HREOC Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
Transcript of Hearing - SYDNEY
TUESDAY 16 JULY 2002
Please note: This is an edited transcript
DR SEV OZDOWSKI, Human Rights Commissioner
MRS ROBIN SULLIVAN, Queensland Children's Commissioner
THOMAS, Professor of Psychology
Melbourne Institute of Technology
MS VANESSA LESNIE, Secretary to the Inquiry
DR OZDOWSKI: It is 9.30 so we will start another day off, formal hearings. My name is Dr Sev Ozdowski and I'm the Human Rights Commissioner. To my right is Dr Trang Thomas, Professor of Psychology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and to my left Mrs Robin Sullivan, Queensland's Children's Commissioner. Both of them do assist me with the Inquiry as Assistant Commissioners. Also, on my left Ms Vanessa Lesnie who is Secretary to the Inquiry.
Before I start listening to the witnesses I would like to stress that it's important to respect the privacy of individuals and in particular children and therefore I'm asking the witnesses and the media not to identify asylum seekers, not to disclose their names, and also not to identify any other persons and also when taking shots of the background if there are people who wouldn't like to be in the shots please respect their wishes.
Now, I would like to invite Dr Bernice Pfitzner as the first witness to come forward. Yes please take a seat over there. Thank you very much for your submission provided to the Inquiry and for the sworn evidence provided to the Inquiry. The role of this hearing is to test the evidence you provide us with and to elicit further information which would be helpful for the Inquiry. If you would like to submit any additional evidence in any time in the future please contact us in writing. If you would like to provide any names which can't be mentioned publicly please talk to the Inquiry Secretary. Now I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you to give your full name, address, qualification and the capacity in which you are appearing for the evidence, for the record?
DR PFITZNER: My name is Dr Bernice Pfitzner, I live [address removed]. My capacity was as a medical practitioner at the Woomera Detention Centre during the time of October 2000 to the end of June 2001.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Would you like to make an opening statement?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, Dr Ozdowski. I am very pleased to attend because I have long been worried about the high stress levels of the parents and of the children at the Woomera Detention Centre and I am very happy to give evidence so that we can make a positive change to what is happening and has happened at the Woomera Detention Centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. As you possibly know we spoke to a number of doctors before including some of the doctors who were in Woomera and we would like to concentrate on some particular issues. First I would like to ask you to address the issue of care provided for pregnant and nursing women and also for babies and toddlers. Could I ask you a question, were there special arrangements made for people in these groups, for example, were the appropriate pre-natal and post-natal care, can you perhaps explain to us how women, pregnant women and young children were looked after in the complex of the detention centre?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, Dr Ozdowski. In my time there with regard to pregnant and nursing women, they were given the similar care as were the women in South Australia, namely that they had ante-natal checks which started as soon as we knew that they were pregnant and on an ongoing sequential basis. The medical doctor was to first check the pregnant women and then a specific nurse was then to follow up on a weekly, fortnightly and monthly basis. After that as the other women of South Australia were sent at 36 weeks to the Port Augusta Hospital, the Woomera Hospital did not have the facilities for delivering babies, so to my mind all the relevant investigations checks and care were given to the pregnant women.
The only problem with the situation was that there was such a turnover of nursing staff it was as you were aware a six week turnover and not always during that time did we get what I call an obstetric nurse to follow up and it was disjointed because it wasn't the same nurse that was caring for the women over the nine months of her pregnancy. So that was a bit of difficulty but I was able to provide the continuity of this but it wasn't an optimum situation and that brings me to the concern of the high turnover of medical staff, in particular the nursing staff there at the detention centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: From what you said it appears that women were spending a relatively longer period of time in Port Augusta Hospital, usually as I understand a woman would go a day or two days before birth and in the case of Woomera they went substantial periods of time in advance to the hospital. Were they told, were they explained the reasons for it?
DR PFITZNER: Yes. I don't think they were sent for any greater length of time compared to the other women in the South Australian community. It is the set procedure in the country because there were not obstetricians available easily, that they went to a specific hospital, in this case it was Port Augusta Hospital, to be looked after and that was at 36 weeks until their delivery which is, you know they stayed about four weeks, and this was normal procedure. My understanding is that they were involved in being informed as to why they were there for four weeks. The only difficulty was that the husband may not have been able to go with mother because the husband had to stay back and look after the other children that were left at the detention centre and although we did advocate that the husband and the rest of the family might go and stay at Port Augusta this was not able to be done because of financial or logistic reasons.
DR OZDOWSKI: And who informed them about going there, was it your responsibility or was it somebody else who was informing them?
DR PFITZNER: It was the nursing staff, well the medical officer decides that she was 36 weeks and it was time that the person went to in this case Port Augusta Hospital and the obstetrician was informed and he was ready to have the pregnant woman and she was happy to go. The only worry and sadness was that she could not, that the rest of the family could not go with her and visit her and see her over this period of four weeks.
DR OZDOWSKI: Was she been able to be in regular telephone contact with the family in detention centre?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, telephone contact was available.
DR OZDOWSKI: How did you know about that?
DR PFITZNER: I knew about it because I asked the staff with regard and I saw the husband and the children on a regular basis so I'm quite certain that there was contact.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now coming to the mother returning with her child, what supplies were available, were the nappies, soap, cotton wool and so on available for nursing mothers?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, there were formulas and nappies and all the various things that are needed for the newborn. However, these provisions had to be ordered very, very quickly and it was not always as smooth process of all those things that were needed being available. For example, like I had to ring down Adelaide at the pharmacy to order one dozen bottles for the milk and one dozen teats.
DR OZDOWSKI: So it was your responsibility to order formula milk for children or it was sa failure of the system that you had to take that role?
DR PFITZNER: I understand that the milk was available there, the only thing that I was asked to order that they couldn't get were the bottles, the feeding bottles.
DR OZDOWSKI: The feeding bottles. Was the formula made available to them?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, the formula was available because there were other babies and children that were there already and that's why they were there. There was never any difficulty in getting the formula, the only I suppose criticism that I would have was that there was no set procedure to make the order and it was done in a very ad hoc manner.
DR OZDOWSKI: We had evidence to the contrary in Adelaide that there were long delays in accessing formula milk because it was relatively expensive. We had evidence that some mothers had to feed children for a number of days with hot water and sugar. What would be your commentary about this kind of stories being told to us?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, that may have been in the early days before I was there. I was there 2000, maybe it was '99, but when I was there, there was never any inadequate supply of formula. I saw the actual formulas there and the other problem is a lot of staff were from Western Australia and Brisbane and Sydney I think and so they used to order all those formulas and necessary equipment from those places, whereas I was from South Australia, being a medical practitioner I was able to ring directly to the pharmacy and the pharmacy would bring it up within 24 hours, so while I was there, to my knowledge there was not any inadequate feeding formula at all.
DR OZDOWSKI: You mentioned earlier in your opening statement the issue of stress. Could you perhaps describe a bit more, what did you mean by it, how children could have been stressed in detention?
DR PFITZNER: For my part I noticed the stress being with the parents greatly. I mean the fathers and mothers that came. They were stressed because they were, in effect, in limbo. When I arrived they were there, say 18 months and some of them are still there and it is now three years and the reason leading to the stress and anxiety and depression was because they did not know the stage of the application of their protection visa, so they almost came daily with this high stress and depression not knowing from the Department of Immigration the status of their application and this, of course, is high stress percolated down to the children, for example, the mothers and fathers were very short tempered, they could not give the adequate loving and cuddling and playing that a mother and father would give in a more relaxed situation. They wouldn't be able to play and verbalise because the parents themselves were very very highly stressed and to my mind it was because they did not know whether they would stay or leave.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could family function normally in such circumstances?
DR PFITZNER: No, they couldn't, it's just like a huge bereavement or a huge death or a huge catastrophe. Father and mother are not in raring mood, if you want to put it that way, to bring up the children. When you rare children, I am specialised in child development so I am very aware of children's development and therefore there was no stimulation for the children in speech or activity or play and it would be the same for any of us in the community when we ourselves are highly stressed after huge calamity, and this is a huge calamity, you just have to depend on your own resources and the children are swept aside. Mother and father are impatient with them and there is not any more loving or caring or warmth left to give to the children because they themselves needed a lot of care.
DR OZDOWSKI: You were in Woomera at the time of relative calm and relative in a way, time when new people were still coming there. Did you observe any differences in families and children and parents from the moment of arrival till, say, a few months later and if so what were the changes?
DR PFITZNER: I wouldn't put it as relatively calm, there is never relatively calm at Woomera Detention Centre Dr Ozdowski. When I was there it was an in between period, there were people who had been there for two years and there were new ones still coming so I did have the opportunity to observe the different groups and the stress level that they went through. So the people who were there 18 months or so, they were highly stressed and therefore they were self harming, like hanging and slashing and taking overdoses which we had to monitor and help and send to hospital.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did it involve children as well and young people under 18?
DR PFITZNER: No. That is why I am quite surprised that depression and stress must be very, very deep now that the children are being involved as I hear from the media reports. When I was there we worked very hard with the children to give them play facilities and developmental activities and we worked very hard with the parents to try to bolster their moods but it was very, very hard because again, I stress, they did not know the status of their visa application and therefore although facilities were available to the children, play facilities, school facilities, the parents would not want to take them.
They lack any energy, they just stayed up very late at night as I understand, 3 or 4 o'clock with the children and then they would sleep after that from exhaustion, I understand and they would sleep till about 10 o'clock and we would have activities starting at 9 and there was a dearth of children attending these activities because of the high stress level and the non-compliance of parents who themselves were stressed and were not in any mood to send their children to school or to any play activity.
So, you asked me about the progress of the stress level, yes, I saw it back to front, I saw these one who were highly stressed, then I saw more people coming in. The people when they come in were full of anticipation that Australia being a very humanitarian, caring and I'm from Singapore myself, we always have admired Australia for being such a caring nation around the South-East Asian area.
We always said we wish we could have that same attitude that Australia has but unfortunately now, this has deteriorated and has gone down with regard to our status of a caring nation.
DR OZDOWSKI: So, you observed some change happening in people between arrival and
DR PFITZNER: That's right, yes, I'm going off the point, aren't I? Yes, I saw when they came in with the reputation of Australia having such a good human rights track record, they were quite sure that they would be processed quickly, that their application visa would be settled within six to 12 months at the most. When after three months I could see depression set in and after six months I could see severe depression, anxiety, self-harm and even some detainees having psychotic episodes and in lay terms, it is going mad.
That was very stressful to observe. We had to send a couple to Glenside to be looked after and although I did not follow up with Glenside.
DR OZDOWSKI: Glenside being?
DR PFITZNER: Glenside being our mental hospital there in South Australia. They had to be detained and assessed by a psychiatrist there and so with that kind of mood happening to their parents I can imagine what the feeling of the children can be. Certainly it would be very detrimental to their state.
DR OZDOWSKI: What about ACM and DIMIA staff, how were those levels of stress impacting on them?
DR PFITZNER: ACM staff when I was there I saw four or five what they call, "CERT" calls. This is emergency calls when there was a sudden uprising of a group of detainees where they would maybe set something on fire, maybe start slashing themselves, maybe start hanging themselves, maybe start throwing stones at the guards, maybe start breaking windows those are the sort of things we call a CERT for. When these were called we would be on high alert and numerous detainees and ACM staff came in with cuts and bruises and broken bones and slashes etcetera. It is very painful for even me to recall and therefore it was very painful for ACM who had to go into the compound and bring these injured people out for our medical attention.
I was aware that two or three, one was an interpreter just went to pieces, a couple of nurses just became hysterical, a couple of ACM guards had a fractured ankle, not hysterical but very angry with the detainees all these people I understand did have access to counselling but to my mind it would have left an almost indelible impression.
DR OZDOWSKI: So basically what you are saying is that mental health of everyone in Woomera was in danger including DIMIA officers and ACM staff not just talking about the detainees. So everyone was really having the impact of the situation.
DR PFITZNER: It was very stressful, yes and for ourselves being medically trained in managing stress and I gather the nurses would be so we would know how to manage and well I have seen such stress before but never in that kind of situation but I would imagine that DIMIA officers well a lot of them I had to be involved in counselling as well. The DIMIA officers maybe were not prepared, maybe some were prepared more than others. I was not involved in training them how to handle stress.
With regard to DIMIA staff they were not very much hands on except for the director who came in to help calm the situation but yes on the whole the situation would be highly stressful and one would not leave without some stressful mark being left on us all.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you use any many medicines to manage the stress levels there?
DR PFITZNER: Of which people?
DR OZDOWSKI: Well anybody, but especially the detainees.
DR PFITZNER: Yes, the detainees - as a medical officer I was contracted to look after the detainees, as a side effect I would look after the actual staff, DIMIA staff, ACM staff if it was an emergency then it would go to the Woomera doctor who would carry on the follow up but my specific task was to look after the detainees and I would say without over exaggerating that all of the people there were highly stressed. They had come a long way from the Middle East. They had travelled from the Middle East to, from Europe, Middle East to Malaysia to Indonesia where they caught the boat. They had to wait for a week or two before they caught the boat to this land of milk and honey called Australia and
DR OZDOWSKI: But were you prescribing any medicines to manage this stress?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, I am just first identifying where the stress came from. So when they came they were highly stressed from the travel of coming. Then their stress dropped because they had hope in the first three or six months. After that time all these stress levels became so high and it was evidenced by all this physical self harm and yes, as we all know some human beings handle stress very well and did not need medication but there were a lot that did and when I say a lot I would say about 50 per cent needed some kind of anti-depressive, anti-anxiety, even anti-psychotic that is the kind of stress level, to alleviate their signs and symptoms. So, yes.
MS LESNIE: Did that include children, people under 18?
DR PFITZNER: No, no. For myself I try very hard not to include medication for children but placed - and required the two or three psychologists that we had to counsel them and try to de-stress them in what we call a verbal psycho-semantic way rather than medication wise.
DR OZDOWSKI: You mentioned various incidents like riots or burnings or hanging, two questions. My first question is were children exposed to such riots and the second question are you aware of the use of chemical restraints to manage behaviour of individuals?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, certainly the children have been affected by what they saw, the self harm of their parents or their friends by the stoning or the rioting or the complete undisciplined and non-controlled activities. The children would have observed all this and of course children would be highly stressed and there were psychologists that would be able to manage the children and there was a colleague of mine who was specifically asked to come up to handle the children but there was so much work to do and I do not believe that they had adequate therapy there because the stress level was so high and it even crossed over to the people who were supposed to provide the healing activities.
DR OZDOWSKI: Would it have a long term impact on children because we are really seeing quite a substantial proportion of them to start in community?
DR PFITZNER: I would have thought so being a child developmentalist of course never experiencing these kinds of factors and pressures I would have thought it would effect all children. But children are resilient and resistant and I would hope that with therapy they would improve. I am now on the Board of STARTTS which is Survivors of Torture and Trauma and I am there requiring that we have, the children in there have a baseline of what their stress level is and after three or six months assess the situation. So for the moment I have noticed their stress level but I can't see what the follow up is. I would think looking at our own children they all behave differently. Children on the whole are very tough people, with the right help and treatment they should come through right but there are some children who just can't manage it and I don't know what percentage this would be of the children that will finally become our Australian citizens.
DR OZDOWSKI: Coming to the second question about use of chemical restraint. Are you aware of use of chemical restraints regarding particular persons participating in riots, or misbehaving?
DR PFITZNER: No. If they were participating in riots the ACM officers would come and quell them as they do in prisons and so on, calming things down. I myself, and I during the nine months that I was there had to prescribe to two or three people who were very, very highly stressed, wanting to self-harm, and so I had to prescribe some calming medication in order that they also be taken down to our Adelaide Psychiatric Hospital or Glenside. That was the only time that I would have noticed what you call restraint, but the restraint on a universal basis, no.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just the last topic I would like to ask you about before I will ask my Assistant Commissioner to ask you questions. Did you have children with physical disabilities, or mental disabilities in Woomera?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, we did, and I assessed quite a few of them. Yes, I'm aware of it. There were some who, two or three who were completely deaf, weren't speaking. One was 5 years old. Another was 2 years old. Another was 7. And they were all referred appropriately to the Adelaide Children's Hospital, now called the Women's and Children's Hospital, in Adelaide, and given the appropriate treatment. There were a couple of children with very severe birth defects, and sometimes we marvel at how they came across, or severe birth defects, and they had what our children would have had. Sometimes they had it even more rapidly because we pressured them very hard, because the Woomera Detention Centre was not a place to have these children, with severe birth defects.
DR OZDOWSKI: And what period of time they were spending in Woomera?
DR PFITZNER: Before they went to the hospital?
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, well, I assume if they went to hospital they went for a treatment and they came back to Woomera, or could you describe what was happening.
DR PFITZNER: Well, the one that I recall with severe - some severe epilepsy and severe mental disorder and severe physical disorder, was sent down, assessed, and returned, and the child was finally sent down to Villawood, I think, because Villawood is very close. It's here, yes, in Sydney, isn't it? Villawood is very close to a big children's hospital. We felt that the child had to be kept at the children hospital's in Adelaide somewhere, or - but not in the Woomera Detention Centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: And then, what, sent to Villawood Detention Centre?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, went to Villawood.
DR OZDOWSKI: What were the times of children with disabilities in Woomera? How long were they spending there?
DR PFITZNER: What was the time-frame before they went down?
DR OZDOWSKI: No, just, the longest time and the shortest time you would remember about children with disabilities being in Woomera.
DR PFITZNER: Well, when - I had a bit of a problem with regard to nurses referring and so on to us as medical. I suppose in a way some of the nurses were trying to protect us, and were not referring them to us, those who had what I thought were severe medical conditions. So that is one difficulty with regard to the nurses keeping from further - so this particular child
DR OZDOWSKI: So nurses constitute a barrier of access to medical practitioners?
DR PFITZNER: In one way if you want to be negative, we could put it as a barrier; on the other way we could put it that we were almost over-worked and the nurses were trying to filter the severe cases to us. So I would like to put it in a positive manner, that this was done, but of course there were errors made and sometimes delay. And this particular child that I'm thinking of, there was some delay. I would have liked to see that particular child when the child had arrived with obvious physical defect, mental and physical defect. But I think I didn't see the child until the child had become, fitting or severe breathing problems for about four to six weeks, and I happened to see the child and the nurses treating it, and called the child up and then identified the severe defect.
So in ideal circumstances yes, that child should have been seen earlier than four to six weeks. Once we observed the child, then it's not the problem. It just went very, very quickly because we then pressured ACM or DIMIA to get the appropriate guards, to get the appropriate appointment, to go down to, I don't remember whether it's straight to the Children's or whether it was via Port Augusta, and so
DR OZDOWSKI: Are you saying when you are talking about "very quickly", are you saying that the Department of Immigration was giving special priority to children with disabilities in terms of processing of their cases?
DR PFITZNER: I think it was up to the nurses and the medical officer if there was a severe problem. I would myself go down and say, you know, "This person needs to go". I'd speak to the DIMIA officer to get the release to go to the hospital, because that was a financial commitment there. And then go to ACM and say, "Let's get a car and guards and whatever is needed to go down," and ring the hospital and make the appointments. So all our medical role did not only refer to medical diagnosis. If we wanted the thing to progress it was up to the doctor and the nurse, and I took that task on, to actually go and push the thing through.
So it may be some of the other doctors may have felt their task was just medical, and just referred and hoped that it percolated through. In my experience if that was done, and I don't know, the progress would be very slow. And I would myself go and see the DIMIA staff, the DIMIA director, go and see the ACM staff, the ACM manager, to get all those things together. It was a very huge logistic operation, because you had to get permission, then you have to ring the hospital to make sure that the child would be received, and then the whole thing would progress.
DR OZDOWSKI: Who was responsible for financing of such an operation?
DR PFITZNER: I'm not sure because I don't know the DIMIA and ACM contract was, but I am aware, just listening to perhaps some of the arguments, that there was a gray area about who should finance what in the medical field. And, you know, some of the things, they took a long time. But in the end, I don't know about the financing but I just said, "The child has to go, and you have to work it between yourselves." So there was a bit of argument, and I did not stop to hear how they resolved it.
The biggest argument with regard to medical access was in regard to preventative work, e.g. immunisation, child development checks. Those were the things that I felt that the children needed, that they didn't get, and I, being from child developmental area, rang Child and Youth Health who I used to work for, to ask nurses to come up. And there was a huge hiatus there because who was to pay was the big issue because, as you're aware, the children are not sick, but still they need the stimulation to grow up in a healthy manner.
And in the end, as I think I put in my submission, I had to just immunise the 200 of them because it was such an argument as to whose responsibility of payment it was, to do this kind of preventative work. So that's the area I would be very critical about, an area with immediate treatment. It would be done but it was up to the medical staff also to push it along.
