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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

This statement was provided by Mark Huxstep to the National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention


I, Mark Huxstep,

of [address removed], Registered Nurse, do solemnly and sincerely declare

as follows:


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 was employed

between August 2000 and February 2001 by Australasian Correctional

Management (ACM) at the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing

Centre (WIRPC) as a registered nurse.

3. I completed

three six week contracts at WIRPC. For five weeks of my final contract

I was employed in an acting capacity as the Manager of the Medical

Centre at WIRPC.

4. I am currently

employed as a registered nurse at Tweed Heads District Hospital.

5. Working at

WIRPC was an extremely stressful experience. As a result of the stress

of working at the WIRPC I was diagnosed May 2001 with Post-Traumatic

Stress Disorder. I received counseling for a period of eight months

and have been taking anti-depressant medication for twelve months.

In the period since I ceased employment at WIRPC, I have not been

able to work full time, as a consequence of the PTSD.

Conditions at


6. The physical

environment at WIRPC was extremely harsh. There was no grass, the

ground being hard packed dust and rubble.

7. The temperatures

at WIRPC were extreme, with a day of 61 degrees being registered in

January 2001, and freezing temperatures during winter. Buildings were

generally not air-conditioned.

8. There was

very little for children to do at WIRPC. They spent most of their

time in their dongas in the company of extremely distressed adults.

I believe that this had a detrimental impact on the children.

9. The most significant

stressors for detainees held at WIRPC was the lack of information

about their situation, and uncertainty about the length of time for

which they would be held in immigration detention. This caused a slow

and steady degradation of the mental health of all detainees.

Access to health


10. The initial

medical assessment for detainees was often carried out in conditions

not appropriate for children. Medical checks of new arrivals were

required to be completed within 72 hours. In January 2001 a group

of new arrivals were processed in the Sierra compound at WIRPC. The

processing was extremely slow as there were only two interpreters

available. This led to the detainees, including pregnant women, infants

and children waiting in the sun all day for their medical assessment.

There were toilet facilities available, but these were extremely unhygienic.

When nursing staff offered the women and children drinks and lollies,

they were reprimanded by ACM officers for inappropriate and excessive

friendliness with the detainees.

11. Detainees

were not allowed to take medication to their accommodation blocks.

This led to lengthy and inappropriate delays in the distribution of


12. For example,

in one instance a child with an ear infection had to represent four

times a day for antibiotics that could only be distributed from the

main Medical Centre because they required refrigeration. On one occasion

the child and his mother had to queue for three hours in the rain

at night to receive the medication, as there was only ever one nurse

on duty at night. This caused the child and the mother great distress.

13. This example

is one of many where detainees and their children had to queue for

hours at night to receive medication.

14. The ability

of detainees to access the Medical Centre was compromised by ACM officers.

Detainees were regularly turned away by ACM officers. On occasion,

they were incorrectly told that the clinic was closed, that there

were too many people at the clinic, or told that they were not sick

and that they didn't need to see the doctor.

Medical facilities

15. During my

period of employment at WIRPC there was only one sink with only cold

water in the Medical Centre. This led to unhygienic practice, for

example the making up of formula milk for babies in the same sink

where faeces were decanted into pots prior to being sent to pathology.

16. During my

first two contracts at Woomera there were no sterilization facilities

in the Medical Centre. During my last contract there was a sterilization

machine, however, there was no instruction booklet, no indicators

that sterilization had been completed and no records kept of sterilization



17. There were

significant shortages of medical staff at WIRPC, particularly during

my last contract when I was acting manager of the Medical Centre.

18. For example

there was a three week stretch December 2000 to January 2001 when

there were no mental health nurses or psychologists on site. This

led to other nursing staff providing treatment for conditions which

they were not qualified or experienced enough to manage.

19. There were

always more people waiting to see staff from the Medical Centre than

we had time to provide for. This led to long queues at the Medical


20. There was

inadequate access to interpreters in the Medical Centre. There was

supposed to be an interpreter in the medical centre every morning

while the doctor was there. This was not always the case.

21. Although

we had access to phone interpreters, we did not have the use of a

conference phone, and it was not always appropriate to use a phone

interpreter when detainees were in physical and mental distress.

22. Consequently,

children were often used to interpret for their parents. Children

were not used as interpreters when complex matters were being discussed.


between DIMIA/ACM and health staff

23. The ability

of the medical staff to provide appropriate care for detainees was

compromised by ACM staff and management.

