems there is a seven year old girl who was sexually assaulted
in the Nauru RPC in early 2015 and who remains locked up in that facility,
while her alleged perpetrator has been able to breach his bail conditions by
watching her through a fence since this time. The impact of this on the seven
year old girl cannot be overstated.
Several of the witnesses to the committee gave evidence that despite
raising specific allegations through official channels, the situation had not
improved over a long period of time. The below exchange at the public hearing
of 9 June 2015 is representative of this evidence:
Senator KIM CARR: Have you raised your concerns with
Dr Young: The concerns that I had in my role over the time I
was there were raised multiple times with departmental officials. Departmental
officials were obviously aware of them from the publicly-available information
that came through those other organisations also.
Senator KIM CARR: And were you satisfied with the response
that you received?
Dr Young: No.
Senator KIM CARR: Why is that?
Dr Young: The conditions persist, and people continue to be
Not only do the harmful conditions persist in Nauru, there is evidence
to suggest that the conditions are further deteriorating. The committee
understands that six incidents were reported to the Moss Review that fell
within the terms of reference of that inquiry, but that in the short period
since this time, they have received reports of a further six incidents.
Further, during the 2014 calendar year, 223 Transfield workers in Manus
Island and Nauru were dismissed. Eighteen of these were for misconduct towards
transferees. But in the 2015 calendar year to May 2015, 179 Transfield workers
in Manus Island and Nauru had already been dismissed, 13 for misconduct towards
The rate of dismissals and misconduct towards transferees is therefore
The Australian Greens support a Royal Commission into all abuse allegations
in the Nauru detention centre, as called for in the open letter from the current
and former employees of the Nauru RPC. The reason the Australian Greens have
nonetheless limited their recommendation above to children is twofold:
Children have a special status in society.
particularly vulnerable and innocent and all civilised societies accept that
they are responsible to ensure their protection and provide for their
development, education, health and well-being. Australians would overwhelmingly
consider these principles to be self-evident and Australia has accepted as much
in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Yet when it comes
to asylum seeker children, Australians appear to be in a state of prolonged
torpor. There are no circumstances that could possibly justify the indefinite detention
of newborn babies, toddlers, infants and children of all ages. Even when a
minor is charged, tried and convicted of a crime in Australia, that child is
rarely given a custodial sentence. A custodial sentence is viewed as a last
resort, and the conditions while serving that sentence ensure the continued
development of that child, free from harm. Asylum seeker children have
committed no crime and their detention is indefinite, lasting on average 402
days. The harsh physical and mental conditions they face in Nauru, including
the high risk of sexual abuse and the ongoing trauma of the indefinite nature
of their detention is inflicting long-term damage to their development. They
are not safe and every additional day they spend there will make it that much
more difficult to repair this damage.
A Royal Commission
may go some way to addressing this state of torpor and motivate more
Australians to put pressure on their representatives to remove these children
from this dangerous situation, redress past wrongs and ensure that this never
happens again in their name.
Focussing on child sexual abuse would allow the royal commission to build
on the work of both the Forgotten Children report and this committee.
When asked about specific allegations, including in relation to child
abuse, the committee received four common responses from the department and the
service providers engaged in the RPC, as follows:
the matter has been referred to the Nauruan police force for
they have checked their records and could find nothing to support the
the matter was investigated and there was insufficient evidence to take
further action; and
the family has withdrawn the complaint or expressed satisfaction at the
outcome and requested that no further action be taken.
In relation to the first common response, simply referring matters to
the NPF is patently inadequate to ensure justice is served or for the
department and the service providers to fulfil their duty of care obligations
to people in their care. These referrals are occurring in circumstances where
the rule of law is currently absent in Nauru and the weight of evidence to this
committee has shown that the NPF is generally incapable or unwilling to act on
The response that the department or the service providers had checked
their records and could find nothing to support the allegation is also
unsatisfactory. It has been known at least since the Moss Review that assaults
are going under-reported. Evidence provided to this committee suggests that the
reasons for this under-reporting include that:
assaults are an everyday occurrence and when they have been previously
reported, nothing has been done about them. As one submitter noted, these
incidents are referred to as ‘paperwork’.
Wilson Security destroys evidence:
Two submissions provided to the Committee raise the destruction of
One submission details the existence of a code, “file 13”, an order to shred
incident reports at the direction of Wilson supervisors.
Wilson Security responded that it is unaware of this practice.
Wilson Security’s own evidence provided to the Committee that it deletes
the fear of retribution prevents victims from lodging a report. As noted
in the submission of Ms Vibhakar, there was a reluctance to report
wrongdoing for fear it would negatively impact upon asylum claims.
In one particular case, a child, the victim of sexual assault, and his family
were fearful of retaliation for reporting an assault.
The third common response (that there has been insufficient evidence to
progress the investigation), does not take into account:
- the inability of the Nauruan Police Force to conduct forensic
- the inability of the Nauruan Police Force to appropriately interview
alleged victims of child abuse or sexual assault;
- the extent to which the culture of fear, secrecy, apathy and retribution
prevents witnesses coming forward; and
- the possibility that Wilson Security investigators have a conflict of
interest in investigating their colleagues or that their techniques for
collecting evidence are otherwise inadequate.
