Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
at the WIRPC
at the WIRPC
I, Allan Clifton
of [address removed], Centre Manager, do solemnly and sincerely declare
1. I make this
statement for the purposes of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission’s Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.
2. I am presently
employed by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) as the Centre
Manager of the Perth Immigration Detention Centre (PIDC). I am on extended
leave from that position as I am unfit for work at present.
3. I have been
employed by ACM since 1997 and was the Operations Manager at the Woomera
Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (WIRPC) from May 2000 to
4. I have previously
worked for ACM at the Fulham Correction Centre, a 612 bed medium and
minimum security facility.
5. From 1990 to
1997 I worked as a prison officer and a senior prison officer at prisons
and remand centres in Victoria: HM Prison Pentridge (maximum security);
Melbourne Remand Centre (maximum security); HM Prison Sale (medium security
and protection prisoners) and Morwell River Prison Farm (minimum security).
6. Work at the
WIRPC was extremely stressful. Staff, including myself, were subjected
to threats and violence and witnesses extreme events such as the riots
that took place. Staff did not receive adequate support from ACM. As
a result of the stress to which I was exposed at WIRPC, I developed
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression and this
was diagnosed in November 2000. I have no prior history of PTSD or depression.
I returned to work after 3 weeks on leave and continued to work until
March 2002 when I ceased working and was again diagnosed as suffering
at the WIRPC
7. There was no
focus on children at the WIRPC and it was an environment unsuited to
children. By way of example, when I commenced work at the WIRPC there
were about 1,400 detainees and only 2 people working in the programmes
department to provide activities and education.
8. After about
October/November 2000 when there was increased media focus on the operations
of the WIRPC, ACM started to put more effort into the care and welfare
of children, and more teaching and programme staff were employed.
Resources and Standards
9. I was aware
that it was regular practice for figures in ACM reports to DIMIA to
be inflated - such as hours of education and programmes delivered. Services
were not being delivered adequately or at all, but figures were produced
to say that they were. This took place the whole time I was there.
10. When there
were audits or inspections, things were improved temporarily, but they
returned to what were generally inadequate standards soon after. I was
aware for some penalties being imposed by DIMIA on ACM for breaching
the contract to operate Woomera, but these did not reflect the degree
to which the contract were breached.
11. I did not think
that DIMIA really kept a close enough eye on what ACM was doing, and
had the wool pulled over their eyes in relation to the contractual obligations
which were often not met in relation to the conditions of detention.
Ultimately, ACM was used to running prisons and was a business run for
profit. They were therefore unused to providing appropriate services
in this context, especially for children, and to do so would have cost
them money. I expect that this would be a problem with any private contractor.
12. For those of
us working on the ground at the WIRPC, there were simply not the resources
to provide the services or level of services that we were expected to
provide. The head office would demand results and workers were worried
that they would be sacked if they did not create the appearance that
the services were being provided.
13. Staff in Woomera
were trying to provide services to detainees but were not given the
support or resources. We had to develop policies to deal with things
such as child protection, unaccompanied minors and dealing with high
risk detainees with no input or support from head office.
14. We had a fair
degree of autonomy from the ACM head office provided we were within
our budget. But I did not believe that they really had an understanding
of what was going on on the ground at the WIRPC. This hamstrung our
ability to run the centre generally and also to ensure security.
15. I recall the
circumstances surrounding the riot in August 2000:
Detainees were frustrated
about the visa process. There were problems with property damage and I
was trying to keep a lid on it by talking to detainees. But then things
escalated and fences were being pushed over and detainees were threatening
to break out. We identified who we thought were the ring-leaders and they
were taken into Sierra Compound where they were isolated from the rest
of the detainees.
with me that they believed that some of the people we had removed to Sierra
Compound may not have been involved in the disturbance, and they were
very unhappy about their removal to Sierra. They were, incidentally, also
very unhappy with those who had caused the disturbance.
I accepted that some
of those removed may not have been involved in the disturbance and I wanted
to release them into the general population. I negotiated with the detainees
in the main compound and agreed to speak to my superiors to see if they
could be released. I was of the view that the situation could continue
to escalate if it was not handled carefully.
I called head office
and was told by the Detention Services National Operations Manager at
the time “Fuck ‘em. ACM does not back down, take them on”.
