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Incident of 15 December 2010

KELLY, Mr Greg, First Assistant Secretary, Detention Operations Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

LYNCH-MAGOR, Ms Fiona, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure and Services Management Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

MACKIN, Ms Janet, Assistant Secretary, Irregular Maritime Arrivals, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

MOORHOUSE, Mr John, Deputy Secretary, Immigration Detention Services Group, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

RICHARDS, Mr Peter, Assistant Secretary, Detention Operations East Branch, Department of Immigration and Citizenship

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. I note that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. We have received your submission to this inquiry and we invite you to make some opening remarks to the committee, to be followed by some questions.

Mr Moorhouse : I do not want to make extensive opening remarks other than to just introduce the roles of some of my colleagues. As a result of retirement and staff transfers, some of the people who were directly involved in DIAC's response to the tragedy are no longer with the agency or in their previous roles. As well as bringing my first assistant secretaries today, I have brought along Peter Richards, who was the assistant secretary whose responsibilities covered Christmas Island at the time of the tragedy and who travelled to Christmas Island on the evening of the tragedy and arrived the day after, so was there for the immediate response to the tragedy and Janet Mackin, who currently holds that same role—Peter has moved on to a different role. In addition I have spoken to Fiona Andrew, who is the senior immigration representative on Christmas Island, and she has briefed me about some of the issues. We will do everything we can to assist the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Moorhouse. Mr Keenan, did you want to start?

Mr KEENAN: I know you have actually provided it within your evidence but can you provide for the committee the particulars of where the people who survived the boat accident came from?

Mr Moorhouse : Where they came from?

Mr KEENAN: Where they came from, in terms of their nationalities, I should say.

Mr Richards : Of the 42 survivors, 27 were from Iran, seven were from Iraq, five identified themselves as being stateless and there were three Indonesian crew.

Mr KEENAN: What do we understand by being stateless?

Mr Richards : What we understand by being stateless is that it ties back to citizenship and issues of ethnicity. Through the Middle East we have populations that are on the move, populations that are displaced and have been displaced for some time. But this is what is being claimed by the people who have arrived. Those issues that go to the heart of statelessness are still issues that would be resolved.

Mr KEENAN: The reason I am keen to ask this question is because one of the things the committee is being asked to find out is where the boat itself departed Indonesia. I want to get a sense of what the journey of these people was like prior to that. When you say someone is stateless, they must have had some form of identity document to get to a jumping off point, though, wouldn't they?

Mr Richards : If you talk about the typical journey that might involve the first part of that by air travel into countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Typically, though, when people do arrive, the majority arrive without documents. Perhaps it might help in terms of—

Mr KEENAN: They arrive without documents when they arrive in Australia—they must have had documents prior to embarking on that journey.

Mr Moorhouse : That is correct. But people may not necessarily tell us what documents they travelled on. They may have travelled on false documents. Our practice is, if a person declares themselves to be stateless on arrival, they are recorded as stateless. Their actual nationality would be an issue that we would seek to determine during their immigration processing.

Mr KEENAN: Okay, so yet to be determined.

Mr Moorhouse : That is correct. If I could perhaps provide an example, there may be someone who identifies themselves of Kurdish ethnicity who has lived in different parts of what they would consider to be Kurdistan, which may be in Iran, Iraq or Turkey, or whatever, but they do not identify with a particular country and when they come to us they may identify themselves as being stateless.

Mr KEENAN: So what do we know about the people who were not stateless—basically we know people came from the Middle East, and there would be a reasonable expectation that everybody on that boat had made the journey from the Middle East.

Mr Moorhouse : That is correct.

Mr KEENAN: So what do we know about the journeys that they made before they embarked from Indonesia?

Mr Moorhouse : I am not sure we have that detail. We can talk about typical paths. Many people who come to Australia using people smugglers come from the Middle East to Malaysia or to Indonesia—most often to Malaysia because of the visa-free arrangements that Malaysia has with a number of Middle Eastern countries. They would typically come to Malaysia or Indonesia, then find their way to Indonesia and then travel to Australia by boat from Indonesia.

Mr KEENAN: So can you provide any further information to the committee about where they did embark from, specifically?

Mr Moorhouse : That is not something that I am familiar with. That would be something that probably Customs and Border Protection would be better able to advise. They have the responsibility for intelligence and for dealing with the boats that are involved.

Mr KEENAN: All right. We have heard a lot of evidence this morning from—I suppose they are best described as non-government organisations—about some of the things they feel that DIAC might have been able to do better. The issue has been raised about the people who were sent to Sydney for the funerals. When they were sent to Sydney from Christmas Island, did that change their legal status at all, that they had been able to set foot on mainland Australia or not?

Mr Moorhouse : No.

Mr KEENAN: So that was not a consideration at all for the department?

Mr Moorhouse : No

Mr KEENAN: All right. Finally, with the processing of the people who survived, has that been any different from any of the other IMAs who have arrived at Christmas Island, has that followed exactly the same process or have special arrangements been made in some way?