DR OZDOWSKI: Dr Pfitzner, thank you very much. I will ask now my Assistant Commissioners to ask questions. Let's start with Mrs Sullivan.
MRS SULLIVAN: You've mentioned treating stress. What would be the other three or four top illnesses you would have treated in the centre.
DR PFITZNER: Well, I suppose I would categorise it in two areas. One is with regard to the mental health which areas would be high stress, anxiety, depression, psychosis, we would have to handle that. The other area was physical. Physical - in those areas we would have high blood pressure that we have never seen in our life - 220, 250 over 150. I don't know whether you're medical but that is huge. Our normal is 120/80, okay.
MRS SULLIVAN: Right.
DR PFITZNER: I've never seen over 200. You know, about to explode. So they carried that. Whether that was a result of stress or whether it was a result of organic origin I don't know but we had to treat them and we had to investigate. There was severe diabetes, sugar-levels high, high - never seen before. There were heart diseases, murmurs. Many things we have never seen because we are such a developed country and these things are picked up when a child is born or blood-pressure is monitored. There were the chronic illnesses, asthma - severe asthma. Chronic illnesses.
Then there were the infectious diseases. The hepatitis Bs and Cs. The infections of the skins, scabies. You could see tracks of scabies under the skin, we had never seen before. Huge tropical sores, we have never seen before. It was a learning experience for all of us. I had to ring tropical medicines to find out the treatment and so on. And those were the tropical diseases. Intestinal parasites, we call them liver flukes and so on. Causing severe abdominal pain and so on. So that was another area of infectious diseases.
MRS SULLIVAN: And all of these were observable in the children and young people as well as adults?
DR PFITZNER: Scabies - the whole boatload had scabies.
MRS SULLIVAN: I think you've possibly answered this question but in terms of the prevalence of those diseases in the broader community, can you give an idea of whether it was double, triple? I'm just trying to get a sense of your workload.
DR PFITZNER: Compared to the Australian community?
MRS SULLIVAN: Yes, mainstream Australian communities.
DR PFITZNER: Oh, we cannot compare. Our Australian community is very, very healthy. Australian community would not have any of these infectious diseases, except if you were a traveller going to Kathmandu or something like that you would come back with these kinds of diseases.
MRS SULLIVAN: In terms of hepatitis were you vaccinating in that area as well as others?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, the workload was heavy. Very, very heavy. On 24 hours a day. We would get three or four calls through the night with regard to self-harm in the night.
MRS SULLIVAN: So, would the normal GP be able to deal with these illnesses you've just described or does it require some specialist knowledge?
DR PFITZNER: The normal GP, which I am also, would initially find it very stressful and very demanding. But it is not beyond the ability of that normal GP to get up to speed to learn about it. We've never seen some of these diseases, but if we are going to have migration of people from these areas we ought to put ourselves up to speed to work on it.
I don't think any specialist would be any better than a normal GP. Sometimes we would ring the specialist and they would say, well we've never heard of this intestinal infection, I'll look up my notes and come back to you. So in terms of who should be employed I think the GP is the most appropriate but the GP has to be the type that doesn't get stressed, and the type that is willing to read up on tropical medicines and to learn very, very quickly and hit the ground running.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thank you. The next question is also a comparison question in a sense. I'm trying to get a feel for the professional autonomy you would have as a GP in a public hospital for example and the professional autonomy you would have working in the detention centre. Could you make some comment about that comparison?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, with regard to working in the hospital you would be less stressed because you have powers of your colleagues, peers and seniors to relate to, to discuss, to give you a sense that you are doing things the right way. When I was there I was the only medical officer except for a part-time. We used to discuss but we had difficulty referring to our specialists. Skin specialists, mental specialists and other infectious diseases specialists. So, in that way we were more pressured with regard to letting us know whether we were doing the right thing. We checked constantly but the people were not on tap. With regard to autonomy, I'm not quite sure what you are asking me.
MRS SULLIVAN: My understanding of the management structure of health services is that it is quite often a nurse who is the manager of the health services.
DR PFITZNER: I see. Yes, we had a lot of trouble, we as medical officers had a lot of trouble with regard to the structure that was there. This is not a criticism, it's something that I hope will improve so I will speak in that vein. The co-ordinator was invariably a nurse. The nurse was there - I myself felt that the co-ordinator should be a medical officer because things were very, very complex there. High on the list were diseases that you never come across, that you couldn't explain adequately because you were hitting the ground running all the time.
So, if it was a nurse it needed to be a very special nurse who had qualifications in obstetrics, in infectious disease, in mental disease, in chronic health. Apart from also knowing the financial set-up and the referral criteria. So, whoever the co-ordinator, it was a very difficult job. And if the co-ordinator was compliant and worked well with the medical officer that was not a problem. If the nurse did not have a problem with regard to hierarchy structure that was not a problem. If we could have worked as a team with nurses - co-ordinator nurses and medical officers that was not a problem.
But I am aware, and know, that the turnover is every six weeks. And that was dreadful. We would have a team - the co-ordinator would be permanent - but then the teamwork of all the hard work would be gone. All the keeping of simple things like medication, intravenous, things we need in a hurry, the new nurses wouldn't know where it was. So, you were there stemming the bleeding and you ask, get intravenous therapy, they wouldn't know where it was. So, I had to ask someone to hold the bleeding. You knew where it was because you were long-term there, you'd have to get it and so on.
It was not the best situation for the stressful, almost war zone, to have. In that kind of environment you need a 12-month contract and a teamwork, and a team to know exactly what you mean when you say, get the connector to the intravenous, and they know where to go.
DR OZDOWSKI: Perhaps I could put an example to you? For example, if your were to refer somebody for treatment to a psychiatric hospital, which could be quite expensive, would you have the situation where the nurse - or somebody else in the hierarchy - would second-guess your diagnosis, or would act slowly on your diagnosis?
DR PFITZNER: Well, it may have happened to the other doctors but being the person that I am, I was insistent that I thought was right, because in the end I know that I would carry the can if something happened. So yes, it happened, we argued about whether it was necessary, money-wise, finance-wise, medical-wise. But in the end I would say, if you want it that way you sign the form to say that this person is not right, and you take it, and many times they - always in their review they would back, back down. But the thing is, why did I need to do it is the question which you would appreciate.
MRS SULLIVAN: My final question goes back to your comments about the resilience of children. I am assuming that you were concerned about developmental delay from some of your opening comments. Were there developmental delays occurring in children as a result of living in the detention centre that in fact are irreversible?
DR PFITZNER: As the result of staying in the detention centre?
MRS SULLIVAN: Yes, of the environmental factors that are there, or the social factors, or even the physical factors?
DR PFITZNER: I can say that there were children who came in with severe developmental problems, but that had occurred at birth or coming through, but with regard to children who were there and the environment impacting on that child, no, in the time that I was there. After seeing that, you know, I just eyeballed them, I didn't assess them, and to actually answer your question positively and certainly we would need to do a long-term follow-up.
MRS SULLIVAN: Is that some of the work you're doing on your new board, you are following through with some of those children?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, it's started, survivors of torture and trauma, yes.
MRS SULLIVAN: But your judgement is that sufficient time has not elapsed yet to make that judgment?
DR PFITZNER: No, well they are being assessed now. I would like them to be assessed as soon as they are discharged, and having a three month ongoing - whether this is done, I don't know, because of financial constraints and so on, but ideally that would be good and we could learn how we might manage the children better if there were some permanent damage rather than temporary damage. In my mind at this present time I believe it is temporary, but I could be very wrong.
MRS SULLIVAN: So no trends have emerged to this point in time in your data?
DR PFITZNER: No.
PROF THOMAS: Probably one way to eliminate the effect of pre-migration factors would be to observe the children who are born there, so during your time how do you observe those who are born there in the first 12 months of life?
DR PFITZNER: Yes, I was there nine months, and the children that were born there would probably be in the middle of my nine months, so I would have said I did not have enough time to observe, but indeed the children were feeding well, which is one of the signs, the children were ..... development was okay, they were holding their heads up and following. In terms of visual development they were tracking and following. So just informally I was not aware, and I saw the children when they came out and picked their food and drank their milk and so on, I was not aware that there was any developmental delay of the children that were born there, but look, I was only there nine months. They were born in the middle so I only had a six months' look at them.
PROF THOMAS: It's a pity, because now there are some children there who are sort of one year old, and it would be good if we could have some objective assessment.
DR PFITZNER: Well, in my time I did ask for a team of child developmentalists in the beginning of my nine months, who as you say have a base line knowledge of their development and later when they went out to have a follow-up of these. But because of financial constraints, because of the constraints of whether it was State of Federal payment, this did not happen in my time and I was very, very upset with that, to tell you the truth, because I am very, very aware of child development and wanted to show how we might best handle the children better if we had data from the very start. I am sorry I was not able to get a team up there.
PROF THOMAS: How about the older children? Do you see any age inappropriate behaviour?
DR PFITZNER: With regard to the older children, when I was there, I suppose they were not that long there. They were there maybe nine months, and they related well, played well and so on, spoke well, but towards the end of my nine months there were beginning to be some children who were getting very - who would not eat, who would sit alone on their own, because their parents were very, very highly stressed. Those are the children I did worry about, I don't know how they progressed, don't know.
PROF THOMAS: I am interested in the relationship between the guards or the ACM officers and the children. We tend to hear of the extreme cases, but to your observation how do you find them in general?
DR PFITZNER: In general, as we went along the guards were better and better trained. Initially as I understand it the guards were very criminal based, very hard edged, and I think - I had a great problem with that. They were detainees, you know, they were asylum seekers. So I was involved in training some of the newer guards to say this is not the way, they're not criminals, this is not the way to treat - if you are not treating them on a humanitarian ground then think that if you treat them such-and-such a way that you will get a better response. As we went along during my nine months time there, there was a great improvement in the handling of the asylum seekers of detainees. On the whole you are asking me were they treated well, with respect? I think it depended on the individual, but on the whole it was not optimum. Some treated them wonderfully, understood that they were human beings just like the rest of the community, and just treated them as friends and so on. On the other end of the wedge, they were ordered around, told to not give opinions, pushed back and those sorts of things make you lose your dignity and self-esteem. But there was a middle ground of people who were, you know, it was not optimum. Nobody had come across such a situation before, and certainly none of the ACM officers knew how to handle them at first. When I left, they were improving but again, they had to move after six weeks, and new people coming in, and had the whole situation again. It was hard, very hard.
PROF THOMAS: So it's back to accountability, how the complaint process, do the detainees complain if there is something that they think should not be done?
DR PFITZNER: I understand that there was, that they report it to an officer, the officer takes it through, and there was a specific officer dedicated for the complaints, but my hands were full with regard to looking after the mental and physical, so I did not. Sure, that area needed to follow-up but I cannot comment on that area with any great reliability.
DR OZDOWSKI: Dr Pfitzner, thank you very much for your evidence. Would you like to make a final comment, a final statement?
DR PFITZNER: Yes I would, Dr Ozdowski. I hope that this human rights Inquiry would not be a witch hunt for anything that has happened, or has passed, because there were a lot of people like ourselves who were concerned about what was happening. We had never come across such a situation as this before in our life. I imagine it would be like, you know, a war zone in Vietnam or wherever, I don't know, but we were all trying to work our best, and there were people who were not equipped with the ability to handle it, and there was this huge turnover every six weeks which made the situation worse. So I feel, and it's in my submission, that coming out from this Inquiry, that we should certainly identify the negatives, but put in place the positives, how we might do it better everywhere in the world. We're not doing it well and I think if Australia can come back to our human rights and our place in South East Asia, which has a high standing on human rights, and give a positive response how we might change the situation, it would be very beneficial.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Dr Pfitzner.
Now, could I ask representatives of the Muslim Women Network of Australia to approach. Thank you for coming. Could I ask you to start with taking an oath or an affirmation?
MS JAMILA HUSSAIN,
MRS FAIKAH BEHARDIEN, affirmed
AUSTRALIAN MUSLIM WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION
Now I would like to ask you to state your names, addresses and the capacity in which you are appearing for the purpose of the record.
MS HUSSAIN: My name is Jamila Hussain, that's J-a-m-i-l-a H-u-s-s-a-i-n. I live at [address removed] and I am the - I am appearing as a member of the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia. I am the person who wrote the submission that is before you and I would intend, if it pleases you, to make an opening statement and simply mention a couple of things and leave it to my friend, Faikah, to do the bulk of the evidence.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could we ask the second person to do the introduction for the record and then we will go to the opening statement.
MRS BEHARDIEN: My name is Faikah Behardien, I live at [address removed] and I am here as a volunteer of the Muslim Women's National Network. I am also the Vice-President of the organisation.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Ms Hussain, please go with your opening statement.
MS HUSSAIN: I just wanted to say a few words about the organisation that I represent. The Muslim Women's National Network of Australia is a multi-cultural Muslim women's organisation. It has the aim of helping Muslim women in the community to integrate into the mainstream community. It also offers them help in physical and educational matters, for example we have run Arabic classes, we have run English classes for non-English speaking women. We have been very involved in interfaith work and in giving talks and seminars and information to churches and community organisations about the Muslim community and we also liaise with interstate Muslim women's groups. We are not a very large organisation and all our work is voluntary.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you mention your experience with people who are either in detention or who came out of detention and in particular, children?
MS HUSSAIN: Yes. I have not been a frequent visitor to Villawood. Some of our ladies started visiting Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Ramadan last year, that was December, and gradually we became aware that they were very unhappy with the conditions of some of the children there. Some of the ladies began to visit offering material aid such as clothes. At Eid-ul-Fitr we took food and tried to arrange a celebration for them and we also became very concerned about the education or rather the lack of education that was being offered to the children, in particular the children over the age of 12, ones between 12 and 18.
I took it upon myself to make inquiries to try to establish the position in other detention centres and I liaised with people interstate and also spoke to detainees about the educational situation. I think at that stage at the time the submission was written, the situation was that the younger children at Villawood were getting some education but there was some disagreement about how much. Some of them said a few hours a week, four or five hours a week. Some said only about two hours a week.
The older children were getting nothing. I was personally very concerned about this because some of those children had been there for over two years and that is a huge gap in their life for them to make up when and if they are ever released. I was also involved with Sister Faikah in arranging a meeting with the minister's advisory committee at Villawood, particularly a Dr Al Salami and Major General Glenny and there were three things that we made representations about there.
One was the education of the children and we asked in particular that the children be allowed to leave Villawood to attend local schools as we'd been informed was happening at Curtin and possibly one or two other detention centres. We also made a representation about religious matters and the situation there was that at that time there was no provision at all for Muslim religious instruction or for Islamic religious services.
At some time in the past before we became involved, the detainees had had the use of a building as a mosque. As I am sure you would be aware some of them managed to tunnel under that building and escaped from the detention centre. As a result, that building was taken away and there were no provisions at all in place for any religious instruction or counselling. We asked that a Shia Imam be allowed to visit the centre on a regular basis on Fridays to lead the jum'a prayers.
I do not know what happened as a result of our representations but at the moment, I understand the Supreme Islamic Council which is one of the peak Islamic bodies in the State has arranged for an Imam to be allowed to go to Villawood on Fridays to conduct the jum'a prayer. As far as I know there are no arrangements at all for religious instruction for the children or for anyone else there.
The third issue that we talked about was women's health needs. Particularly that the women be allowed to consult female doctors because as you know some or most of these women come from cultures where women are kept very much secluded and would be far too embarrassed to consult a male doctor particularly about any kind of personal matter. I am not sure whether what has happened in relation to that, perhaps Faikah would be able to say more.
The other thing that I thought perhaps to make some comment on is the question relating to Muslims in detention and the misunderstandings in the general community. I'm in my other life I am a lecturer in law and my particular field of interest is Islamic Law and South East Asian Law. I found through my discussions with other people in the community and all sorts of ways that there is a huge amount of ignorance about Islam amongst the majority of Australians, even well educated Australians and unfortunately people seem to get their knowledge of Islam and of Muslims and of Muslim culture from the media and particularly the horror stories and the sensational stories that get the most prominence in the media.
So I think there always has been a generally negative impression of Islam and Muslims in Australia. Since the Tampa crisis and since 11 September last year I have noticed that there have been two separate reactions amongst the general community. One has been a great increase in interest and our president Sister Aziza and myself have been almost run off our feet sometimes by going from place to place by invitation and giving talks to church groups, community groups, in my case members of the judicial commission and all sorts of other people about the Muslim community in Australia so there has been a heightened interest and hopefully an increase in understanding on one side.
On the other side there seems to have been a rise in prejudice. Now I don't look like a Muslim so I don't experience a great deal of that myself but from what other people have told me there have been increased incidents of racism if you like against other people. I've only noticed this myself in that I have written a couple of letters to my local newspaper and in return I have received quite a lot of anonymous racist mail
DR OZDOWSKI: But could I ask you to focus on children in detention, it is what this Inquiry
MS HUSSAIN: Okay, my letters to the local press were about children in detention. I didn't mention Muslims, just children in detention of whatever nationality but I noticed that some of the anonymous mail I had got back was about Muslims. Obviously there is a transfer from anyone in detention must be a Muslim and therefore we hate them. I find that a matter of great concern.
DR OZDOWSKI: Are you aware of this prejudice happening in the detention centres?
MS HUSSAIN: I have been, I have heard there is some but I wouldn't like to comment any further because I haven't seen it or heard it myself.
DR OZDOWSKI: The lack of religious education in detention centres, how does it impact on children?
MS HUSSAIN: Well children would grow up without a proper understanding, without any understanding perhaps of their religion and religion is part of life, part of culture and I would think on a long term basis it would have a rather negative effect. It would also I think divide them from their parents because their parents would presumably have been people who would have had religious instruction at least in their youth, would have grown up and lived in a society which supported their religion and their children are growing up in a society without religious education and when they leave, if they leave in a society which doesn't support their religion. So there is an alienation that takes place there.
DR OZDOWSKI: Does your organisation or is your organisation in contact with children who have left detention centres?
MS HUSSAIN: I think two who are very small and we couldn't really make any comment about them and some much older boys, possibly young men but I couldn't say any more than that.
DR OZDOWSKI: I will ask my Assistant Commissioners whether they have got any questions, Mrs Hussain.
PROF THOMAS: Are you aware of any information, anything at all about Muslim girls in these detention centres?
MS HUSSAIN: Well I have met Muslim girls there.
MS LESNIE: So what are some of the difficulties facing the girls that you met there?
MS HUSSAIN: Well the girl that I had most to do with was most concerned about the lack of education. She wanted to go on to university. Now that particular girl has been sent back. I really haven't had any other conversations with children.
MRS BEHARDIEN: If I could just add to that, the kinds of concerns that Muslim children have are exactly the same as any child would have and the fact that they are not getting an education is in itself of concern to all of us. So there isn't any specific discrimination if you wish against Muslim children although if you look at the stats most of the children in detention are Muslim but the fact that they are not getting a good education that they are in a context that is totally abnormal for them is in itself a huge concern for the whole community.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes we have had quite a lot of evidence from teachers and so on, on this subject. Mrs Sullivan?
MRS SULLIVAN: We did see some evidence during our visits to the centres of Christian ministers of religion having access to detainees. Were you saying in your opening comment that access is not available or just that there haven't been appropriate people to take that function.
MRS BEHARDIEN: My understanding is that one of the leading Imam's not only in Sydney but in Australia was banned if you wish from coming to Villawood detention centre two years ago and so there isn't any structured religious instruction being given by anybody at the moment.
MRS SULLIVAN: Is that only Villawood or do you have a knowledge of the other centres?
MRS BEHARDIEN: I correspond with a minor, an unaccompanied minor in Port Hedland and what he tells me is that the people within the detention centre look after each other. So those with a little bit of religious knowledge would share it with the kids and with the other adults.
MRS SULLIVAN: This is because of the lack of an appropriate person to come in.
MS HUSSAIN: I could say also that I visited a couple of the young men and they asked for religious material to be brought in - we did that.
MRS SULLIVAN: And my second question relates to people who have been released into the community under whatever circumstances. It would seem to be natural for those people to gravitate to the appropriate cultural groups that they identify with. What is your judgment about the amount of support they are to get from such groups.
MRS BEHARDIEN: Fairly little, fairly ad hoc unfortunately and it is really not structured and it is really left up to the goodwill of the organisations concerned and the people concerned to provide it. So unfortunately there is no formalised structure to enable them to access religious instruction or religious support or counselling or anything related to it but the community is fairly good. So not to denigrate the community they are fairly good about that.
MRS SULLIVAN: Do they give priority to the unaccompanied minors or is it just a more general support?