I warned that there would be a riot if nothing was done, and I did not
believe that we had enough staffing resources to handle the situation,
but I was ignored. After I communicated the decision to the detainees,
there was a riot with fires and extensive property damage. Several staff
were injured during this incident . (nil detainees were injured)
at the WIRPC
16. There were
not enough staff at the WIRPC. There were 80 staff for 1,400 detainees
when I started there. I raised this with head office but I was ignored.
The staff numbers were, to my knowledge, in breach of the ACM contract
with DIMIA and we were told to “fudge” the figures
17. Staff received
inadequate training. Officers with no previous experience were given
4 weeks of intensive training (6x 12 hour days per week) and lacked
the necessary skills to effectively manage detainees. Staff working
in areas such as Programmes did not receive any training at all beyond
18. Training in
the needs of children and child protection was inadequate and I felt
that I lacked experience and training with children in a detention environment.
General awareness of security of children was poor. There was also inadequate
training in report writing.
19. There were
also problems with continuity and consistency because staff were on
a 6 week rotation.
20. There was never
a policy to call detainees by their numbers. Initially this was done
when there were very large numbers of people. In part this was because
it was difficult for staff to pronounce some of the names. It was also
because some detainees wished to remain anonymous and others had used
aliases and this meant that sometimes people did not realise when they
were being called. There was, after a time, a direction that people
be called by name and this was complied with.
21. I was very
concerned about children’s safety when there were riots and disturbances.
When there was a riot, the centre was locked down and kids were in the
thick of it. It was difficult to get children out because parents often
did not want to be separated from them. Staff, particularly nurses,
tried their best to keep children safe. However, from an organisational
perspective, there were no efforts made to prevent children from seeing
22. There were
concerns raised by programmes and medical staff about child abuse from
male detainees. We therefore trained staff in the requirements of mandatory
notification and built up a relationship with FAYS that I regarded as
23. Not until about
the end of 2001 were families able to be accommodated in a compound
separate from the single men. I was of the view that this should have
been the arrangement from the beginning, but it took over 12 months
to get it to happen.
24. The compound
across the road from the WIRPC could also have been used to accommodate
children and families.
25. During the
time I worked at the WIRPC, I do not recall any incidents of self-harm
26. When I started
work at the WIRPC there was no policy or plan for the care of unaccompanied
minors and they received little special care. A plan was initiated from
within the WIRPC which ultimately resulted in unaccompanied minors being,
in my view, properly cared for.
27. The standard
of health care could have been better. The medical centre at the WIRPC
was operating in a small demountable. The staff tried hard but kept
changing over regularly and appeared to be working with inadequate facilities.
I raised this concern repeatedly with the head office.
28. It appeared
that appropriate levels of medical supplies were available but I was
criticised on a number of occasions for calling ambulances when people
required urgent medical treatment as this was a large expense. However,
it did not stop me from continuing to do so.
29. I was also
aware of argument between DIMIA and ACM over who would pay for hospital
care required for detainees, but I was not of the view that care was
ultimately withheld for this reason.
30. There was no
regular health screening of children and I felt that not enough attention
was given to the health needs of children. There was not, for example,
a designated child psychologist.
31. When I first
started working at the WIRPC education was virtually non-existent. By
the time I left there was a structured programme of about two hours
in the morning and two in the afternoon.
32. However, I
was of the view that schooling within the WIRPC was ineffective because
there were too many distractions. Schooling in the community was canvassed
as an option, but there was opposition from the community. I didn’t
think that ACM really made an effort to try to explain to locals how
it would work and address their concerns.
33. It would also
have been possible to have used the compound across the road for schooling,
but this was not pursued.
34. There were
not enough excursions provided. Children were lucky to get out of the
centre on an excursion once a month on average. In the early days I
had tried to get children out to Breen Park in Woomera more regularly.
35. I recall the
Woomera Management team arguing with the ACM head office in Sydney to
set up a playground and play equipment for children, but they did not
want to spend the money on it. The children had to play on a soccer
pitch that was just gravel.
I make this solemn
declaration by virtue of the Statutory Declarations Act 1959
as amended and subject to the penalties provided by that Act for the making
of false statements in statutory declarations, conscientiously believing
the statements contained in this declaration to be true in every particular.
1 July 2002
Updated 30 June 2003.