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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

This statement was provided by Harold Bilboe to the National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention


I, Harold Bilboe,

of [address removed], Psychologist, 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 am a qualified

psychologist, holding a BA (Psychology), Grad Dip (Psychology), Grad

Dip (Clinical Hypnosis), and Masters in Psychology.

3. I was employed

by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) at the Woomera Immigration

Reception and Processing Centre (WIRPC) as a Psychologist from approximately

October 2000 until December 2001 on a contractual basis. There were

some times during this period that I was not working, but the total

period for which I was working at the WIRPC during this period was

approximately 14 months.

4. I was also

employed from 9 January 2002 to 5 February 2002 at the Curtin Immigration

Reception and Processing Centre (CIRPC) as a Psychologist.

5. At the expiry

of my contract at the CIRPC despite several expressions of interest

on my part, I was not offered a new contract. I have no ongoing relationship

with ACM or legal claim against them.

6. Within a month

of my having ceased employment with ACM, the 3 remaining long-term

members of the mental health team also left employment at WIRPC. The

contracts of the members of the team were not renewed. I was of the

view that the reason that ACM did not offer to renew the contracts

of myself, and others in the team was that we had increasingly begun

to complain about the poor psychological condition of detainees, particularly

children, and their treatment in detention at the WIRPC.

7. I am currently

employed as psychologist with NSW Corrective Services at the Mannus

Correctional Centre. I have been employed there since May 2002.

8. I have extensive

experience in working with children. In particular, I was employed

for 9 years in the area of child protection with the NSW Child and

Family Services (now DOCS). Prior to that worked at Port Kembla (Lysaghts

Employee Credit Union) as a financial counsellor and also worked (voluntarily)

as a youth worker and advocate with Wollongong City Council. While

in Wollongong I established the first youth refuge in NSW and was

given the Wollongong Citizen of the Year Award in 1984 for services

to the community in connection with youth work and working with refugees.

Work at the


9. I was, to

my knowledge, the first psychologist employed at the WIRPC. When I

arrived there were no policies, procedures or guidelines for the provision

of psychological services.

10. I would have

expected to receive a full set of policies and procedures covering

the provisions of psychological services and a full set of psychometric

tools to deal with the range of clinical assessments likely to be

relevant in that environment. These were things that a normal service

would have on hand but none of them had been purchased. I put in submissions

and requests and no response was received.

11. This meant

that clinical assessments had to be made on the basis of my own clinical

experience, rather than with the use of proper psychometric assessment.

Children presented daily with symptoms of trauma and required clinical

assessment. While I was often able to make appropriate assessments

on this basis, this would have been more difficult for people with

limited experience, and was not optimal. It is not how I would have

expected to operate in, for example, a correctional environment.

12. I was employed

on 80-hour fortnight but worked on average 140 hours. I was never

paid overtime, nor was I able to take time in lieu. I was, in fact,

criticised for working excessive hours and contracts were financially

reduced along with conditions. However, even in the extended hours

I worked, I was simply not able to attend to the needs of all the


13. Later in

my time at the WIRPC almost all of my work hours were taken up with

dealing with people who had self-harmed, which left no time for treating

other people who required counselling.

14. Initially

I didn't have an office. I shared an administration desk. I interviewed

people in the open, under trees and sat on steps and begged and borrowed

office space from time to time. The first and only individual office

consisted of a three metre by three metre demountable site office.

This was referred to by officers as "Harold's box". An office

was made available 4 months before I finished in the old medical centre.

However, we were required to share the building with the education

unit and this was unsatisfactory as confidentiality was compromised

- people could see who was coming and going and the walls were so

thin that people could hear what was being said in other rooms.


at the WIRPC

15. There was

a high level of traumatisation with features of acute anxiety and

depression amongst children at the WIRPC. There were high levels of

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) apparent amongst children detainees

(as well as adults).

16. While some

detainees, including children, experienced trauma before they were

held in the detention environment, the detention environment at the

WIRPC was in itself traumatising. This trauma came primarily from:

  • Exposure to

    the violence committed on others and the self-harm of others;

  • Being subjected

    to violence;

  • Harshness

    of physical environment;

  • Uncertainty

    as to length of detention and outcome; and

  • Vilification

    by the government.

17. The main

stumbling block for any therapy for detainees was the inability to

change the abusive environment in which they were being held. Even

if you could identify the problem and provide counselling or medication,

you could not change their situation which was the basic cause of

their problem.

