Save The Children Staff Ordered Off Nauru Prepare Legal Fight

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Nine former employees of non government organisation Save The Children have engaged legal counsel and are exploring avenues for redress after they were suddenly forced out of their jobs on the Australia-backed immigration detention centre on Nauru last year, and ordered to return to Australia.

The staff were among a group of 10 singled out by the Department of Immigration amid accusations that employees in the centre had been breaching their contractual obligations by assisting asylum seekers conduct protest actions, leaking information to media outlets, and coaching self-harm.

Until now, no official reason for the removal of the 10 staff has been given.

But in leaked transcripts obtained by New Matilda, Immigration officials point to a variety of reasons for the move.

The transcripts detail interviews conducted as part of the Moss review, a report compiled by former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss examining separate allegations of staff misconduct and sexual assault on Nauru.

In one transcript, the Department of Immigration’s Director of Program Delivery, Kylie Burnett defends the decision to order the 10 staff off Nauru, and is asked by Moss to identify the “most telling” factor leading to the decision.

Burnett responds only vaguely by referring to the need to “remove the risk of behaviours that had been ongoing”, but also points to an intelligence report as a catalyst.

“So maybe it’s the intelligence report, because that kind of went, ‘Oh, this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.’ … But I really think it came down to an executive view that we had an obligation to make sure that we were taking some form of action to reduce the risk.”

Asked by Moss if the decision was “a question of sending a signal”, Burnett responded, “I think there was an element of that”.

The intelligence report Burnett references is referred to throughout the transcript, and appears to be the Transfield document recently revealed by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

Elsewhere in her interview, Burnett suggests the “mishandling of information” was a key reason for the removal of the staff.

“I would say that the thing we had to act on, and the thing that was most important to take action on was the mishandling of information, because that’s what we had pretty hard evidence on, in terms of their previous behaviours, pattern of behaviours, media requests,” Burnett told Moss.

When asked by Moss if the decision to identify the 10 staff was “the proper thing to do”, Burnett replied simply: “Yes”.

When Save The Children staff were removed in October, CEO Paul Ronalds said the Department had “declined to provide any justification for the removal”.

“We don’t even know what the specific allegations are against the staff,” he said.

New Matilda understands Save The Children have since been made aware of the nature of the allegations, though the organisation declined to comment further.

Those allegations could soon be tested in a court of law, with David Shaw, a partner at legal firm Holding Redlich, confirming to New Matilda he was acting on behalf of nine of the 10 staff expelled from Nauru.

“Holding Redlich, and Counsel retained by Holding Redlich on behalf of the Save the Children clients, are currently considering what legal options are open to them in respect of their expulsion from Nauru,” Shaw told New Matilda.

Shaw said he could not make further public comment at this time.

“Strict secrecy provisions apply to what can be said by our clients in relation to their work on Nauru, and we do not wish to be drawn into discussion of matters which might ultimately need to be determined by a Court.”

The confirmation of legal intent comes as the Department of Immigration continues to withhold the full findings of the Moss Report.

After pressure from the Senate, Assistant Minister for Immigration Michaelia Cash confirmed “a public version” of the report would be made publicly available.

Charged with investigating the allegations against the 10 staff, the Moss Report is likely to have significant bearing on the case.

The Department of Immigration bas been contacted for comment.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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