MRS BEHARDIEN: I'm not quite sure if you'd call it, you know, like favoured support. That a bunch of - a group of boys from Bamiya, Hazzara boys, are being looked after both in the community, in families as well as in institutionalised areas or buildings if you wish and organisations.
MRS SULLIVAN: We have had some comments made that unaccompanied male minors - particularly those round about 15 to 18 - have been disaffected about education and training within the centre, and when they move into the community are similarly not attracted to education and training opportunities. They are at a bit of a loose end, they are searching around for some meaning. Is that your experience?
MRS BEHARDIEN: I've worked with them - not worked. I meet with a couple of families on a regular basis. One family has a 21 year old son who decided that he wanted to improve his English and went back to high school to do his HSC and he is back at high school. The younger brother and younger sister are still in high school. So they value education, and that is one family. The others are younger kids. They're at primary school, and they have gone back to school. They happily adapt.
MRS SULLIVAN: So, just to clarify, you don't have any experience of this type of young male with a
MRS BEHARDIEN: Not the unaccompanied ones, no. My experience has been with males as part of a family group, yes.
MRS SULLIVAN: So is there an identified community group that might focus on young people specifically?
MRS BEHARDIEN: You mean within this community?
MRS SULLIVAN: Well, it may not be your organisation, but are you able to identify a community group that such young people could make contact with?
MRS BEHARDIEN: Not really, no.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much, to your organisation and to you for coming and making a statement, Mrs Behardien.
Now, we will have a break. We will meet again at 10 past 11.
SHORT BREAK [10.53am]
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, I would like to invite the Lebanese Muslim Association to come forward to give evidence.
KEYSAR TRAD, affirmed
LEBANESE MUSLIMS ASSOCIATION
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, can I ask you to give your name, address, qualification, and capacity in which you are appearing, for the record.
MR TRAD: My name is Keysar Trad. I am presently the spokesperson for the Lebanese Muslims Association. The information in my submission was based on experiences that I had when I was either Secretary or Vice-President of the Lebanese Muslims Association.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Mr Trad. Before moving to hearing your evidence, I would like to thank you for your submission. I would also like to remind you of the orders we put in place, that you do not identify asylum seekers or you do not identify third parties in your evidence. If you would like to put some individual cases to us in evidence, please talk later to the Secretary to the Inquiry. Now, could I ask you to perhaps deliver an opening statement, and in particular if I could ask you to talk about your experience with children in detention centres, or children who have been released from detention centres.
MR TRAD: Firstly I'd like to thank you for accepting my submission, and for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today. I've been asked to only address one particular issue from my submission, although I raised a number of issues, and the issue that I've been asked to address is the issue of maintaining religious and cultural identity. So I've focused my opening words on the issue of religious and cultural identity.
From a general perspective cultural identity and heritage are crucial for many reasons, and members of our community, members of the Muslim community are particularly keen to learn about their traditions and cultural and religious heritage and to pass this knowledge on to their children. The significance of learning one's culture is acknowledged by article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under this article Australia must ensure that every child in Australia regardless of nationality or immigration status and regardless of how the child arrived in Australia, enjoys access to their culture and identity without discrimination of any kind.
Under this convention Australia is obliged to ensure the right of children belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to enjoy their culture, use their language and practice their religion together with other members of their group. The convention also recognises the right of parents to provide appropriate direction and guidance to their children in maintaining their own religion and culture. People who are detained in a foreign country like the asylum seekers who come to Australia are generally limited in their level of access to authentic literature and other references about their culture and also in their ability to receive culturally sensitive services including religious services.
As a religious and welfare organisation the Lebanese Muslims Association received regular calls in the year 2000 from Muslim asylum seekers requesting visits by appropriately qualified religious clerics. The visits that we could organise could only be narrow visits in that not all Muslims in the detention centre could be brought together but only those named on the visitor application form. We were quite often asked by asylum seekers to make such visits and the issue was regularly raised that Christian clerics or counsellors or Christian counsellors were able to make visits and proselytise to the asylum seekers.
There were also comments that the Christian visits are impacting on some of the asylum seekers, some of the Muslim asylum seekers, in that they are made to feel that the Christian proselytisers, cared more about the Muslim leaders. Because the Christian proselytisers were making visits in a formal capacity whereas Muslim leaders could only make visits to individuals. This aspect has a greater psychological impact on children as they regularly raise the question, where is the Imam. Unbeknown to them the Imam was denied access or similar access to the Christian religious leaders.
In recognition of this problem his Eminence the Mufti of Australia as a spiritual leader of Australia's Muslim community took it upon himself to offer his religious services to the asylum seekers through seeking official permission from the Minister. The aim and content of these services included to administer religious and cultural services. To provide religious and cultural instructions. To provide counselling and solace. To maintain cultural links especially in the case of children. The Minister for Immigration refused to permit the Mufti to perform these duties on the ground that this may be seen as proselytising. The same concern of proselytising did not appear to stop the Minister from affording the opportunity to Christian groups to proselytise amongst Muslim asylum seekers. A fact that has been reported in an ABC Radio interview that was referred to in my submission. Also in the Christian Southern Cross newspaper also referred to in my submission.
I recall on one of my visits to Villawood, in or about November 1999, that detained asylum-seekers complained that other asylum-seekers who had expressed an interest in Christianity were better looked after and better treated. And rumours were afloat amongst the asylum-seekers that these people would get a speedy protection visa.
Now, in support of some of the statements I have a signed statement by his Eminence the Mufti explaining his conversation with the Minister in June of 2000 where I was present. He asked the Minister through myself acting in my capacity as somebody who speaks both Arabic and English and I was translating for him. The Mufti confirms what he asked the Minister and what the Minister replied to him, and the subsequent letter that was sent to the Villawood Detention Centre requesting an official visit where we would address both Muslim and Christian detainees.
Now despite being the spiritual leader of all the Muslims in Australia, a fact that has been confirmed by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils on several occasions - including their recent Congress - the Minister turned around and said, I don't believe that you represent all the Muslims in Australia. So, if I allow you to go inside and preach - knowing that you will only be addressing Muslim asylum-seekers - then you may be proselytising some to your particular brand of Islam. This was really a shocking statement to us at that time. That people in the detention centre are free to attend and listen to the Mufti or not listen to the Mufti or to the representative of the Mufti. It just seemed to us at the time that there was no respect shown to the religious leader or to the rights of the asylum-seekers to receive services and instructions in their religion and culture.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, we will take this document into evidence. Now coming back to your statement, your experience is limited to Villawood only or you visited some other detention centres as well?
MR TRAD: I've only physically visited Villawood but I've had phone contact with asylum-seekers in Curtain and in Port Hedland and in Woomera. I've visited asylum-seekers, including children who have been released from Woomera and also from Curtain.
DR OZDOWSKI: We visited Port Hedland not that long ago and we spoke about the issue with detainees over there and we saw that there are two separate buildings used for praying purposes - as mosques. But the detainees over there told us that it is impossible to attract an Imam to come for a visit. It is not an issue of access over there, but rather an issue of finding an Imam who would be available to go there.
MR TRAD: During our visit with the Minister whose evidence - the Mufti made an offer to the Minister to go and visit all the detention centres around Australia. And he was offering that either himself or an Imam that he would choose would go and spend at least a week at each of these detention centres from time-to-time. Up to a week, depending on how much the Minister would permit. And the same answer was given by the Minister. That basically this would be seen as proselytising.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now you, I assume, requested a number of times access by Imams to different detention centres?
MR TRAD: There was the request to the Minister that I mentioned, at his office, and a subsequent request in writing and follow-up phone calls.
DR OZDOWSKI: It was only a single request - a request around a single occasion - or numerous requests?
MR TRAD: It was only those requests that I mentioned. There was one other instance, where the National Operations Manager of ACM contacted me personally, when 600 asylum-seeks in Curtain were on a hunger strike and many had stitched their lips. We were in consultation with each other as to the best way of addressing this problem. I suggested a delegation of several Muslim religious leaders from different denominations to attend and to provide counselling to the hunger strikers to break the hunger strike.
On that occasion it was surprising that the ACM Operations Manager was very open to the suggestion and he was making every step to get official approval. At the end of the day he said to me that we can only give approval to one person, not to the others, and the Minister could not be contacted to give that approval anyway. He is somewhere on the - I think he said on the Gold Coast at that time. By that stage it was about 9.00 pm at night and the asylum-seekers did not receive the appropriate counselling on that occasion.
DR OZDOWSKI: I am in a way surprised that the matter went to the Minister, because ACM appears to have the operational management of detention facilities. So at least as far as I understand the system the ACM Manager should be able to make that decision. But I see it is not your experience, is it?
MR TRAD: I'm surprised also. We were under the understanding that the ACM Manager makes that decision and this was why the letter that we sent to Villawood was addressed to the ACM Manager. However, we were surprised to hear that he had to refer it to Canberra. I don't know if there is a specific instruction from the Minister instructing the ACM Manager that requests from Muslim clerics has to be referred in that manner.
I have to add that the Mufti can go inside and visit asylum-seekers but on an individual basis, not as a group of Muslims. And this is a concern. That ACM had to basically go outside their operational procedures - their normal operational procedures - to put the request to the Minister and wait for the Minister's office to give a decision on the matter.
MRS SULLIVAN: Does he go in and visit on a one-to-one basis?
MR TRAD: He used to, early in 2000. After that request was made he has not made an official - he has not made the visit on an individual basis but he has been taking phone calls from asylum-seekers. I have made visits after that request was denied, but in a non-official capacity, and on an individual basis.
DR OZDOWSKI: How are the religious needs of children catered for in detention centres at present?
MR TRAD: My understanding at the moment is that the religious needs are only catered for by what the parents can provide. We were quite fortunate in - about a year ago in Villawood that some of the detained asylum-seekers had a reasonable level of religious knowledge. Some of them had undertaken religious courses overseas so they were offering some services. But these people are fellow detainees who are traumatised by the experience of detention themselves and they were also asking for outsiders to come in there and administer these religious services. To an extent they are able to provide some of the need - to meet some of the need, but not to the appropriate standards. Or not to the standards that are required or requested.
DR OZDOWSKI: What about access to religious literature? Would people have free access to the Koran or to other religious literature in a detention situation?
MR TRAD: There has been no complaint about access to religious literature. And on the occasions if we were asked - I have not received the request for religious literature myself - but if we were asked I believe that we could have provided them, but we have not tried.
DR OZDOWSKI: What would be the consequences for children of lack of access to religious education in detention?
MR TRAD: Religious education, particularly Islamic religious education, has a very strong emphasis on ethical and moral values, and also on the solace and the values of patience and perseverance. And being in a traumatised situation like the detention centres where you need constant counselling and constant offers of support, compassion and so forth, it just adds to the trauma if you don't have these services.
With the children not receiving appropriate and adequate instruction, only having access to instruction from their parents who are too concerned about their own plight means that those children are missing at a crucial time in their life some very important aspects or teachings that are crucial to their development as human beings at a time that they are so impressionable that will impact on their life as adults and it is really at this time that they need as much support as possible from community leaders and from people who are appropriately qualified in matters of religion and culture and history.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you meet some more children and young people after they were released from detention centres?
MR TRAD: I have met some of them, not a large number but I have met some, in one case it was a little girl aged 2, in another case there were several children aged between 5 and 10.
DR OZDOWSKI: And did you observe any impact on them of the lack of religious education in the context of detention centres?
MR TRAD: I did observe some impact on these children but in the particular case of the children that I visited that actually had suffered other problems in detention centres. One of those children who is also in my submission was the victim of a gang rape by other detainees in Curtin Detention Centre. So they are already quite traumatised when I visited them and the children were basically behaving in a way that showed that they do not really have an understanding of their culture or background or anything like that, they were just behaving differently.
DR OZDOWSKI: Mrs Sullivan?
MRS SULLIVAN: Are there any special provisions made for unaccompanied minors that you're aware of in terms of cultural maintenance and religious education?
MR TRAD: I am not aware of any special provisions for unaccompanied minors in terms of religious education or cultural education.
MRS SULLIVAN: So when you said it becomes the parents' responsibility these people have no parents so do the other adults in the centre take any responsibility?
MR TRAD: I could only make an assumption that some of the other adults would take on that responsibility and perhaps some of the other adults may even seek to prey on these children.
MRS SULLIVAN: And in terms of when the unaccompanied minors are released to the community I actually asked this question of an earlier group, is there any focus by your community on the unaccompanied minors who have been released?
MR TRAD: If we're advised of an unaccompanied minor who is released then we as a community have already worked out a program as part of community services a foster parenting program where we would try and place the unaccompanied minor with foster parents from their own background but I have not received a case of that nature in my organisation to date.
MRS SULLIVAN: So you would need contact from DOCS in order to do that?
MR TRAD: We would need contact from DOCS or the department. One of the problems that we have is that when the Department releases someone if the family needs any community support they will not release them to an organisation that receives any form of DIMIA funding. Our organisation has a community settlement officer who is funded by the Department of Immigration so they would not use us as a point of contact for these matters but previously they were using an organisation by the name of Supreme Islamic Council of New South Wales because they are not funded but interestingly the Supreme Islamic Council came to us to seek financial support to provide for families in that situation.
MRS SULLIVAN: So there's a willingness but nothing has actually happened?
MR TRAD: No.
MRS SULLIVAN: Have these children gone to other foster families to your knowledge?
MR TRAD: The only case that I know of is that particular family where the organisation that was enlisted for support came to us for financial assistance and they are managing that particular case. We are not permitted to manage it as an organisation through the normal channels, we would have to do it as executives working on it and this is how I take on these cases as an executive officer in the organisation but I cannot allocate any of this work to my staff because one of the staff is funded as a community settlement officer.
MRS SULLIVAN: Pardon my ignorance because I don't come from New South Wales but is there an Islamic schooling process in New South Wales?
MR TRAD: There are several private schools that also teach, that are run by a Muslim board and they do impart instruction in the Islamic religion. However, not all Muslim children go to these schools, many of them including my own children go to public schools and there are after hours schools that they can be taken to weekend schools where they can receive special instruction. They also have full and free access to lectures at the Mosque where they can be taken to receive religious instructions.
MRS SULLIVAN: And to your knowledge do any unaccompanied minors go to either the weekend schools or any of the other opportunities that you are aware of?
MR TRAD: I don't have any knowledge on that matter.
MRS SULLIVAN: So how would they get the knowledge that those opportunities are available?
MR TRAD: From my understanding they would get this knowledge if they are placed with parents who are from their own background who would understand the importance of continuing their education or of introducing them to education about culture, identity and religion.
MRS SULLIVAN: That's not provided at an exit interview by DIMIA for example?
MR TRAD: Not to my knowledge.
DR OZDOWSKI: Professor Thomas?
PROF THOMAS: To your knowledge do most of the children placed with foster families, are most of them placed with foster families of Muslim background?
MR TRAD: In New South Wales, and this is outside the detention centre issue, there is every effort to place them with foster families form their own background and the programs are in place to seek Muslim foster parents for Muslim children. As far as detention centres are concerned I have absolutely no information as to what happened to the unaccompanied minors who were given visas.
PROF THOMAS: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do you have any concluding statement you would like to make?
MR TRAD: I don't except thank you very much for this opportunity and I hope it all goes well especially for those unfortunate people in detention centres and for the children and the minors, thank you very much.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much Mr Trad.
Now, could we ask Mr Harold Bilboe to come forward. Thank you, Mr Bilboe. I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Now, could I ask you to give your name, address, qualification and capacity in which you are appearing for the record.
MR BILBOE: My name is Harold Arthur Bilboe. I am a psychologist. My address is [address removed]. I appear here as a psychologist who used to work with ACM at Woomera in Curtin for approximately 16 months of long term continual contractual employment from September of 2000 through to January of 2002.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Perhaps before we move to hear your evidence, I would like to remind you that I am asking that you won't identify asylum seekers and also that you won't identify any the third parties. If you would like to put individual cases to our attention please talk, after the hearing, to the Secretary or please put further written submissions. Thank you very much for your submission. Would you like to make an opening statement or should we go straight to asking you questions?
MR BILBOE: I think it would be best if we go straight to asking questions because I am appearing here as a result of a subpoena.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Could you let us know, to start with, why did you leave Woomera?
MR BILBOE: Basically my contract with ACM was not renewed at Woomera in December, although I had given indications that I was willing to continue. I was offered one month at Curtin. At the end of that period, again, no new contract was offered. I believe - I can give an indication as to why I believe that that occurred.
DR OZDOWSKI: What would you think why it wasn't renewed?
MR BILBOE: Raising too many concerns about what was happening in regards to the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of both adult detainees and children who had been in long term detention.
DR OZDOWSKI: You were raising that with whom?
MR BILBOE: Sorry?
DR OZDOWSKI: With whom were you raising these concerns?
MR BILBOE: These concerns were raised with ACM management and also with DIMIA management.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you tell us what are the main psychological problems facing children in detention centres?
MR BILBOE: Many of the children arriving in Australia from countries by boat, or whichever way they come here, seeking asylum have experienced some form of trauma in the land that they have left. Many of the unaccompanied minors that we have in detention had witnessed extremely violent events. Some even witnessing the murders of family members. I know of particular cases where children witnessed their families being hit by missiles. So they arrived here having experienced trauma, having a traumatic experience in the process of coming here and then being re-traumatised by the very nature of the detention process.
DR OZDOWSKI: Are there any strategies in place to assist children with coping with the fact of being in detention?
MR BILBOE: It is very difficult to put into place strategies which assist children who have been traumatised within a traumatic environment. Apart from providing basic assessment, counselling and supports, shelter, minimalistic education, minimal health care, within a wire cage, that's basically what's provided.
DR OZDOWSKI: So what you are saying, as I understand, is that within the detention centre complex, really the
MR BILBOE: It's a no-win situation.
DR OZDOWSKI: needs of kids cannot be taken properly.
MR BILBOE: Cannot be achieved with long term therapeutic outcomes within that environment.
DR OZDOWSKI: We heard in some other evidence that basically the role of a psychologist in detention centre is to assist detainees to keep a holding pattern. Would it be your experience too?
MR BILBOE: The primary role of a psychologist, as I perceived it, was a no deaths in custody policy. That was the aim. It was to achieve that we maintained a situation where no detainee committed suicide.
DR OZDOWSKI: Is it an official policy, or it's an understanding, or how does it work?
MR BILBOE: No, it would not be stated as an official policy, but all the psychologists are active members of the HRAT Team, which is the High Risk Management Team, a primary role is to assess risk, to manage detainees who have self-harmed, self-mutilated or are threatening suicide. I, myself, have witnessed some horrific injuries on individuals, both adult and children. I have seen people hanging off the fence and
DR OZDOWSKI: By the neck?
MR BILBOE: Hanging off the fence with sheets around their necks. With ACM officers holding them up, basically, whilst they are cut down. I have seen people up in trees slashing themselves up with razor blades and I must say that while I am watching this children have been watching it as well.
DR OZDOWSKI: I can clearly see it impacted on you, didn't it?
MR BILBOE: An environment such as this can only impact on a professional when the professional finds himself in a no-win situation, when the recommendations, the therapies that they are trying to implement are being thwarted by the very system that is supposed to be providing a protecting environment.
DR OZDOWSKI: What would be impact of such involvement of children in your assessment?
MR BILBOE: Well, my belief is that children arrive after experiencing trauma. The very nature of detention is traumatising to the extent that we will inherit children who are exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioural disturbance and increase social costs in providing care for these people, as young adults and as older adults.
DR OZDOWSKI: Would it have a long lasting impact on children, in your professional judgment, or from the moment they are out will they be able to function normally? Or within a reasonable period of time after they are released?
MR BILBOE: I have extensive experience working in child protection prior to coming into the area where I am now, and I would say that any child who has experienced a trauma, be it sexual assault, physical assault, will have long term, life-long, impact. It's what resources are made available to them in the community afterwards that will diminish the level of that impact. But there will be a long term impact.
DR OZDOWSKI: As you know there are, in different states, different child protection agencies which have legal responsibility, for looking after the well-being of children. Quite often when you find a child in the broader community who doesn't attend school or who is in a situation of conflict, or in some other circumstances, the state authorities take a whole range of steps to redress, or to address, the situation at least. How would you compare the children in detention centre to the children in broader community which attract attention of state officials?
MR BILBOE: There is an ambiguity here in the legal system because any child in, say, New South Wales who is living in an environment where they are being, or are likely to be abused, there are statutory requirements to provide care, well-being and, in fact, protection for that child. Even to the state of removing that child from the environment that it is perceived that it is not safe. I used to fulfil that role as a District Officer. Children in detention come under some ambiguity because they are not under the - covered by their State or Territory laws of Child Protection Acts. They are on Commonwealth ground. Although, in Woomera, after the Flood Inquiry we started involving FAYS.