Mr Moorhouse : I can answer that in two ways, Senator. I beg your pardon, Mr Keenan. I have had two days in Senate estimates this week, so I beg your pardon. Can you remind me of the question, please?

Mr KEENAN: I was just wondering whether people who survived the accident or the disaster were treated any differently than IMAs who have normally arrived or whether special arrangements were made?

Mr Moorhouse : I guess I would answer that in two ways. In terms of the assessment that would be made, the answer to that is no. The assessment we make in relation to a person's refugee status is based on specific criteria and that would be no different to the assessment that would be made for anyone else. In terms of the actual handling of their applications, the answer to that would be, yes. We would, of course, want to take into account the particular circumstances, the vulnerability and the sensitivity and therefore make sure their cases were handled with appropriate sensitivity. But also in cases where people are particularly vulnerable or have been through trauma, we will expedite their applications and ensure that their applications are dealt with promptly and that will be the same in any immigration caseload. We try to process applications in a logical and appropriate way, but if there are particular compassionate or other compelling circumstances that might result in an application being assessed ahead of others. There is a delicate balance that we do in that area. We do not want to disadvantage people but we do want to take account of people's circumstances.

Mr KEENAN: Yes, sure.

Mr Moorhouse : My answer to the question is, yes, they would have been handled in a slightly different way, in a more sensitive way and, hopefully, given priority. But that would be something that we would do across any type of immigration caseload.

Mr KEENAN: Finally, the Red Cross told us this morning that everyone of the people who survived the tragedy is now in community detention on mainland Australia, is that correct?

Mr Moorhouse : Either they are in community detention or they have been granted protection visas and are residents of Australia.

Mr KEENAN: Thank you.

Mr PERRETT: Further to Mr Keenan's question, if there are compelling circumstances, is it my understanding that you are not able to direct other government agencies that undertake security checks to do so at a faster rate? Do they operate according to your pace or are they independent of you?

Mr Moorhouse : Essentially other agencies operate according to their own resources and priorities and so on. I mean there is a discussion, we work in collaboration with other agencies who are involved in immigration processing but they are responsible for their own processes.

Mr PERRETT: Could you suggest this file go to the top of the pile rather than the bottom of the pile?

Mr Moorhouse : We could talk with agencies about prioritisation and so, for example, in relation to security clearances, in other parts of immigration business, it is not unusual for our national security and counterterrorism section to liaise with ASIO to say, 'This is a particularly deserving or compelling or particularly urgent case.' ASIO will work with us to ensure that we are able to meet the client's reasonable needs. Just because someone says, 'I am important' or 'I am urgent' does not mean that they get special treatment. But if there is, for example, a delegation of people travelling to Australia urgently and time is of the essence, then we will give priority to that. If we have, for example, in a resident's caseload, a partner who is pregnant and wants to have the child in Australia, we might give priority to that.

Mr PERRETT: Yes, so it is common sense.

Mr Moorhouse : It is common sense and daily practical working relationships. But at the same time we are not in a position to determine their approach, only to discuss with them.

Mr PERRETT: Yes, and you might be guided by the letters from a marginal MP maybe. Sorry, just kidding.

CHAIR: Yes, you are. There has been a lot of discussion about the memorial service and the lack of attendance by the survivors at that memorial service. Can you just explain for the committee how that came about, whether or not you were aware of the service, whether it was requested that survivors attend or explain the rationale why survivors were not involved in the memorial service?

Mr Moorhouse : Yes, I can. My colleague, Fiona Andrew, who is our senior officer on Christmas Island met with Brian Lacy, the Administrator, and Gordon Thompson, the Shire President, and discussed this issue. There was a desire from the community for the survivors to participate in the memorial service. There was an active discussion about the issues involved. Some of the survivors had unresolved issues in relation to the tragedy itself. We are all aware of the heroic and enormous efforts that were made by the community to assist people. That is absolutely not in any contention whatsoever. You will understand that, in the eyes of a bereaved person who has been through a terrible tragedy such as this, not all of them saw the tragedy in the same light. They saw people standing on the shore while family members were killed. Some of the survivors had unresolved issues in relation to their perception of what had happened.

There was a discussion between Brian Lacy, Gordon Thompson and Fiona Andrew about whether it was a wise thing for the survivors to attend. As I said, the community was keen for that to happen. At the end of the day the decision was made that it would potentially be traumatic for the community itself and for the survivors, should any of those unresolved feelings have been manifested during the ceremony. It was not an easy issue; it was a very, very difficult issue to deal with but my colleague came to the view that it was best that the community should be spared from the consequences of what I have just sought to describe and also that the survivors themselves not be exposed to the sort of complexities that such a situation would have created. As an alternative, and bearing in mind that the people were going to the funerals very shortly afterwards, my colleague arranged for the survivors to be able to attend the site of the tragedy so that they were able to do something. The survivors were given the opportunity to make a statement to be delivered at the memorial service and indeed if anyone had asked to go, that might have caused us to revise our position. No-one chose to do either of those things.

