|Title||Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network
Australiaâs immigration detention network
|Committee Name|| Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network
|Questioner||CHAIR (Mr Melham)
Morrison, Scott, MP
Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Hanson-Young)
Crossin, Sen Trish
Keenan, Michael, MP
ALLEN, Mr Stephen, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
BIDDLE, Mr Steve, Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
CALLANAN, Mr Christopher, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
DOUGLAS, Mr Ken, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
FARRELL, Mr Craig, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
HARDY, Ms Jenny, Chief Lawyer, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
KELLY, Mr Greg, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
McCAIRNS, Mr Gavin, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
METCALFE, Mr Andrew, Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
MOORHOUSE, Mr John, Deputy Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
NIBLETT, Ms Julie, Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
POPE, Ms Kate, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
SHEEHAN, Mr Stephen, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
SOUTHERN, Dr Wendy, Deputy Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
WALSH, Mr David, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
WILSON, Ms Jackie, Deputy Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Committee met at 10:03
CHAIR ( Mr Melham ): I declare open this hearing of the parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network and welcome Mr Andrew Metcalfe and officers of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and thank them for appearing before the committee. The committee has received your submission and supplementary submissions and answers to many questions on notice, which we appreciate. I reiterate, Mr Metcalfe, the committee does appreciate the cooperative nature of how those questions have been handled. I know there are many and some are still to be answered, but there is a timetable which, as I understand it, the committee is well satisfied with.
Please feel free to make an opening statement, after which committee members will ask questions. Because of the length of today's hearingâwe have set aside from 10 o'clock to quarter past four for your department aloneâI propose to allow questions to be asked in blocks by particular members of the committee. With some of them that might take some time but it will allow continuity and flow, as against short, sharp questions. I may well ask some supplementary questions in relation to the matter.
My understanding in relation to today is that, at some stage if possible, given that the department has been monitoring the evidence and submissions that have been given, you and your officers might be able to interact with the committee on any solutions or answers you may have to some of the questions that have been posed. That would assist us in recommendations that we might make. I do not propose to say any more than that; I think that is something that we will bounce off one another. At the outset, would you care to make an opening statement or has it all been said?
Mr Metcalfe : Thank you, Chair and committee members. Yes, I would like to make a short opening statement. Firstly, I would like to note and confirm your comments about the department's ongoing support of the committee's work, which has included of course the committee's visiting a number of immigration detention centres and other sites across Australia and the provision of detailed submissions to you. We have responded, either in hearings or on notice, to over 1,100 questions from the committee, provided over 4,000 pages of written material and made available as witnesses some 26 departmental employees. The total direct cost to the department of responding to and supporting the committee is projected to be in excess of $970,000 by the end of this financial year.
A lot has happened since we last appeared before the committee, in mid-August. This in itself is not surprising, given the complexities of managing immigration detention. That said, the scale and pace of change seen over the last four months has been significant and sometimes challenging for us. Perhaps the most significant were the High Court's decisions in M70 and M106 on 31 August and the government's announcements of 13 October and 25 November regarding the management of irregular maritime arrivals, or IMAs, and the processing of their asylum claims. Much has been said about these issues over recent months, including at the October Senate estimates hearings. We have seen 27 SIEVs carrying almost 2,000 IMAs arrive since the committee's August hearing. People smugglers continue to dispatch their passengers with little regard for human life in sometimes dangerous conditions using unseaworthy vessels. Tragically, this has again resulted in major loss of life such as occurred on 1 November with the sinking of a boat off the Indonesian coastline.
Between mid-August and the end of October, the detention population decreased from around 5,580 people to 5,120, or by just over eight per cent. However, I note that since the beginning of November the detention population has steadily increased to just over 5,500 now. Since the August hearing of the committee the department has undertaken more than 1,300 entry interviews, made over 1,100 decisions and granted protection visas to more than 1,600 IMAs. I note also that during that time there have, unfortunately, continued to be a significant number of critical incidents occurring in detention facilities, one of which was the recent death of a young man in the Sydney immigration residential housingâof course a profoundly sad event. On behalf of the department I would like to pass on my deepest sympathy to his family and friends. The New South Wales coroner is in the process of examining the circumstances of his death and the department is of course assisting in all appropriate ways.
