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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Department Infrastructure

Manager at Woomera in 2000



STATUTORY DECLARATION

I, [the Department

Infrastructure Manager at Woomera in 2000], of [address removed], do solemnly

and sincerely declare as follows:

Background

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 have asked for

my evidence to the Inquiry to be confidential.

3. I was employed

by what is now the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous

Affairs (DIMIA) for 37 years. I started with the Department after leaving

school and was employed with them until January 2002 when I resigned.

4. I worked for DIMIA

at the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (WIRPC) from

about November 1999 to the December 2000. I was the Infrastructure Manager

during that time, as well as the Operations Manager for the period November

1999 to approximately March 2000.

5. Prior to my appointment

to the position at the WIRPC I was Acting Assistant Director in Adelaide,

working in the business migration portfolio. I was sent to Woomera to

set up the WIRPC and arrived there approximately 6 weeks before the centre

opened.

6. I was awarded

an Immigration Medal from the Department in March 2000 for my work at

Woomera. This was the second time I had received this award for my work

with DIMIA.

7. Working at the

WIRPC was very stressful, especially when there were riots and tension

in the camp. I was threatened on a number of occasions by detainees and

felt that my life was in danger. As a result of the stress of the environment

under which we were working, I went on sick leave in January 2001 and

was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have no history

of depression and have not been diagnosed with PTSD before.

8. I remained on

sick leave for approximately twelve months and ultimately resigned from

DIMIA in January 2002.

Establishment

of the WIRPC

9. Woomera was chosen

as a site for an IRPC largely because of the availability of land for

the centre and facilities in the town to service it. The idea had been

previously suggested when safe havens were being established for Kosovars

who came to Australia on safe-haven visas.

10. It was considered

a suitable place for an IRPC because there was a large area of Commonwealth

land on which a centre could be built and the town had significant infrastructure

by way of schools, a hospital, shops, recreation and accommodation that

were not being fully utilised because of the significant reduction of

the population in the town that had occurred. It was understood that the

township were supportive of having an IRPC there as it would bring more

people to the town by way of staff working at the centre.

11. A significant

advantage of the site was also that it could be ready quickly to meet

the need for an IRPC facility following the large increase in arrivals

of asylum seekers in late 1999.

12. The WIRPC was

set up, as the name suggests, as a reception and processing centre rather

than a detention centre. In broad terms, the centre was initially designed

as a “soft camp” to house primarily single men for short periods

of time while their applications for protection visas were being assessed.

The WIRPC was not designed for families or children and was not designed

for long-term detention and very little was done to make the camp appropriate

for children before it commenced operation.

13. The intended

use of the WIRPC for processing (predominantly) single men was based on

the demographics of the asylum-seeker population who had arrived as unlawful

non-citizens in the period prior to the establishment of the WIRPC. However,

because of the removal of the ability to seek family reunion for those

holding temporary protection visas in 1999, these demographics changed

and increasingly women and children arrived in Australia unlawfully seeking

protection visas.

14. The numbers of

people arriving who were to be accommodated also far exceeded the intended

capacity of the WIRPC. It was significantly overcrowded in its early days

with in excess of 1100 people living in accommodation initially designed

for about 650.

15. When the numbers

of children started to increase throughout 2000 the inappropriateness

of the WIRPC as a place to hold children and families became clearer.

While efforts were made by those working at the WIRPC for DIMIA and Australasian

Correctional Management (ACM) to meet the needs of children and families

with the resources available, it is my opinion that the detention environment

at the WIRPC simply cannot meet those needs and it was not a safe and

healthy environment for children.

16. In developing

the infrastructure at the WIRPC, we did not have any input from people

with expertise in the needs of children. This was not an area in which

I had any experience or training, and the pressure under which we worked

at the WIRPC to keep the centre running, especially following riots, meant

that it was not a priority in the work I was doing.

17. I was not aware

of any Immigration Detention Standards, such as now exist, when I was

involved in setting up Woomera.

Development

of the WIRPC

18. In about late

March or early April 2000 there were the first serious disturbances at

the WIRPC which ended in rioting and a break-out. This seemed to have

been caused most significantly by the frustration of detainees at the

time taken to process their claims. I was aware that the first group of

detainees were held in detention for almost four months before they had

their first proper interview with DIMIA to assess their claims for a protection

visa.

19. From my experience

in the Department I am of the view that, although the large increase in

the number of people arriving unlawfully created difficulties for the

processing of protection visas, resources could have been made available

to quicken processing but were not. There was a view held within DIMIA

of which I was aware that to quicken processing would be to “give

in” to the detainees, especially following the disturbances.