CHAIR: Was there actually any dialogue with the survivors about this issue?

Mr Moorhouse : Not that I am aware of. There was, however, an open dialogue with the Administrator and the Shire President and my understanding is that they understood the complexity and the difficulty of that position and accepted the view of my colleague.

CHAIR: Right.

Ms Mackin : I would like to clarify that. The survivors were aware that the memorial service was being held because they were asked if they wanted to provide some written statement to be read out at the service. So they were aware, but when they were made aware of what was happening, none of them asked if they could attend. It was the following day that they were being sent to the mainland for community detention. Just to clarify another point as well; they had already been to the funerals. On the following day they were all going on a plane to—

CHAIR: So how many provided messages to the memorial services?

Ms Mackin : There would have been about five or six messages read out.

CHAIR: Were all that were provided read out?

Ms Mackin : Yes, they were.

CHAIR: So it was five or six?

Ms Mackin : Yes.

CHAIR: Out of how many again?

Ms Mackin : There were 42 survivors.

CHAIR: Okay.

Ms Mackin : They were read out by members of the community. Basically all the messages that were read out were messages of thanks for the support and understanding of the community. They were very moving messages and I do not think there was a dry eye in the memorial service at all.

CHAIR: I was not there, and I respect any decision that was made at the time, I think people on site are the best to make that decision, but we have the value of hindsight here, and it has been put to the committee that the best psychological response would have been to include survivors if at all possible in such a memorial service. I am just wondering whether the department is looking at that from a position of hindsight—and I say that and acknowledge that—but have you taken psychological advice about these matters and would you do it differently in the future if something unfortunately happened again?

Mr Moorhouse : I think the way I would seek to describe the situation is that there are a lot of factors to consider. It was not a simple decision, it was one where clearly there would have been some benefit, there is no doubt about that, but there was at the same time a real potential of some risk, if I can say that, it seems like inappropriate language, but I am just trying to express the complexity of the judgment that had to be made. I think we could all look at such a situation and perhaps give different weightings to different factors, but I am satisfied that my colleague who was involved in making that very difficult judgment took into account all of those factors and came up with a sensitive decision in the interests of both the community and the survivors. If we were to look at a similar situation again, I would say that it would depend upon a complex balancing of the factors that were present in that situation, but I am satisfied that my colleague made that sensitive and complex judgment.

CHAIR: I am not going to labour the point any more except to just finish with this. Why was there a community expectation that the survivors would be part of the memorial service?

Mr Moorhouse : I think for understandable reasons that they wanted to be inclusive and that this was a community event, and they are part of the broader Christmas Island community. I can understand the motive and I think the motive is entirely commendable and it reflects the enormously positive approach that has been taken by the Christmas Island community at the time of the tragedy and subsequently.

CHAIR: There has been criticism about the department's communication with the community. Can you just explain how did you go after the event and communicate what was happening? It has been put to us that residents of the island were effectively left in the dark about what had actually happened to the survivors, where they had been taken to, what was their condition et cetera. There has been a suggestion that there should have been daily bulletins put out. Could you just comment on the communications strategy, again, whether you think that was adequate and in the benefit of hindsight whether you would do something different?

Mr Moorhouse : I might ask my colleague Mr Richards to comment.

Mr Richards : There is ongoing communication that the department does provide to the Christmas Island community, through newsletters and community reference groups. In response to the particular tragedy I think there were a range of things about trying to keep people abreast of what was happening, there were joint media conferences that were happening on island that were providing information both from the AFP around what was happening in terms of the search and rescue and moving into the investigation side—

CHAIR: Was that for the national media or for local consumption?

Mr Richards : That was for the national media that had quite broad coverage through that period, and I think there was actually a community reference group meeting on 16 December which was immediately after the tragedy. The department also provided information to update the community through I think it is the Islander publication that comes out.

CHAIR: Is that weekly?

Mr Richards : I do not think it is weekly, It is monthly we believe. We used that as a tool to provide the local community with specific information on what was happening, but also more broadly across the detention cohort on Christmas Island.

CHAIR: You might take on notice and see if you can actually provide some specific details of the communication that was undertaken, when and the means by which it was undertaken.

Senator FIELDING: I have a point of clarification about the decision that was made in respect of the issue about survivors meeting the rescuers. When was that decision made?

Mr Moorhouse : I am sorry, Senator?

Senator FIELDING: You were referring in an answer to Senator Marshall's question—there were two or three people involved in a decision.

Mr Moorhouse : About the memorial service?

Senator FIELDING: Yes, about whether survivors would be there. You explained the reasons around it, but when was that decision made?

Mr Moorhouse : I am not sure.