In relation to incidents in which the victim or the victim’s family has
withdrawn the complaint or expressed satisfaction at the outcome of an
investigation, no mention was made by the department or the other organisations
charged with the care of these children that the family’s decision may have
been influenced by a fear of retribution.
The serious allegations of child abuse presented to this committee, many
of which cannot be published due to confidentiality, were put forward by dozens
of professional doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers and security guards,
with first-hand experience of the day to day conditions on the ground in Nauru.
This is in stark contrast of the experiences of the senior executives from the
department and service providers, only one of whom had spent any significant
amount of time in Nauru.
The Australian Greens doubt that these individuals who have worked on
the ground in Nauru would risk their professional reputations, invest time and
energy in preparing evidence and risk retribution from their employers or
non-renewal of their contracts by fabricating allegations, many of which are
very specific and detailed. The Australian Greens consider it more likely that
over-reliance on what is officially reported has led these senior executives to
overlook the reality of what actually takes place on the ground in Nauru.
An instructive exchange on the different perspectives on this issue was
held by the Australian Greens and the representatives of these organisations
took place at the public hearing on 20 July 2015 between Senator Hanson-Young and
John Rogers, Executive General Manager, Southern Pacific, Wilson Security:
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Rogers, obviously this allegation of
the solicitation of sex and the filming of that is pretty serious. I hear from
you that you have got nothing on your files that indicates this is correct. I
put to you a new allegation in relation to footage of staff having sex with
each other that has allegedly been circulated. You are saying you have got no
file notes or incident reports in relation to this. Are you concerned that
these kinds of rumours are coming out of the facility? And these are from
staff. These are staff members who are coming forward to this committee. What
interest do these people have in making this up?
Mr Rogers: I am sure people are acting from the best of
intentions. I am sure they are making their own judgements on the information
that they have had presented to them. I cannot really speak, apart from that,
as to the motivation to make any of these allegations.
The Australian people and, more importantly, the children whom Australia
has placed in the care of these organisations, deserve a better response to the
numerous, grave allegations of child abuse that have been put to this committee.
The appropriate forum for this response to be provided, through the thorough
investigation of these allegations by experts in the field, with the resources
and power to conduct these investigations, is a royal commission.
Surveillance of a member of the Australian Senate
During the course of the inquiry, evidence was received by the committee
to the effect that a member of the Australian Senate had been monitored while
visiting the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru in December 2013.
This evidence included submissions by two former Wilson guards that:
When Senator Sarah Hanson-Young visited Nauru, Wilson
Security organised a team from ERT to spy on her while she was on Nauru. This
included following her around the island while she was outside of the OPCs and
setting up an observation post to watch her room at the Menen hotel. The
briefing was given by ERT supervisor...in which he gave orders to spy on the
senator. This briefing included her room number, vehicle registration and even
using code name “Raven” over the radio to make reference to her.
Wilson Security Management [ordered] ERT members to follow
and film Senator Hanson-Young during her entire visit to Nauru. Those that
filmed then gloated to other workmates how the Senator was followed and filmed,
but she did not know, happy that she did not “twig”. The order to follow and film
the Senator was given by “Ranger 1”...to the ERT who then carried out the order;
[the submitter] is aware of where the film/s of Senator
Hanson-Young were once kept but does not know if they still exist – he viewed
20 to 30 seconds of film on a Wilson Security employee’s mobile phone that he
believes to be the Senator at her Hotel.
On 5 June 2015 Minister Dutton commented on allegations of Senator
Hanson-Young being spied upon at media conference:
My experience of Sarah Hanson-Young is that she gets most of
the facts wrong most of the time... She makes these allegations which are
I don't have any evidence that she's been spied on. I have
evidence that Senator Hanson-Young over-states every issue. She gets her facts
wrong most of the time.
It can be inferred from these comments that Minister Dutton did not find
the allegations credible and had no intention of investigating them.
At the committee’s public hearing on 9 June 2015, Secretary of the
department, Mr Michael Pezzullo, stated that his department had investigated
the matter and found that one rogue Wilson employee instructed two other Wilson
employees to monitor Senator Hanson-Young’s car overnight while it was parked
outside her hotel and that is the extent of the spying that took place.
According to the department, anything further to this that has been alleged did
not happen. When the rogue employee’s manager found out what happened, he
ensured that the monitoring ceased and stood down the rogue employee. The
employee was suspended from his position but later re-applied for, and was
granted the same position. Wilson did not report the incident externally
because it was not a reportable incident. Mr Pezullo reiterated that the
monitoring was for Senator Hanson-Young’s safety but did not explain why Senator
Hanson-Young was not told and why the rogue employee was disciplined, if this
was the case.
At the public hearing on 20 July 2015, Senator Scott Ludlam questioned
the department, Wilson Security and Transfield Services in relation to these
allegations. All parties denied the spying went any further than outlined by
the department at the hearing on 9 June 2015. Representatives from
Transfield Services and Wilson Security apologised to Senator Hanson-Young,
while no apology was offered by the department.
On 13 August 2015 a number of former guards reported to Australian Broadcasting
Corporation (ABC) that:
- the surveillance of Senator Hanson-Young involved up to eight members of
the Emergency Response Team;
- the surveillance continued for the full three days Senator Hanson-Young
was in Nauru;
guards were ordered to photograph Senator Hanson-Young and make notes
about who she met with; and
- one guard witnessed shredding of all documents relating to surveillance
operation, including photos and notes.
