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Submission to the National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

Mark Huxstep


  • During the time that

    I worked at the Woomera detention centre, particularly during the first 6

    weeks, I was frequently followed home from the Eldo Hotel, where our evening

    meals were supplied to us. This would take the form of an off duty guard who

    would walk closely behind the nurses, keeping pace with them and remaining

    within listening distance of them as they walked and talked about their day.

    If asked he/they would state that they were just walking home as well. Quite

    often though it was apparent that they had gone right out of their way to

    go home so as to be able to listen to and report our behaviour and conversations.

  • At times I was challenged

    by an off duty guard whenever or wherever they would come across me, regarding

    my care of a detainee which they had witnessed or even been told about by

    a guard who had been present during a treatment. This questioning took the

    form of questioning the degree of privacy which this treatment may have required,

    my attitude when dealing with the detainee (I was told that I was too friendly

    many times) and indeed the appropriateness of the treatment/s that I may have

    given, ie my professional nursing decisions were questioned by some guards.

    Often, these inquisitions were conducted by guards who were obviously under

    the influence of alcohol.

  • Many times I was told

    that I was too kind to detainees and that I should be more professional, i.e.

    less friendly. I would like to take the time at this point to state categorically

    that at no time during my time at the Woomera detention centre did I ever

    behave in an inappropriate manner regarding my professional nursing conduct

    or in the execution of my nursing skills or implementation of the interventions

    which were required of me.

  • As an example of this

    intimidation, during the course of a morning in the medical clinic, the nurse

    in charge returned to the clinic from the morning managers meeting. She stated

    that she had a verbatim transcript of a conversation, which had occurred between

    nursing staff the evening prior, over their evening meal.

  • (Nurses are trained

    to review their decisions and actions constantly, this requires us to discuss

    patient conditions and our nursing interventions regarding their health problems,

    with each other, being ever mindful of the importance of maintaining patient

    confidentiality of course. This could take the form of a person talking about

    a patient that they had treated earlier in the day, their presenting health

    problem and prior health history, and whatever treatment that we had implemented

    to assist them. This is known as peer review and is used also by the medical

    fraternity to maintain and improve the standard of care that they offer. It

    may also include discussing any barriers that we had encountered in the delivery

    of optimal health care to our patients).

  • The nurse in charge

    did indeed then show myself and other nurses who were present at the time,

    a verbatim transcript of our conversations from the earlier evening where

    we discussed such topics. Apparently guards sitting at the next table had

    written down everything that we had said and then brought the transcripts

    to the centre manager the next day with a report regarding our actions.

  • One of the department

    managers within the detention centres title and brief was that of ‘Intel

    Manager’. His job was to collect information which may indicate ‘trouble’

    from the detainees. One of his practices was to listen to the conversations

    within medical centre by eavesdropping at the window. One more than one occasion

    I caught him standing next to an open window at the front of the medical centre.

    On these occasions I would close the window.

  • While attempting to

    treat patients within the clinic during all times, but particularly on a night

    shift (7pm-7am), some guards would take a particular interest in the treatment

    that I was providing to my patient. This may take the form of interrupting

    whilst I was talking to and taking their history, explaining a problem, explaining

    a treatment, giving advice etc. They might ask questions which related to

    themselves, a friend or another guard and ask for advice which was totally

    unrelated to the treatment of the detainee. As staffing was of a skeleton

    nature i.e. 1 nurse on night duty to see a population of up to 1200 detainees

    this was not appropriate. If asked to withdraw from the medical centre they

    would often decline on security grounds. If it was pointed out that they were

    behaving inappropriately with regard to the focus being on the health problem

    of the detainee, often times they became angry and aggressive and indeed on

    one occasion a guard threw his radio across the room and stormed out of the

    clinic swearing loudly.

Disrespectful behaviour toward detainees

and staff:

  • Behaviour which was

    quite common, in fact almost every time a guard opened their mouth to speak

    to a detainee or to speak about a detainee, they would use derogatory remarks

    toward them, including the women and children. This included using words like

    “scum, wog/s, cunt, little cunt, slut, trash, vermin, asshole/s, boaties,

    rezzies”. Not every guard spoke this way to about the detainees, but

    many did, and this included speaking to them like this to their face and also

    in front of them as if they didn’t exist (in the 3rd person).