Ms Mackin : There had been ongoing discussions for about three weeks prior to the memorial service and I think the decision was probably made up to about a week beforehand. Also the advice of IHMS and Serco was sought at the time, so they were involved in the decision-making process. The IHMS and the Serco view was that it would be too traumatic for them to attend and, as Mr Moorhouse has explained, there was the attitude of some of the survivors to what had happened—they still had some issues to work through—so there may have been some negative reaction at the memorial service from the survivors. The memorial service was really about a celebration of the things that the community had pulled together to do to rescue these people. There had also been a memorial service held for the survivors on 20 December as well, so I think that was also part of the decision, that there had been something for them. This was for a different purpose. It was more to be part of a celebration.

Senator FIELDING: And was any advice sought, in making that decision, from professional people like counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists—were they involved in that decision-making process, do you know? And if so, who?

Mr Moorhouse : Our staff on Christmas Island are in regular communication with our contractors there and our contractors include International Health and Medical Services, who provide health and psychological services to our clients on Christmas Island. So I would expect my colleague would have been in regular communication with them. It was a very active dialogue that was occurring at that time, but I am not sure whether any of my colleagues can add anything further to that.

Senator FIELDING: Was there any formal advice sought, in making a decision, from a psychological or psychiatric point of view, in how it would help survivors or rescuers?

Ms Mackin : I do not know the details of that, but the view of the IHMS which does provide those sorts of services and has the psychologists was sought in that decision, but I do not know whether it was sought formally or whether there were written reports from them at the time. They were part of the discussion of the decision making.

Senator FIELDING: Could you take that on notice? Thanks, Chair.

Mrs MARKUS: Senator Fielding has been asking what kind of advice was sought. Were there any suggestions about how else connection between the survivors and those that had rescued them could be facilitated? Was there a discussion about alternatives, individual meetings or follow up for those survivors who may have been willing to do that? Was that ever considered?

Ms Mackin : There were a couple of requests from survivors to meet with members of the community. For example, the uncles that had the two orphans with them asked if they could meet members of the community before they were transferred off the island into community detention. That happened about three days before the transfer, before the memorial service. The uncles just wanted to meet with the shire president and other members of the client reference group to thank them for the things that they had done. So that was a special request made and it was facilitated.

Mrs MARKUS: Thank you.

Mr PERRETT: The community liaison officer—are you aware if he had any requests from the Christmas Island community, between the tragedy and the memorial in March, for meetings to be facilitated with the victims of the tragedy?

Mr Moorhouse : I cannot give you a full account of what requests have been made. As my colleague has just explained there was a request from one of the clients to meet with people.

Mr PERRETT: The Christmas Island community in particular. You may want to come back to us on that.

Mr Moorhouse : We can try to come back to you in relation to that. At all times the interests of the clients was paramount in our mind. We have a group of people who are highly traumatised and we have a visits policy which is intended to serve the interests of the clients. We certainly would have facilitated visits within our visits policy, if the client wanted to meet someone. The point I am trying to make here is that our concern was for the welfare of our clients, trying to protect that and help them heal and deal with the situation they were in.

Mr PERRETT: The suggestion has been put to us that the Christmas Island community felt intimidated by the process in terms of community members being able to access clients. There was also a suggestion, and we did not get the legal definition, that there had to be a connection. Whether pulling someone out of the water or seeing someone being pulled out of the water is sufficient connection. You are not sure if a decision maker had to turn their mind to whether or not such a meeting could be facilitated because you would have to go to the community liaison officer to find out one way or the other.

Mr Moorhouse : I guess that is what I was trying to explain before. I understand the community would have a range of desires and wishes. Wanting to reach out and help in a number of different ways would be a natural response from any community minded person who was witness to such a terrible tragedy. At the same time we have to try to look after the interests of the people themselves. The practices that would have been applied by my colleagues in that situation were very much focused on the interests of our clients.

Mr PERRETT: I have just had a flood go through my community and there were people turning up on strangers' doors, knocking and going in to help. If they turned up tomorrow and did that, they might be looked at a bit strangely. It is not unusual in a moment of crisis for a community to step up and the silos that separate us to be demolished. Obviously, as normality comes back people then just tend to go about their day-to-day lives. I was just interested in exploring whether there were overtures made by the community to reach out to the people who had been affected and whether there were any obstacles in the way.

Mr Moorhouse : We could perhaps take that on notice.

Mr PERRETT: Yes.

Mr HUSIC: I would like to confirm the timing. From the evidence given to us it appears that at about 5:40 SIEV221 was sighted; then at 6:20 the emergency management plan was activated by the territories, not DIAC. Then if I am to understand correctly, at 6:45 you were notified that the vessel had been sighted and that your assistance would probably be required. Is that correct?

Mr Moorhouse : That is as I understand it.

Mr Richards : That was the time at which there was notification provided to our national office here, but our local manager and some of her staff were already at the site and starting to consider what assistance and arrangements we would need to put into place.

Mr HUSIC: Is that the standard time frame in which Immigration would be notified by Customs of a vessel sighting—about an hour? Does that fall within your expectation?