18. It was, and

remains, my view that had the conditions that existed in the WIRPC

for children existed in the general community, the children would

have been removed from that environment. Children were both being

abused and likely to be abused in the WIRPC - emotionally, psychologically

and physically. This was known to both ACM and DIMIA.

Exposure to


19. Children

were significantly traumatised by the exposure to violence in a number

of forms at the WIRPC. These were factors outside their control. It

was impossible to shield children from these influences because of

the nature of environment at the WIRPC. There was simply nowhere for

children to be moved.

20. Children

witnessed repeated acts of self-harm by adult detainees (such as cutting

themselves with razor blades and lip-stitching), hunger strikes, numerous

attempted suicides by hanging, disruptive and abusive behaviour, mass

demonstrations, destruction of property, riots, use of batons, shields

and tear gas by ACM officers and use of water cannons on detainees.

21. Children

saw the destruction of the areas in which they played and undertook

activities, such as the education facilities. The loss of their areas

and things in them such as their artworks caused them distress.

22. Children

were also subjected to personal violence during disturbances. I saw

tear gas used 2-3 times on groups that included children. I also saw

a water cannon used 4-5 times on groups involving children during

demonstrations. On one occasion when there was a riot in 2001, a water

cannon drove through a fence while women and children were present.

23. I also saw

adolescent children cuffed behind their backs and carried by their

elbows on a number of occasions. I saw this once during a major demonstration

and during other minor demonstrations. Detainees were cuffed behind

their backs. This is a practice that is not used in other correctional

centres. Children were released from the handcuffs once it was determined

that they were children, but the marks from the cuffs were still visible

on their wrists. Plastic flexicuffs were used.

24. There were

numerous effects of these experiences on children. These included

withdrawal, nightmares, bedwetting, serious sleep disturbance and

loss of appetite.

25. As time progressed,

incidents of self-harm amongst children increased. The response to

the high levels of trauma to which children were exposed changed from

being withdrawn to self-harm. By the time I left, self-harm was almost

universal amongst unaccompanied minors (UAMs). Amongst those children

in detention with their parents, the main problem was loss of appetite

or a refusal to eat.

26. There was

no evidence at all that children were being starved by their parents.

Parents may not have been going to meals because of loss of appetite

or because they were bedridden with depression, but children would

be taken to meals by others where possible.

27. Amongst the

self-harm that occurred while I was at the WIRPC, there was lip stitching

amongst adolescents. There was no evidence of which I was aware to

suggest the involvement of parents or adults in the stitching of children's

lips. The only time I heard of these allegations of the involvement

of adults in stitching the lips of children was from the Minister

for Immigration.

28. The violent

incidents to which children were exposed increased exponentially the

longer people were in detention. With longer periods of detention

came increased desperation and increased violent and inappropriate

behaviour by detainees.

29. Accommodation

at the WIRPC was also inadequate and inappropriate for children. While

I was employed at the WIRPC, children and families were kept in compounds

with large numbers of single adult males with no effective supervision.

This exposed children to an unacceptably high risk of sexual and physical


30. There were

a number of occasions on which families were moved into Sierra compound

where high risk and disruptive detainees were kept, when their cases

had been rejected on appeal. This was a completely inappropriate environment

for women and children. I recall one family in particular that had

3 girls and they could not leave their room while they were there.

31. The programme

under which women and children were allowed to live in designated

houses in the Woomera town was extremely selective and was only available

at a primary visa stage. It therefore seemed to be stepping-stone

to getting visa rather than a programme designed to help women and

children. Children at risk were not moved there, despite recommendations

from the psychological team.

Harshness of

conditions at the WIRPC

32. There was

no grass and no adequate recreation facilities for children. In the

latter part of last year some playground equipment was finally erected.

Some lip-service was given to making the environment better, and token

gestures such as the painting of buildings and planting trees were

made, but the basic situation remained unchanged. Community groups

donated some toys for the use of detainees while I was there.

33. Initially

there was no real access to television, radios, cassettes, newspapers,

magazines and books for children or adults. This improved by the time

I had left - although this had the disadvantage of exposing detainees

to vilification of them in the media.

34. The focus

of the WIRPC was on security and this was reflected in the changes

in fences over time to high palisade fences and razor wire.

35. The model

upon which the WIRPC was run was a correctional one. The guards had

prison backgrounds and were used to dealing with criminals. Accordingly

I observed that many of the officers treated detainees as if they

were violent criminals. There were some changes to a less correctional

model during the first 12 months that I was at the WIRPC but this

did not last.