It was very unclear as to what their actual legal actions could be taken by them, as far as protecting or removing children, because they were under the care of the Minister of Immigration. Which raised a lot of ambiguities for me, and probably led to the termination of my employment because I was raising questions regarding who was the guardian, or the guardian ad litem, for the unaccompanied minors. Because when you remove a child in New South Wales, and take them into care, their guardian becomes the Minister for Community Services. He becomes their parent, ad litem.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, leaving the legal issues on the side, would children in detention facility approach the definition of an abused child, or child at risk, which would warrant some investigation if they would be outside detention?
MR BILBOE: Okay. The definition of child abuse is a child who has been physically abused, sexually abused, neglected or exposed to physical, exposed to emotional and psychological risk. Every child in a detention centre fits within one or more of those categories. Every child.
MS LESNIE: Does that mean that you notified FAYS as to the risk of every single child in Woomera?
MR BILBOE: No, that would never be allowed to happen. FAYS were notified with specific cases of children who presented with unexplained or injuries with an ambiguous explanation. After the introduction of the new playgrounds in November of last year, at Woomera, the beautiful ones that you see in the magazine there, we had numerous injuries because these children had never played on playgrounds such as those. They had no idea about appropriate or safe playing on those grounds and, yes, you have beautiful one and a half inch matting on top there which looks very pretty, but underneath it is hardpacked ground. So when they fall off they might as well be landing on concrete.
MS LESNIE: When you say you wouldn't have been allowed to notify
MR BILBOE: No, no, it would be not practical. When we did notify FAYS the issue became of what action could they take to actually intervene. What services could they provide? Could they remove the children? No. Could they place them in foster care? No. So it was a case of managing as best we could within the facilities that we had.
MS LESNIE: So what you mean is that you would have liked to have notified them but there was no point because there was no feasible solution to it.
MR BILBOE: No solution being offered.
MRS SULLIVAN: So you didn't personally report any individual child?
MR BILBOE: Yes, I did.
MRS SULLIVAN: How many?
MR BILBOE: It would be hard to specify exact numbers, but we notified families with four or five children. We notified individual children as a team. It would be in the 20s, 30s of individual children that were notified in South Australia, going way back to a specific incident last year, the year before last, which resulted in the Flood Inquiry and through to numerous incidences last year. A lot of children were notified because of hunger strikes, self mutilation.
MRS SULLIVAN: And was each one of those investigated in some way?
MR BILBOE: Yes. A lot of the investigations were done internally.
MS LESNIE: And where there was an investigation and recommendations by FAYS were those recommendations implemented by ACM or DIMIA?
MR BILBOE: Not to my satisfaction.
MS LESNIE: Could you give an example?
MR BILBOE: Well, children who we felt should be removed from the centre, placed in community foster care. It was only until this year that that's actually started happening. Even UAMs who had been in detention for several months, they only basically left detention earlier this year, although there were numerous concerns regarding self harming, hunger strikes, their exposure to serious acts of self harm by others, riots, demonstration, destruction of facilities on a daily basis. What was happening, they were being moved from one compound to another compound.
We had one child that was in foster care with a family within the centre with a young child. We strongly advocated for that child to be released with the family who he had bonded with. It didn't happen. By the time I left that child had been with five different families.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, could you tell us more about self harm? Could you say something about how often you witnessed it, what ages of children were involved and how severe it was?
MR BILBOE: Self harm ranged from incidences by definition of people who were, say, not presenting for meals. They would come under HRAT, so we would be investigating why they were not attending for meals. Were they on a hunger strike? A lot of concerns were raised about children not attending or being on a hunger strike. This was found in many cases to be untrue, however because of the parents' level of distress, anxiety, depression, they were not attending for meals so the children weren't attending.
Arrangements were made for the children to attend with other detainees where the families were quite seriously depressed and ill, officers would volunteer to escort the children to the dining room. I can't say that I ever saw children, I would say children under the age of, say, 14, who were actually on a hunger strike. Children over the age of 14 who were involved in hunger strikes, were mostly UAMs. As far as self harm is concerned in the cutting area that was used - young children didn't actually have access to razor blades unless they could get them from an adult.
Some of the UAMs did have access to razor blades. They became involved in a cutting - now, I try not to sound blase but the fact that I saw so many varieties of cutting from superficial scratches to major lacerations, I would describe theirs as minor scratching, but the fact that they were doing it was of great concern.
DR OZDOWSKI: How old were the youngest children doing it?
MR BILBOE: About 14, that's with the razor blades. The other self harms were - with the UAMs was becoming involved in the demonstrations, placing themselves at risk by their involvement in some of the demonstrations. I have seen young men who turned out to be UAMs cuffed, cuffing is with flexi cuffs. I don't know if people here are aware of what they look like.
DR OZDOWSKI: If you could describe it please.
MR BILBOE: It's basically - it's a piece of plastic with two circles that go round and through. You put them on a person's wrists and then you pull it to a tension. You're supposed to pull it to no more than two fingers tight. So there's no - it can move. The part that is concerning is that in many cases during demonstrations and riots the cuffing was behind the back. Persons were cuffed behind.
DR OZDOWSKI: Including children?
MR BILBOE: Including young males.
DR OZDOWSKI: Females?
MR BILBOE: No. I can't say that I saw a female cuffed at any stage. When they were identified as being young minors, these cuffs were removed, however marks still existed on their wrists. There were incidences involving where reports were made by myself and my colleagues expressing concerns that the injuries sustained on some of the detainees would raise concerns regarding the excessive use of force. One needs to remember that the children were witnessing these events.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, you mentioned earlier hangings. How did you hear circumstances of young people or children attempting to hang themselves?
MR BILBOE: I am not aware of any young children attempting to hang themselves, but I am aware of young children witnessing these events and seeing people cut down. There is a specific case that I was involved in, involving a young boy who became extremely distressed. That young boy was, prior to my arrival at Woomera in September of 2000, described to me by teachers, officers and other staff as being a relatively normal child, quiet, a passive little boy. However he witnessed some very severe riots and demonstrations.
He witnessed a breakout. He witnessed a person attempting to hang themself in a tree. The child became extremely traumatised. I was unable to treat that child at Woomera and made recommendations that that child be transferred. After the family was rejected, the family was actually transferred into what was the high security compound at Woomera.
DR OZDOWSKI: The isolation cells?
MR BILBOE: This is the - what was referred to as Oscar or Sierra Compound. There were about four families that were moved into there. With regards to the strongest possible objections from the psychologists about the inappropriateness of placing women and children in the compound which was 80, 90 percent male where a daily occurrence of self harm and self mutilation, threats of riots. There was one family - this particular child was moved in there with his family and again witnessed more events and deteriorated drastically and I recommended that the child be removed from Woomera and I was told, well, where do we send him? I said, To Sydney, because they have access to Camperdown Children's Hospital and children's psychiatric services, because I could not treat that child at Woomera.
Another family involving three girls was placed in that compound. Those girls never left their room.
DR OZDOWSKI: Why was that so?
MR BILBOE: When you've got about 200 males in a compound with three adolescent girls, they didn't come outside. They had their meals in their room. We complained and complained and complained about the inappropriateness of these sorts of things and the emotional, psychological impact that this has on the individual children and their families. Eventually the father of that family signed a Repat and left, went back. He indicated to me that he expected not to survive himself, but he believed it would be better to go back and know what was going to happen than to stay here and watch his family deteriorate.
DR OZDOWSKI: One more thing regarding self harming, lip sewing, did you witness any of lip sewing?
MR BILBOE: I witnessed numerous occasions of lip sewing, going back from 2000/2001, right through to just before I left. Mostly adults.
DR OZDOWSKI: With adults, what about children?
MR BILBOE: I have been asked on occasion did I witness lip stitching with children, specifically UAMs, etcetera, and stories about adults stitching children's lips. I only ever heard that statement come from the Minister's lips. I never saw it at Woomera. I never witnessed it. I never saw any children who had their lips stitched at Woomera.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do you know of any parents encouraging children to do any self-harm?
MR BILBOE: In fact, I only saw parents doing the opposite. Trying to - the interesting part is that as a psychologist, being there, the time that I had, I had the opportunity to build up relationships with families. So I was able to encourage the families to start to change some of the cultural behaviours which - it seemed that when there was a demonstration the whole family would come out and watch, women and children, and what we were encouraging them to do was to take the children back inside so that they were not witnessing these events. To remove the children from the environments where they were witnessing these events. Now, I cannot say that I saw parents, at any stage, encouraging their children to self-harm, or harm others.
DR OZDOWSKI: I understand, or I was told, that there is an ACM policy to remove children from any area of disturbance. Did you see children being removed from their places when demonstrations were taking place?
MR BILBOE: I have seen women and children standing at the gate asking to be removed while the gate is locked. I find that an amazing statement, I am sorry.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes.
MR BILBOE: Because in the middle of a riot or demonstration, apart from going in with a full-on CERT team, water cannons, batons and tear gas, it would be impossible. The only thing that we encouraged people to do, and women and children to do, was to retreat back to their own rooms and to shut the door and stay there. On occasions I have walked in with senior officers and escorted families out, specific families.
DR OZDOWSKI: We still are waiting for relevant pages of ACM manual to be provided for evidence on that issue.
MR BILBOE: They may be in a manual, but it would be impossible to implement.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, you have possibly seen DIMIA submission, yes, which was provided
MR BILBOE: Yes, I saw it this morning.
DR OZDOWSKI: outside and it states that:
Care is taken not to undermine the role of parents as primary care givers.
Would you wish to comment on the issue of the role of parents of families in detention?
MR BILBOE: It would - you cannot undermine the role of a parent as a care giver, but you can undermine the role of a parent as in what facilities and resources and services they can provide to their children. When you look at the Woomera or Curtin environment what the parents can actually provide to their children is extremely limited. So, apart from escorting the children to meals, bathing the children, sharing rooms, the day to day care, that would be about the basic thing that parents could provide.
DR OZDOWSKI: Can family function normally in extended detention situation? Can family roles be maintained, according to you?
MR BILBOE: Family roles break down significantly. We actually started time-lining the break down of individuals. We classify the first three months as being a state of euphoria, hope, dreams. The next three months, as they are going through all of their interviews and there is anxiety starting to build up. After six months we start to see a deterioration in the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals, a significant start in the increase of self-harm. Be it hunger strikes, emotional anxiety, psychological disturbances developing, increased requests for assistance for sleep, which is an indication of depression, medication for depression, more active involvement in disturbances and in self-harm. So, yes, I have seen people age on a daily basis. I have seen middle age men become old men in months.
DR OZDOWSKI: Physically, looking old men, or mentally
MR BILBOE: Physically, and relationships in the family breaking down because children start to - are asking, "Why are we in detention? Why are we here?" Wives asking, you know, "Why have you brought us here?" Wives whose husbands are outside in the community asking why are they still in detention when their husbands are outside? Not understanding the system. Young - UAMs not understanding the system, not having someone to advocate for them. No independent advocate.
DR OZDOWSKI: When we go to detention centres quite often people are asking us very basic questions, then when we ask DIMIA or ACM managers they are telling us, "Well, we told them five times about X or Y". The question is; Are they capable, after spending considerable time in detention, to absorb information which is provided?
MR BILBOE: There are certain things that they are not told. When immigrants - when detainees first arrive they go through an initial screening process. There is a terminology which generally is not used. That's called "screen in" or "screened out". Detainees are not told that they are screened in or that they are screened out. They can go three/four months wondering what's happening until somebody lets them surreptitiously become aware that there's a form that they can request where they can apply again for refugee status because during their first interview they didn't say the magic words that made them qualify to go on to the next phase of refugee review. They didn't make statements indicating that they were seeking asylum or that they were being victims of some form of abuse.
DR OZDOWSKI: I am dominating you a bit, so maybe a last question from me before I will ask my Assistant Commissioners to ask you a few questions. Did you do any counselling for DIMIA staff or ACM officers there?
MR BILBOE: Yes, I did.
DR OZDOWSKI: What percentage, or how many, how often there was need for it?
MR BILBOE: Whenever there was a disturbance I was involved in providing debriefing. Critical incident debriefing, counselling and support. I also provided individual counselling support to families, to individual staff members and families outside of the centre. I also provided individual counselling and support assessment. I wrote reports for management on individual members of staff on the impact of events that they had been involved in.
DR OZDOWSKI: So, it tends to suggest to me that they were impacted by working there. That there was also a psychological harm happening to them?
MR BILBOE: No, as I said earlier, no person working in a detention centre cannot be impacted by that system because it is a situation where there appears to be no outcome or solution, so you are dealing with people - you are dealing on a day to day basis with individuals who have been traumatised, who tell you their stories whether you want to believe them or not believe them. As a psychologist my training is to believe what I am told until proven otherwise. So I believe the stories that I am being told by these individuals. I have seen the scars on these individuals from torture that they have experienced in their homelands, and the officers hear these stories as well on a day to day basis. Then they are involved in a disturbance and they see the person who they have built a relationship with involved in a disturbance, or become a victim of that disturbance, and so it does have an individual impact, physically, emotionally and psychologically with them. So, yes, they are impacted by it.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Professor Thomas, would you like to ask a question?
PROF THOMAS: You said that when you arrived at the detention centres you were not provided with the psychometric tools and you made submissions and requests and no response was received. Can you tell me what kind of psychometric tools you requested and you think that you need?
MR BILBOE: Yes. At the time we didn't have any tools at all apart from very basic tools which psychologists carry with them, like anxiety tool assessment or depression scales. There is no specific tools for assessing trauma, etcetera. I had with me an intern and we investigated, in consultation with SYCORP, who is a provider of psychometric tools and ACER, another provider of psychometric tools. We consulted with them regarding the appropriate tools that could be used within an environment such as Woomera where the predominant clientele are of non English speaking background.
So we wanted ethnic and language neutral tools. We provided a list of those tools to management. At the time it worked out to approximately $2400 for RAVENS, coloured matrix, etcetera. Tools that were ethnic neutral, language neutral which would give us an indication of the person's intellectual function, the level of trauma, anxiety, depression. Therefore, we could make appropriate referrals for psychiatric follow up or treatment programs, so we could substantiate our cases because what we were finding as time went by, more and more we were being called to the Refugee Review Tribunal to give reports on the psychological well being of individuals and as psychologists our field is based on clinical assessment, so we need those tools to provide a clinical assessment and diagnosis treatment programs for individuals.
PROF THOMAS: Considering the languages of most of the detainees that's what I'm just wondering, Ravens is really is a cognitive assessment and how do you get treatment for anxiety depression on the detainees' languages?
MR BILBOE: There are assessment tools which are language neutral. Sorry, I can't think of them off the top of my head, there's an ESI which is language neutral, cultural neutral but before we put the list together we consulted with the appropriate agencies to say, yes, these were the appropriate tools and we provided the submission and the costing. Those tools were never provided.
PROF THOMAS: You worked at the ACM from October 2000 till December 2001 which probably was the worst period and then you worked again until February 2002 which is very recently, did you see any change in ACM procedures during nearly about two years, did they learn the mistakes, did they improve at all?
MR BILBOE: Interestingly it went from one extreme, started to move to a much nicer environment and then came back full circle. I actually arrived at Woomera on 7 September 2000, at that time it was a very correctional model. In consultation with the management there, there was a recruitment program to try and move away from having correctional staff to having detention staff and for officers to be trained in a detention model.
But over the period of time and I would say over the latter four months of last year, the beginning of this year, we moved back towards a more arbitrary correctional model.
DR OZDOWSKI: Why is this so? How would you explain that?
MR BILBOE: I think it was because we are dealing with people, especially within Woomera, I just use Woomera as the model when I'm speaking, who are now in detention for anything from 11, 16, 20 months in detention, so the level of reactive behaviour, I use the old clinical phraseology of reactive behaviour, was starting to become a daily occurrence. So to manage that reactive behaviour they wanted people more experienced or more hard line.
That's when I started writing reports regarding concerns about some of the injuries detainees were presenting with following incidents would leave ACM open to allegations of excessive use of force. I know that a number of inquiries were made regarding that because, as I say, the injuries were not consistent with just restraining somebody.
PROF THOMAS: As a psychologist myself that's why I'm concerned about your work and how effective can a psychologist be in a situation like that, for example, do you use bags, do you carry with you Taylor's Anxiety Test, how do you use it? Do you use it with interpreters and without those non-verbal tests, how do you cope?
MR BILBOE: I myself have worked overseas in Korea and have had quite extensive experience of working with interpreters and I had a wonderful relationship with the interpreters down in Woomera and sometimes I think they already knew what questions I was going to ask before I asked them because I'd been there for a while. I think the biggest mistake that ACM has made or with regards to it, is the fact that they have tended to focus on continually rolling over staff.
A therapeutic process of any client is long term, developing a relationship, getting to know the person's story, getting to know what's happening with that person and then making appropriate treatment recommendations, etcetera. As I said, I think and I believe that I did a good job in Woomera while I was there. I have to believe that for my own well being but I also have to acknowledge, that I was working in a no win environment because I couldn't change the environment.
No matter how much I worked with the clients, I couldn't change the cause of the behaviour, the course of their stress, it's like having a patient coming into the hospital with a nail through the hand and you are giving them Pethidine injections for pain but you don't remove the nail. That's exactly what is happening in Woomera. You've got people down there with nails through their hands, we're holding them, we're not treating the cause. So, the trauma, the torture, the infection is growing. We are not treating it, we're just containing it. Eventually when those people return to their homelands, if they don't get temporary visas, they are going to carry that with them.
PROF THOMAS: How did you find the relationship between the guards, officers, ACM officers and the children?
MR BILBOE: From one extreme to the other. A lot of the children learn some very basic Australian English words, inappropriate words within the first few weeks of being in Australia basically because they are being told to go away but not in those words. They learnt to swear very fast, so they learn quite vulgar language very quickly. But again, you cannot charge all officers by the behaviour of a few.
Many of the officers that I worked with, I'd work with them any day. They are doing the best they can within a very hostile environment and the officers cannot change the environment. But then again, you have the other officers who give them an opportunity to bash somebody's head and they will, no qualms about. So you are going from one extreme to the other.
PROF THOMAS: Let's take the officers who are professional, who are human being or caring, over time did you observe any change in their behaviour as a result of the work there?
MR BILBOE: I found many of the female officers became more and more distressed in working in that environment as they saw families and children deteriorate it had an impact on them. Some of the males became more aggressive, drinking behaviour became a major problem, excessive consumption of alcohol is quite common. Other nocturnal behaviour starts to appear, so yes, there is a deterioration within relationships within the officers as well and a deterioration in behaviour.
MS LESNIE: Did that impact on the relationship between those officers and the children and the families?
MR BILBOE: It impacted in that they became more withdrawn from their interactions with the detainees because you build up a relationship with a detainee, you think you are helping that person and because of something that is said by a DIMIA officer you have a riot that evening. So you are in there a couple of hours later in riot gear trying to contain a situation which wasn't created by you but you are now confronted with the person who you thought was your friend throwing stones at you or trying to hit you with a piece of wood and you are there with a shield, a water can and batons trying to contain, yes, it's a love/hate situation.
One minute you love each other and the next minute you are there you hate each other. But I've had detainees come and apologise for their behaviour. The only time I was ever assaulted myself at Woomera was when I was forced to wear an officer's uniform, that's the only time in my whole experience that I was
DR OZDOWSKI: That's in a way interesting but for us it was quite surprising to see teachers, psychologists and so on in ACM uniforms. You are saying you didn't wear one?
MR BILBOE: I didn't wear a uniform up until the last four months of my being - - -
DR OZDOWSKI: Why it was a change?
MR BILBOE: Change of management.
DR OZDOWSKI: All right, so new management required you to wear it?
MR BILBOE: A directive from Sydney to wear a uniform although I was told by another senior executive officer at Woomera that I didn't, I wasn't required to wear a uniform. I could wear my, even if I wore a uniform I could wear whatever ties I liked because they wanted me to not be seen as an officer but I was directed to wear a uniform. I complied and within a couple of weeks I was actually, there was a riot and basically I couldn't run fast enough.
PROF THOMAS: Did you see any abuse of power by the staff? I was thinking of experiments really we all know?
MR BILBOE: As I said I have written reports expressing concerns regarding the excessive use of force. I was approached by one ACM manager following a riot asking me did I feel that the officers had crossed the line and I did say at that stage that no, I did not feel that there was an excessive use of force on that day. However, a couple of days later I did see an officer restraining person drop down on to that person's back with their knee. Now, it doesn't take six officers to restrain one person and then to have another one come along and drop down on that person with their knee. That matter was reported.
DR OZDOWSKI: Mrs Sullivan.