Mr Moorhouse : Is anyone able to help in terms of that? I am not sure of the precise timing of that, but we would be advised as early as possible that a vessel was arriving. Often we would have intelligence beforehand, if there was knowledge of it. In most situations we would be aware that a vessel was going to arrive before it arrived and so we would be there to meet the vessel when it actually arrives. This is a rather unusual situation because of the fact that the arrival of the vessel was not anticipated.

Mr HUSIC: Okay. Do you have much dealings with the Asylum Seekers Christmas Island organisation at all?

Mr Moorhouse : In different ways. Michelle Dimasi contacts me regularly in relation to the welfare of particular individuals. I should add, I have only been in this job for five weeks and when I say regularly, I have probably had about three contacts with Michelle.

Mr HUSIC: Right. What consultation measures do you have in place with groups like that?

Mr Moorhouse : On Christmas Island?

Mr HUSIC: Yes, on Christmas Island.

Ms Mackin : I think she has spent quite a lot of time on Christmas Island. She has very regular communication with Fiona Andrew, our DIAC leader on Christmas Island. I saw some communication between them the other day, because she was thanking Fiona for the relationship and the information that she has shared with her in the past because Fiona finishes her job today on Christmas Island. So I think they have had very regular contact. Michelle has also regular contact with clients that we have in detention; she fills in the visit forms. One of the things she has been asking is whether she can be given some extra consideration because of her relationship with the Christmas Island community and whether she needs to meet all of our guidelines in terms of visits or whether we can facilitate and perhaps not make her stick by all the timelines in relation to visits that she wants to have. But it has been a very long, ongoing and close relationship with Michelle.

Mr HUSIC: Would it be a reasonable characterisation of that dialogue as ad hoc?

Ms Mackin : It has not been formalised; I think that is probably fair enough, a fair comment.

Mr HUSIC: Okay.

Mr Moorhouse : But we have a community reference group on Christmas Island where we meet with community representatives on a regular basis, so there is a vehicle for consultation with the community. As an agency, DIAC seeks to be as open as we are able to be and so we have what you might call regular ad hoc contact with a number of community advocates and so on.

Mr HUSIC: Does the community reference group meet monthly, quarterly, six-monthly—?

Mr Richards : Monthly.

Mr HUSIC: So what type of groups would be involved in that?

Mr Richards : There is a broad cross-section including the shire president, including from business, but also across some of the different community groups on the island representing the local community.

Mr HUSIC: Then in that reference group—and I will limit my questions just to this, Chair, because I am conscious others want to ask questions—has it ever been put to you that there is a lack of consultation with the local community? Is the quality of the communication between DIAC and the local community ever questioned or has it been questioned in that community reference group?

Mr Moorhouse : I think communication is one of those issues that is constantly—how could I put this—people would always like more communication. Therefore we recognise that there will be a range of expectations or wishes in relation to greater engagement with us. We do try to have, as I said, structured forms of engagement with various stakeholders and we do try to make ourselves as accessible as possible to other interested parties and other stakeholders so that we are not remote and isolated from the people who are representing the interests of our clients. I am sure that there are criticisms, but we try to make sure that we are in regular communication. We have regular community newsletters on Christmas Island, whenever there is major events, we do media conferences and we have regular community meetings. For example, in the recent riots, because of the community concern, our manager in Christmas Island was holding daily community meetings to keep the community informed. So we have a range of strategies for communicating with stakeholders, but I am sure there are many stakeholders who would like to have more communication.

Mr HUSIC: Just finally, on page 7 of your submission, under the heading Memorial services on Christmas Island, in the third paragraph it says:

No clients attended the service, however during the day the survivors and family members remained on Christmas Island and visited the wreck site.

Who organised that visit? Did they undertake that themselves or did someone organise that?

Mr Moorhouse : We organised it.

Mr HUSIC: Right. Knowing that the service was being held at the same time?

Mr Moorhouse : That is correct. In fact it was a deliberate strategy in two respects. One was that given that the memorial service was on and that the survivors were not attending the memorial service, we took them to the site of the tragedy as an alternative to that, but also remembering that they were travelling to the funerals shortly afterwards we wanted—

Ms Mackin : They were travelling to CD.

Mr Moorhouse : I beg your pardon. They were travelling to community detention shortly afterwards. We wanted them to have the opportunity to visit the site of the tragedy before they left the island.

Mr HUSIC: Thank you.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The rest of my colleagues have covered the issues in relation to the memorial quite well, so I will not hound you on that. My question is around the decisions made as to where the survivors would be housed and, in the case of their detention on Christmas Island, detained. There were several appeals to the department both from your own mental health advisory group, individual advocates and lawyers, advising that any of the survivors should not be left in detention on Christmas Island and should have been prioritised for community detention and brought to the mainland. Have you documented how many requests you have had after 15 December to have survivors moved to the mainland?

