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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.'
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
This statement was signed on 16 July 2002.
Updated 10 October 2002.