Inquiry scathing of Nauru detention centre

The Nauru immigration detention centre has been given a poor report card, on the same day operator Transfield Services announced it’s expected to have its contract renewed for five years.

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The company has a $1.2 billion contract to run detention centres at Nauru and Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, which expires at the end of October along with that of sub-contractor Wilson Security.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange on Monday, Transfield said the federal government has chosen it as the preferred tenderer for both offshore centres.

But a Senate inquiry report was scathing of the company’s track record on Nauru, saying it appeared the centre is not run well.

Nor were both companies accountable to the federal government despite the significant investment.

The immigration department did not have a full knowledge of incidents occurring and the committee was angry it had not been afforded full and transparent access to information from the department.

No financial penalties had been triggered under performance management arrangements, the report said.

“The culture of secrecy which surrounds offshore processing only serves to increase the risk of wrongdoing and abuse and contribute to fear among asylum seekers that no-one will protect them, and that misconduct by staff will go unpunished,” the report said.

The report by the non-government dominated committee made 15 recommendations, including mandatory reporting of abuse claims, a full audit of allegations and daily random drug and alcohol tests for staff.

It said the present conditions at the centre are “not adequate, appropriate or safe for the asylum seekers detained there”.

“Australia’s purported reliance on the sovereignty and legal system of Nauru in the face of allegations of human rights abuses and serious crimes … is a cynical and unjustifiable attempt to avoid accountability,” the committee said.

Extra transparency measures were needed such as media access to the detention centre, a budget breakdown on spending costs and having the immigration ombudsman review complaints.

The report said maintaining a high-security environment was unnecessary and counter-productive to the wellbeing of the people housed within the centre.

“They are not criminals, and they do not pose such a threat to the people of Nauru as to justify conditions of large-scale security and confinement,” the report said.

There are 637 asylum seekers detained at the detention centre – 551 adults and 86 children – while average time in detention was 402 days.

Meanwhile, Australia is spending $135 million on construction work in Nauru over the next two years, including upgrading the island’s hospital, primary school, court house and jail, to benefit locals, refugees and asylum seekers.

The committee was concerned the projects had not been signed off by Australia’s parliamentary works committee and there’s conflicting information about whether the money is coming out of the aid budget.

A dissenting report by government senators noted the veracity of some allegations were unable to be tested.

It criticised the other committee members for being willing to “accept untested and unsubstantiated submissions as fact”.

Several witnesses had spent very little time on Nauru and were only able to provide limited, anecdotal evidence, they said.

That included allegations of waterboarding made by those who weren’t witness to the events or had “ulterior motives”.

The coalition senators also said some claims were similar to those already covered in a separate review, after which a child protection panel and federal police assistance were instituted.

As such they were confident the government has responded appropriately.

TOP RECOMMENDATIONS

* Extra assistance to Nauru government to speed up processing of refugee claims.

* Immigration ombudsman to independently review all complaints about conduct of Australian-funded staff and contractors and report to parliament annually.

* Grant the Australian Human Rights Commission and media access to the detention centre.

* Daily random alcohol and drug testing for detention centre staff.

* Children to be removed from detention.

* Immigration department and Australian Federal Police to do a full audit of sex abuse, child abuse and other criminal activity.

* Mandatory reporting of abuse.

(Source: Senate committee report)