Mr Moorhouse : Could I give you some background to that issue.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You can give me your version.

Mr Moorhouse : Thank you. As I understand it the concern in the initial stages was to assist the survivors to deal with their situation. We sought to identify family members either amongst the survivors or from amongst the rest of the detainee population so that we could create a supportive environment in terms of having family members with them. For example, with the three surviving orphans we had family members collocated with them. We also received advice in the early stages that keeping the group together was an important consideration and so we acted on that advice and we placed the group in our lowest security form of detention, but tried to keep them together and together with family members.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In Phosphate Hill?

Ms Mackin : Phosphate Charlie.

Mr Richards : Phosphate Alpha which was basically for staff interview facilities.

Mr Moorhouse : As time passed we did turn our mind to community detention but we sought advice from various sources in relation to what was in the best interests of the group of survivors. It was the case that we received advice as time passed that it now was a more appropriate time to look for community detention and we sought to arrange for community detention for the people—in other words, release them into the community rather than holding them in a centre. In terms of your precise question, I would need to take on notice how many requests we received.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could you please on notice how many formal requests there were to consider any of the survivors for community release? Thank you. The specific question I have is in relation to the advice that you did receive around the mental health and psychological concerns of people who had obviously been through a very traumatic experience. One of your own advisors, Professor Louise Newman, is on the record as saying that she specifically requested that survivors, including the orphaned boy Seena and the other orphans, were not to be housed in the detention facilities on Christmas Island. Was there a direct rejection of that advice and if so, was it in writing?

Mr Moorhouse : I do not have that with me. I am not sure if any of my colleagues can help me in terms of how we managed that piece of advice, but there was advice to us that it would be beneficial to keep all of the survivors together in the early stages.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who gave you that advice?

Ms Lynch-Magor : It was clinical advice received through IHMS.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So through the contracted medical support on the island?

Ms Lynch-Magor : Yes, Senator.

Mr PERRETT: You do not know what the expertise level was for the person?

Ms Lynch-Magor : Yes I do, Senator. We sought specific clinical advice from the very beginning in relation to supporting and preparing a care plan for these clients. We were particularly cognisant of the particular care needs that we would have for orphans, as well as the remaining survivors who had all suffered bereavements of one form or another. IHMS were very responsive in terms of making sure that we got appropriate clinical advice from psychologists and psychiatrists and that advice formed part of the considerations that we had in terms of care—

Mr PERRETT: Sorry, I just got distracted. You said psychiatrists, did you?

Ms Lynch-Magor : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What does the department view the role of the mental health advisory group to be?

Mr Moorhouse : You mean the Detention Health Advisory Group?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The group which Professor Louise Newman sits on, specifically for your department. What is the purpose of that group?

Mr Moorhouse : The group comprises representatives of a number of medical organisations in Australia and they provide advice to us in relation to strategies for dealing with the health and welfare and mental health of people in detention.

Mr PERRETT: All the people, not just the 42, but—

Mr Moorhouse : That is right, all people. It is an ongoing committee that provides us with advice. They have the benefit of being professional people, representatives of their organisations and not part of DIAC, so they are independent advisors. Professor Newman is a highly-respected and highly-regarded person and we would give a lot of weight to her views. In this sort of situation, there are always going to be a range of views that are presented and I do not want, in any way, to criticise anyone's contribution in relation to this, but what I would like to try to get across is that my colleagues who are involved in managing this particular group of people—the survivors of the tragedy—were motivated by the best interests of that group and took the advice of the people who were on the ground in relation to how we would manage them.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Whose decision was it to bring the families and the survivors to the mainland for the funeral and return them to Christmas Island only to have them come back a couple of weeks later?

Mr Moorhouse : In terms of the precise decision, I am not certain, but in terms of the decision itself, I think it is important to provide some context to that. If I have got time to do that, I would like to do that because it was a very difficult situation and a very difficult decision to make. The situation we were in was one where we had the advice that I mentioned about the importance of keeping the group together and the mutual support that they had provided. We had ensured that there were family members brought into the group to provide assistance to the people in that group, and particularly to the orphans. We had advice that even in the context of the terrible tragedy that had occurred—and I am speaking now in relative terms—the children were coping reasonably well in such a terrible context in the supported environment in which they had been placed. At the time of the funerals, we were in the process of trying to organise community placement for all of the people that were involved.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did you seek advice from your external independent advisory group as to whether it was a smart idea to move the entire group of people to Sydney and then back to Christmas Island, even though you already knew there was a process in place to have them resettled into community detention? Did you seek advice from the mental health advisory group?

