It is looking more and more like the Tony Abbott-led Australian Government has lost the plot as it attempts to deflect mounting criticism regarding its refugee policy by rabidly attacking the much-admired Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, who has recently been scathing in her criticisms on the Government’s human rights record. Meanwhile a Senate Inquiry into allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the Nauru refugee detention centre has seen a tranche of damning evidence emerge against two Government-appointed companies responsible for managing the detention centre – namely, Transfield and Wilson Security. Some of that evidence – see below – has also corroborated allegations of intimidation made by Green Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. Abbott’s own position, as also his Government, must, surely, now be in question.
Latest…1. Even Abbott’s friends are deserting him: former Liberal Party minister Amanda Vanstone has slammed his record on human rights. 2. Former Immigration minister Scott Morrison knew of sex assaults at Nauru 12 months before commencing inquiry.
Ms. Triggs’ criticisms of the Abbott Government singled out new powers to detain indefinitely refugees and asylum seekers. She also criticised the newly updated data retention legislation as being an invasion of privacy and an assault on democracy. A bill introduced last year also seeks to give the Government discretion to revoke citizenship, without trial or conviction, for a number of reasons, including where it is believed a person is ‘not of good character’ (i.e, based on a subjective decision), suffering from mental illness or even having a drug or alcohol problem.
Inevitably, a Government that is reactionary at its core can neither understand nor stomach any such criticism.
1. Recent evidence to Inquiry on Nauru detention centre
The following are full-text transcripts of testimonies given to the ongoing Senate Inquiry into the detention of refugees at the Nauru detention facility.
A) Testimony by former Wilson Security employee – click here (pdf).
This includes details of the following:
- [Corroboration of how] Wilson Security spied on Senator Sarah Hanson-Young while she was on Nauru inspecting the detention centre (see Appendix 1 at end of this article)
- Military imposters were employed in supervisor roles within Wilson Security (see also Appendix 2 at end of this article)
- Wilson Security guards planned to use unreasonable force and assault asylum seekers
- Nauruan employees of Wilson Security threatened refugees.
Note: these testimonies largely highlight inadequacies in social and health care and other problems regarding physical conditions at the Nauru detention centre.
C) A reminder of the testimony by former Save the Children Australia senior social worker Viktoria Vibhakar – click here (pdf). The evidence includes 32 specific cases of sexual and physical abuse at the Nauru detention centre. Here are just three of those cases…
Case no. 3: An adolescent male, “Danny” was sexually assaulted and then verbally mocked by a Commonwealth contractor on 16 November 2013… There was an attempted physical assault on the child’s brother by another Commonwealth contractor later that week… Danny was also subjected to another incident of assault by another Commonwealth contracted employee. The Australian Government – and Wilson Security – were subsequentl informed of what happened by SCA and were told that the local (Nauru) police would not be contacted. Emails proved that the DIBP (Department of Immigration & Border Protection) was informed a year prior to when the government claimed they first became aware of this and other allegations of sexual and physical abuse at the Nauru centre.
Case no. 4: A four year old girl showed signs that she had been sexually assaulted. A report was duly submitted by an SCA officer stating the girl was of high risk. The DIBP decided she should remain in the detention centre.
Case no. 5: “Mia”, an eight year old girl, alleged she had been sexually abused and according to her carer had tried to commit suicide. Details were reported to DIBP. However she remained at the detention facility for a further 7 months.
D) Other testimonies by the Senate Inquiry are marked as ‘Confidential’ – i.e. not yet available.
2. The context of the Inquiry
- The Nauru detention centre was opened in 2001. It was closed down by the Rudd-led Labor Government, but re-opened in 2012 b y the Gillard-led Government.
- On 19 July 2013 there was a major riot in the detention centre and 80% of the buildings were destroyed by fire, with damage estimated at $60 million.
- The Australian Government recently passed a controversial law enhancing the powers of security guards in detention centres. The law enables guards to cause “grievous bodily harm” if they “reasonably believe” it is necessary to protect life or prevent injury. A former judge of the Victorian Court of Appeal Stephen Charles QC said the law allowed security guards to use lethal force “with impunity” because it would be “almost impossible” for them to face prosecution in the courts.