The Australian Greens understand from the ABC that its reports relied on
the evidence of three former Wilson guards, none of whom gave evidence to this
On 19 August 2015 the Committee received another submission which
appeared to be from a former Wilson guard to the effect that:
This operation involved approximately 6-8 ERT members and
consisted of recording her every movement both in and out of the camps, they
were also to report on whom she spoke with and if possible they were to ascertain
what was said.
Staff were requested to compile reports on her movements,
contact with employees or Stakeholders. These reports and video surveillance
footage were to be handed to the Intelligence unit for collation and
Wilson investigations manager...and intelligence officer...met
with Sarah hanson –young with the sole purpose of extracting and recording
information from her with regards to her agenda while on Nauru.
The Emergency Response Team Supervisor...who Wilson Security
management said conducted unauthorised surveillance on Hanson Young appears to
have been a scapegoat. Management authorised, sanctioned and fully supported
surveillance on Sarah Hanson Young while she was in Nauru.
I have spoken with ERT members involved in this operation and
they have stated that their primary role was to obtain information that could
assist Wilson's with negating, refuting allegations made by Hanson Young with regards
to the security role conducted by Wilson's at the processing centres. Their
secondary role was to ensure her safety.
The Senate has been misled and misinformed by Wilson Security
Executive Management that this was the action of a lone wolf operator,
management were fully aware of this operation. A considerable amount of video surveillance
footage was taken of Sarah Hanson Young, both inside and out of the processing
centres by tasked Emergency Response Team members. This was then provided to
the Wilson Security Intelligence unit for dissemination.
The purpose of Senator Hanson-Young’s visit to Nauru from 15 December 2013
to 18 December 2013 was to inspect conditions for asylum seekers
living in the detention camps and for refugees that would later be released
into the community. Interference with the senator carrying out these parliamentary
responsibilities may well constitute contempt of the Senate.
Allegations of spying on a Commonwealth member of parliament made by two
separate Wilson Security guards and corroborated by three more Wilson Security
guards to the ABC, raise very serious questions about whether a Commonwealth
crime or contempt of the Senate has been committed. The evidence given to the
committee by the department, Wilson Security and Transfield Services regarding
the extent of this spying is at odds with the evidence of five separate Wilson
Security guards with first-hand knowledge of these events, who have each
separately approached this committee or the media, suggesting these
organisations have misled the senate, either wilfully or as a result of
inadequate investigations conducted by them into these matters. These issues
need to be resolved.
The Australian Greens recommend the AFP conduct a full
investigation into the matters surrounding the spying on Senator Hanson-Young to
determine whether any Commonwealth offences have been committed and, if so,
refer them to the CDPP.
The Australian Greens recommend these matters be referred to the
Privileges Committee for investigation of a possible contempt of the senate.
The Australian Greens recommend an independent review be commissioned by
the department to fully investigate these matters.
Submitters to the inquiry told the committee that:
offshore processing is harmful, regardless of the environment;
offshore processing should be abolished; and
offshore processing is a significant investment of Australian
taxpayers' money with no guarantee of value for money.
Harmful effects of detention
Some submitters argued that detention is harmful regardless of the environment,
with the Law Council of Australia submitting that there were 'foreseeable risks
of prolonged and remote detention'.
STC submitted that:
A significant body of research has emerged over the past
decade demonstrating or confirming that immigration detention causes
significant psychological harm to asylum seekers, with particular impact on
STC further submitted that the effects of detention could be ongoing:
Immigration detention can cause ongoing damage to children
beyond the period of detention. Some experts have suggested that the negative
impacts of immigration detention can be ongoing for years after their release
and in some cases, risks having a lifelong impact on children. This can include
educational and social difficulties, psychological trauma and a need for
Similarly, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' statement on
the health of people seeking asylum said:
There is a large body of evidence to suggest that prolonged
detention, particularly in isolated locations with poor access to health and
social services combined with an uncertainty as to the outcome asylum seeker
claims, has severe and detrimental effects on health outcomes. These longterm
effects include damage to social and emotional functioning, especially in those
who have experienced torture or trauma, and the worsening of existing mental
Ms Charlotte Wilson, a former employee of STC, submitted that:
I firmly believe that the level of trauma that asylum seekers
have been subjected to has caused profound damage to nearly every single man,
woman and child who has been arbitrarily interned in Nauru.
Another former employee of STC wrote that:
...indefinite detention of children and their families, within
the NRPC context, causes unacceptable emotional, psychological and physical
harm to both children and adults.
The Refugee Action Collective Queensland (RAC-Q) submitted that:
Almost without exception, the detainees who have been at
Nauru display signs of anxiety, despair, sadness or loss of hope, and this is
compounded by the fact that they still live in a constant state of fear of
being sent back there.
The observations and experiences of these workers within the RPC
environment evidence a regime that further traumatises an already traumatised
group of people.
Calls for the abolition of offshore
Submitters told the committee that using detention as a deterrent was
fundamentally at odds with protecting asylum seekers and that the practice
should be abolished.
For example, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) argued against offshore
While RCOA would certainly welcome any efforts to alleviate
the suffering of the people currently subject to offshore processing in Nauru,
we believe that objective of deterring asylum seekers is irreconcilable with
the objective of protecting asylum seekers. As such, we see no viable way
forward for offshore processing and strongly recommend that it be abolished
A number of submitters called for the transfer of children in particular
to Nauru for detention to cease.