Mr Moorhouse : I will leave it to my colleagues to answer that precise question. The point I would like to make is that the decision was based on the ongoing advice of people on the island. I will be frank that there were different views expressed, but the view that the department took was based on the earlier advice we had received that it was important that we keep the group together for their mutual support and for the ongoing benefit of the members of that group. We did have advice that as time passed then it was appropriate for people to move into community detention. By the time of the funeral services we were working on the community placement of the people in that group. When the time came for the funerals, the funerals came up with relatively short notice. If we had had a little bit more notice, perhaps we could have arranged the community detention before the funerals occurred but that had not happened and the funerals came up with relatively short notice. The bodies were released, there was a decision to hold the funerals in Sydney and we wanted to provide the opportunity for the survivors to attend the funerals.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No-one is disagreeing with that. The issue is the carting of people back and forth when they specifically said they were distressed at doing it. No-one has answered my question. Was the advice—

CHAIR: Mr Moorhouse has indicated that he is going to get the other officers to answer the specifics and if you could answer those questions then we are going to have move on.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If somebody could answer the direct question please?

Mr Moorhouse : Is the specific question whether we had requested the Detention Health Advisory Group advice?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Mr Moorhouse : I am not aware that we had done that. The advice from DeHAG relates to strategies rather than treatment of individual cases.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would imagine that dealing with a group of 42 people with the complex needs of those people, you would be asking for strategic advice. I will leave it there, Chair.

Senator FIELDING: I would like to return to one of the points I raised before about the advice that was sought in regard to the decision not to have survivors meet with the rescuers on the day of the memorial service. Your submission does show that you had mental health advice in regard to the survivors having a look at the wreck site, so you obviously had advice on one issue. That is what I am after. Did you have mental health advice stating that it was not a good idea for survivors to attend the memorial service?

Ms Lynch-Magor : Can I clarify this with you, Senator. The advice that we had at various points was quite broad advice around the clinical management and support that we should provide to these particular clients. Part of that advice said it was really important for them to be offered the opportunity to return to the site of the tragedy and that that should be facilitated at some point. That was not sought in a particular question and answer; it was offered as part of clinical advice. When it became apparent that those clients were going to be settled relatively quickly, we needed to make sure that we moved quickly so that we could actually offer them the opportunity to visit the site of the tragedy and they were leaving the next day. That was offered to them and they accepted.

Mr Moorhouse : Could I just add to that. In relation to the decision about the participation in the memorial service, it was not entirely a medical decision that was being made. It was a decision that was about the impact on the community and the potential impact on the people. People had unresolved feelings of grief and concern about the incident. If this resulted in any negative behaviour or a negative incident it would have had an impact on what was a very important commemoration of the enormous contribution that the community had made. It was a very delicate, practical decision. From my advice, it was made after discussion with the administrator and the shire president.

Senator FIELDING: I appreciate the response. I raise this question because just this morning we heard that there is concern that a significant opportunity has been missed. I understand you are saying that you took into consideration other decisions. But it seems that, as part of the recovery process for survivors and rescuers, there was a missed opportunity of their meeting together. Therefore, I want to go to the heart of that decision to exclude them from that memorial service. What advice did you seek in making that decision?

Mr Moorhouse : I was trying to say that: there was an ongoing discussion about the medical interests of the survivors. The point that I am trying to make in terms of the memorial service is that it was not entirely a medical decision; it was a practical decision made in consultation with the—

Senator FIELDING: I think you have taken it on notice. I am very interested in the advice you have about that decision from a mental health perspective. I understand that you had other issues to take into account for that decision. But I am very interested to know what advice you had from a mental health perspective.

Mr Moorhouse : We can respond to that on notice and give you more information.

Mrs MARKUS: There is quite a lot of literature and experience around best practice approaches, particularly for disaster, trauma and the ongoing handling if post-traumatic stress disorder arises. The challenge we have been faced with, and the information given so far, is that the needs of the survivors could be, and at times was, very different to the needs of those who had rescued, particularly the non-professionals involved in the event. Could we conclude from some of what you are saying that the approach for everybody to come together in one group could have caused re-traumatisation? Were you given advice to treat everybody individually and look at different kinds of approaches? Is that what I am hearing?

Mr Moorhouse : I clarify one thing: the people involved in the rescue attended the memorial services organised for the—

Mrs MARKUS: That is not what I am saying; I am talking about the decision that the survivors would not attend the memorial service. I heard you say that your priority was to consider—I am trying to help you out—the needs of the survivors. In doing that you did not bring them into a group situation with other distressed people who had been involved. You looked at individual plans and then decided how they should be handled, both for the survivors and the non-professionals. It seems that the right advice might have been given. But the failure has been the communication. Could you have looked at alternative plans for individuals who wanted it? I am trying to paint a picture of what may have happened. Is that accurate Fiona?

Ms Lynch-Magor : Mrs Markus I think you are getting to a good point, but one of the things that Mr Moorhouse pointed out was that it was the purpose of the memorial for the community. There was some concern at the time that the purpose of that memorial was for the community to—the word 'celebrate' has been used—commemorate what had occurred for them. The concerns that I have heard my colleagues express were that the point at which our clients were at in terms of their own grief and anger may well have diverted the purpose of what it was that the community were doing. So to put it more crudely, we did not want to spoil or ruin it for the community because some of our clients, not all, were at that particular point. It was more that rather than—

Mrs MARKUS: I hear what you are saying. I hasten to add that the perception we have got from the feedback so far is that the community actually did want the survivors to be present.