24. ACM officers

regularly questioned the judgement of medical centre staff in front

of detainees. For example officers would say 'What is that drug for?',

'Why do they need that treatment?' or 'He/she isn't sick?' Also, officers

would sometimes question our treatments of detainees after hours at

the Eldo Hotel when they were obviously inebriated. For example they

would tell us that 'They faked it' and that we gave the detainees

excessive care.

25. Regularly,

detainees would be recommended for psychiatric assessment, but this

would not take place as there was nobody available to drive the person

to see the psychiatrist.

26. On one occasion,

an appointment had been made by the midwife with an obstetrician/gynaecologist

in Port Augusta for a pregnant woman who had experienced some spotting,

and for five or six other pregnant women detainees. This appointment

was not met because the ACM officer responsible for transport had

not organised a driver for the appointment.

27. Written complaints

were often made by ACM officers about medical staff. Complaints were

regularly made that medical centre staff were too familiar with detainees.

Complaints were also made that medical centre staff were spending

too long with patients, often patients who were presenting with psychological

disturbance and who needed lengthy consultations.

28. During my

first contract, a conversation between myself and other nursing staff

over dinner at the local restaurant was taken down by an ACM officer

and given to ACM management. This environment of surveillance and

general intimidation by ACM officers contributed to the stress of

working at WIRPC.

29. Medical treatment

of detainees was on occasion vetoed by ACM and DIMIA staff on grounds

of cost. For example, during my employment at WIRPC it was recommended

that numerous detainees be provided with prescription glasses. A submission

for this treatment had to be made to ACM. In the six months that I

worked at WIRPC no detainee was provided with prescription glasses.

This expense was deemed as unnecessary by ACM and DIMIA.

30. While I was

manager of the Medical Centre, I instructed staff that if a detainee

needed hospital treatment at night they were to be transported in

an ambulance, as the one nurse on duty could not leave the centre.

The necessity of this practice was questioned by ACM and DIMIA on

grounds of cost.


31. Medical centre

staff regularly heard complaints from detainees about the quality

of the food that was provided at WIRPC. The food that was provided

in my opinion was neither nutritionally adequate nor culturally appropriate.

Detainees' requests for simple food items such as rice, yoghurt and

lemons were ignored.

32. Detainees

were only allowed 250ml of milk and one piece of fruit per day. This

was not adequate for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children.

33. To overcome

this, nurses would take milk to the medical centre and provide to

women and children.

34. Medical centre

staff regularly wrote letters requesting special meals for detainees,

particularly women and children. The ACM centre manager, through the

health manager directed us to stop writing letters requesting special


35. Midwives

oversaw the distribution of formula to mothers with infants. Bottles

were made up in the clinics. During the day women would have to come

to the clinic to receive the bottle. At night, bottles were made up

by the midwives and given to the guards in each compound to distribute

to mothers. Sometimes bottles were given to the wrong people, too

many bottles were given to some mothers, or bottles were given on

request to toddlers rather than infants. This meant that on some occasions

there was not adequate formula for infants. There was no monitoring

of the distribution of infant formula.


36. Rioting at

WIRPC had a significant impact on children. Although families did

try to stay away from the rioting, in many cases there was nowhere

for them to go.

37. Following

the rioting at the centre, children were noticeably increasingly reticent

to communicate, introverted, quiet, and shy.

38. In late August,

during rioting at the centre I was in the company of an ACM officer

when he was told by one of his superiors that Minister Ruddock had

authorised the use of firearms in the centre if detainees breached

the perimeter of the centre. The guard who I was with subsequently

said 'We'll shoot over their head to scare them should they breach

the perimeter, but we'll aim very low.'

Child protection

39. During my

first two contracts with ACM, medical staff were instructed that they

were not allowed to report child protection concerns directly to FAYS,

but that we should report to management who would then notify FAYS.

This requirement was detailed in the ACM policy manual. This policy

was changed in early 2001 following the expression of concern from

medical staff. Medical staff were then allowed to notify FAYS, and

subsequently notify the ACM centre manager that they had done so.

40. In January

2001 I notified ACM management of an alleged instance of sexual assault

of an unaccompanied minor. This incident was investigated by the South

Australian police and FAYS were notified by ACM staff.

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.

This statement was signed on 16 July 2002.


Updated 10 October 2002.