  • When staff asked these

    guards not to behave in this fashion they were often abused in a similar fashion,

    threatened in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, and referred to as

    ‘care bears’ with a venom which the words to not describe.

  • On approximately 3

    occasions I treated detainees who had ‘walked into a wall’, ‘run

    into a door’, ‘fallen over’. They presented with 3/4/5 guards

    all in a state of agitation breathing heavily, faces flushed and sometimes

    in a foul temper. One of these detainees told me outright, in front of the

    guards that they had bashed him. I made an entry to that effect in his patient

    notes and reported the incident to my superior, however to my knowledge no

    action was taken.

Mark Huxstep RN, BN, B


Children in Detention @ Woomera:

Whilst employed as a registered

nurse at the Woomera detention centre, it came within the parameters of my duties

to treat all detainees, men, women, and children. I would like to share some

anecdotes of some of those patient contacts that occurred between myself and

specifically the children (or child related contacts). The dates of my employment

at the WIRPC were early August 2000- mid February 2001, 3 x 6 week contracts.

Each of these contracts were for 6 x 12 hour shifts per week, i.e. 72 hours

per week.


No patients were permitted

to hold, keep nor self-administer any medications whatsoever. This means that

if a patient presented at the medical centre for a health problem, which required

them to take medication more than once, they would have to re-present for all

subsequent administrations of their medications by the nurses. This included

medications such as analgesics (pain killers), anti-biotics, anti-depressants,

anti-inflammatories, insulin, anti-hypertensives. This rule also extended to

other health interventions such as re-applying dressings, follow-up checkups

etc. Quite often this was appropriate as it gave the nurses and doctor an opportunity

to see the patient for re-assessment of their health problem, and to have time

out to discuss other issues impacting on their life, away from family and friends.

It also gave the detainees an opportunity to leave their jail compound and speak

to some Australians who were NOT critical, abusive, negative, or cruel.

I remember one child that I treated,

but I cannot remember their name. The child’s mother was a doctor in her

own country before coming to Australia and spoke excellent English. This child

had been diagnosed with an inner ear infection and was prescribed liquid antibiotics

4 times per day and analgesia for the pain and temperature.

However as the mother was not allowed to take the medications back to her donga,

they had to line up to come from their own compound to the medical centre 4

times per day. This necessitated waiting, sometimes for hours in a queue, at

the mercy of the sarcastic, rude, abusive, Neanderthal (guard) for an opportunity

to see the clinic nurse.

On more than one occasion the mother

berated me for having to wait for 2-3 hours in the freezing cold night, in the

rain, to attend the clinic with a sick baby.

Indeed this was a very common problem,

and apparently sick, depressed, disenfranchised, homeless, country-less refugees,

can make rifles and tanks from Panadol and dressings, so the security personnel

maintained! So we stuck to our rules rigidly.

Soon after one of the boat loads

of asylum seekers had arrived at the Woomera (airforce) airport, code named

operation ‘CONDOR’, I and my colleagues were required to complete

all manner of health checks, all within a 72 hour time frame. This entailed

taking a detailed verbal history of the person’s health, using official

ACM interpreters, taking urine tests, faeces specimens and blood samples. On

many occasions’ people, including children and very young infants were

left sitting for hours in the sun waiting to be processed. The nurses would

offer those waiting drinks of water and bags of lollies, so as to maintain hydration,

blood sugar, and to engender trust and encourage friendliness from them. On

many occasions the nurses were ‘reported’ for doing this. That means

that one of the ACM guards would take the time and trouble to sit down and write

a report to the management about our unprofessional behaviour and our ‘crossing

the line’ in the delivery of our expertise. We would then be officially

warned not to engage in such unprofessional behaviour again.

In one period of about 2-3 weeks,

we had several pregnant women (5 or 6 I think) arrive into detention. The midwife

on duty, duly examined these woman and referred them for additional assessment

by the doctor. It was concluded between the two of them that these ladies should

all be examined by an obstetrician/gynaecologist as soon as could be organised.

The midwife performed a small miracle

in being able to make appointments for the ladies to see an obstetrician/ gynaecologist

in Port Augusta a week later, all with sequential appointment times, on a day,

and at a time when the official ACM interpreter was able to attend, and when

the guards deemed that a vehicle and enough escort guards were available to

make the drive, roughly 2 hours return, to Port Augusta. The day duly arrived

and the midwife checked early with the transport co-ordinator to ensure that

all would go smoothly, and was assured that it would. The time to depart came

and went and no phone call from the co-ordinator for the vehicles. The midwife

went to check with him in person. I went with her.