Ms Lynch-Magor : I think that the issue though might have been that they were not aware of the considerable, perhaps strong feelings, possibly the not the most positive feelings in our clients, at that point, so they were not aware that could manifest.

Mrs MARKUS: That comes to my other point. Which is that the communication between the department and the community was not clear enough in sensitively but appropriately communicating that. I think that is where a failure may have been.

Mr Moorhouse : That might be, but you would appreciate this is a very difficult issue anyway. The community had made an enormous contribution and an enormous effort. It could potentially have been seen as a lack of gratitude or a lack of appreciation whereas what we were actually dealing with was the unresolved feelings of grief and complex feelings that some of the survivors were going through.

Mrs MARKUS: It is always much easier with hindsight. What would you do differently in relation to communication with the community?

Mr Moorhouse : I guess I find that a very difficult question because I am conscious that my colleagues who are involved in making these very difficult judgments took account of the range of issues and factors that were present at that time. Clearly, more communication is a good thing, there is no doubt about that. Bringing people together to try to resolve feelings is a good thing, there is absolutely no doubt about that. What we would do in the future would very much depend upon the circumstances in the future. I am not trying to dodge your question, I just want to make the point that my colleagues who had to make those judgments had the absolute best of motives, and were balancing a complex range of factors.

Mrs MARKUS: I understand that.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator CASH: Very briefly Mr Moorhouse, just following up in relation to the alleged lack of consultation with the community and the understandings and the expectations of the community in relation to wanting to meet with some of the survivors. Ms Dimasi has given evidence that she actually contacted the department twice, and I understand one of her contacts was Ms Fiona Andrew on 19 December 2010. Her evidence is that she actually raised a number of these issues with the department via Ms Andrew, showing the concerns that the community did have in relation to the survivors, but she received no response from the department at all. And in fact I asked her if she had received a response to date. Is there a reason that the department has not provided Ms Dimasi with a response?

Mr Moorhouse : I cannot answer that Senator, I am not sure—

Senator CASH: Could you take it on notice?

Mr Moorhouse : I definitely can take it on notice.

Senator CASH: Thank you very much. And find out why.

Mr Moorhouse : Okay, thank you.

Ms Mackin : Can I just clarify whether it was a written request she put to Fiona.

Senator CASH: It was a written request. A letter dated 19 December. She says she wrote to her twice.

Mr Moorhouse : Okay, thank you, we will follow that up.

Mr HUSIC: I am just interested in the different mechanisms that are in place pre and post what occurred. And Senator Hanson-Young's questioning of you got me interested in the Detention Health Advisory Group. Now this has been set up back in 2006, correct?

Mr Moorhouse : That is right.

Mr HUSIC: And it has got four terms of reference, I think it is expert opinion on design, development and implementation of health policy, appropriate standards, monitoring and reporting, and nature and scope of research roughly. Is this group used on a day-to-day basis, or is it used in a more structured way?

Mr Moorhouse : It is not used on a day-to-day basis, it is more in a structured way in terms of providing advice to us in relation to strategies and the methods of operating, rather than on a particular day-to-day, case-by-case issue.

Mr HUSIC: So say for example you had an extraordinary set of circumstances such as the one presented on Christmas Island that brought us here today, would you turn to that group for advice on how to manage, for example, the movements of people as was the subject of questioning earlier?

Mr Moorhouse : I think what I would say is that in relation to the particular incident, we had people on the ground who were advising us in terms of how we should respond to the particular situation.

Mr HUSIC: I get that.

Mr Moorhouse : If we were reflecting now on this is an incident, it is probably a good thing for us to do to ask DeHAG to look at our approach and our strategies, and whether we have adequate procedures in place for dealing with such a situation in future.

Mr HUSIC: But 'tradition', if I could use that word, was not that you would refer to them for the management of these type of situations, up until this point.

Mr Moorhouse : That is correct. Not in relation to that specific incident management but perhaps in relation to future strategies.

Mr HUSIC: Thank you.

Mr CHAMPION: Regarding the memorial service, I think you made a prudent decision but it seems to me the committee is interested in the advice you received in order to make that. Could you give us something on notice as to what went into the decision to hold the memorial service—the particular steps you took, what particular advice there was on the different cultural ways of expressing one's emotions and expressing grief and the different expectations on what a memorial service might entail. It seems to me that we have had this external criticism of the department but I am not sure if it is necessarily informed.

Mr Moorhouse : I would be very happy to do that. I would like to reiterate that judgments such as these are not easy. They involve the consideration of a large number of factors. As I said, my colleague who made that call did so after discussion with other key players. Thank you I will be happy to provide you with that background.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Moorehouse and the other officers. Thank you very much for your submission and the evidence you have presented to the committee today.