MRS SULLIVAN: I just wanted to focus on one element of life in the centre and that's the accommodation. What impact do you think that type of accommodation has on children specifically but family life more generally?
MR BILBOE: There is no family accommodation at Woomera. You have demountables, you have the old concrete block buildings down there. Most of the accommodation is shared. The ones where you may have a family, the only difference is it's an open room and they may string up blankets or something like that to create a division for some privacy. In the new compounds they built rooms which are basically dormitories, no doors apart from a door at either end where you enter and leave the building, so you have a common lounge room area with a sink and a refrigerator, no stove, TV which is another thing which is not relatively common; TVs and newspapers were only introduced last year, they weren't there when I first arrived, but these accommodations are 16 bed dormitories so you may have four, five families in the one dormitory. So there's no accommodation which is a family specific accommodation, even back in the old days. When I first came to Australia as a child we had the old Nissan huts, we had family accommodation which parents had their room, we had ours. That doesn't exist.
DR OZDOWSKI: Sorry, let's not include that.
MR BILBOE: No, you have toilet blocks, laundry blocks, so you have to walk across the compound night or day if you want to go to the bathroom.
DR OZDOWSKI: So if you have a few kids, during the night it could be - - -
MR BILBOE: In Woomera there are four, I think it's four units for new borns and that's for only for six months. So if you have someone who has a newborn child they get, go into there. It has an en suite bathroom but, again, you may have one couple in this one room, you have an en suite in the middle and another room at the other end, so you may have two families with new born children using that one bathroom, so it's not specific to, it's not like your own little demountable. It would be nice if we had something like the modern caravan parks where you have the little demountable huts with their own en suites and bathrooms, especially for young couples with kids.
MRS SULLIVAN: So the impact on family life in summary?
MR BILBOE: If it continues for a long time which most of the ones who are in Woomera are now, I can only perceive long term detrimental impact on the family, an increase in relationship breakdown and an increase in appropriate delinquent behaviour within the children with possible long term post traumatic stress disorders both in the adults and children.
DR OZDOWSKI: I perhaps follow with one question here. Quite often when the issue of releasing children from detention facility dates come into public the minister is saying that okay the Convention on the Rights of the Child is saying the children should be detained for as short as possible period of time and as a matter of last resort. The Convention is also quite strong on the family unit, that the family should be kept together so, consequently, the Minister is reaching the conclusion that children shouldn't be released from the family situation because it would be breaking family down. What you are saying is that possibly the family is already broken down, isn't it? How would you manage it, these two objectives?
MR BILBOE: One of the best suggestions I ever heard actually came from a Country Party member during the last election campaign when he was saying or suggested that these families should be put out into rural communities in voluntary detention so they actually live in a rural community in a voluntary detention situation but they agree to stay within that community while their applications are processed. I have no objection with detention, don't get me wrong, I have no objection with detention for its original purpose which is clearance for medical screening such as for disease, stuff like that, but when you're talking about detention that's gone three months, six months, twelve months, two years, I have serious professional concerned about the psychological well being of not only the children but every individual within those detention centres.
Primarily my concern being here today and one of the reasons why I cane here was UAMs. UAMs in detention. It's only this year that UAMs have been fostered out. It wasn't happening before that. It's only because of the level of publicity that's been going on that that has occurred. One question I ask is, we talk about your children in detention: who is the guardian of the UAMs, who is their guardian ad litem? Who is there advocate when they first arrive? When they have their first hearing there is no one there to guide them, no one there to help them.
DR OZDOWSKI: I think the immigration submission is saying that there is a case management for each UAM that as soon as they arrive they are being assessed and managed throughout the system. Are you aware of this?
MR BILBOE: Who is their case manager?
DR OZDOWSKI: I assume it would be ACM officers.
MS LESNIE: A DIMIA manager. What the DIMIA submission says is that there's an appointment of a UAM officer, a particular officer - - -
MR BILBOE: UAM officers are changed on a rotary basis, they are only a relatively new occurrence. A UAM officer is responsible for the day to day care of the UAM. They do not attend hearings, they do not attend their meeting with DIMIA, they are not trained in advocacy, they are not trained welfare psychologists, they are not trained in legal affairs, they are not advocates, they are not independent, they are employees of ACM who are contractual to DIMIA, so they are not an independent advocate. My question is who is their independent advocate appointed by their guardian. Their guardian is the minister, he is to all intents and purpose their father, you know. In New South Wales, in a community situation he probably would find himself before a children's court.
DR OZDOWSKI: Do you have anything further?
MRS SULLIVAN: Just one brief one. I guess there's been a refrain through your statements of being blocked, your advice being blocked or not taken notice of. Are you able to identify the source of that blockage or was it multitudinous?
MR BILBOE: It's a multitudinal thing. When you make too many complaints whether you're a nurse, a doctor, psychologist, your contract doesn't get renewed, basically that's what happens with it. So when doctors - I have witnessed this - doctors make complaints about the inappropriate medical treatment their contracts don't get renewed. When nurses complain their contracts don't get renewed. When psychologists complain their contracts don't get renewed.
MRS SULLIVAN: You're currently working in a correctional centre?
MR BILBOE: Yes.
MRS SULLIVAN: Can I ask whether the same culture prevails in other institutional settings that you have worked in?
DR OZDOWSKI: How does it compare?
MR BILBOE: I was very specific in my acceptance of this appointment. I didn't want to work in a gaol environment ever again. The position that I've accepted is a psychologist within a pre-release correctional facility. I am working with people who know when they are going to be released and are preparing to go back out into the community so we know where we're going, we know what we're trying to achieve, we're developing their day, not week; they are developing their own plans for when they go back out into the community so as to minimise the risk of re-offending. They don't want to come back to gaol. So we've actually got a goal we can focus on which is what you don't have in detention.
MRS SULLIVAN: I will ask it one more way. Given institutional cultures is there anything atypical about detention centres in terms of your experience or would you be likely to have those experiences of blockage if you worked in other institutions?
MR BILBOE: I think what's atypical about detention is the lack of knowledge. You don't know if, when, you are going to get released. I could be seeing someone this afternoon and tomorrow they're gone and it was only the middle of last year that we finally got DIMIA to start to let us know when people were being released so I could write discharge reports that could go with them, with their medical certificates and their referrals to their doctors so that doctors would get a report from me as a treating psychologist recommending any follow ups that might be needed, any further treatments or provisional diagnoses that I have made. So it's been an evolutionary thing within the detention system but basically I would say over last eight months it seems to have deteriorated.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thank you and as a non psychologist I did get the message of your tie.
MR BILBOE: That's one of the things I do get commented on, is my ties and my vests. It seems to be my trademark.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you work in a prison before?
MR BILBOE: No. I never worked in detentions or gaols before working with ACM. Prior to that I worked in a hospital, mental health, community mental health, child protection.
DR OZDOWSKI: We will have to conclude. Would you like to make a concluding statement?
MR BILBOE: Only that I hope the information that I've provided is of assistance to you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much, Mr Bilboe it is of assistance. Now, the final session will be held in camera.
SHORT BREAK [12.28pm]
CONTINUED IN TRANSCRIPT-IN-CONFIDENCE
CONTINUED FROM TRANSCRIPT-IN-CONFIDENCE [2.05pm]
DR OZDOWSKI: Well, I would like to start the afternoon hearings. My name is Sev Ozdowski and I'm the Human Rights Commissioner and I've got two Assistant Commissioners with me. Mrs Robin Sullivan, Queensland Children's Commissioner, to the left, and Dr Trang Thomas who is a Professor of Psychology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, to my right. I am also assisted by Ms Vanessa Lesnie who is Secretary to the Inquiry.
I made some rulings about confidentiality about individual information to protect the privacy of people and I would like to ask that in evidence no names are mentioned. Either of refugees or said parties who will not have an opportunity to address this hearing. To start with I would like to ask you to take an oath of affirmation.
SENIOR MEMBER OF THE REFUGEE REVIEW TRIBUNAL
STEVE KARAS, sworn
PRINCIPAL MEMBER OF THE REFUGEE REVIEW TRIBUNAL
MARK MANTLE, affirmed
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COUNTRY RESEARCH AT THE REFUGEE REVIEW TRIBUNAL
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Now, could I ask your for the records to state your names, addresses, qualifications and the capacity in which you are appearing?
MR KARAS: Steve Karas, Principal Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal in Sydney. And on my right is - do you want me to introduce them, Mr Chairman?
DR OZDOWSKI: I think they can do it for themselves.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: I am a Senior Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. Did you want the addresses did you say?
DR OZDOWSKI: Addresses, yes please give your address.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: [Address removed].
MR MANTLE: My name is Mark Mantle, I am the Assistant Director of Country Research at the Refugee Review Tribunal in Sydney and my address is [address removed].
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Mr Karas, could I ask you to make an opening statement?
MR KARAS: Yes thank you, Mr Chairman, I was going to ask your permission to do so since you've invited me - thank you very much for the invitation - to give evidence to the inquiry here this afternoon. You have already had introduced to you the people who are accompanying me. Paula Cristoffanini is accompanying me because she is experienced in the conduct of cases and hearings for applicants in detention, many of whom include families with children. I've asked her to come along in case she can be of assistance to the Tribunal.
Mr Mantle is the head of our research area in the Tribunal. One of the reasons I had asked him along is that I noticed in some of the submissions that you had received there were some suggestions that the Tribunal's country information resources are limited, or narrow. I wanted to point out to yourself, Mr Chairman, and to the other Commissioners that in fact that is incorrect and I wanted to assure the Inquiry that the resources available to Tribunal members for country research are very extensive and that the members draw on a very wide range of information available from the government, from NGO, academic and other sources. I have asked Mr Mantle to elaborate on that should you want him to later on.
To assist the Inquiry I have prepared three documents and there are also some other documents which I would like to give you, but I would just like to refer quickly and briefly to the three documents that we have prepared for yourself and the other Commissioners. The first is a brief guide to the Tribunal's roles and procedures. It is by no means a comprehensive document in relation to them but I think it will provide you with an overview of the role and functions of the Tribunal.
The second document responds to your request for information on various matters which were set-out in your letter to me of 8 July 2002. And we're quite happy to speak to it and take whatever questions you'd like to ask of myself and the others here with me. The Guide to Procedures I've provided may assist in setting the broader context for responses to your particular questions which were set-out in that letter which I've just referred to.
The third document which we will provide to you contains statistical information on minors in detention who have had reviews before the Tribunal over the last three financial years. I think you will see from those statistics that this category of cases has been less than about two per cent of the overall case-load for the Tribunal during those years.
If I could just make a few further comments before turning to your questions, Mr Chairman. You would be aware that the Refugee Review Tribunal has been described as an inquisitorial or non-adversarial Tribunal. As a result of that it is one where there is no adversarial conduct of cases and the members themselves do have quite a role in eliciting information and evidence before them.
I would like to emphasise a couple of points if I may, Mr Chairman. First that the Tribunal is not an appeal body as such. It's confined, simply, to determining if there has been some error by the primary decision-maker. In other words, the Tribunal - to use a common description of its role as a merits review body - stands in the shoes of the original decision-maker and reconsiders the matter afresh. That is, it provides a merits review.
Secondly, there is no onus of proof on the applicant. In other words, the person isn't asked to prove whether he or she is a refugee. It is the Tribunal's role to examine all of the evidence, make its own inquiries if necessary, and be satisfied that the applicant is entitled to Australia's protection under the Refugee Convention.
My third point, Mr Chairman, is that the Tribunal is bound to apply the laws of Australia - as enacted by Parliament and as interpreted by the Courts - when determining if a person is a refugee. The term "refugee" is, not unsurprisingly, used by many in the media and the community to describe a range of people whose circumstances may be unfortunate, indeed tragic. However, the Tribunal has no power to make a decision that a person is entitled to Australia's protection purely on the basis of compassionate or humanitarian grounds. Nor can the Tribunal make assumptions or decisions about broad groups of people. Each applicant's case is assessed on its individual merits.
Mr Chairman, Parliament has determined that applicants have no right of representation in the Tribunal. In practice, however, I wanted to inform yourself and the other Commissioners, that applicant's representatives are given an opportunity to make submissions before, during and after any hearing. Again, in practice, no representative of the Department attends the hearing although the Secretary may, on occasions, make submissions to the Tribunal and the Secretary has done so from time-to-time in relation to conditions in certain countries for example.
There will always be a debate about the merits of an inquisitorial process compared to an adversarial process but, as I have indicated, the Australian Parliament has opted for an inquisitorial model. Primarily because I think it is seen as a quicker, more efficient and fairer model for applicants who are usually unable, or unlikely, to be able to afford the cost of formal representation before an adversarial body. Of course, you would be aware, that the inquisitorial Tribunal that the Refugee Review Tribunal is also similar to other merits Tribunals.
Could I also turn to the issue of members' independence? The Tribunal members are completely independent from direction as to how they decide a case. Neither I, the Minister, or anyone can tell a Member what evidence to accept, or reject, or what decision to make. Members are appointed by the Governor-General for fixed terms of up to five years and of the present members on the Tribunal, most were appointed in July 2001 and have three-year terms expiring in July 2004.
If I may, Mr Chairman, I would just like to take the opportunity to refer to some comments made by the Law Society of New South Wales and the Beijing Committee - being I understand a joint committee of the International Committee of Jurists Western Australia Chapter and the Womens Lawyers Incorporated Western Australia - which appear in submissions of those two organisations to your Inquiry.
First the Law Society's submission incorrectly states that performance reviews of members are conducted on a six monthly basis and that those members' remittal rates, and I think by remittal rates the reference is really to what we call set aside rates are used as a basis for assessing the member's performance. I just wanted to inform the Inquiry that members are not subject to six monthly reviews of the nature described.
While members are expected to make a certain number of decisions each year and to abide by the Tribunal member code of conduct, they are independent and ultimately must make a decision on the facts as they find them and according to law. Of course as the principal member of the Tribunal I am concerned to ensure as far as possible that the Tribunal's decisions are consistent. To achieve this members are required to participate in professional development and training programs and to acquaint themselves with current and relevant information about applicants' countries.
The Beijing committee's submission suggests that the Tribunal has little investigative capabilities and resources and I wanted to inform the Inquiry that this is quite wrong. The Tribunal has attained an international reputation as having an outstanding independent research capability. The Tribunal research area recently hosted a conference of country researchers from a wide range of refugee determination agencies from far as afield as Canada, a number of European countries, Norway, Switzerland, the United States and New Zealand, at which our activities received widespread professional praise.
Indeed one of our researchers is currently in Dublin assisting the Irish government's refugee determination authorities in establishing a country information research facility in that country. Mr Chairman and commissioners thank you for the opportunity to make those preliminary observations. I and my colleagues are here and we're happy to answer any questions which you may have and if we are unable to answer them we are quite happy to take them on notice and make that information available to you.
Should you require any clarification of any matters or if you want something further as you develop your final report by all means do not hesitate to contact the Tribunal.
MR OZDOWSKI: Thank you Mr Karas. Possibly the best way of handling your submission would be to take the three documents you mentioned into evidence and to consider them and if we have any questions which relate to these three documents
MR KARAS: I am just handing now to you a number of documents which we have prepared for you which do contain some statistical information, some documentation like brochures which the Tribunal has, a couple of letters which we do sent out to applicants as such, also a multilingual sheet which is an attachment there and general information which we think will be of assistance to you and I have got an extra copy here should you want one.
MR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. The documents are taken into evidence and I reserve the right to write to you and ask you some explanatory questions if it is needed.
MR KARAS: Of course Mr Chairman, thank you.
MR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask Mr Mantle to mention a few words about the country specific assessments, how do you do the research, how do you go about it.
MR MANTLE: How we go about it?
MR OZDOWSKI: And if you could maybe focus on a group of Sabean Mandaeans because they are people who we were meeting recently in the centres and they were expressing various concerns to us so could you perhaps describe the process?
MR MANTLE: Well there are two streams of research we would undertake in the country research. One stream is where we go out and collect information generally on countries of origin and countries involved in the refugee determination process. That forms about half of our work. The other half revolves around responding directly to questions from members, specific questions about cases and applicants that they would be working on.
MR OZDOWSKI: Where do you collect information from?
MR MANTLE: We have quite a wide range of sources. I think it is better if I categorise them by group. First, from government sources, that is our own Department of Foreign Affairs who provide advice; Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada; US Department of State; UK Home Office; European governments: Danish Immigration Service springs to mind, they conduct fact finding missions in countries, we have access to their reports.
We also refer to various NGOs, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, minority rights groups, organisations like that who release material; UNHCR of course, we also have a good relationship with them and source material from them. We have access to CISNET which is the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs country information database.
We also subscribe to an online use retrieval database called FACTIVA which has some 8,000 newspapers, journals, magazines and material that we can access from our own desktops. We have in the last couple of years developed quite a strong network of both local and international academics that we can call upon to give expert advice. We can task UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration amongst others and ask specific questions of them, and they provide advice to us. Most of the material we collect we store on our own databases so it can be referenced whenever possible or we go externally, as I said, to outside agencies for help.
Now regarding your questions about Sabean Mandaeans, the way our research unit is structured we have a total of 17 research staff across Sydney and Melbourne. In the Sydney office we have three discrete teams that look after different parts of the world. One teams looks after the Middle East and there are four researchers involved in that team because the Middle East comprises quite a high level of workload for that area. The researchers would search the sources that I described earlier, for specific material on Sabean Mandaeans.
I could not answer off the top of my head what that is I would have to go back to our office and collect the material, but I would be more than happy to provide the kind of material that we've gathered on Sabean Mandaneans.
MR OZDOWSKI: I would like to ask you to take this question on notice and to provide us with this information.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Can I just say that of course the members may have collected some information by themselves as well so whilst the research group might be able to give you a list of things that they have collected, it may not be an exhaustive list of sources used by the Tribunal as their total in cases relating to Sabean Mandaeans. For example, then you have - because I have taken some cases involved with Sabean Mandaeans who have great differences as well whether you are talking about Iraq or Iran and so on. So then you are going to have specific information as to their situation in Iran or their situation in Iraq and so on.
MR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. So in the time remaining I would like to focus on a few issues and would like to ask you Mr Karas to focus on the issues relating to people who are in detention. I am not interested in your overall responsibility for all cases. Could you perhaps put some lines on the time factors. How long does it take on average to process applications coming from people from detention?
MR KARAS: Well over the years, the last three years it has varied from about 67.7 days to 75.1 days for the current financial year. The reason why I mention those days is we have an internal target if I can use that expression, in relation to dealing with detention cases within 70 days of the application coming to the Tribunal. When the application does come to the Tribunal of course we have to go back to the department to get the department file, then the matter is allocated to a member and the member is expected to complete the matter within 70 days of receipt of
MR OZDOWSKI: From the of allocation?
MR KARAS: From the moment of allocation to the member and I am able to say that this past year 2001/2002 financial year, just a little over 73 per cent of the cases were completed within that time period and we're talking about 84 detention applications for that year.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Sorry, they are only the ones involving children.
MR KARAS: Sorry that is what I was referring to or did you mean overall
MR OZDOWSKI: That's fine.
MR KARAS: I was talking about children in detention I thought that was the subject of the Inquiry.
MR OZDOWSKI: And what kind of cases didn't meet that 70 days requirement?
MR KARAS: Sorry when you say what type of case
MR OZDOWSKI: Yes, you said about 70 per cent were finished within the time
MR KARAS: Yes, well others may be extended a little longer on the basis that they were waiting for other information to come in, people may not have been, or the applicants may not have been ready for a hearing if one was being organised. In most cases, in fact I think in all of the cases to which I have been referring to, the 84 cases that we had this year, they have been represented and it may have been also that a representative may not have been ready and the representative may have wanted to make submissions or so but usually there is an onus on members to deliver a decision within 70 days of the matter being allocated to them and as I've said in a little over 73 per cent of the cases we've been able to meet that.
DR OZDOWSKI: What were the longest cases in this category?
MR KARAS: I don't have that in front of me but I don't think - it would have been around about the 100 days or thereabouts.
DR OZDOWSKI: I see, so it's not a question of a year or two, it's a question of
MR KARAS: No, it's not a question of a year or two, in fact I have heard that there have been suggestion that cases with the Tribunal have involved people who have been in detention for a couple of years but that may include, Mr Chairman, the decision having been made by the Tribunal then a delay and it going to the Federal Court and then coming back from the Federal Court to the Tribunal for the matter to be re-heard again or re-dealt with again.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, looking
MS LESNIE: Sorry, could I just ask, do people from the - the detainees in question come to the hearings at the RRT?
