here to return to the Submission Index
Submission to the National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
Effects of detention on Detainees and the Learning Process
Alternative Options for a “Better Detention” fostering Optimum
Option: Transport Students to Local Schools
Option: Woomera Township as “Detention” Centre?
Facilities and Infrastructure
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.
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]
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.]
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
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” -
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
Updated 30 June 2003.