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Submission to the National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from




Effects of detention on Detainees and the Learning Process

As a former teacher at the Woomera

IRPC, I was able to witness at first hand, the conditions of detention and the

resulting outcomes for Asylum Seekers.

The detrimental emotional, psychological

and physical effects of detention on detainees, have already been described,

debated and published by credible members of the relevant professions.

There have also been numerous documentaries,

newspaper articles, interviews [both TV and radio] and letters from current

and former detainees that have graphically described their experiences both

before, during and after detention.

From a teacher’s perspective,

I found that the trauma, both past and present experienced by the detainees

and compounded by the conditions and treatment while in detention, often resulted

in severe depression, extreme anxiety, hopelessness or dysfunctional behaviour,

to name a few. Being in these states or witnessing them on a daily basis was

definitely not conducive to learning. Learners require a suitable learning environment,

both physically and mentally, to achieve positive, lasting and productive learning


Even if the human and physical resources

had been adequate to present a proper education program to the detainees in

Woomera, going to classes there was always a haphazard affair, at best, a distraction

from their daily trauma.


Alternative Options for a “Better Detention” fostering Optimum Learning


My proposals are based on the understanding

that Mandatory Detention will not be abolished in the near future. The three

following alternatives seek to provide a more acceptable “detention”

that fosters optimum learning outcomes for detainees. The educational needs

of the detainees would best be served by appropriate resources and specially

trained teachers, in an environment and atmosphere conducive to learning.

First Option

Have a purpose built school complex

in the Centre staffed, resourced, organised and functioning as close as possible

to a “normal” school, incorporating the specific and special needs

of students. Language acquisition, cultural studies and practical life-skills

would form the basis of the education program. Given the nature of learning

in such an environment, subject content and contextually relevant teaching becomes

a crucial priority. A basic “survival kit” for future Visa holders.

[This option was once proposed at

Woomera in early June 2001 but was never actioned]

Second Option:

Transport Students to Local Schools

Transport all students [children

and adults] to attend the local school/s. This would necessitate some major

organisation and consultation with DETE, School Council/s, Community and other

stake-holders - but not an impossible task. Facilities already available and

staffing and resources could be allocated according to student needs. Allows

all students to be initiated into a formal schooling process. Excellent learning

opportunities for cross-cultural awareness.

[Some junior students are already

being bused to a previously closed school. Commendable attempt to formalise

teaching/learning, but the children are isolated from other school children

and associated interactions. No similar provision for any adult student.]

Third Option:

Woomera Township as “Detention” Centre?

This proposal is, I think, by far

the best and would, I believe, have the most positive and broadest learning

outcomes for Asylum Seekers.

Woomera township is in the unique

position to “alleviate” most of the current concerns and issues

surrounding the mandatory detention of Asylum Seekers.

  • Already has existing

    housing and infrastructure. Federal property.

  • Remote and secure:

    Can be re-established as a restricted facility/zone.

  • Asylum Seekers allowed

    “freedom” with dignity.

  • Cost effective and cost


  • Business and employment


  • Immediate coordinated

    and effective assistance towards assimilation.

  • Education based on needs.

    Theirs and ours.

  • Better “detention”

    - better outcomes.


Facilities and Infrastructure

As Woomera is already “owned”

by the Government and has the necessary infrastructure to service approximately

7000 people, why not revert/convert Woomera township and area to a restricted


Personnel for any current or future

Woomera Rocket Range projects, could be rehoused in purpose built accommodation

in the IRPC, which has the infrastructure to cater for 2000 people. They would

be assured of privacy and security close to their working environment.

Current residents could be encouraged

to accept the proposals by sensitive consultation and collaborative planning.

Positive Government support would be essential.

This is not to suggest that Woomera

becomes the “detention capital” of Australia, but given the small

number of asylum seekers that come to Australia anyway, one facility the size

of Woomera would be enough to house them while they go through all the initial

clearance processing. Processing should be of minimal duration, after which

the detainees are released into the community. If most of the funding that has

been/will be allocated to other detention services/measures both on and off-shore

was to be concentrated in Woomera, many of the current perceived “problems”

could be alleviated.