MR KARAS: No. In the past
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Detainees come to the hearing
MS LESNIE: So people might be flown from Port Hedland to Sydney or
MR KARAS: No. In the past members had gone to detention centres but now the majority of cases are dealt with by video conferencing facilities. Detention centres do have video conferencing facilities, we do have them at the Tribunal and for that reason they're dealt with in that manner.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: The detainees in Villawood or in Melbourne detention centres would attend in person.
MS LESNIE: Have you noticed any differences in holding hearings by video conference as opposed to in person?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Do you want me to answer that? We've actually been asked that on several occasions particularly when we started doing cases in bulk by video. We were asked by the liaison committee to look at that and if anything what it showed us, the statistics showed that there was a slightly higher success rate for people who had had hearings by video but I don't think it was a particularly significant. But we have looked at that.
DR OZDOWSKI: Your submission notes that in the procedural guide for members you mention this, there is a special chapter which provides otherwise on the consideration of cases involving minors as applicants. Could you let me know when this chapter was included?
MR KARAS: Yes, I could. I think it may have been around 2000 or thereabouts but I stand to be corrected on it and might I inform you, Mr Chairman, that the Tribunal is about to complete guidelines for taking evidence from children. We've been working on that for some months now. It's almost completed, we're just waiting on a couple of more comments to come in from some members or so and when that is completed I'm happy to make a copy available to the Inquiry.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: The procedural guide was October 2001.
MR KARAS: October 2001.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you.
MRS SULLIVAN: In developing those guidelines for questioning children and young people have you used other similar documentation as precedent or have you started with a blank sheet of paper?
MR KARAS: It's been a sort of joint effort between the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal which I'm principal member of the both and the reason for that is that it arises on both Tribunals to take in requests from people or children and as a result of that it was thought best that it be a joint effort and the compilation of the paper I understand may have drawn on these references to cases and things of that type and it's one which we think would adequately cover the circumstances with which we have to deal with.
MRS SULLIVAN: Because there are a number of similar documents in other jurisdictions and I guess my second question is, has that document been sent out to critical friends including some obvious people who were interested in the child advocacy area?
MR KARAS: No, not at this stage. It's been within the Tribunal and as I say we're just waiting on comments from the members as such.
MRS SULLIVAN: Is it the intent to send it to a wider audience?
MR KARAS: It wasn't intended because it's an internal document which would be available for members as a guideline, much as is our member's handbook and the other material as such but we'd be happy to make copies available to you as I said once it's completed, which I expect will be in the next week or two.
DR OZDOWSKI: What practical measures are involved when you are dealing with
MR KARAS: It talks about sensitivities, you know, treating the children with concern and that sort of thing; practical examples, Mr Chairman, of how one can not so much appear friendly but put the person at ease, the child at ease and take into account that it is a child.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did members have any training in this area?
MR KARAS: Members do have training as I mentioned in my opening statement on professional basis as such and we do invite people in from the torture and trauma associations and other similar bodies to address the members from time to time. Paula is involved more heavily than I in that and she may wish to add something.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Certainly there was an emphasis at the last training session of torture and trauma on the issue of taking evidence from minors but it is also emphasised to members that they need to be satisfied that they have been able to obtain information, evidence, freely so that's something that members are very, you know, concerned to do and make sure that they do at hearings; whether it is from adults who have particular requirements or from minors.
DR OZDOWSKI: In your experience of dealing with unaccompanied minors was there sufficient legal assistance provided to them?
MR KARAS: I think in all of the cases that have come before the Tribunal they've always been represented, Mr Chairman.
DR OZDOWSKI: All of them?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: All of them.
DR OZDOWSKI: Now, when you are dealing with minors are you taking into consideration their mental state? We have had much evidence that they are severely traumatised through the detention system. Do you consider it when you're talking to them?
MR KARAS: If you mean do we call for a mental evaluation or so, I would say that as a matter of course that wouldn't be done unless there was something specific in relation to a member conducting a hearing that that person thought that they may have needed some medical evaluations or assessment or so. I don't think in the normal course of events they would.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: You wouldn't necessarily but I mean you would need to be satisfied that their witness is able to give evidence.
MR KARAS: Understand the question, understand the oath and all that sort of thing and if one wasn't then one wouldn't proceed to take evidence from the child one would assume.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: And I think it's important to understand that some of the minors who are listed here having, you know, in detention would be accompanied by their elders, I mean their parents or other older applicants and so you may not need to take evidence necessarily so the fact that there's been 84 cases or so on it may not mean that you've taken evidence from all of those children. You might have taken evidence from the parents for example.
MS LESNIE: How do you decide when you're taking evidence from the children and when from the parents and when both?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Okay. I mean generally the Tribunal member needs to make a decision as to because they have a responsibility to make the relevant inquiries if you've been able to satisfy the inquiries by taking evidence from the adults that is sufficient, well, that's fine. It is for the applicants themselves also to determine who's going to come to the hearing or not, so for example when you would have - you invite applicants to a hearing all the applicants will be nominated but it would be up to them whether they want to attend the hearings so you may have the situation of a family where you have the two adult applicants attending the hearing and the children not necessarily involved.
MS LESNIE: And that will be their decision rather than yours?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Yes. That might be their decision and the Tribunal member for example if there was an issue that they wanted to pursue they may discuss with their adult applicant, I would like to also take evidence from your child. There might be other instances where, you know, you're talking about an infant, there'd be no point in pursuing it.
DR OZDOWSKI: The last question from me before I will ask my Assistant Commissioners to put their questions. I understand that last financial year about 70 per cent of all decisions regarding Afghanis were set aside and about 87 per cent of all decisions relating Iraqis and my understanding is also that when one looks at other ethnic communities only eight per cent of decisions were set aside. Could you explain this major discrepancy regarding decisions from other communities and from Afghani and Iraqi communities?
MR KARAS: Well, as I tried to indicate, each case has to be decided on the individual facts of that particular case as such. I think I did indicate that we don't decide it on the basis of broad groupings and things of that type and I think you will find in looking at the statistics that on occasions there are sort of peaks and troughs, so to speak, when and there are two examples you have given where the particular applicants in those particular circumstances were able to show that from the evidence Australia owed them protection, that was found to be the case; whereas, if you look at other countries and other groupings, sorry, other countries which have applicants or their nationals coming before the Tribunals because of the evidence and the circumstances as presented it's found that Australia doesn't owe them obligations and that can explain the discrepancies in the figures in cases like Iran and Afghanistan where you've mentioned they were particularly high and in other countries, for argument's sake, Fiji or the Philippines, they might be as low as you've indicated or even lower.
MR MANTLE: From a research perspective with regard to Afghanistan, the period you are talking about, the situation was quite volatile, it was fluid, the information coming out of Afghanistan was still of mixed quality. I think certain members were of the opinion that allowing for the information coming out of Afghanistan at that time they weren't convinced that the applicants weren't at risk in returning to Afghanistan.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: The other thing is there is an issue to do also with the applicants themselves. For example, in the case of Malaysia 701 applicants who were invited to appear did not come to a hearing, only 124 applicants came to a hearing, so they are people who have chosen for reasons of their own not to pursue their case beyond the application.
DR OZDOWSKI: But here it looks that the primary decision maker makes mistakes much more often in certain ethnic categories than others.
MR KARAS: Not necessarily. It may be in those circumstances there was more information provided to the member, to the Tribunal, the passage of time allowed them to obtain further documentation. Our country research was able to get information which indicated that perhaps the countries, both of which we referred to weren't as stable as they may have been in the circumstances.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: And changes in law as well.
DR OZDOWSKI: But we are talking about three months difference between primary decision making and the decision you make and looking at Iraq, not really much has changed during the last few years so I don't think that our knowledge would that rapidly evolve.
MR KARAS: As I indicated, we are not there or our role isn't to say that the department got it wrong, ours is to review the applications that come before us on the merits and to look at all the facts and circumstances in relation to it and it maybe, as I've said, that for the reasons of more evidence other documentations, submissions, period of time that elapsed even though it may be a couple of months, things that have come in and the member in dealing with that particular case has come to the conclusion that he or she has.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Mrs Sullivan.
MRS SULLIVAN: I do apologise if these are simple questions because I haven't had time to read the documentation you've just tabled but my questions are based on some experience of another Tribunal and that's the context from which I'm coming. Presumably you receive the files from the Department and to assist you in hearing the case afresh, are you confident that you get all the relevant files?
MR KARAS: Under the legislation the secretary has to provide all the information to the Tribunal which is relevant for our determination as such and normally the whole file is provided.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: That is correct, and if you think that there is another file you can ask for it.
MR KARAS: Always ask.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: You'd find that a lot of the cases, a very large proportion of the cases in detention the applicants themselves are conducting an FOI so they also have access to most of the information before us and they would be able to bring to our attention if there was something else that hey felt wasn't before us.
DR OZDOWSKI: Including the first record of first interview, they can get access to?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: The very first interview not in all cases. Whatever the notes are on the file they would have access to, yes.
MR KARAS: Whatever is on the file.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: You need to sort of discuss that with
MRS SULLIVAN: No, you would have access though to the record of the first interview?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: We can, the first interview after they arrive there's generally, you have access to the notes of the interview; in some cases you may want to go back and have a look at the tape. I just don't know whether they used to have tapes all along or only recently but it might not necessarily be on the file when you get the file and if you want, if you need it you would have to seek it.
MR KARAS: You would have to ask for it.
MRS SULLIVAN: I would have thought that's a fairly basic document that one would look at.
MR KARAS: We don't attach the tapes of our hearings onto the file as such they're held elsewhere.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: There is a record
MRS SULLIVAN: No, I'm talking about in reviewing the case anew one presumably starts at the first point of the process which is that of initial interview.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Not necessarily, I mean the first point of the process is their application for refugee status. The initial interview precedes that. See, they have an interview initially when they first arrive in Australia which is not, is prior to the application for a protection, so yes, we do have access to the tapes of the interview relating to the protection application.
MRS SULLIVAN: And that is a standard part of what you receive?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Yes.
MRS SULLIVAN: But the person themselves doesn't necessarily have that?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: They would have access to that. What they may not have is access to the tape if any of the interview that was made when they first arrived within the first few days of arrival and that is not an interview for the purpose of their application for protection, it precedes that application for protection.
MR KARAS: There's also a statutory requirement on the Tribunal under section 424A which if there's any material which the Tribunal is going to rely on to make a finding against the applicant all that has to be made available to the applicant or their advisers to comment on.
MRS SULLIVAN: Yes, which is again my previous experiences there's an exchange of documents so that the applicant sees everything that you have.
MR KARAS: Yes.
MRS SULLIVAN: And I was just really going to ask that question: does the applicant see every document that is in your possession to assist you in making your decision?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: It may not see every document but it would be made aware of the substance of the documents in your possession. Say for example you might be referring to some country information about a particular group of people, if the information is about the applicant themselves, so if the information is what comes under 424A, that section of the Act, you would need to make the substance, I mean, that's what the law requires us to do, to make the substance of that known and the implications of that so not only are you relating the substance but also you need to point to the implications that that material will have in their case.
MRS SULLIVAN: So it's a judgment of the Tribunal member what in fact is conveyed to the applicant?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Yes, but not to do so, not to actually provide the substance, how the implications that it will have for this particular case would be an error of law so it is very important.
MS LESNIE: How do you do that when someone is in Port Hedland or Curtin?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: You have to do it in writing, that's what the Act requires you to do it so you would send that to them and to their advisers.
MS LESNIE: Are they translated into the language? No. So they all receive them in English?
MRS SULLIVAN: So in terms of the implications the person would need to be able to read English in order to determine what the implications are?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Well, they all have an adviser.
MR KARAS: And they would have access to translated material and if they are at a hearing and they require an interpreter the interpreter will be there and available in the language which they have nominated and during the hearing it may be that the member will refer to the information and say that, look, the information before me, independent information, indicates A, B, C, whereas you said it X, Y, Z, do you have any comment in relation to that, and that is interpreted back to them so they do understand it.
MRS SULLIVAN: I also am not aware of the filing system of the Department, but is there one file, a series of files, what magnitude are we looking at here?
MR KARAS: Well, the folders are sort of manila folders and however much they can take and if there's more information obviously there would be a second and third.
MRS SULLIVAN: And they're located in different places?
MR KARAS: I don't know exactly. I would think with the Department, well they're located somewhere and they are made available to the Tribunal as soon as an application for review is made.
MRS SULLIVAN: Assuming there's a file at the detention centre there may well be a file in central office and there well may be a file at state office, just for one
MR KARAS: I'm not sure about that.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: No, I would assume you need to ask them but I mean my impression is that there is a single file which is the, we see a file.
MR KARAS: We see a file.
DR OZDOWSKI: A composite file.
MR KARAS: No, the file and it will have on the front, sort of notations and initialling and dates where it's gone from me to you, and you to, you know, Dr Thomas, and she's given it to, you know, it goes around and it's all notated and we get that file.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: And it's cross-referenced to anything else that there may be there. On occasions a compliance file may exist or for example if a person who has made a prior application comes to Australia and the country of origin, there might be some notation that allows you to see that a previous application was made in Jordan at some date at which you can request that file.
MR KARAS: You can request that file and that material as well.
MRS SULLIVAN: So do you have a check list as it were on documents that you would expect to see on that file, and does someone in your office check those off and say, well document number 32 is missing from this file?
MR KARAS: No, not in that way. You would expect of course to be an application, documents supporting the application, submissions from the adviser, statements that the individuals may have made, if the department has sought information elsewhere like for argument sake a language analysis or something of that sort but those records would be on the file, yes.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Very importantly what you still have is a record of the decision that was made and that decision contains the list of all the materials that were relied on so I mean, you would have that and you would go back to that decision and have a look so that would highlight any deficiencies if there were any and it isn't, it is not my experience that that is an issue.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thank you. And my final question relates to an issue that we've had drawn to our attention in a number of locations and that's the variation date of birth in a number of documents. My question really is, have you come across this issue and how do you deal with it because it's of particular relevance to unaccompanied minors?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: From time to time I mean it really depends, I mean, we certainly get files that have got all dates in the Iranian calendar for example; another one, applications that have all, have dates in the Christian calendar, I mean normally you go and have a look and if there was a question about a particular date you would seek to understand where the mistake came from, if any, and you would make some allowance for that if it fitted in, I mean, with the case if necessary.
MR KARAS: On occasions you do get official documents that have different dates - when I say official documents one may be from a church or religious authority saying a person was born on such-and-such a day, named, baptised or whatever on that day. Now you get another document which may have a date different either in the year or the month or so, the Tribunal will make such inquiries as it can in relation to it and then it just has to make a decision.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: In a lot of Iraqi cases they have the same date of birth, 1st of August for all people. There was a particular period of time I think because of the issues to do with the bureaucracy there so you would be relying on the year.
PROF THOMAS: When you got to the hearings for family so you would consider they're all in one? So if, say one parent qualifies as a refugee the whole family will receive visas then as refugees?
MR KARAS: If one of the parents did and they were all on the application normally the finding that one person is, sorry, one of the parents is owed a protection obligation from Australia means that the rest do.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: But it is up to the Department, so the Tribunal has to make a finding in relation to all of the applicants. So you have a number of possible outcomes that one applicant is a refugee and the other ones for example, there are no claims on which to make a decision. You may have two applicants make claims and both applicants have been found refugees so two applicants have made claims and only one person has been found to be a refugee, but the other persons have been found to be members of the same family. You may have all the possible combinations of that but then it is up to the Department in the regulations as to what visas accrue as in the case of a family unit.
PROF THOMAS: So, would there be a case when you left say the father with a refugee visa and reject the rest, children?
MS CRISTOFFANINI: The Tribunal may be satisfied of the claims of the person but that doesn't mean to say that they are not going to get visas. For example, you could have a family made up of two adults, both parties have made claims, the Tribunal is satisfied of the claims of one but is not satisfied of the claim of the other party, that is possible.
PROF THOMAS: Because very often you see a case of family, often the father alone is a political activist.
MS CRISTOFFANINI: Sorry?
PROF THOMAS: That's why when children passive
MS CRISTOFFANINI: That's right, in that case your decision would be that no claims were made on behalf of the applicant wife and the applicant children and the Tribunal is in no position to make, to be satisfied as to their need for protection. But the decision as to the visa for the family would be that takes into account the family relationship.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you, Ms Christoffanini, thank you also, for presenting this evidence and we may follow it up with some further questions in writing. Thank you.
MR KARAS: In relation to your question on the Mandaeans, do you just want us to make that information available to your secretariat?
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, to the secretariat to the Inquiry. Thank you very much.
Now, I would like Father Frank Brennan to come forward. Again, Father Brennan, thank you very much for your submission. I would like to ask you to take an oath.
FATHER FRANK TENISON
BRENNAN, sworn [2.53am]
JESUIT PRIEST AND LAWYER, JESUIT REFUGEE SERVICE AND UNIYA, THE JESUIT SOCIAL JUSTICE CENTRE
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you to state for the record your name and qualifications, address and the capacity in which you are appearing here?
FATHER BRENNAN: My name is Frank Tennyson Brennan, I am a Jesuit priest and lawyer and I am appearing for the Jesuit Refugee Service and UNIYA, the Jesuit Social Justice Centre.
DR OZDOWSKI: I made a number of orders to protect the privacy of people, so I would like to ask you in your evidence you are not mentioning the names of refugees or third parties which are involved with the process of the refugee.
FATHER BRENNAN: Of course.
DR OZDOWSKI: I ask you maybe to start with an opening statement.
FATHER BRENNAN: Yes and it may be of assistance if I provide to the Commission three copies of the comprehensive correspondence between myself and the government in relation to the chief matter that I wish to raise.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, we are taking this into evidence, thank you.
FATHER BRENNAN: Since I returned to Australia in January, I've been attending Woomera about every five or six weeks and have had the opportunity to meet with detainees there and I've also been extended the courtesy of ready access to the Minister and his office and there have been, as you will see, extensive communications.
At the outset I would want to state that I have found the DIMIA officers at Woomera unfailingly co-operative and helpful but as the correspondence highlights, I think there are significant problems institutionally in terms of DIMIA in its operations in Canberra, particularly for the protection of children. If I might just make some overview remarks before coming to the particular case study which I think highlights my concerns.
Just following upon what has been observed by the Refugee Review Tribunal it would be appreciated by members that a very large percentage of those in detention are people from Afghanistan and Iraq and, of course, anyone in detention will lodge an appeal if they lose at the first instance. Therefore, there is a mentality in place like Woomera, particularly amongst the Afghans and Iraqis that the Australian process is something of a lottery because the determination and set aside rate between the primary decision-making phase and the Refugee Review Tribunal phase is not at all credible.
The further observation to make is that if you go for example, to the statistics the Minister quoted to parliament most recently on 26 June when now almost half of those in detention, as he says, are persons who have been through all processes, been rejected and are simply waiting to go back home. The significant problem, particularly for Iraqis and Palistinians is they can't go back home and there is, of course, as Commissioners would be aware, very good legal arguments to say that the detention itself is unlawful as being unconstitutional in accordance with the provisions of Lim's case, no doubt that will be tested in the near future.
But when you have a situation of detention of children and families where there is no prospect of the issue of a visa and there is no prospect of people going home, you are dealing with a far more traumatic situation than simply waiting in detention for a visa. Set against that background I would like now to come in my opening statement to deal with a particular case which I think highlights some of the endemic problems that do exist.
So, I want to present a case study in the assault of a 7 year-old child at Woomera with baton and tear gas, the failure of all authorities to investigate adequately, zealotry and dilatory behaviour of DIMIA concerned more with media management and spin doctoring rather than care of children in detention and the institution of the system to honour the dignity of a mother and child in detention. So, I state categorically that in my opinion amounts to institutionalised child abuse.
You'll see in what I have set out before with the chronology of the events that occurred on Good Friday night and into Holy Saturday morning. I happened to be in Woomera that day in my capacity as a priest conducting a church service, so I was rather happy I must say, that I was trapped there in detention for some hours and was able to witness at first hand some of the events that occurred.
I then returned on the following Tuesday and learnt various things, including being told by various people, including persons in authority, that unfortunately had been hit by tear gas during that melee in Woomera. I then met with a young woman, a single mother about whom I'll speak more later, who came to me with her young child who was aged 7 and I was shown the bruises to the child on the left leg and the lower right ankle which were quite consistent with the mother and child's account, mainly that the child had been hit with a baton.
As you'll be aware and I'll table it with you, there was then, well, I then wrote at length to the Minister the next day, who wouldn't, an Australian citizen observing this sort of behaviour in contemporary Australia. The next day a medical report was made at the ACM Medical Centre which notes, as I put in my report to you:
Bruise of a few days during duration on the medial aspect of the left knee and abrasion and small bruise on the right shin.