DASSAN submitted that if a total ban on offshore processing could not be
enacted, that there should be a 'moratorium on offshore transfers, including of
transitory persons' until conditions are improved.
Offshore processing is an expensive
Offshore processing is a much more expensive model than onshore or
The RCOA argued in favour of an alternative to offshore processing,
submitting that '[c]ommunity-based support arrangements offer a humane and
cost-effective alternative to offshore processing and closed immigration
Professor David Isaacs submitted that there is a disparity between
offshore and community detention costs:
The human cost of our asylum seeker policy is enormous. But
the economic cost is also astronomic: last year Australia spent over $500,000
per person in detention on Nauru. In contrast, it costs only a few thousand
dollars per person in community detention in Australia.
The department advised that for the first ten months of the 2014-15
financial year, $415.6 million was spent on capital and operating costs. There
are currently 655 asylum seekers in the RPC. It is difficult to justify this
amount of money to detain that number of people.
Further, given this significant investment of taxpayers' money, the lack
of transparency and accountability to the Australian public is concerning. Conflated
figures for Nauru and Manus Island provided in the Portfolio Budget Statement,
and direct and indirect costs also make the exact financial burden to the
Australian taxpayer difficult to distinguish.
The Regional Processing Centre as a deterrent
It was put to the committee that, owing to the low standards of living
and poor management, the RPC must have been designed to act as a deterrent. For
example, Ms Blucher told the committee that in her view, the RPC was
purposefully operated and managed to act as a deterrent:
The reason that it seems to me to be purposeful is that I do
not understand how the Australian government could pay $1.2 billion to a large
logistics company that specialises in logistics—that is, provision of services and
items and materials— and then children could not be supplied with shoes that
fit them, or toys—really basic needs. It does not make any sense to me. I do
This view was echoed in other evidence provided to the committee which demonstrated
the inability to deliver basic functions such as the provision of clothing,
footwear and food, and clean amenities such as toilets. This is despite the
significant amount of money invested in contracts with service providers.
The committee received evidence alleging that the RPC further acts as a
deterrent through the dehumanising treatment of asylum seekers. Recurring
themes raised in submissions concerned:
standards of living which would not be accepted by the Australian
the description of the RPC as 'prison-like'; and
a general lack of respect shown to asylum seekers by contracted
service provider staff, including the use of Boat Identification Number in
place of a name.
Low standards of living
Evidence received by the committee shows that the standards of living
afforded to asylum seekers within the RPC would not be accepted by the
Australian community. Asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru submitted that
difficult living conditions and attitude of contracted service provider staff
were dehumanising. Although much of the evidence received by asylum seekers and
refugees was accepted on a confidential basis, it often referred to the effects
of low standards of living on mental and physical health.
For example, a letter provided to the committee by refugees on Nauru,
and subsequently published, said:
We were patient when they sent us to Nauru like a criminal.
We were patient when they dumped us in those tents like rubbish. We were
patient when they treated us like animals. We were patient when they didn't
give us water for days.
Dr Peter Young told the committee that a lack of adequate resources has
a negative impact on peoples' behaviour:
Where the conditions are difficult, where people have been
living in poor conditions, where there is a lack of availability of basic
needs—even things like water and sanitary items—those things create a situation
where there is competition. When people have to compete for basic needs that
tends to affect their behaviour in negative ways.
Transfield Services advised that when they assumed responsibility for
the provision of goods in February 2014, there were 571 outstanding requests
for clothing and other material goods'.
It was put to the committee that difficulty in obtaining access to
sanitary products was an example of the dehumanising treatment of asylum
seekers. Ms Betts told the committee that female asylum seekers had
reported difficulties in obtaining access to sanitary pads because of 'security
There were several occasions where the asylum seekers,
particularly the women, would come and ask me or another female worker who was
in the camp at the time to go and ask the guards on their behalf because they
did not feel comfortable asking a male for such items...I would have to bring the
person with me so that the guard could witness me handing it over...I was
informed that it was alleged that sanitary items, pads, were used to soak
gasoline from the floodlights in the riots of 2013 and that was why they were
not being handed out.
Wilson Security, however, advised the committee that sanitary pads were
distributed by another service provider, saying that 'it is not a security
Numerous submissions referred to the inadequate provision of shoes to
asylum seekers, with examples given of children issued with thongs which break
or wear out quickly. Submitters said that when the thongs broke, they were
often fixed or held together with wire or cable ties, with one witness saying
they had used a bread tie and string.
The use of these makeshift materials for repairs was the source of discomfort
and pain to the wearers, according to submitters.
Ms Wilson submitted that pairs of shoes could be shared by multiple
A female asylum seeker told me that she was sharing one pair
of thongs with four women, and they would take turns wearing them to go to the
toilet block or English classes.
A former STC employee gave an example of a five-year-old girl with
inadequate access to clothing and footwear:
Despite regular, multiple requests for clothing and shoe
exchanges, she was not provided with additional clothing, underwear or shoes.
The holes in the bottom of her Crocs exposed her feet to the sharp, hot gravel
that covered [RPC 3].
