Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison has failed to provide any evidence of wrongdoing to asylum seeker service provider Save the Children, despite airing sensational accusations that the group have been involved in coaching detainees to self-harm.
On Friday morning, Morrison announced the government would establish an inquiry examining allegations of sexual assault in the Nauru detention centre after Fairfax reported a range of threats and assaults made against those held in the centre.
Allegations of sexual assault and inadequate childcare provisions have long been reported on Nauru, and in June this year Guardian Australia posted documents confirming the details of one such incident.
But in his Friday press conference Morrison sidestepped specific allegations and instead turned on Save the Children, an organisation which provides child support and educational services on Nauru.
“I have been provided with reports indicating that staff and service providers at the Nauru centre have been allegedly engaged in a broader campaign with external advocates to seek to cast doubt on the government’s border protection policies more generally, and that also cast doubt on the integrity of previous allegations,” he said.
Morrison’s address came off the back of a Daily Telegraph article earlier today which referenced an “intelligence report” alleging Save the Children employees had been “encouraging and coaching” self-harm among asylum seekers.
Morrison confirmed the inquiry looking at allegations of sexual assault would also examine the Daily Telegraph’s claims. It is to be run by former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss, with a full report expected by the end of the year.
Despite the serious nature of the accusations, Save the Children confirmed to New Matilda it had not been provided detailed allegations of wrongdoing.
“We absolutely reject the notion that our staff would encourage self-harm,” Director of Policy and Public Affairs Matt Tinkler said.
“I can assure you that no staff from Save the Children would do a thing like that.”
While the Daily Telegraph managed to get its hands on the report apparently containing those allegations, Save the Children has not been shown the document.
When asked how the Telegraph accessed the document before Save the Children, Tinkler declined to speculate other than to say: “I think that’s a question for the government.”
Both Morrison and the Daily Telegraph also alluded to the fact 10 Save the Children staff had recently been removed from Nauru at the request of the Department.
Paul Ronalds, Save the Children CEO, told press in Melbourne that he had been given no explanation as to why this had occurred.
“The department has declined to provide any justification for the removal of those staff,” he said.
When asked if there was evidence of wrongdoing, he said: “We don’t even know what the specific allegations are against the staff.”
One reporter asked Ronalds if the government was shooting the messenger in an attempt to distract from allegations of rising self-harm on the island.
“That could be a very reasonable interpretation, I suspect,” he said.
The last week has seen a deterioration of the conditions in Nauru detention compounds, with a wave of self-harm and protests. It followed a video played to asylum seekers in which Morrison warned inmates would not be able to apply for Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs).
Asylum seekers on Nauru are angry that those on Christmas Island will be able to apply for onshore TPVs while they will be excluded, amid concerns about Australia’s resettlement deal with Cambodia.
On top of accusations of encouraging self-harm, Morrison also confirmed an alleged breach of the Crimes Act had been referred to the Federal Police (the Daily Telegraphy reported it to be section 70).
Section 70 prevents a Commonwealth officer from publishing or communicating unauthorised documents or materials.
New Matilda understands that service providers on Nauru have been torn between their contractual obligations not to disclose information, and their ethical concerns about the conditions in detention centres.
While the Australian Federal Police confirmed it has received a referral on the matter from the Department of Immigration, and that an evaluation of that referral was taking place, they declined to confirm whether it was in relation to providing the media with information in contravention of Section 70.
Tinkler told New Matilda Save the Children staff are required to report to their superiors if they were concerned about malpractice in the centre, so that Save the Children could then forward them to the Department.
“We raise concerns often, some of which do get addressed… some of which don’t,” he said.
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