Some days then passed, in fact two weeks and it was only some days later that DIMIA had posted on its web site after I'd made my first public comment about this issue a couple of weeks after having provided the minister with all the relevant information where DIMIA on its web site stated that:
Contrary to Father Brennan's claims, the Department had no report of injuries to a 7 year-old child.
And consistent with DIMIA's approach on these matters, made much of the fact that there had been injuries to 17 ACM officers. It then went on, I think fairly gratuitously, to state:
If Father Brennan has information or evidence of mis-treatment of detainees he should report it to the appropriate authorities for investigation.
Under the Westminster system one would have thought that the Minister was the appropriate authority. I then sought correction of the government web site on 22 April, as you'll see from the correspondence, particularly item 6, it took three days for that matter then to be withdrawn from the web site. Unfortunately DIMIA didn't withdraw the letter from publication of the Canberra Times, so there was then a public exchange of letters between us in the Canberra Times.
After my response on 29 April, then for the first time, there was a pro-active response by the Minister's Office, the Minister's Chief-of-Staff, as you see from item 7 of the correspondence or point 10 in my chronology wrote saying that the DIMIA officer was correct in asserting that:
There were no reported injuries of detainee children at Woomera, you assert differently.
So, you will note that there was something of a semantic discussion going on as to whether or not there were injuries rather than reports of injuries though, of course, it should be noted at this stage, back on 3 April, the ACM medical officer had presumably already lodged the relevant documents. Then later on that day, in fact at 9 pm, obviously there had been some further researches going on after discussions between myself and the Minister's Office.
I was informed, as you see there in point 11, that there was indeed a record of injuries to a 11 year-old child. I didn't profess any expertise in being able to identify whether the child was 7 or 11, the mother had told me he was 7 and he looked 7 to me and then, as you see, next day there was confirmation that there were medical records which in fact related to a 7 year-old child. Then having received the request to provide the name of the child and the parent, I did that after getting the relevant permission from the mother to provide that information.
I then saw it as necessary to lodge a letter of complaint with Mr Farmer, the Secretary of DIMIA on 6 May and it should be noted that though it only took 6 hours for DIMIA in Canberra to post a public letter of response to me, namely, that:
There was no information or evidence available and if Father Brennan had relevant information, he should provide it to the appropriate authorities.
Here we are 60 days later and it's still not been possible to deal with that complaint. There was a personal apology given me by the Minister for which I'm very grateful, at our meeting on 3 June. I then went to Woomera last Wednesday and was very troubled when I then met again with the mother of the child and we spoke at some length and I told her about this Inquiry which was being conducted and she was anxious that she would be able to make a statement and so what I have with me is a letter which she has signed and the medical report from ACM dated 3 April and also the calling card of the South Australian police and I will duly table those but, if I may, I would simply like to quote the relevant extracts of the letter at the moment:
My son was with me in Oscar Compound during the disturbance in the early hours of Saturday, 30 March. He and I were both hit by tear gas even though we were not trying to escape. I was blinded for about a minute and I took my son to my chest and embraced him to protect me. I started to move away from the scene with my son. Then an ACM guard came and bowed over me and struck my son with a baton. On Tuesday, 2 April, I told my story to Fr Frank Brennan and the lawyers at Woomera. I then went to the doctor on Wednesday, 3 April. The doctor made a report which I attach to this letter. I asked the lawyers to make a complaint.
You will have also noted that the Minister's Chief of Staff indicated in her correspondence that a complaint was duly being lodged with the state authorities.
One and a half months later two policemen came to see me. I told them what happened to my son. They said they would return with an interpreter from Adelaide and with Federal Police and someone from Childrens Services and with a camera for interview with my son.
DR OZDOWSKI: Two Federal policemen?
FR BRENNAN: No, well, as I understood her, it was that they were two State policemen and that they would be returning later with Federal police with Children's Services. You'll note that she sometimes uses different terms for these state authorities, but that's not surprising, she's in Woomera and English of course is not her first language.
- and with a camera for interview with my son. Then about one week later and before the United Nations came to visit Woomera I was interviewed by a named policeman of the South Australian Police about the incident. He said he was the boss of the other police that would come. He said it was not the responsibility of Federal Police because they would come only for damaged property. He said Child Service would not come because their responsibility is child abuse and relationships between children and parents. He gave me a card with a reference number on it. He recorded our conversation.
He was interested only in the events which occurred on the evening of Friday, 29 March. He told me that the doctor and ACM had not made any report of my son's injury to Children's Services. I asked him about my rights. He told me you can't do anything because you are captive in here and when you get out and get your visa you can continue your protest and maybe you can get your rights. He asked whether I saw who hit my son. I said I did not see because the guard was wearing a mask.
You'll appreciate that night that all of the guards were wearing head to toe American style riot gear.
He said we can't catch him because you didn't see him. I said it's not important who hit my son, just it's important that ACM action that they hit children because it's their habit in our compound.
She then explains that she was not available at Woomera when the UN or when HREOC came. She said:
I trusted the government to protect my son. I hope my complaint can help other mothers and children. I'm only a single mother in detention who wants the government to care for us.
So I table her letter and the medical report and also the calling card from the South Australian Police. The only response which I have received from government on this is of course the Minister's letter to me of 3 June. It is a letter which was undated but which was handed to me by the Minister at our most recent meeting on 3 June and you'll note that the Minister at no stage in the letter refers to this particular case but does make much of the fact that there is a memorandum of understanding between state authorities and federal authorities on these matters.
My observations by way of concluding this opening statement would be that though it took DIMIA less than six hours to publish a false refutation of the claims of assault which had been formally communicated in writing to the Minister two weeks before. After 60 days the Department has still not communicated the results of its inquiry into the alleged breach of the APS Code of Conduct by its Director of Public Affairs. The MOU with the state government and the permanent working party of senior departmental officers have not affected a satisfactory investigation of this instance of institutionalised child abuse.
Given the change to the case load at Woomera with most now being rejectees with nothing to gain and nothing to lose and the despair inculcated in this remnant group of detainees now less than 200, and you must appreciate of course that Woomera is now a very different place from having had something like 1500 people there, many of whom now have been released on visas, now with a remnant of a population many of whom are particularly the Iraqis and Palestinians, are people who have been rejected and, for example, the Palestinians now who have written letters four months in a row to the Minister saying please get us out of Australia.
So you have to understand how angry and upset they get in that detention when they hear public statements by government saying these people are not refugees and they can go home whenever they like. These Palestinians by way of aside would dearly love to rejoin their wives and children on the Gaza Strip but they're not allowed or able to do so and are simply held in detention without any form of judicial review. So it does seem that in this sort of instance it's even more necessary that the Department ensure adequate investigation of complaints such as the administration of baton and tear gas to a seven year old child and I would have thought that an apology be offered by the Department and ACM for the needless, witting or unwitting, assault, obfuscation and cover-up which have ensued.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much.
MS LESNIE: Could I ask have you drawn this case to our attention because it's an unusual situation or do you see it as an example of other things that are going on in Woomera?
FR BRENNAN: No. I mean I'm not saying that this is part of an ongoing pattern of behaviour. I mean I've already attested to, I think, the good offices of the DIMIA people at Woomera and I think many of the ACM people who work at Woomera are very dedicated, particularly to this remnant population. As you'd understand there's a certain bonding which has grown up between these people who are now a remnant group and the staff who are there. Now all of us who go there hear of course anecdotal evidence about abuses that occur and whether or not there has been a ready investigation of those matters. I'm not apprised of evidence about those matters. This is a particular case which came to my attention which I have seen through fairly scrupulously and I think the paper trail highlights what is a systematic problem of fairly overwhelming proportions.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, that's exactly what I wanted to ask you, how would you characterise the systematic conclusions of that particular case and in the light of your experience of six weekly visits over time?
FR BRENNAN: Well, I think I can best explain that by my state of mind when I met with the mother last Wednesday. I'd actually been overseas for the best part of two months so there'd been some gap between my visits to Woomera on this occasion. I had fully expected given as you in the Commission would be aware DIMIA out of Canberra is fairly thorough in its dealing with public relations on these sorts of issues that where a citizen, myself, has come forward and said I have seen the bruises on the child and there is a medical report by ACM which is consistent with it and there have been reports by people in authority that sadly the wind was blowing the wrong way on Good Friday night and yes it's very regrettable the children were hit by tear gas. The thought that that sort of incident would have occurred you would think that institutionally there would be a commitment to investigate thoroughly to have the matter rectified and to make it very clear that it was an isolated incident. Whereas I think if I may say what we've seen is simply an elaborate exercise in spin doctoring.
DR OZDOWSKI: I visited Woomera twice. I visited Woomera about a year ago and last time about two weeks ago and I must say in comparison with what I saw last year now the situation it's much more depressing, at least that's my judgment. Would it coincide with your judgment that the situation was worse there?
FR BRENNAN: Yes, and it must be self evidently so, sir, in that as I said before there is a world of difference between a family being in detention in a place like Woomera where they have an expectation or a hope that the day will come where they're given a visa or where the overwhelming percentage of the population there are in that situation, but now that is not the situation with the overwhelming percentage of those who are now a remnant of a major group who came and they know with no more boats coming basically they are the left over of a policy which was instituted basically to be that which is punitive and deterrent but where it is said that it is not that.
DR OZDOWSKI: Going back to January this year there were also some riots and quite a amount of lip sewing happening, were you visiting?
FR BRENNAN: Yes I was. At that time you will recall there had been a significant delay in the processing of Afghan claims and the minister, to give him credit, at that time made it clear that there would be a prompt renewal of the processing of Afghan claims and many of the people then were granted their visas within that foreseeable future.
DR OZDOWSKI: There were also allegations made partly, well there was also controversy which was saying that the parents were assisting children to sew their lips. Do you know of any evidence that the parents either assisted or encouraged children in the lip sewing exercise?
FR BRENNAN: No. The only thing I was ever told or ever heard was very insistent remarks by parents and by what they call the delegates, that is, those who would be representing the various ethnic groups in their dealings with ACM and with DIMIA insisting that at no stage did parents either counsel or advise or recommend or urge children to do so but that, rather, children of their own accord wanted in solidarity to act with their parents.
DR OZDOWSKI: Coming to Easter riots where you were a participant, could you describe what happened and especially say how children were involved or unwilling with participating in it and children, I mean up to 18 years old?
FR BRENNAN: Yes, well, I emerged from the church service which was being held in a donga, probably only about 30 or 40 feet from where the fence was then being broken down. We were then ushered out to a space where those who had attended the church were Christians and Sabean Mandaeans. There were some of the Sabean Mandaeans then who were not able to return to their compound and waited in dread and fear while ACM - see what you have in these sorts of situations are if you like the goodies and the baddies where you have, of course, the ACM riot gear in place but also you have those who are ACM staff who are there to try and settle particularly mothers and children.
Now, there were attempts being made to return some of these people to their compound but that was not possible because there was one man, who I understand to have been a Sabean Mandaean, was very upset that these other Sabean Mandaeans had actually joined the Christians on Good Friday and he truly was going berserk and he was a man known to have a very violent disposition. I was then sitting with a number of children as the water tank, the spray cannot water truck, was backed up ready to deal with this man and then about six of these men in riot gear went in to deal with him.
While that went on there were two men bare chested who went to the top of a nearby donga, stripped off above the waist and with razor blades were threatening to do further injury to themselves. Now the trauma being caused to children watching that sort of thing, all I can say is, it was traumatic enough for me. I suspect that for some of the children it might not have been quite as traumatic because they'd been exposed to so much of it. There were then some children who started to play up and the ACM officers were saying that basically they should stay there and not try and return to any other compound.
I saw one child put on a tantrum and start to attack - a very small child - started to attack an ACM officer saying to the mother, the only way you get a visa is by putting on that sort of performance. So it's a very unreal sort of world and yes, that was the sort of window of opportunity that I had to see something of the sort of mindset which at play.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you see women being restrained in a particular fashion?
FR BRENNAN: No, because we'd been taken out of the compound where the breakout was occurring and it was not possible to see actually there at that time.
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you see any action by officials to remove children from the area which was threatened?
FR BRENNAN: No, but I was unable to see that area, as I said. What you have to understand about Woomera, of course, is that it is discrete compounds which are not only isolated from each other but the visual capacity to see into the compounds is very slight.
DR OZDOWSKI: In your opinion, considering all your visits, is that system fixable?
FR BRENNAN: No, well, everyone knows that Woomera is, I mean, it's a psychological hell hole. There is now the new facility that's been opened. The so-called IDAG, sometimes called the Independent Detention Advisory Group, the Immigration Detention Advisory Group, has as I have understood, recommended since January that Woomera be closed and every right thinking person who has been to Woomera I think is of that view, myself included, but the minister at this stage has not seen fit to indicate the appropriateness of the closure of Woomera.
DR OZDOWSKI: What I ask wasn't Woomera specifically but about the mandatory detention system which was put in place in this country, whether it's fixable.
FR BRENNAN: No, I don't think it's fixable. As the Minister well knows, I'm one of those Australians who is implacably opposed to a detention principle but given that it presently enjoys broad bipartisan support in our Parliament I think that those of us who are the minority are well entitled, and that's why I welcome an Inquiry of this sort, to say as I have said to the Minister, we may well have a system of detention that everyone would agree that it should be transparent, fair, it should not be capricious and it should as far as possible respect the human rights and dignity of persons. I think even those who support a detention policy, there are many of those Australians who would be appalled at the thought that in 2002 a seven year old kid can be hit by tear gas and baton and there can then be a comprehensive cover up by Canberra.
DR OZDOWSKI: The last question before I will ask my Assistant Commissioners to ask you questions. Basically, what in your view is the reason for such a lengthy detention? When I came to my job I think the average was about eight months; that went down to about three and a half months, then it bubbled again to eight, ten months, now possibly it's God knows how long. What are the reasons for this?
FR BRENNAN: Well, I think you have to look at it at each discrete phase. There have obviously been delays in terms of processing primary decision making, particularly with Afghans and that was understandable as we heard from RRT people there before. Then the next phase from primary decision making phase to RRT I would have thought that the very isolation of these places must be a reason which has contributed to a further delay if these people were being held in detention facilities such as Villawood or whatever, where there would be far more access by RRT members.
I would have thought that could be done more quickly and then, given the lottery nature of that initial process particularly for Afghans and Iraqis, then of course the desperate desire to try anything including Federal Court remedies is there and what we now see, of course, is the delay is not because people are waiting for anything to happen in terms of migration processes, it's simply that in order to maintain a universal detention system the government has to continue to play the bluff with the Australian public that those who have been rejected, for example the Iraqis and Palestinians are being held in detention for a legitimate migration purpose.
They are not being held there for anything of the sort. They know their identity, they know they are not a security risk, they know they are not a health risk, they know where to find them, particularly if they've got little kids, they could be released into the community tomorrow until it is safe for them to return to Iraq or Palestine. Now, for the moment of course it is unthinkable that we would return people to Iraq when we have a Government that says that it will be party to any future war.
DR OZDOWSKI: Could you let me know, do you know of any data indicating the risk of absconding - of families seeking asylum in other developed democracies?
FR BRENNAN: No, I don't, I'm sorry.
DR OZDOWSKI: You don't know off-hand? Thank you. Professor Thomas?
PROF THOMAS: So, with all of your knowledge do you have any suggestion for an alternative solution to detention centres?
FR BRENNAN: Yes - close them. But, given that that will not be happening, what is essential is that, for example, if there be a credible complaint made to the Minister for Immigration that a seven year old child has been hit with tear-gas and a baton. Rather than have departmental officials engage in some media campaign to try and discredit the credibility of the Australian citizen who happened to have the misfortune of seeing the child, why not get on with ensuring that there is a full and credible investigation. And ensuring that something, even in writing, is given to the mother of the child so as to be assured that, you may be being held in detention but you are not completely deprived of your human rights in this sort of situation.
PROF THOMAS: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Mrs Sullivan?
MRS SULLIVAN: You said a couple of times that "that won't happen". That there won't be in fact a major sea-change in the approach that is taken. Is there any way to break the impasse that you can see? Given that it has been created.
FR BRENNAN: Well, I think we are now moving beyond the purpose of our Inquiry today. But it does seem to me that, yes, the obligation which is cast upon citizens such as myself who disagree with the policy - which basically enjoys bi-partisan support in our Parliament - is that we have to come up with something which is seen to be more workable and more decent.
Now, the problem is that the mind-set which has developed in Australia is because, ironically, it is such a small problem. Namely, 1 to 4000 people a year turning up by boat because we are an island continent - that it is such a small nut that we can design a sledge-hammer to crack it.
We are not in the situation that you would be in Europe of having tens of thousands of asylum seekers. Where, of course, it would be unthinkable to be putting so many children in detention. And of course in third-world countries it is absolutely inconceivable that precious resources would be spent on putting children in detention. And so what we are left with is I think the unique Australian situation where we pride ourselves that we've designed a system which works because now no-one else is coming, but we are left with this remnant and we continue to pride ourselves that it's decent. I defy anyone to go to a place like Woomera and to meet these mothers and children in these situations and think it is decent.
MRS SULLIVAN: Thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Just one last question. We spoke, not that long ago, to all parents and children in Woomera and also in other detention centres. We didn't speak to the mother of the seven year old child which was bashed over there. Could you perhaps let me know, did the mother mention why she couldn't see us, or what has happened?
FR BRENNAN: Yes, she was in hospital.
DR OZDOWSKI: She was in hospital on that day. Well, Father Brennan, thank you very much.
FR BRENNAN: In hospital suffering as the result it might be said of the trauma which in part had resulted from this incident.
DR OZDOWSKI: Well, Father Brennan, thank you very much for your submission and thank you for your appearance. I would like to ask Dr Eileen Pittaway to come forward. Yes, welcome to the hearings. I would like to ask you to take an oath or affirmation.
DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRE FOR REFUGEE RESEARCH, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES and BOARD MEMBER OF THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE ON REFUGEE WOMEN
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Could I ask you to state your name, address, qualifications and the capacity in which you are appearing at the hearing?
DR PITTAWAY: My name is Eileen Pittaway. I reside in [address removed]. My qualification is PhD in Social Policy Refugee Studies. I am the Director of the Centre for Refugee Research at the University of New South Wales and Board Member of the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women, and those two bodies have jointly submitted to this Inquiry.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. Just to remind you that I made a number of orders in respect of privacy of individuals. In particular I would like to ask you not to identify asylum seekers either by name or in any other way. Similarly, please do not identify third parties and that includes employees of ACM and DIMIA. Now, could I ask you to make an opening statement and in particular I would like to ask you to say a few words about the nature of your experience with children in detention or children who left detention centres? And I would like you to tell the Inquiry how much direct knowledge do you have of the situation.
DR PITTAWAY: Thank you. The submission that we have made is based on the work that both ANCORW and the Centre for Refugee Research has done with children who have been in detention but we have not worked directly in detention centres. So, our experience is with children who have been in detention and are now in the community.
Most of our work is research work, we are a research centre. We became particularly concerned when we were doing research into the mental health sequela for children - refugee children who had suffered from torture and trauma. Or, worse, members of families who had suffered severe torture and trauma prior to resettlement in Australia. This was done at the request of the mothers of the children. We'd been working for a long while with mothers when they asked, in particular, could we focus on the children who were experiencing a lot of problems in the community.
We decided that we would look at the experience of children through the people who have the prime contact with them. Mainly school-teachers, school counsellors, local community centre workers and doctors. In doing that research which was in refugee children in general, one of the unexpected findings of the research was th comment made by just about every professional we spoke to, that it was their opinion that the children who had been in detention were having many more problems in resettlement in Australia than other refugee children who came direct.
So, I think what we are doing is trying to respond to points (4) and (6) in the terms of reference of the Inquiry. The impact of detention on the well-being and healthy development of children, and additional methods and safeguards which may be required to protect the rights and best interests of child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the community after a period of detention. The research we did certainly did suggest that the children who had been in detention had grave problems in resettlement and there was a time lag in this.
I must say at this stage that we were not funded to do this research and have so far failed to raise the funding to do the research we think must be done into this area. It was one of those circumstances where in interviewing some hundred professionals working with refugee children some 70 per cent of them made comments about the children who they knew had been in detention. So it became, as often in research, one of those secondary findings that was unexpected. We also work extensively with refugee women, refugee families through the networks of the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women.
I'll just give two examples, perhaps, about the sorts of things that we are concerned about. General reports back from teachers and school counsellors is that refugee children who have been in detention much more tend to be exemplary students for the first year after release from detention. At that stage it is sort of supports the notion of resilience. The refugee children - you know children are like rubber-balls - they bounce back whatever we dish out to them and they'll be all right. But after about a year and often on an inverse ratio to the settlement of the parent the children in detention started exhibiting quite severe behaviours - dysfunctional behaviours. It was also noted that when they started to play the play was often play modelling violence, modelling conflict and that they found it very difficult to make relationships with other children in the playground. This is of course of great concern to us.
