Private Firm Running Nauru Detention Centre Accused Of 'Passing The Buck' On Abuse Allegations


The company handed a $1.2 billion contract to oversee the Australian-backed detention centre on Nauru has been accused of ‘passing the buck’ over ongoing allegations of sexual assault and child abuse.

In their second appearance before an ongoing Parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the centre, senior management staff from Transfield Services faced an aggressive line of questioning from Labor and Greens senators after revealing the company had recorded 30 cases of alleged child abuse against various staff working in the facility.

Transfield confirmed to the Committee that in the past few years it had terminated 402 staff working in relation to the Nauru and Manus Island detention facilities, with 31 staff dismissed for misconduct towards asylum seekers. 289 of the staff terminated had been working on Nauru.

Transfield managers said a large number of staff ‘terminated’ had been dismissed for ‘abandoning their employment’, and that the number included those who were transferred, or completed their contracts.

Transfield Accused Of ‘Passing The Buck’

In earlier evidence the company had confirmed high numbers of assault allegations in the centre, but when pushed on what actions had been taken staff told the Inquiry that fellow contractor Save The Children was responsible for investigating incidents involving minors.

While Transfield representatives were far more forthcoming than at their previous outing before the Inquiry, where they took scores of questions on notice and appeared hesitant to respond to even basic probing, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was again left unimpressed.

“You’re not getting away with blaming other contractors for the appalling situation inside the Nauru detention centre. I’m not going to have it and I don’t think anyone on the Committee is going to cop that,” she said.

Kate Munnings, Chief Executive Operations at Transfield, reiterated that Save The Children were the ‘head contactor’ for the area of the camp where families are held, provoking another rebuke from Hanson-Young.

“Ms Munnings, Transfield Services is awarded a contract for over a billion dollars worth of Australian taxpayer money. I’m not interested in sitting here and having the blame shifted,” the Senator said.

Munnings told the Inquiry that Transfield had adopted a human rights policy but conceded it was only a matter of weeks old, and was forced to defend questions from Senator Kim Carr as to whether it was developed purely to help the company receive a new contract from the Department of Immigration.

“Obviously we find any harm to another human being completely unacceptable,” Munnings said when the number of child abuse allegations was raised.

“Our organisation has been honouring human rights prior to the implementation of a policy document,” she later said.

Drug Testing On Nauru Impossible, Despite Allegations Of Drugs For Sex Trades

Munnings (pictured below) also drew the ire of Labor Senator and Committee Chair Alex Gallacher after it was revealed Transfield does not drug-test staff on Nauru because of the absence of proper facilities on the island.

Transfield’s Daron White told the Inquiry the issue of contraband was taken seriously and that random alcohol testing was conducted, but that despite multiple allegations that staff had traded drugs to asylum seeker in return for sexual favours, drug-testing could not be conducted.

When Munnings tried to respond to questions about the allegations by saying they were reported to police and the company instituted a ‘welfare’ response, Gallacher interrupted.

“You can outline as many welfare responses as you like Ms Munning, but it’s a lot of taxpayer money going in here and a lot of common sense not being observed,” he said. “If you’ve got people smoking marijuana on the job, if you’ve got people trading marijuana for sexual favours, you’ve got a corporate responsibility to do something about it. And I accept part of that is to notify the police. I want to know what else you did.”

Munnings was later pushed on whether Transfield could guarantee the safety of asylum seekers in the detention centre but declined to give a yes or no answer.

Staff Forced To Stop Showering Because Of Nauru Water Shortages

White told the Inquiry that managing water on the island had been “quite challenging”, with asylum seekers limited to two minute showers.

“At times the staff were not allowed to shower,” he said, noting the first 18 months on the detention centre had been particularly bad.

Water shortages have long been a source of contention on the island, with asylum seekers complaining about limited access to clean water.

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