Submitters told the committee that toys were not available to children
in the RPC, and noted the damaging effect this can have on children's
development. Submitters also highlighted the risk of potential 'grooming'
behaviour allegedly displayed by RPC employees who distributed toys to
Professor Isaacs and Ms Alanna Maycock, former consultants for IHMS,
submitted that toys were important for children's development:
There was not a single toy in the whole medical centre. This
contravenes best paediatric practice...Toys are also a valuable tool used by
paediatricians and child psychiatrists to observe a child’s behaviour, and to
watch them interact and socialise. Play can be essential when assessing
development. Play can also be important when trying to differentiate whether a
child’s withdrawal is due to trauma or autism.
IHMS responded to the claim that there were no toys in the medical
centre by noting:
Toys are readily available, however it is recognised that
these are regularly stolen... IHMS also recommends that service providers are
counselled on the concerns we have of local external service provider staff
stealing toys within the clinic.
Description of the Regional
Processing Centre as 'prison-like'
Some submitters argued that the presence of tall fencing, regimented
meal and shower times, and lack of personal agency made the RPC seem 'prison-like'.
For example, a former STC employee submitted that:
A number of Asylum Seekers commented to me that they thought
they felt like they had been imprisoned in the centre after the installation of
this fence. Asylum seekers noted they had committed no crime and wondered why
they had been imprisoned.
Mr Mark Isaacs, a former worker in the RPC, also argued that the RPC was
like a prison:
The 'camp', as I call it, was also encircled by approximately
two metre high temporary fencing. Within the RPC there were service provider
offices, a staff mess hall, and a parking lot and a separately cordoned camp
for the men, also enclosed by temporary fencing and the perimeter of which was
patrolled by Australian Wilson Customer Service Offers (CSOs). It was clear
they were not to leave these confines. And if people weren't being processed,
as indeed they weren't – for months on end – then this was effectively their
Former Chief Justice the Hon Geoffrey Eames AM QC submitted that '[t]he
uniforms of guards and detainees, and their body language and activity,
suggested that the camp was a prison, albeit without visible weapons'.
Mr Eames elaborated on this view at a public hearing:
I know there was a big debate in Australia about whether it
was right to call the detention centres a prison or not. I have seen plenty of
prisons and as much as they have physical constraints they have an atmosphere
about them of control and removal of entitlements, and certainly in my walking
around the camp, seeing the demeanour and the interaction between the security
guards and the people detained in the centre, it just struck me like any number
of prisons I have seen.
Ms Betts also discussed the prison analogy:
I found the points system used for the canteen strikingly
similar to an incarceration, as was the physical nature of the standardised
mealtimes and standardised shower times—that sort of regimented living, I guess
you would call it. In terms of the similarities of the actual experience of the
detainees, it was quite dissimilar. The asylum seekers have no knowledge of the
length of their stay. There are so many questions, and they do not know how
long they are going to be there for. They do not see any hope of what is going
to happen in the future.
Use of Boat Identification Number
in place of name
Throughout the inquiry, former employees of contracted service providers
told the committee that asylum seekers were routinely referred to by their boat
Identification Numbers rather than by their names. Submitters told the
committee that the routine use of boat ID as the only identifier of an asylum seeker
throughout the RPC was having an effect on children and adults, with children
signing drawings and self-identifying with a number rather than a name, and
adults identifying themselves by number on forms.
Ms Wilson submitted that:
Although in our office and within Save the Children we
identified clients by name, the system used on Nauru by all the other service
providers was to identify asylum seekers by boat ID numbers...On countless
occasions I observed children walking through and calling out their ID numbers
to identify themselves, which were then recorded by Wilson’s security staff.
When asked for their name, both children and adults will respond immediately by
reciting their boat ID number instead of their names. It is also typical that
children will sign their pictures or drawings with ID numbers rather than
Mr Andrew Harris, a former worker in the RPC submitted that he 'was told
by security staff that they are briefed to use boat IDs of asylum seekers and
not names'. Mr Harris continued:
This means that the main contact asylum seekers have with
staff is with people who are referring to them by a number. Asylum seekers
noted this to me as a dehumanising experience that didn’t uphold their dignity
as a human being.
One former STC employee submitted that:
Their [Wilson Security] client lists did not even have a
column for the client’s names. Just Boat Id and corresponding tent allocation
number. This was still common practice (despite conversations confirming that
they had been told it must cease) in October 2014 during my last shift on the
Wilson Security advised that the department has issued guidelines against
the use of boat IDs in place of names:
...there has always been a clear request or guideline by the
department to ensure that we use names, and the clear reason is around the
dignity and respect of the asylum seeker...that has not always been the case and
there have been times when we have had to reinforce our correct procedure to
people. There have been occasions when forms have been produced with just
numbers on them and we have had to go about correcting those.
Ms Blucher refuted the claim by Wilson Security that instances in which boat
ID had been used were in error, and told the committee:
...for the entire period of time that I was working in the
Nauru RPC, the only Wilson paperwork that I saw—in the form of internal
movement sheets, which officers would tick off at the gates as asylum seekers
moved through—contained only numbers, only boat identification numbers, and
there were no names on those sheets.
No guarantee of safety and security
Evidence received on a confidential basis from asylum seekers and
refugees on Nauru alleged a culture of fear in the RPC with no guarantee able
to be given around personal safety and security.