The department continues to work hard to accommodate IMAs to the best of its ability. This has increasingly included moving people into community detention. Since 16 August around 800 irregular maritime arrivals have been approved for community detention, taking total arrivals to over 2,500. As at 30 November, around 26 per cent of the IMAs in immigration detention were in the community. The large numbers of arrivals continue to place a strain on the detention network. We all understand the potential consequences of a return to an overcrowded and pressured detention network. You can be assured that the department is doing all it can to avoid that. I note the observations of Dr Allan Hawke AC and Ms Helen Williams AO as provided in their report on the incidents at Christmas Island and Villawood earlier this year. Those observations are timely and point to the need to continue to improve our management of immigration detention. I would like to confirm that the department is committed to implementing all 48 recommendations of their report.
Since the community status resolution approach was expanded nationally in 2009, the proportion of onshore compliance clients managed in the community instead of in detention has increased. Voluntary departures from the community, which are less expensive and less risky than removals from detention, have also increased over the last three years. The presumption of this approach is that, where appropriate, a person remains in the community until their immigration status is resolved. It also means ensuring that appropriate support services are available to them if they have complex needs, such as health and welfare issues, to support their capacity to achieve an immigration outcome, whether that is staying here or leaving Australia.
The department continues to develop and refine a framework and implementation arrangements for community placement of IMAs currently in detention. In doing this work, we have involved our external stakeholders, including advocacy and community groups. The department is determined to implement a bridging visa regime for IMAs that is well thought through, sound and managed efficiently. We have recently seen the first IMAs released into the community on bridging visas and expect to see more released over coming months. The first group consisted of long-term detainees, all single men, previously accommodated at a range of detention facilities across Australia and at various stages of asylum claims. They are mostly Afghans and Sri Lankans. Some will also be eligible for support services through existing Department of Immigration and Citizenship funded programs such as the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme and the Community Assistance Support scheme. Community detention and the greater level of support it offers will continue to be used for more vulnerable people or those not suited for bridging visas.
In closing, I would again like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the department's leadership team and staff and our service providers, advisory groups and other partners who provide services to the government and to people in detention. We value our stakeholders immensely, not only for their constructive advice but also for their willingness and commitment to work collaboratively with us to help deliver programs in a sensitive area of public administration. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Metcalfe. Do you have any copies of your opening statement to distribute to members of the committee?
Mr Metcalfe : I do. I can make mine available to the secretary.
CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Morrison will commence.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you, Mr Metcalfe, and thank you for the cooperation of the department with the inquiry. It is a significant inquiry, as I am sure you would agree, and we are coming towards the end of our hearings. I suspect there may be one or two more; nevertheless, the matters deserve attention. I want to start off by dealing with the most recent mattersâin fact, matters that have occurred just overnight. There was yet another arrival last night, with 78 individuals on board, I understand. Could you give me an indication of what the current capacity is, including both the standing capacity and the surge capacity, at Christmas Island; how many people are currently on Christmas Island; and how many people are on their way to Christmas Island?
Mr Metcalfe : I will get Mr Moorhouse to get those figures for you.
Mr Moorhouse : I will start off with Christmas Island first. The statistics I have on capacity are from the close of business on 7 December, two days ago. At that time we had 1,318 people, including 26 crew, on Christmas Island. That left us with a capacity of 253 places on Christmas Island in the IDCâI will explain that further in a momentâand 106 at the APODs at Phosphate Hill and Construction Camp. The 253 includes the use of the lilac compound, which has been brought back into use, but it does not include the aqua compound, which also has been readied for use but is not currently in use. So that is Christmas Island. In terms of the broader population, would you like me to give it to you as a total including Christmas Island?
Mr MORRISON: No, I am just talking about Christmas Island at the momentâ
Mr Moorhouse : Okay, sorry.
Mr MORRISON: because that is where people are going. How many people are en route to Christmas Island as we speak?
Mr Moorhouse : This was two days ago, and we have had the arrival that you mentioned yesterday.
Mr MORRISON: So the arrivals of the 167 on 6 December, the 56 on 6 December, the 78 on 2 December, the 22 on 2 December and the 105 on 1 December are all at Christmas Island, are they?
Mr Moorhouse : My understanding is that those people will be at Christmas Island. We have been actively moving peopleâ
Mr MORRISON: I did not ask whether they will be. You have given me a figure that there were 1,318 people on Christmas Island; I want to know how many of those 1,318 from the seven boats which have turned up in the last 10 days are already on the island.
Mr Metcalfe : You want to know which boats have been brought onto the island and whether there are any still in transit. We will get Mr Kelly to help us.
Mr Kelly : There are a number of IMAs on the water at the moment onboard various vessels. The 56 you referred to which were at the Lacapede Islands are currently onboard the Triton and are on their way. We are expecting arrival at CI on approximately Monday morning for disembarkation. We also have some clients in and around Ashmore Reef at the moment. Those clients, I understand, will also be on their way through to Christmas Island.
