Australia's policy of offshore processing has been the
subject of a number of Senate inquiries. These inquires have been highly
critical of many aspects of the Regional Processing Centre (RPC) policy.
The evidence which this committee has received has fallen
primarily within three main areas:
the operation and administration of RPCs, including service
delivery, incident reporting, and health, safety and welfare;
the offshore processing policy itself, including whether it is
effective, lawful, and/or represents 'value for money'; and
looking to the future, including how Australia can expedite third
country resettlement options.
A substantial part of this report is devoted to recording
the high number of incident reports made public through the publication of 'the
and supported by evidence from submitters to this inquiry. While evidence of
this nature is not new, and reflects evidence which has been presented to
previous inquiries, it is the first time that this volume and detail of
information has been publicly available. Some of the reports are recordings of
allegations made by refugees and asylum seekers, and many contain information
which workers have observed first hand. The content is deeply concerning.
Collectively, these reports paint the picture of a deeply troubled asylum
seeker and refugee population, and an unsafe living environment—especially for
children. Even more troublingly, these reports only record those
incidents which have actually been reported to workers, or which workers have
themselves observed. Undoubtedly, they do not reflect the true prevalence of
In its current manifestation, Australia's policy of offshore
processing is deeply affected by structural complexity. Despite the efforts of the
Department of Immigration and Border Protection (the department), its
sub-contractors, and other related stakeholders, there are clear failures by
the department in administering the current policy in a safe and transparent
manner. The policy structure is complex, and it relies heavily on the private
sector to administer the day-to-day management of the scheme. This structural
complexity has led to a lack of accountability and transparency in the
administration of the policy, and a failure to clearly acknowledge where the
duty of care lies in relation to those asylum seekers and refugees. For a
policy which represents such a significant investment of Australian public
funds, this lack of accountability is disturbing.
For the Australian Government to continue to facilitate the
processing of asylum seekers who have claimed or attempted to claim protection
from Australia, significant changes to the administration of the policy are
First and foremost, the Australian Government must
acknowledge that it controls Australia's RPCs. Through the department, the
Australian Government pays for all associated costs, engages all major
contractors, owns all the major assets, and (to date) has been responsible for
negotiating all third country resettlement options. Additionally, the
department is the final decision-maker for approving the provision of
specialist health services and medical transfers (including medical
evacuations) and the development of policies and procedures which relate to the
operation of the RPCs. Incident reports are also provided to the department so
it cannot claim that it was not aware of incidents that occurred in RPCs
outside of Australia.
The Australian Government clearly has a duty of care in
relation to the asylum seekers who have been transferred to Nauru or Papua New
Guinea. To suggest otherwise is fiction.
Secondly, the secrecy surrounding RPC operations must cease.
Refugees and asylum seekers are highly vulnerable, and this vulnerability is
exacerbated where they are housed in distant and remote locations. The Senate,
international human rights bodies, and indeed all Australians, must be in a
position to scrutinise the running of Australia's RPCs. While Australia
continues to manage concerns about asylum seekers making the dangerous journey
to Australia by boat, the day-to-day management of RPCs has little connection
with this. It is difficult to see how transparency about the provision of
medical and education services, the Refugee Status Determination processes and
Deportation Risk Assessments would have any bearing on the future success of
Thirdly, a much greater degree of transparency is needed in
relation to the costs of administering this policy and the services provided as
part of any contracts. Australian taxpayers bear all the costs of offshore
processing. They are entitled to know how public funds are being spent. The
Senate is likewise entitled to this information.
For Australia to continue facilitating the processing of claims
for asylum offshore, the major faults which mar the current manifestation of
the policy of offshore processing must be acknowledged and rectified.
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