During the course of the inquiry, the committee sought to clarify whose
responsibility it is to guarantee the safety and security of asylum seekers
within the RPC. It became apparent that it is the responsibility of the
Government of Nauru to guarantee the safety and security of asylum seekers, as
Moreover, the committee sought to understand why, given the employment
of a significant security personnel cohort and the involvement of the
department at all levels of the operation of the RPC, there were so many
allegations of sexual and physical abuse.
The lack of safety and security extends outside of the centre, to the
entire island of Nauru. The committee heard from submitters that tension
existed between Nauruan locals and refugees resettled into the community.
One submitter told the committee of multiple incidents in which refugees in the
community had been targeted, and alleged that there was no protection available
ChilOut submitted that '[t]he settlement of refugees amongst the Nauruan
population places them once again in proximity with the perpetrators of sexual
and told the committee that unaccompanied minors released into the community
had faced risks to their safety:
...29 unaccompanied children
(UACs) were released
into the community on Nauru
following fears for their safety
while held in the family
compound within the RPC.
In the following
weeks, the teenage boys were subjected to a series of physical
and verbal attacks by a group of locals, with several of the boys requiring
hospitalisation as a result
of their injuries.
The department reported to Comcare an incident on 23 November 2014 in
which two unaccompanied minors were assaulted, with the brief description:
'Assault of 2 unaccompanied refugee minors, superficial injuries'.
It was classed as a non-notifiable incident and was not investigated by
Comcare. It is not known to the committee whether the incident referred to
Comcare is the same incident referred to by ChilOut.
Professor Isaacs relayed an example of a female asylum seeker who
disclosed an allegation of rape to him:
She told me that since the rape, one guard had offered her
extra shower time in return for sexual favours (each person was restricted to
two minutes a day because of water restrictions), and on another occasion a
different guard offered marijuana in return for sexual favours. She wept
uncontrollably for ten minutes when telling me her story...
Ms Diallo submitted an example of the threat of sexual violence: 'One
particular 13 year old girl, had received threats while in the camp to her
physical safety, and there had been threats of rape made to her older sister'.
Sexual assault of women and
children outside the RPC
On top of the threats received while living in the RPC, it was put to
the committee that asylum seekers had deep concerns about being settled in the
community because of fears for their safety. One submitter stated:
It became clear early that, only very limited planning from
DIBP and the Nauruan Government had gone into the ‘settlement’ of Asylum
Seekers found to be refugees on Nauru.
Refugees were released from the OPCs with very limited
information on what to expect in the Nauruan community. Some Asylum Seekers,
especially the SAFs [Single Adult Females], were very scared about leaving the
OPC to go into the Nauruan community, as there were many rumours on how
refugees in the community would be treated particularly around being raped or
being attacked by dogs.
DASSAN submitted multiple accounts of asylum seekers who had expressed
fears of being released into the Nauruan community. Examples were given of
instances in which female asylum seekers had been sexually harassed by RPC
staff, who intimated that the harassment would continue once the asylum seekers
were released into the community.
One example in particular reveals the level of threats women receive simply
undertaking day-to-day tasks while in the RPC, and what they can expect if they
When the women went to the office/ supplies area, to obtain
goods, the guards harassed them about wanting to be with them in the local
community when they were released. When this was ignored by the women, the
guards said that they would show them what would happen to them on the outside.
A former Wilson Security employee submitted other examples of this
harassment by Nauruan men when women are resettled in the Nauruan community:
I received a phone call from a refugee living in the
community after receiving a positive RSD. She sounded deeply distressed and told
me her friend had just called her saying a Nauruan is trying to break into her
room. The Nauruan male was known to the female refugee in the room he was
attempting to enter. Eventually the male broke the door handle and left. I saw
the broken door handle the following day while walking to the Anibare boat
harbor. I am aware that there are frequently drunk Nauruan males entering the
refugee accommodation sites in the community calling for females to come out of
Ms Wilson submitted that she had witnessed a threat of rape made to
female asylum seekers, saying: 'I have witnessed a Nauruan security guard
telling a group of single Somali women that if they run away ‘you will get
raped by the local boys’'.
Another submitter wrote that an incident report was filed for this allegation,
but with no outcome known.
Incident of May 2015
Submissions to the inquiry related an incident in May 2015 in which a
female asylum seeker participating in the 'open centre' was found disoriented
and with injuries near a road on the island, after failing to return to the
The incident was also reported in the media. The submissions alleged that the
asylum seeker had been sexually assaulted and beaten.
One submitter alleged that proper medical care had not been administered,
and that proper police procedures were not followed.
This was echoed in other evidence to the committee where the committee was
advised that the police who had responded to the incident had stopped to 'watch
a fireworks display for 45 mins' with the asylum seeker in the car before
interviewing her at the police station.
It was put to the committee that the department had denied a request by
IHMS to transfer the asylum seeker to Australia for medical treatment. This was
also reported in the media.
Subsequent media reports stated that the asylum seeker was experiencing kidney
failure as a result of a hunger strike.
The department advised on 20 August 2015 that the asylum seeker had been
brought to Australia for treatment.
Threats of sexual violence as a means of intimidation are disturbing
allegations which have been made in multiple submissions to the inquiry, and
only some of these examples are provided above. The allegations not only show
the lack of security and safety that can be provided to asylum seekers in
resettlement, they also go to evidencing the 'culture of fear' which submitters
have referred to throughout the inquiry.
