EXCLUSIVE: Our Contract With Manus

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Days after Kevin Rudd’s announcement that all asylum seekers arriving by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea, New Matilda and Detention Logs publish the contract between G4S and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for the Manus Island detention centre.

The contract, obtained under freedom of information laws almost two years after New Matilda first published the contract for mainland detention facilities, provides the first detailed insight into the organisation and management of the Manus processing centre.

The facility will likely face significant expansion following Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s shock announcement last week that not only will all maritime arrivals now be processed in PNG, but that those found to be refugees will be resettled there.

The details of the contract expose a number of potential shortfalls that could jeopardise the quality of care this increased number of asylum seekers will receive.

New Matilda and Detention Logs analysis of the Manus contract reveals:

  • The Immigration Department has set out terms that suggest the standard of care and services on Manus Island may not meet the same quality as facilities in Australia.
  • There is no requirement for mandated independent audits of the facility.
  • A weaker financial penalty system has been set up than for the mainland detention centres in Australia.

View a copy of the full contract here

The contract’s objectives indicate that the quality of services on Manus Island will not meet the same standards as those in Australia.

It states that the G4S will “provide transferees with a standard and range of operational and maintenance services that is the best available in the circumstances, and utilising facilities and personnel on Manus Island (PNG) and that as far as possible (but recognising any unavoidable limitations deriving from the circumstances on Manus Island (PNG)) is broadly comparable with services available within the Australian community.”

The contract places a requirement on G4S to hire a quota of local PNG subcontractors in security, cleaning and gardening — but it allows them to opt out of some standards set in the contract, including the Fair Work workplace safeguards it sets up.

“The parties intend that the Service Provider will engage some local entities as subcontractors. The parties recognise that it may not be possible for local entities to meet all of the Requirements. The terms on which local entities will be engaged will be agreed between the parties,” the contract reads.

It also says “labour rates for locally engaged staff must be consistent with local law and practice.” Payment rates in PNG are lower than in Australia.

There is also no requirement for regular independent audits of the facility under the contract, a failure New Matilda also identified in the contract for Australia’s mainland detention facilities. In fact, the oversight measures are even less onerous than in the Serco contract.

Monthly reports are required to be completed, but this is the only oversight arrangement in place. As Guardian Australia and Detention Logs also reported last week, a management committee set up between the Australian Government and the PNG Government has never even met to discuss the facility.

Another clause indicates that, at least from a contractual perspective, G4S are obliged to allow the Human Rights Commission access to the facility.

“The service provider must at all times, with or without notice, provide access to any part of the site to department personnel, the commonwealth and immigration ombudsman, the Australian human rights commission, the auditor-general and the privacy commissioner and members of the council for immigration services and status resolution.”

This is at odds with the advice of the Solicitor-General that the Commissioner did not have the powers to inspect the facility, and it’s unclear whether the contract has implications for that advice.

A financial penalty scheme has also been established that is significantly weaker than the arrangement set up with Serco for the management of mainland facilities. The contract sets out a similar scheme of financial abatements for G4S, but with less strict terms.

If G4S fails a performance outcome (for instance an escape or injury) they aren’t penalised the first or second time — instead the Department has created a “three strike” policy where in many cases only the third failure is sanctioned.

G4S are even allowed to deviate from acceptable standards in some cases for what are termed “excusable performance failures”. if the Department accepts that the failure is excusable, they will not be subject to financial penalties or other sanctions.

Detailed questions were put by New Matilda to the Immigration Department, but they have not responded to any queries.

The maximum capacity of the detention facility listed in the document is 600 people, a number that will be very quickly surpassed under the new policy. It’s likely the contract will be updated now to meet these new demands.

Luke Bacon, Paul Farrell, and Lawrence Bull are the co-founders of Detention Logs, a project designed to bring accountability to Australia's immigration detention network.

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