On Wednesday morning it emerged that Labor and the Coalition would vote together to rush legislation shoring up the legal foundations of offshore detention through parliament.
Faced with a High Court challenge, the parties will vote as one to make sure Australia retains the ability to send asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island.
As the bipartisan commitment to the policy shows no signs of failing, an ongoing senate inquiry into the conditions in the Nauru centre continues to unearth new allegations of abuse and malpractice.
With parliament preparing to break for its winter recess, here’s a gentle reminder of what the inquiry has told us about the outcomes of this soon-to-be legally reinforced policy.
Guards Allegedly Paid Asylum Seekers For Sex Then Shared Recordings Of It
In the past year, allegations of sexual assault in the Nauru detention centre have surfaced with increasing regularity, eventually forcing the Department of Immigration to appoint former Integrity Commissioner Philip Moss to investigate.
In his review, Moss found credible evidence of sexual assaults, and allegations that guards traded drugs for sexual favours from detainees.
The Senate Inquiry has added a new allegation to the list: that guards working in the centre paid refugees released into the Nauruan community for sex, and then circulated tapes of the encounters.
The allegations were made by former Save the Children case manger Charlotte Wilson. She said the bartering of sexual favours inside the camp was “common knowledge”.
After Moss Review, Allegations Of Violence And Sexual Assault Continued On Nauru
Moss’ review delivered 19 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Department of Immigration. But thanks to the Senate Inquiry we now know allegations of assault continued as the report was being finalised, and after its completion.
Internal records submitted to the Senate Inquiry by Wilson security, the subcontractor that provides guards in the centre, show four cases of sexual assault have been alleged since the review, including one against a Save the Children worker.
More staff have been dismissed since Moss’ review, including one who threw rocks at detainees.
Staff Were Told Not To Give Evidence To The Children In Detention Inquiry
But the report may have been even more revealing if the Commission had not been prevented by the government from including Nauru in its inquiry.
In a sign of just how desperate the government is to keep what is happening in the centre under wraps, it was revealed at the Senate Inquiry that Department officials instructed staff working there they must not take part in the Commission’s inquiry.
According to Dr Peter Young, a former senior employee at detention centre health service contractor IHMS, the Department warned staff they would “find out who they were and take action” if anonymous submissions were made.
This is a threat the Department made good on, with the Australian Federal Police reportedly asked to investigate a submission eventually made to the inquiry by an anonymous Save the Children employee.
Nauru’s Democracy Is Barely Breathing
While our own parliament rushes through legislation to retrospectively ensure a major government policy is actually legal, the Nauruan government has been busy arresting opposition MPs, as accusations of serious corruption against parliamentarians mount.
In a submission to the Senate Inquiry, the country’s former magistrate Peter Law described the nation as nothing less than a “rogue state”.
Law said the country’s police, judiciary, and press were neither free nor independent from the government.
“The failure of the Government of Nauru to demonstrate any commitment to the Rule of Law by their actions outlined above, when combined with their ostracism of Members of Parliament, raise very serious questions about commitment to democracy and the ‘separation of powers’,” he said.
“Why is it the Australian Government has no expectations as to the conduct of this ‘rogue state’ despite providing the bulk of its funds for survival.”
Nauru’s former Chief Justice Geoffrey Eames echoed Law’s concerns.
“If Australia is to take responsibility for the welfare of people transferred by the government to Nauru then the Nauruan and Australian public must be assured that allegations of assault and other criminal conduct will be genuinely and thoroughly investigated,” Eames’ submission said.
“Where such thorough investigations might be seen by Nauru police to be unwelcome, so far as the Nauru government is concerned, it is unlikely that they will be undertaken.”
Staff Employed By A Government Contractor Spied On An Australian Senator
In perhaps the most broadly aired evidence to emerge from the inquiry so far, an anonymous submission from a Wilson employee claimed staff from the company monitored and spied on Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young when she travelled to inspect the island.
Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton described the allegations as “complete nonsense”, despite the fact the Department of Immigration later confirmed them and that Hanson-Young said she was contacted by staff from another contractor on the island backing the claims.
Staff In The Centres Are Concerned, But The Companies Who Employ Them Are A Little Shy
As gags on those working in detention centres become more and more severe the Senate Inquiry offers a rare, legally shielded opportunity for staff working on Nauru to publicly air their experiences.
But when faced with tough questions, the private contractors tasked with running the detention centre haven’t been quite so bold.
Senior staff from primary contractor Transfield Services took scores of questions on notice when they appeared before the inquiry in May, infuriating both Labor and Greens members.
“I find it extraordinary that the three people at the table don’t know,” Labor Senator Alex Gallacher shot back at one point. “So take that on notice, that I think that’s extraordinary.”
Over a month later, Transfield’s answers to the questions on notice have not yet been published.
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