The inability for vulnerable women and children to be removed from
situations of family violence, assault, abuse and harassment was noted in the
committee's report to be at odds with best practice and not of the standard
required in Australia. The Australian Greens believe that the protection of
asylum seekers, particularly children, is limited by the inability for
vulnerable people to be removed from situations of harm. The resettlement of
asylum seekers in Nauru further does not meet this standard.
No oversight or responsibility
Throughout the inquiry, submitters and witnesses noted an apparent lack
of oversight of staff employed within the RPC. Questions were raised regarding:
responsibility for the safety of asylum seekers;
the extent of Commonwealth oversight and accountability to the
oversight of decisions made by the Nauruan Government;
the response of the department to allegations of abuse;
Australia's human rights obligations; and
the existence of an overly complicated management framework consisting
of numerous contractors and subcontractors.
Ms Maycock submitted that:
Nauru has a dark, chilling feeling of lawlessness about it, a
feeling that you can behave as inappropriately as you wish, with no respect or
regard for anyone and there will be no one to answer to and no repercussions or
punishment for your actions.
Responsibility for the safety of
Transfield Services advised that responsibility for the security of
asylum seekers resides with the Nauruan Government:
We are not contractually obliged to guarantee the security
of the asylum seekers but we work together with other stakeholders to ensure
that it is a secure environment. The centre is under the operation of the
government of Nauru, so they have the overarching legal obligations that exist
in that country to guarantee the safety of the citizens and the people in the
The department also advised that the ultimate responsibility for the
personal safety of asylum seekers within the RPC was with the Nauruan Government.
However, legal and human rights bodies submitted that Australia has a
non-delegable duty of care to asylum seekers within the RPC on Nauru.
There is no capacity for inquiry or scrutiny by the Australian
Parliament of the performance of the Nauruan Government against the legal and
operational obligations they are purported to hold. Therefore, there are no
means for the Australian Parliament and the Australian public to know whether
the safety and security of asylum seekers can be guaranteed. This is a returning
concern, and once again questions the significant investment of Australian
taxpayers' money into Nauru RPC.
This lack of adequate Commonwealth oversight is discussed below.
Insufficient Commonwealth oversight
ChilOut submitted that they held concerns over the safety, health and
wellbeing of children within the RPC:
We believe that the allegations that are the subject of the Inquiry are extremely
concerning and are indicative
of a failure by the Australian
Government to safeguard the health and wellbeing
of children detained
in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru.
No oversight of the Nauruan
Mr Eames told the committee that scrutiny of the decisions or steps
taken by the Nauruan Government were not easily discerned:
The Nauru government had adopted a series of steps which very
much invoked secrecy and withheld open discussion about the situation in Nauru
generally. The Nauru government would not allow any media attention on the
opposition, for example. The media unit in Nauru was told that they could not
interview and publish the views of opposition members. That had been the case
for quite a while. They passed legislation, which I refer to in my submission,
which seems to me is likely to have quite a chilling effect on anyone who would
want to be critical of government or government policies. It was not a
situation where people would be confident about coming forward...There is a
general atmosphere there that you cannot have an open discussion.
No capacity on Nauru
The Republic of Nauru occupies a small area of 21 square kilometres, and
has a population of around 10,000.
The Nauruan Government-issued Nauru Bulletin for June 2015 announced
that '[t]he major source of revenue for the Government now comes from the
operation of the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru'.
The Nauru Bulletin, issued fortnightly, refers to a number of
donations by foreign governments and indicates a reliance on donated goods in
order to function. For example, 40 hospital beds and 10 sets of hearing aids were
donated recently to the Republic of Nauru hospital by the Republic of China (Taiwan),
and two laptop and three desktop computers were donated by Thailand for use by
Nauru's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who said that 'the additional
equipment is a great boost for the department and will now allow all the staff
members to have access to a computer'.
The reliance on donated goods belies a nation with a severe lack of capacity to
host, operate and run a facility like the RPC with fluctuating numbers of
Submitters raised questions about:
the capacity of the Nauru Police Force to investigate crimes;
no hospital facilities or ongoing staff for pregnant asylum
seekers to give birth;
no laboratory facilities for carrying out secondary drug testing
of contracted staff; and
the collapse of the rule of law.
Capacity of the Nauru Police Force
to undertake investigations
The Moss Review stated that there was a need for a more structured
relationship between contracted service providers and the NPF:
At present, the relationship between Transfield
Services/Wilson Security and the Nauruan Police Force relies more on individuals
rather than a systematic approach.
The Moss Review also noted the potential for under-reporting of
incidences of abuse:
In some cases, transferees told the Review that they had not
reported particular incidents because they had lost confidence that anything
would be done about their complaints.
Serious questions were raised throughout this inquiry regarding the
capacity of the NPF to adequately and appropriately investigate allegations of criminal
activity, with particular attention drawn to their capacity to investigate sexual
assault. One submitter alleged that, in the wake of a female asylum seeker
being found naked and beaten, no forensic testing was undertaken, and no
photographs were taken.
The same submitter went on to allege numerous examples of the lack of
capacity of the NPF to respond to incidents and investigate allegations of
Other submitters made allegations regarding the behaviour of Nauruan
police officers, and alleged misconduct.