20. It is my opinion

that the processing of protection visa applications in a transparent and

efficacious way would have significantly changed the dynamic of the WIRPC.

Even if the physical conditions in the centre had been improved, the frustration

of the detainees at the time taken and the lack of information provided

about the process made the conditions for all detainees far more difficult

that they needed to be. The sometimes severe psychological stress being

felt by detainees was obvious.

21. To my knowledge,

no priority was given to the processing of protection visa applications

by children, including unaccompanied minors and children in family units.

People were interviewed in turn.

22. After the first

rioting and break-out in April 2000, the main concern with infrastructure

was security, such as trying to ensure that the fences could not be breached.

The needs of children were, again, not a priority. It was following this

time that the WIRPC became more like a detention centre and its conditions

came to be that of a medium to high security detention facility.

23. There seemed

to be great concern politically with making the conditions in the camp

such that others may be deterred from coming to Australia, and this influenced

the development of the WIRPC by DIMIA. Children were basically caught

up in this.

24. I was in the

WIRPC compounds every day and could see negative effects of detention

on the children such as crying, distress, signs of depression, inappropriate

attachment to female figures such as nurses. Sometimes I raised particular

things I had seen with the centre manager, but found that I had to divorce

myself from operations and concentrate on infrastructure.

25. Security for

children at the WIRPC was a problem because, although families had separate

rooms, the main compound had a mixed population which still included many

single men. I was aware that ACM officers did patrol the compound with

a view to minimise the risks to children’s safety, but the arrangements

did create problems for children and families.

26. A separate compound

was developed while I was working at the WIRPC for women and children

but it was then used for accommodating Afghani detainees. I understand

that there may now be a compound for families operating at the WIRPC.

27. I had suggested

that the area opposite the WIRPC be made into a walk-in, walk-out centre

for women and children so that they could be accommodated separately and

visit male family members daily in the main camp. I thought this would

be a significant improvement but the proposal was rejected. I believe

cost was a prime reason for this rejection.

28. Cost was always

a governing factor in infrastructure decisions, and this significantly

limited the ability of staff on the ground at the WIRPC to readily remedy

deficiencies in the infrastructure of the WIRPC.

Facilities

for Education and Recreation

29. Initially it

was thought that children would be able to attend the local school. However

it was decided to provide education in the WIRPC because this required

less staff to facilitate it, and also because there were concerns from

people in the Woomera township about having children from the detention

centre in the mainstream school – for example, there were concerns

expressed about exposure of local children to infectious diseases.

30. It took a long

time to establish an education block. There was a kindergarten set up

fairly early in the operation of the WIRPC, but most education took place

in the open air and under shade-cloths. There was not a lot of push for

education facilities from ACM because school was not generally well-attended

and there was, to my knowledge, no real curriculum in the early stages.

31. When an education

centre was set up in a demountable building, it was the target of vandalism

and burnt to the ground before it came into commission.

32. Further attempts

were made while I was working at the WIRPC to have education provided

externally. In particular, the Catholic school in Woomera which had closed

to students, was suggested. However, the idea was rejected by DIMIA management.

I believe the rejection was because ACM believed schooling should be provided

within the detention facilities and because additional staff resources

would be required to manage school attendance out-of-centre.

33. Playground equipment

that had been dismantled from the town had been made available to the

WIRPC but it sat dismantled for many months because ACM had concerns about

legal liability in the event that children were hurt. Ultimately DIMIA

insisted that it be put up to give children something to play on. It was

modern, plastic equipment that had been in use until recently in the town

before the downturn in Woomera’s population made it surplus to requirements.

34. There was no

grass and children played on gravel at the WIRPC. It would have been,

in my view, difficult to have established a lawn in the centre and we

did try to put down some softer sand but that was too difficult for children

to run and play on. I thought that a solution to this would have been

to use the town oval, which was hardly used, for recreation. However this

was resisted by ACM and DIMIA again essentially on the basis of extra

staffing and compromised security.

35. Kids did have

some excursions to the park in town, but these were infrequent –

perhaps once every 10 days. However, they became less regular and were

temporarily cancelled when there were disturbances in the centre.

Conclusion

36. My overriding

concern with the detention of the children at the WIRPC relates to the

inappropriateness of the environment that exists there for children. While

I believe that I did the best I could in the circumstances, the parameters

are fundamentally flawed when it comes to providing for children’s

needs.


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.

Signed 1

July 2002

Last

Updated 30 June 2003.