Inquiry into abuse at Nauru underway
Managers of the Nauru detention centre have been admonished for not answering key questions during an Australian Senate inquiry into sexual abuse and violence at the facility.
Managers of the Nauru detention camps have been admonished for not answering key questions during an Australian Senate inquiry into sexual abuse, violence and neglect at the facility.
The inquiry, which began on Tuesday, was launched following the release of the Moss Review, which detailed assault of asylum seekers by guards and staff.
Mary Baines reports.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says the living conditions and treatment of detainees is alarming, and in breach of international human rights law.
It claims women and children are forced to wet the bed, as they are too afraid to go to the bathroom at night for fear of their safety, and that there are just four toilets for 400 people to share.
Its submission says five to six families live together in each communal tent, which are filled with mice and cockroaches, no air conditioning, and mould which causes skin infections.
It says male guards are in charge of the women's shower block, and have offered to extend shower time to women who agree to shower while exposed to them.
The inquiry's first witnesses were from Transfield Services, which won a 1 billion US dollar contract from the Australian government to manage the facility.
Its chief executive of operations, Kate Munnings, says it takes its obligation to asylum seekers and its staff very seriously.
KATE MUNNINGS: We expect all our staff and contractors to put the highest priority on the care and well-being of asylum seekers at the centre, and we are committed to equipping them with the skills, knowledge and understanding to meet this expectation.
A number of questions directed at Transfield Services were taken "on notice", meaning they will be answered later.
Company representatives were unable to answer questions on the gender balance of its workforce at the camp, and how often the power failed at the facility.
It confirmed some tents where asylum seekers lived were mouldy, but questions on how extensive the mould was and how long it had been an issue were also put on notice.
When senators asked if male staff members are present when women and children are showering, Transfield said as far as it was aware, they are not.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked Transfield's operational manager, Derek Osborne, about the alleged sexual assault of a boy in 2013.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: When there is a serious allegation such as was made in November 2013 about the sexual assault of a young child, who in your hierarchy received that information?
DEREK OSBORNE: I would have to take that question on notice.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Well this is the case that has been well documented in the Moss review, you must have that information. Who in your staff was made aware of that allegation and what did they do with it?
DEREK OSBORNE: Senator we have quite clear reporting obligations in our contract that we follow with the department. Very happy to take that question on notice.
The Committee chair, Labor's Alex Gallacher, told Transfield its lack of knowledge is extraordinary.
ALEX GALLACHER: You do know that if you know that information you have to answer the question.
KATE MUNNINGS: Absolutely and we will answer the question, Senator.
ALEX GALLACHER: So when we ask questions like what's the gender balance of your workforce of 500, and you don't know, that does raise sort of reticence in my mind.
KATE MUNNINGS: Senator, we have come on short notice, we are very happy to participate, but we want to give the committee accurate information not guesses.
ALEX GALLACHER: Absolutely. And if you're asked the gender balance of 500 people I find it extraordinary that the three people at the table do not know. So take that on notice that I think that's extraordinary.
Wilson Security, which is contracted by Transfield to provide security at the centre, says some allegations against guards have been raised, including claims staff had traded contraband for sexual favours with asylum seekers.
Senator Hanson-Young asked the security contract manager, Brett McDonald, about the claims.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Mcdonald, when were you first made aware that there was a, for lack of a better description, a trading of sexual favours for access to cigarettes happening inside the camp?
BRETT MCDONALD: Senator I'm not aware of the exact date when some allegations were first raised. I could take that on notice and come back to you.
Mr McDonald was also asked whether male staff were present when women and children used the showers and toilets.
BRETT MCDONALD: Senator, part of our process in regional processing three, which is where families and women are, is to buddy our staff up males and females. And as a part of that process they will do patrols of the ablution blocks during times, of which the female will enter shower blocks and the male will wait outside.
ALEX GALLACHER: So there are male guards present but they are with a female guard.
BRETT MCDONALD: That's correct.
ALEX GALLACHER: At all times?
BRETT MCDONALD: That's our process, for them to be buddy up with a male and female.
Senator Kim Carr asked Wilson Security's executive general manager, John Rodgers, about allegations a woman had been raped by a cleaner while visiting a toilet at night.
KIM CARR: How is it that you are not able to maintain the security so that women cannot go to the toilet at night without fear of being assaulted?
JOHN RODGERS: Senator, I don't accept that we're not able to maintain the security there. In the execution of our contract, we have consistently exceeded the KPIs that have been set for us and I believe we have done a very professional job of managing the security at the centre.
Mr McDonald told the committee there was no jurisdiction in Nauru to conduct working with children checks.
He says in substitute of that, Wilson Security has specific behavioural questions, a declaration that employees sign, a code of conduct and a local police check in Nauru.
He says it undertakes random drug testing on its employees, but could not say when that policy began.
The Senate committee will reveal its finding by mid-June.
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