- Five Nauruan MPs are currently facing indefinite suspension from parliament, three were suspended for speaking to the foreign media, while the other two were suspended for defending the MPs’ right to speak to foreign media.
- The Nauruan Government recently passed laws that could see anyone who causes “emotional distress” jailed if that is likely to “threaten national defence, public safety, public health or public morality”.
- There are safety concerns for the 488 refugees, including 77 children, who have been allowed to leave the detention centre and have settled on Nauru.
- The Australian Government has passed a law that criminalises any attempt by anyone to report to the media any abuse – physical, sexual, mental – at the detention centres (Nauru and Manus Island)
- The Australian Medical Association passed an emergency motion condemning this law.
- Evidence has come to light that Wilson Security has failed in its vetting procedures of employees. Staff have lied about their past working history. Some staff – guards – claimed to have worked for the police/military when this was not the case. Other staff – guards have been dismissed because they have used social media to display racist and Islamophobic tendencies (just as you wouldn’t employ a paedophile to look after children, so you wouldn’t employ a racist to guard refugees).
- In April it was revealed that the Australian Government had known for almost 18 months about the physical and sexual abuse of women and children at Nauru detention centre, but had done nothing about these abuses (so contradicting the Government’s argument that the best way to report wrongdoings is via official channels).
- It is believed that just under 1000 refugees are imprisoned at the Nauru refugee detention centre. An estimated 370 expatriate staff and 456 local staff are employed by Wilson Security to police the centre. (Wilson Security are also contracted to manage security at the Manus Island refugee detention centre.)
Appendix 1: spying on Sarah Hanson-Young
After her visit to the Nauru detention centre in December 2013, Green’s senator Sarah Hanson-Young alleged that:
- members of Wilson Security’s Emergency Response Team at the Nauru detention centre followed her around the island.
- an “observation post” was set up to watch her room at the Menen Hotel, one of only two hotels on the island.
- a supervisor, whose name has been redacted from her submission, ordered the spying in a briefing that included her room number, car registration, “and even using the code name ‘Raven’ over the radio to make reference to her.
The Green’s senator has told the Senate Inquiry that: “Allegations that I was spied on while conducting an investigation and an inspection of the conditions inside the Nauru detention centre are extremely concerning… When I was there on the island, I must say there was a sense that I was being watched. I didn’t really know what was going on at the time. I just had a sense that at some times that my car was being followed and that at other times conversations that I was having with people on the island were being monitored.”
Appendix 2: Wilson Security’s racist guards
The above photo shows employees of Wilson Security’s Nauru Emergency Response Team and others at the Reclaim Australia rally in Brisbane on April 4. From left: Dan Connors, Cody Allen, Alan Hartley, Beau James, former federal MP Pauline Hanson (centre), Graham Motley, Simon Scott, (next man in light green shirt is not a Wilson employee).
Seven of the eight men were subsequently suspended from their position with Wilson Security for publishing offensive and racist comments.
One of the guards, Simon Scott, posted the group photo with Hanson on his Facebook page with the comment: “What more can I say.” Another guard, Graham Motley, a veteran of a Royal Australian Regiment task force that mentored soldiers in Afghanistan, commented under the post: “Royal Australian Infidels”. Two others in the photo, Beau James and Dann Connors, sport T-shirts bearing the word “infidel”. Another guard, Harley Levanic, revealed on Facebook his new neck tattoo bearing the same word. James commented on the picture: “Welcome to the gang… Well done old son. Looks awesome.” A day before the rally, James, tagged a post likening Muslims to Germans who enabled the rise of Nazis through inaction, with the comment: “See yas tomoz boys!!! Bring your pitch forks.” Another guard, Simon Scott, posts on the same day: “Let me know when we are meeting in the city. I need someone to help me with a bag of ammonium nitrate.” Connors posted about a visit to the Lindt cafe in Sydney where a siege in December 2014 ended in the deaths of self-proclaimed jihadist Man Haron Monis and two hostages. Scott responded: “Did you smell dead joondie in there?” “Joondie”, derived from the Arabic word for soldier, is a slang term used by Australian defence personnel to refer to the Taliban.
N.B. Wilson Security’s contract with Transfield: http://www.immi.gov.au/about/foi/documents/fa140300149.pdf