The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law submitted:
...in theory, the Nauruan police force should have primacy in
investigations of criminal matters at the centre, the [Moss] report suggests
that much of the ‘policing’ at the centre is in fact done by Transfield
Services/Wilson Security, which are contracted by the Australian government and
report to the Australian government.
The former resident magistrate on Nauru, Mr Peter Law, submitted that
there was an:
...apparent failure of the NPF [Nauru Police Force] to properly
investigate and charge perpetrators of incidents reported at the Processing
Centre concerning allegations of physical and sexual assaults against women and
children identified in the Moss Report. The issue of capability is overshadowed
by motivation. The lack of action suggests the Nauruan Government is less than
interested to see these incidents investigated and prosecuted because such
action may reflect adversely on Nauru as a place to process and settle asylum
Mr Law also submitted that, in his view, there had been a breakdown in
the relationship between the AFP and the NPF:
Until July 2013 the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had
performed a very important role in Nauru by providing a senior AFP officer to
carry out the role of Commissioner of Police of Nauru, together with logistical
and training support to police. The termination by the Nauruan Government of
the appointment of Richard Britten as the Commissioner of the Nauru Police
Force (NPF) on 19 July 2013, the night of the riots at the Processing Centre,
has never been explained. From this time, I lost confidence in the capacity of
the NPF to act independently or competently.
Mr Lee Gordon, Head of Nauru Programs for STC, told the committee:
There are some issues in relation to the police force and its
capacity to undertake investigations. It is a small police service. It does not
have a lot of detailed comprehensive training around working with people with
trauma or even around sexual assaults. So if we were thinking of it in terms of
whether that is a competent way to deal with something then I guess there would
be a question there as to whether that would be the case.
The concerns raised by submitters and witnesses regarding the capacity
of the NPF to properly undertake investigations reveal a nation that is unable
to meet the standards of policing that asylum seekers need to feel protected in
the Nauruan community, and a standard Australia has an obligation to ensure
Throughout its inquiry, the committee received substantive evidence that
the conditions of living in the RPC on Nauru are of an unacceptably low
Evidence put to this committee demonstrates that the conditions within
the RPC on Nauru can never be guaranteed to an acceptable standard to protect
the human rights of asylum seekers.
While women continue to experience sexual violence, sexual harassment
and sexual exploitation and while children continue to experience abuse at the
hands of family members or staff of contracted service providers, with no
option to be removed from danger, the onus is on the Australian Government to
The Australian Government provides funding for all aspects of the
operation and management of the RPC, manages the contracts for service
providers, provides funding for Nauruan infrastructure, and selects and
transfers asylum seekers to the RPC. Significant amounts of taxpayers' money is
invested in the RPC, but with minimal transparency and oversight by the
The Australian Government has consistently said that the operation and
management of the RPC on Nauru is a matter for the Government of Nauru. The
argument that total funding, management of contracts and in-depth involvement
in the daily running of the RPC does not amount to control of the RPC is not a
In asserting that the Nauruan Government has responsibility for the RPC,
and therefore assumes the legal responsibilities regarding human rights
obligations, the Australian Government is not able to assure the Australian
public that their money is being spent wisely or in the best interests of
It is concerning that Australian taxpayers' money can be spent in large
amounts with such limited reporting to the parliament and to the Australian
Throughout the inquiry, the department, along with head contracted
service provider Transfield Services, have advised of the existence of
high-level corporate guidelines and policies which they argue ensure an
acceptable standard of living. Evidence put to the inquiry has indicated,
however, that there is significant disconnect between these documents and the
day-to-day running of the Regional Processing Centre. Some submitters even posited
that the poor running of the RPC must be intentional, given the existence of
these policies, the large amounts of money spent on contracts, and the
reassurances of the department and Transfield Services.
The Republic of Nauru simply lacks the capacity to carry out the
operation and management of the Regional Processing Centre in the face of a
collapsing rule of law, lack of investigatory infrastructure and general
inability to conduct the actual operation and management of the facility.
Nauru is not and cannot possibly fulfil its obligations under the MOU at
present with the complete breakdown of rule of law in the country. The child
protection framework in Nauru is inadequate and if removal from harm is not an
option then meaningful child protection is impossible. The Nauruan community is
just as unsafe for asylum seekers and refugees as the RPC. Removing victims of
abuse from the RPC to the community in Nauru will not make them any safer.
The Australian Greens recommend the Nauru regional processing
centre be closed and all refugees and asylum seekers living there be
transferred to Australia.
If the regional processing centre is to continue to operate then,
in addition to the recommendations in the main report, the Australian Greens
- that Transfield Services and Wilson Security are disqualified
from holding any ongoing contract for services;
- that the ongoing management of the RPC should be undertaken by
the government itself or contracted only to qualified and professional welfare
and social workers from a not-for-profit organisation, especially when it comes
to the management of the welfare of asylum seekers;
- video footage recorded within the RPC should not be deleted at
any stage. All footage should be provided to the department, which must retain
it and make it available for FOI requests;
- all allegations of misconduct by RPC staff must be investigated
by an independent investigator, such as the Immigration Ombudsman; and
- clothes, shoes, hats, sunglasses, sanitary products and all other
basic necessities should be provided in a timely and suitable fashion.
Greens Immigration Spokesperson
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