The transport co-ordinator, a manager with ACM at another facility, laughed

and told us that he had forgotten that morning to book a driver for the vehicle

and therefore the appointments would have to be re-booked for another time and


Not only was this an enormous feat

to have to redo, the women became quite distressed at the news, and indeed one

lady later in the day complained of vaginal ‘spotting’ which can

be an indicator of impending disaster i.e. miscarriage and all of the associated

risk factors which that entails, including haemorrhage and death.

On one accasion, when I was required

to attend to a medication round in the main compound I was waiting to go through

the gate (golf 2) and some detainees had just gone through before me, having

attended the kitchen to collect their meals. The guard at golf 2 was quite agitated

and almost apoplexic. I asked him what was wrong. He said “I would love

to have 5 minutes alone with that little cunt”. I asked him whom he meant.

He pointed to a 5 or 6 year old boy who had just gone through the gate with

the rest of his family. I asked him why, and he said, “Because he is a

cheeky little cunt”. I then asked him what he would do with the child

if he got his 5 minutes alone with him. He made a fist punching into the palm

of his other hand, motion.

We were required to mix babies bottles

at the same sink (the only sink) where we had to decant faecal specimens, do

urine tests, make our own coffee/tea. This sink had no running hot water, in

fact the medical clinic had no running hot water. The medical clinic also, until

just before I left, had no way of sterilising/ autoclaving any instrument. When

a small steriliser was supplied, there were no instructions supplied with it,

nor was there any way of testing a load (clinical indicator) to ensure adherence

to any sterilising standard.

Sometimes pregnant woman

and/ or mothers would come to the clinic to complain about the lack of adequate

nutrition available to them. The food from the kitchen made me retch when I

smelled it. They would come and ask for simple things like an extra piece of

fruit per day for themselves or child, a lemon (which they like to suck), or

an extra glass of milk. The nurses would then ask the kitchen to supply these

things. On several occasions the kitchen manager came to the medical centre

and complained that we were too empathetic and that one piece of fruit and one

250ml glass of milk per days was enough for anyone and that they would not supply

any more.

Of course being nurses,

and not being career ACM employees, we would circumvent the system whenever

and wherever possible, so we would supply the detainees with our own milk and

fruit. If guards saw us doing this, which on occasions they did, we would then

again be reported for ‘crossing the line’.

During the riots of August/ September

2000, I was present at the detention centre. I witnessed many of the guards,

dressed in full riot/battle dress (ninja turtle dress) intimidating detainees,

including children, with loud abusive language. On several occasions I heard

guards express the hope that they would have the opportunity to ‘bash

a rezzy’ and I said to one of these guards, “surely you don’t

mean except in self defence” at which he stated that he didn’t care

what the circumstances, he just wanted to be able to ‘hit some rezzies’

and made a swinging motion with his riot stick. I asked him what he would do

if he encountered women and children in the melee of the riot and he said “they

get treated the same as the rest of the scum”, with a grin on his face.

At one stage the guard

hierarchy received word that P. Ruddock had given permission to use firearms

to quell the riot, ostensible to “fire over their heads”. The guards

with whom I was present when this news was received were elated and stated that

given the opportunity they would aim “very low” when firing over

their heads. This was said with a chuckle. I asked them did they mean that they

would shoot at people? They answered in the affirmative. At the 11th hour apparently

P. Ruddock withdrew his permission for the use of firearms and there was an

audible groan from all of the guards with whom I was present.

I was told that we were not to behave in too friendly a manner to any detainees,

but especially toward the children, because the parents and ‘ringleaders’

of the unrest and riots, ‘used’ them to garner information from

the medical centre. When I one day made the comment that the volume of Panadol

or bandaids being used in the clinic was hardly newsworthy nor of any strategic

value to anyone I was abused and told that I was naive and those ‘fucking

little cunts’ especially the ‘Iraquis’ were spies and to ‘treat

them and piss them off out of the clinic!’ This was said loudly and in

front of some children which were attending the clinic at the time and with

whom I had had a conversation in English just prior.

Mark Huxstep RN

29th June 2002


Updated 30 June 2003.