One of the other findings from that research which alerted us to the problems was that while we as researchers could identify a list of sequela of this. We could identify a list of indicators, benchmarks. We could write books for teachers and counsellors which we did saying, if you see these behaviours these are the sorts of things you might need to do. You need to refer the children on. When it came to making listings of the places where we could refer the children for assistance in the community there was virtually nothing. The services that are available are excellent but are so over-stretched that the children are not able to access them. And I think this is a violation of their basic human rights.
A classic example is one family we had who had been in detention - it was a woman with five daughters. They had watched - been forced to watch at gun-point in their country of origin the father and brother shot. They had all been raped, including the seven and eight year and 18 months later we still couldn't get them any counselling assistance and the whole family was suffering from the affects of their experience. Plus the experience of having been in detention in Australia prior to being released into the community, it doesn't take an Einstein I think to realise the long term effects that it is going to have on children. We are currently working with a family with three children, one of the girls is 17, they are out of detention, they were in Woomera for nearly two years. On the way over, their journey was horrendous, they escaped from Afghanistan, they lived in a hell camp in Pakistan, both of the teenage girls were raped in the camp.
They escaped using a people smuggler and in great danger, they landed in Indonesia. They came over in a leaky boat, the mother who was five months pregnant had a miscarriage on the boat and the children had to help her dispose of the foetus overboard. They came to Australia and were put into detention and they tell us how all the time the children said to the father, father why are you doing this to us, why are you making us come, why are you bringing us to this camp, why are you putting us on this boat and the whole time the father said because Australia is a good country, Australia is the country where we will be cared for, Australia is the country of human rights.
They were put in Woomera where they - again we know what the sorts of experiences happened, they were forced to see suicide attempts, they were in riots. The mother has not spoken since she's been in Australia. They have not been out of detention for a year and have been informed by an official, and I don't know who the official is, that they are having to prepare to go back to Afghanistan.
The girl who is the main spokesperson for the family who is 17 and is doing extremely well considering everything, at school and wants to continue, has been told by her father, if they are going to force us to go back then you have to leave school with your brothers and sisters and work because we've got no money, everything is destroyed when we go back you'll need work.
The mother has not only not spoken since she lost the child but has apparently not stopped crying since they've been told they've got to go back, so that 17 year old girl is carrying the family and trying to study and we do not have services in the community to help those people. The services we have are so overstretched and so inadequate that I think the whole range of human rights have been violated for those families and many other like them.
MR OZDOWSKI: There are two issues I would like to ask you and then I will ask Professor Thomas to ask questions about mental health. Your submission stated that when you sought information from employees and asylum seekers, they were unwilling to be identified. Could you tell me what was the reason why they were not willing to be identified?
MS PITTAWAY: They said that they thought that they would be deported immediately.
MR OZDOWSKI: So they were fearing the Department of Immigration punishing them for going public on the issues?
MS PITTAWAY: Yes. There is in particular one case where the mother informed us that her three teenage sons had been padlocked to a bed, in two beds in solitary confinement for giving cheek to guards in detention. She had
MR OZDOWSKI: I don't understand, could you
MS PITTAWAY: The guards in the detention centre
MR OZDOWSKI: It happened in the detention centre?
MS PITTAWAY: Yes - had claimed that the boys had been very cheeky to them and therefore they handcuffed them to beds.
MR OZDOWSKI: For three days?
MS PITTAWAY: For three days.
MR OZDOWSKI: In which detention centre did it happen?
MS PITTAWAY: In Woomera.
MR OZDOWSKI: In Woomera.
MS PITTAWAY: Now we tried - we asked, we told them the only way we could do anything about this was to get her to make a statement. It wasn't just our organisation, there are a number of people who know about this case, she absolutely refused, she said no, I am out now, I am at least safe in the community for a while, if I say anything against the department, it was her belief that she would be deported and be punished.
We have other cases who have said the same, I guess as research is one of our biggest frustrations is trying to verify massive anecdotal evidence. We have people who have come out of detention and the fact that we are not allowed in. It is so difficult to get permission to do proper research in detention so we have all of this evidence that we cannot verify in any way that would satisfy either the academic or the bureaucratic community that what we are saying is valid.
MR OZDOWSKI: The second question I've got is that DIMIA submission claims that Woomera alternative detention project is a success. You disagree with this?
MS PITTAWAY: Absolutely.
MR OZDOWSKI: Could you give us the reasons why?
MS PITTAWAY: I think that it was supposed to be based on the Swedish model and whereby the women and children were released into the community, welcoming community in an urban centre with their own community nearby, whereas the women and children at Woomera were released into what some have described as a hostile environment. The conditions were perhaps better than the detention centre but in other ways very restrictive and a lot of the local people were also hostile being detained.
MR OZDOWSKI: How do you know about it?
MS PITTAWAY: Again it is anecdotal evidence from people who have come through from there and who have worked there in the community.
MR OZDOWSKI: Thank you. Professor Thomas?
PROF THOMAS: You talk about people that in your case, like the family with the two girls who have no help, have you contacted the service of treatment and rehabilitation of torture and trauma survivors?
MS PITTAWAY: Yes. They are an excellent service but they are overworked.
PROF THOMAS: It looked like the case that you just mentioned - that it the very kind of case that should have priority.
MS PITTAWAY: Yes but one of the problems there is that as new waves of people arrive, we don't have enough interpreters available for the services to be given. So it is not just a case of providing the medical service, it is a case of also ensuring that we have the trained interpreters ready at any given time to be able to interpret at the level needed to do the sort of counselling that would have been necessary for those families. They are the sorts of resource issues that get in the way the whole time.
PROF THOMAS: In your submission you talk about the principle that the children had inbuilt resilience so what is your view about that now?
MS PITTAWAY: I think that children are resilient if they are given the proper supports so to say children are not resilient would be to say that once they'd been through these experiences they would never recover. I think research dating right back to the time of the Holocaust, indicates that if children are given the proper supports in the community and if their parents were given the proper supports because so often the traumatised children have traumatised parents, so that the normal supports for a child who has problems are not there.
If their supports are built in, intensively, and it seems to be not. Long term research indicates that if it is intensively done, for instances in the first year of need then resilience comes into play and in particular children recover. If that support is not there then the children's resilience is not, it doesn't do anything for them.
PROF THOMAS: So what would be your hypothesis about the long term effect on these children who have just been released now from detention centres?
MS PITTAWAY: It is my hypothesis that if we don't acknowledge first of all prior to arrival in Australia, the majority of them live through certainly traumatic experiences, many of them witness torture and many of the older children were raped or sexually abused, I think we have to acknowledge those facts and that the detention experience exacerbates that trauma, adds to it, often just by being there adds to that trauma but children who have been through horrendous experiences need supportive families and the very structure of detention takes away family support possibilities, parents are not allowed to parent naturally or normally in detention.
So you are taking away all of the structures that would at normal times keep families together. We are talking about the children who have been traumatised. If those children come out into the community where they are going to meet racism, problems at school because of language, and still the same problems of trauma, if those issues are not addressed, I think those children have a very poor chance of growing and resettling or staying whole enough here to be resettle back after the termination of their TBP than if we put in some support services. If we want these children to go up and be resilient we have to put in support services and I think that is a human right which they deserve.
PROF THOMAS: But say we have all the support services, what can we do about the public opinion, the racism, the hostility in the community that you mention?
MS PITTAWAY: I think that's a matter of public education and while the Premiers Department from New South Wales has just made available to our centre funding to do education kits for primary and secondary schools to help combat this racism and opinion. I think they are the only sorts of things at the moment that we can do.
PROF THOMAS: Do you apply for Living in Harmony projects?
MS PITTAWAY: Yes.
PROF THOMAS: So what did you have as a suggestion for an alternative? What kind of recommendation can we make to have a reasonable chance of success?
MS PITTAWAY: That's a difficult one. Our position is very much that we think that there should not be detention of families, full stop. We do not believe that women and children should be separated from fathers or other family members. I think again there is sufficient research going right back to the holocaust that that is detrimental to families and to children's future development. I personally do not see a good way of detaining families in closed detention especially isolated from their own communities. We would strongly recommend systems such as are implemented in Sweden where there is very much community surveillance of families in detention and some very minimal form of detention as people arrive. But in terms of improvements in detention we just don't see it as a possibility, thank you.
DR OZDOWSKI: Any concluding statement?
MS PITTAWAY: No.
DR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much for your evidence and submission and good luck with your research.
SHORT BREAK [3.42pm]
DR OZDOWSKI: So we are starting the late afternoon session and I would like to welcome Dr John Pace to come forward to give evidence. Could I ask you to make an oath or affirmation.
JOHN PACE, AFFIRMED
DIRECTOR, AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE AND DELEGATE OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ON A MISSION TO NAURU
DR OZDOWSKI: Could I ask you to state your name, address, qualification and capacity in which you are appearing for the record?
MR J. PACE: My name is, John Pace. I live at number [address removed]. I am here in my capacity as director of the Australian Human Rights Centre and as delegate of Amnesty International on a mission to Nauru in November 2001.
DR OZDOWSKI: I made a number of orders to protect the privacy of individuals and to protect children in particular if you like. So I would like to ask you not to identify any asylum seekers in your submission and also I would like to ask you that the identity of third parties is not disclosed and this includes also current or former employees at detention centres. Mr Pace, could I ask you now to make an introductory statement.
MR PACE: Thank you very much, Mr Commissioner, I would like to inform the Commission that in November 2001 on the request of Amnesty International I conducted a mission to the island of Nauru to observe the conditions of detention of the asylum seekers that had been transported there on two shipments. The first shipment being those who arrived on the Australian Naval Vessel, the "Manora" and a second shipment being transported to Nauru by the Australian Navy Vessel, the "Tobruk".
I remained in Nauru for one week and in the course of my mission I had the opportunity of being received by the chief secretary of the Government of the Republic of Nauru as well as the head of the office of the International Organisation for Migration and his deputy who was in charge of the refugee camps. In the course of my mission I conducted interviews with the interviewing teams from the UNHCR and from DIMIA and had occasion to access and speak freely with the asylum seekers every day of my visit.
As a result of my visit I drew up a report and I sent it to Amnesty in London. Accompanying my report were a number of attachments including the official agreements and documents signed by Australia and the Republic of Nauru as well as the exchange of notes which were both entered into by the Republic of Nauru and the IOM and the Republic of Nauru and the UNHCR as well as other related agreements such as the tripartite agreement between the Australian Protection Services, the Nauru Police Force and the IOM.
In addition to the written report that I made to Amnesty and the attachments thereto, I received from the asylum seekers written statements in their own language. Namely, Arabic and Dari, in which they described to me the conditions, their experiences of their shipment from the vessel in which they had arrived in the waters or in the territory of Australia, between that transition and the arrival on Nauru.
These documents have also been submitted to Amnesty International and translations have been made. They have not been made public as far as I am aware, Mr Commissioner. More recently I was invited by Amnesty International to appear at a Senate hearing on "a certain maritime incident." On that occasion I took the opportunity of indicating the existence of the statements which described the conditions of the shipment of these people as seen by them. Which include of course references to children and treatment of children.
As on that occasion and their admissability I suppose will have to be determined by this Commission, especially in the light of what the directives you have issued. But in this context I think it would be appropriate to cite the statement of the Senate Committee in the context of this indication that I had given them on 1 May 2002. The chairman essentially suggested that I do not proceed with the submission of the statements because - and here I read page CMI1462 of the Hansard. He says to me that:
It is a possible contempt of the Senate if a witness would be damaged in any way by someone because of evidence they gave before a Senate Committee. That is put on the record daily. But these people are beyond our jurisdiction, and we therefore have no power to do that. What has caused us to pause is that DIMIA will not guarantee that if things are adduced in these proceedings, from people who are offshore outside our jurisdiction, they will not take them into consideration. In those circumstances, we are on a warning that these things may be taken into consideration and it is just a question of balancing that.
The result or the upshot of this was that I then of course in the interest of protecting the asylum seekers desisted from handing the statements. These statements make up about 69 pages in the original languages. They complete my report to Amnesty International. I could stop here by way of opening.
DR OZDOWSKI: Maybe for the moment just to let you know I requested the Department of Immigration to facilitate a visit of this inquiry to both Nauru and Mannus and I am awaiting the response. Also part of my concern is that the Commission very rarely receives any communications from either Nauru or Mannus. We certainly would welcome more information about what is happening over there. So perhaps if I could ask you to use the remaining time to focus on children in Nauru conditions there and advise this inquiry what is happening over there.
MR PACE: Thank you very much, Commissioner. When I was there there were 129 children out of the 795 asylum seekers in the two camps. They ranged in age from a few weeks old to
DR OZDOWSKI: Some born over there?
MR PACE: Some born over there. One I saw was newly born and there was a lady apparently who was in labour at that time. There was also they ranged up to the age of 16,17. Among them there were in one camp alone, eight unaccompanied minors who I met personally and who explained to me how they got there and why they were there. But the overall observation I made in regard to the treatment of the asylum seekers which is in regard to the sense of hopelessness and sense of severe psychological pressure I would say, even then, attested to me by the many of the interviewers themselves was the fact that in the case of children in particular there was problems of education, problems of health.
When I was there there was one public health doctor with two nurses for the 795 people. I understand since then, because there has been some exchanges between some of them and myself through other contacts in the meantime, that more doctors have been brought in. But when I was there there was one doctor for 795 - a general health, public health medical person. Also, the asylum seekers themselves, in particular the Iraqi's, you see, the Afghani's from the Manora shipment were only males because the family groups had been diverted to New Zealand. So the bulk of the Afghani's were single, except for a group of - a smaller group than the Iraqi's, but quite tough, I must say, young couples with small children who came via the Tobruk. Tough in the sense of brave, if I may. The Iraquis were trying to improvise some kind of classroom and when I was there, in fact, the IOM colleagues were looking for a carpenter to make benches so that they could sit in a classroom.
DR OZDOWSKI: So there is no school there?
MR PACE: Well, there is a school in Nauru, but there is not a school in the camp. There was no school in the camp.
DR OZDOWSKI: Can children from the camp attend the school
MR PACE: When I was there that was expressly forbidden, and that was not really - among the interviews I made it was clearly stated to me by Nauruan officials that this was considered a great shame because apparently the Nauru primary and kindergarten facilities were good, modern, comparatively modern and roomy and some Nauruans, anyway, that I talked to in the government and the civilian area would have welcomed a little bus load to come down to the town to share education.
DR OZDOWSKI: So who prohibited that access to education?
MR PACE: Well, you see, the IOM regime running the camp, who I must say for the record are very high professionals of the best quality, but simply totally inexperienced about running a camp. It was clear to me that they had absolutely
DR OZDOWSKI: So they are highly professional in a different area?
MR PACE: That's right. They are very professional, I am sure, in processing migration requests, for instance, and resettlement requests, and I'm sure in perhaps arranging for shipment of planes of refugees from one side of the planet to the other. But they were clearly inexpert - very well-meaning, but totally inadequate for the task that they were given of running two camps of those size. Indeed, among the Iraqi's asylum seekers there was one or two middle aged ladies who had teaching experience and they were the ones who were volunteering to get the children together in a corner of the camp. You see, the camp had no facilities other than residence, as it were, if you can call it that.
Even though there were - on the map you would see something called the library and clinic and things like that, and when you go there you see a khaki tent which is empty and a rotten table with nothing on it. So there were no infrastructure at all at that time. The younger people were trying to arrange volleyball games with some of the locals, so every two weeks they would try to arrange for a group of local kids to come up to play volleyball with the
DR OZDOWSKI: So there was free movement? Those people could move between the camp and the rest?
MR PACE: You could not - they could not leave the camp. You could not leave the camp. You couldn't enter the camp without giving your name to the Chubb security person at the gate. You could not bring gifts to these people. What some Nauruan well-wishers were doing were hanging - I saw them myself - hanging clothes on the fence during the night, so in the morning they could fish them out and use them, because many of them - a whole shipload of them had no clothes at all. They were trans-shipped because their boat was sinking, or had sunk, so they were forced to jettison their belongings.
Well, without wishing to sound strident or dramatic about it, but the situation of the children in particular that I saw myself in Nauru at that time was to my mind very serious. Physically
DR OZDOWSKI: Did you see any of the Australian detention centres?
MR PACE: No, I did not.
DR OZDOWSKI: No?
MR PACE: No, it was suggested to me when I came back here that I should perhaps. But, quite honestly, Commissioner, I think that I have a pretty good idea of what I don't want to be in myself, and certainly that's not Nauru. Nauru is a - I feel it is hellish, honestly. It is difficult to describe, you know, perhaps you may wish to - if you were privileged to go there now perhaps you will see a much better set up, but that's difficult because it's an island which you can ride around in 12 minutes and it's four and a half hours away from Brisbane by plane. It's in the middle of nowhere. There's no beaches. No vegetation, as such, except some dying palm trees. On the other hand, this lunar landscape which is the most depressing thing you can think of. There's nothing to do. There's no telephones, really, or no - they have since got a satellite phone, two phones. They now, since after I left, they share - now that there are 11 hundred-something of them on Nauru.
But my concern for the children in Nauru is particularly provoked, as it were, by the fact that Nauru is a State party to the Child Convention. It's the only convention that Nauru has ratified. Therefore, I would have expected Nauru to be more sensitive to its obligations in regard to children than it is to the other obligations. It has signed the ICCPR. Actually it signed when I was there, and I wish I could claim credit for that, but it was a wonderful coincidence. A wonderful coincidence. I was very happy afterwards when I read that on the internet. But the child problem in regard to the international obligations of Nauru are extremely serious, particularly given the fact that these children are going through what they are.
When we prepared, for the Australian Human Rights Centre, our submission to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention a few weeks ago, we had the opportunity of indicating these aspects and should the Commission so wish we would be more than happy to make available a copy of that version.
DR OZDOWSKI: Yes, I would like to ask you to take that request on notice, if possible. We would like to have these materials and if there is a need to keep the whole material or parts of the material relating to names on a confidential basis we would agree to do so.
MR PACE: Thank you very much, indeed, sir. Commissioner, with regard to the statements made to me in writing which have not yet seen the light of day, I understand that Amnesty International is testifying before you, these are documents that belong to Amnesty and I believe that they should form part of your dossier because they are relevant to your mandate and, they are very relevant, I would say, to your mandate.
DR OZDOWSKI: The Amnesty already has testified so we will have to get in touch with them.
MR PACE: Yes, please, because, yes.
MR OZDOWSKI: We will unfortunately have to finish now, would you like to make a concluding statement?
MS LESNIE: May ask one quick question?
MR OZDOWSKI: Yes, one quick question.
MS LESNIE: Well the question is quick I am not sure about the answer.
MR PACE: I will do my best.
MS LESNIE: I was wondering whether you got an impression when you were in Nauru who was controlling what was going on there, was it IOM, was it UNHCR, was it CHUBB, was it Eurest, was it DIMIA, who guiding, what was going on inside the camp there?
MR PACE: Who was top dog? In the management sense of providing the facilities, logistics, it is IOM. The final word say in the top dog sense my feeling is that it was Australia.
MS LESNIE: Who was it that said the gates shall be closed, that the people inside the camp can't leave when they want to?
MR PACE: IOM. IOM you see they have one or two meetings every week I think one or two every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays among them to run these camps and they discuss these aspects so even though you do not see the Australian presence manifest physically, it is quite clear - first of all it is not Nauru, let's exclude that even though the answer you will get is that it is Nauru's problem.
Nauru has made it very clear to me in writing and orally that it is only doing this because Australia is paying it to do so. Secondly, it is not IOM because IOM - again had they had any experience about running camps - the last thing they would do would wish to create an incarceration atmosphere on an island like that. UNHCR wouldn't have done it that way for sure. UNHCR was only there because they had very little option having because of the antecedents.
So at least by elimination I would say that and that it is certainly Australia that is running the show and other than by elimination I would think that the fact that Australian money and Australian under infrastructure is being put in, there was being put in daily there in boatloads next to me doesn't give the slightest doubt that it is Australia that is running the show there.
MS LESNIE: Thank you.
MR OZDOWSKI: Thank you very much. We may be in touch with you at a later date to ask for some further information but thank you very much
MR PACE: Thank you Commissioner.
MR OZDOWSKI: for your submission and thank you for availing yourself. Thank you very much.
MR OZDOWSKI: Now the next hearing it will be a hearing in camera so I will have to ask everyone to leave the room.
SHORT BREAK [4.34pm]
CONTINUING IN TRANSCRIPT-IN-CONFIDENCE
Last Updated 9 January 2003.