36. There was

inadequate education available to children of all ages. The level

of education fell well short of a minimum standard for children. I

observed children go backwards in leaps and bounds because of the

destructive environment and the lack of any basic education programme.

37. I advocated

the use of the Catholic school in town to provide a regular educational

programme from 8.30 to 3.30pm each day. In my opinion this would have

been a significant improvement, however, I understand that there were

community objections to the proposal.

38. Sometimes

children were able to have an excursion to Breen Park in the Woomera

Township, but this happened neither regularly nor often.

I also part of a team that arranged for the children to go to the

movies on one occasion. This was conditional that the staff made sure

the movie theatre was cleaned up afterwards.

39. Diet was

also inadequate for children. They were required to eat the food provided

to all detainees. There was no culturally appropriate diet and no

freedom of choice. Fruit was restricted to one piece per person and

extra could not be removed from the dining room. Milk was restricted

and only after much debate that families were allowed to have yoghurt

- which is a staple part of many detainees' diets in their own countries.

On occasions, I would eat with the detainees and on one occasion (I

cannot specify the date) I refused to eat the food and complained.


40. The uncertainties

surrounding length of detention and the processing of visas was a

significant traumatising factor for all detainees. The children absorbed

the stresses of the community in the WIRPC.

41. I was especially

concerned about the level of advice and assistance provided to UAMs

in the visa process. This appeared to be inadequate and significant

anxiety and confusion was expressed to me by UAMs.

42. From my observations,

UAMs did not receive any legal advice or assistance until their second

interview with DIMIA, which may not have taken place for 6 weeks after

having been taken into detention. At their first interview, when they

were screened in or out of the protection visa system, they were not,

to my knowledge, provided with legal advice or representation by a

lawyer or other advocate who was acting solely in their interest.

They received legal advice for the second interview, but their contact

with the legal advisers was sporadic and infrequent.


in the Media

43. I was also

very concerned about the effect on detainees and children of vilification

of asylum seekers that appeared in the media. Much of this took the

form of negative stereotyping and allegations made by politicians.

The portrayal of asylum seekers as criminals and bad people caused

children significant distress. Children asked me: "Why do they

say we are bad people?" and "Why do they call us criminals?"

Breakdown of


44. I saw parents

age daily in detention as a result of the stress of detention. Over

time many lost their ability to function effectively as parents and

I saw family relationships break down. Parents felt guilt for what

they thought they had done to their family in bringing them into this


45. Where parents

developed depression, they were often put on medication, which further

affected their ability to function. I was of the view that there was

an over-reliance on medication in treating detainees with depression.

46. One effect

of this on children was to become obsessed with getting a visa to

save their family.

Responses to

child abuse and neglect

47. Initially

when I started at the WIRPC there were inadequate procedures for dealing

with child abuse. There was no policy for reporting child abuse. We

were lead to believe that we were within a federal jurisdiction and

there was no need to report incidents to the South Australia Family

and Youth Services (FAYS).

48. This changed

when the Flood Report was released in February 2001. From this time

on I felt that the procedure for dealing with child abuse was adequate.

Where there were allegations of child abuse, children were moved away

from alleged perpetrators (but not removed from the centre) and the

matter was reported to FAYS.

49. Because I

regarded the environment in which children were held as abusive I

raised this with ACM. I was told this was a DIMIA matter. I raised

this with DIMIA and I was fobbed off. My colleagues and I expressed

the view in clear terms that children should be removed from detention

because they were either being exposed to abuse or a likelihood of


50. I regarded

the failure to remove UAMs, over whom the Minister for Immigration

was guardian, from the WIRPC as a matter of particular concern. There

did not appear to be a competent and independent advocate for UAMs.

Conditions at


51. The main

difference with the CIRPC was that there was greenery around. However,

there were still minimal activities available.

52. The feelings

of helplessness and hopelessness were still prevalent, although the

level of desperation was less.

53. While I was

employed at the CIRPC there was an incident of grave-digging by adults.

They dug graves and lay in them as a form of protest. This was witnessed

by children.

54. At CIRPC

the UAM management programme was different to that at the WIRPC. There

was more documentation and a management plan for each UAM. These plans

identified needs but in many ways these needs could not be addressed

simply because they were in detention. It was a start but identifying

these needs it created more frustration for clinicians although it

did create a document trail.

55. The education

programme at the CIRPC appeared to be more structured within the compound

for adults and older children received education in town for older

children, which was an improvement. However, for younger children

there was no real difference I could see in the inadequate levels

of education and in my view the projected educational outcomes for

children were again poor.

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 on 16 July



Updated 10 October 2002.