Security: Restricted Facility/Zone

Woomera township and environs has previously been a restricted zone. The Rocket

Range still is. It is probable that the currently restricted area could be extended

and made secure. This would eliminate the need to detain Asylum Seekers in a

central facility, locked up in separate compounds, surrounded by maximum security

fencing, surmounted by razor wire. The organisation and delivery of all security

measures could be done by federal or state officers. This would create an excellent

PR opportunity, to introduce and familiarise the prospective Visa holders to

Australian law and law-enforcement. It would also eliminate the need for the

current Centre’s correctional services management, its ethos and practises.

“Freedom” with Dignity

The detainees could be accommodated

in Woomera’s currently empty houses and units, be given a Government benefit

and be assisted by appropriate personnel and professionals to acquire the necessary

life-skills, to become accustomed to life and living in an Australian community.

They could be given freedom of movement within Woomera and the immediate surrounding

area. The ability to be partially self-determining and “free” would

hopefully alleviate many of the more debilitating mental, emotional and physical

problems, thereby allowing the detainees some time to recuperate and direct

their energies and thoughts towards education and learning life-skills, essential

adjuncts to assimilation. This effectively allows the Asylum Seekers to live

and adjust to the Australian way of life with privacy, dignity, autonomy and

purpose while their applications are being processed.

Cost Effective and Cost Cutting

It could be envisaged that,

with immediate practical help and practice, the detainees could become financially

“self-supporting”. That is, they learn to budget and learn to live

on their disposable income, as every other Australian does. This scenario would

be more cost effective and cheaper than the current per person daily rate cost

of detention. This has immediate and future economic benefits. The money immediately

flows into the township and future Visa holders probably would become more financially

astute. Most importantly, financial acumen does not establish or encourage a

reliance or dependency on welfare.

Increased Business and Employment


Woomera could once again become a

viable township, providing employment and business opportunities for many. As

the current mainland detention centres and the off-shore facilities are all

indirectly foreign owned, Woomera would provide and ensure direct economic benefit

to the region. Detainees and service providers alike would be injecting funds

into the community, guaranteeing that the economic bonus and profits stay in

Woomera, hence South Australia, and not go interstate, off-shore or overseas.

An economic revival for the region has to be considered as a positive and desirable


Towards Assimilation

The more provisions that

can be made towards the “normal” education, assistance, training

and familiarising of Asylum Seekers with the Australian language, culture and

life-skills for integration and successful living, while they are in “detention”,

the less likely they will have problems adjusting and being accepted, when they

are granted a Visa.

Education Based on Needs

As the lack of English is one of

the major obstacles to the assimilation of Visa holders in our society, early

intervention and intensive language acquisition programs, are crucial for the

success of their survival and settlement in the community. Having access to

education on a regular basis in a formal setting, Woomera Area School and TAFE

Campus, would enable the proper delivery of programs specifically designed and

delivered to meet the needs of all the students, children and adults alike.

It would also foster an appreciation of our education system, teaching and learning

methodologies, schooling expectations and provide the foundations for appropriate

learning practices and behaviour. An investment in education always provides


“Better Detention” -

Better Outcomes

Given that it does not appear that

Mandatory Detention and the application and delivery of that detention will

change in the immediate future, I am proposing that the third alternative “detention”

option is the best under the current policy. Not only does it remove Asylum

Seekers from the punitive, debilitating, dehumanising and demoralising incarceration

that they are currently subjected to, but more importantly, it also engenders

an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance, by both Asylum Seekers and Australians.


The fact is that Asylum Seekers are

here, now, and they will probably continue to come, despite our worst efforts

to dissuade them. Currently they are a “captive “ audience and every

endeavour should be made to help them in every possible way while they are being

detained. Why further traumatise and alienate these particularly vulnerable

and helpless people when at least 85% of them will be granted a Visa? These

are our possible future citizens. It makes no sense. There has to be a better


Yours Sincerely,

Inese Petersons.


Updated 30 June 2003.