Mr MORRISON: How many of them are there and what boat was that?
Mr Kelly : I will come back to you during the course of the morning with the exact numbers and those vessels.
Mr MORRISON: Okay.
Mr Kelly : There are 22, I have just been advised.
Mr MORRISON: So which vessel was that from, and why are they there?
Mr Kelly : It is because the Triton was otherwise engaged in terms of the arrivals at the Lacapede Islands. The Triton and the Ocean Protector are engaged in picking up these clients. I will come back to you later this morning with the exact boat.
Mr MORRISON: Why don't we take it from 30 November, when there were 114. If you could take me all the way through to the one of last night and tell me how many more of them are still to arrive at Christmas Island.
Mr Metcalfe : We will come back to you later this morning. So: 30 November, what boats have arrived since then and where those people are.
Mr MORRISON: Okay. During the course of this inquiry we were able to learn that forward demand predictors are provided to Serco with a three-month forward projection. Can you tell me what the three-month forward projection is for the capacity or overcapacity situation at Christmas Island for each of the next three months?
Mr Moorhouse : We will have to get for you in the course of the morning the specific advice that we have given to Serco and come back to you.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you. Do you anticipate that it will be over 100 per cent?
Mr MORRISON: Yes.
Mr Moorhouse : We are in the process of moving people off Christmas Island as quickly as we are able to do so. As soon as they have been properly health screened they are moved off to other detention facilities, so I am hoping that we will not be in a situation where the full capacity is used on Christmas Island.
Mr MORRISON: In the course of the inquiry, other officers have raised the importance of not operating these facilities at 100 per cent. We were at Scherger this time last week, and we were told that the department had no plans to increase running that centre beyond 50 per cent of its new capacity; the Hawke-Williams review also went into some detail about the dangers of running centres at full capacity. I wonder if you could tell me what sort of level of capacity you are planning to run Christmas Island at over the next three months. What is a safe number of people to have on Christmas Island given everything we have, hopefully, learned this year?
Mr Moorhouse : We envisage the use of the Lilac and Aqua compounds as surge capabilities; we do not intend to leave people there. We alsoâ
Mr MORRISON: Should we be using those compounds at all?
Mr Moorhouse : They have been renovated and repaired and put into a state where they are quite usable.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: They have been?
Mr Moorhouse : Yes.
Mr MORRISON: Is that compound completely separate from the North West Point compound, or is it still connected?
Mr Moorhouse : Lilac and Aqua are separate from the north west compound.
Mr MORRISON: So there is no adjoining walkway? There is no adjoining gate or fence? Of course, that was the gate which was the problem for the riots back in March.
Mr Moorhouse : I am notâ
Mr Kelly : The walkway between Aqua and Lilac and North West Point that were in place in March is no longer in place now. The compounds are completely separate now. They are completely separate compounds from North West Point.
Mr MORRISON: Is the electric fence still on at North West Point?
Mr Kelly : The EDS is operational, yes.
Mr MORRISON: So, to come back to the question: what is the safe number of people to have on Christmas Island, in the department's view, at North West Point and Lilac?
Mr Moorhouse : The issue is whether or not people are there for extended periods of time. We see Construction Camp and Phosphate Hill essentially as the places through which we process people who arrive. So they are not places where we will seek to keep people for a long period of time.
Mr MORRISON: I was asking about North West Point and Lilac.
Mr Moorhouse : At North West Point, basically the operational capacity is intended to be 400; the contingency capacity is 850 and, as at the close of business on 7 December, we had 597.
Mr Metcalfe : As I said in my opening statement, obviously we are very conscious of the issues about overcrowding, and there is a clear strategy to move people off the island once they have been appropriatelyâ
Mr MORRISON: I am understanding that; I am just trying to understand: what is the ceiling at North West Point and Lilac?
Mr Metcalfe : We have essentially described, I think, the capacityâ
Mr MORRISON: I have not got a number yet.
Mr Metcalfe : Mr Moorhouse just gave some figures in relation to the capacity.
Mr MORRISON: No, I want to know: what is the ceiling on the number of people that you would have at any one time in North West Point and the Lilac compound?
Mr Moorhouse : Our preference would be to have 400 people in North West Point, but North West Point can operate satisfactorily with 850 in surge capacity. The Lilac and Aqua compounds have the capacity to provide additional surge capability of 150 and 400 respectively.
Mr MORRISON: One hundred and fiftyâbut you are not using Aqua.
Mr Moorhouse : We are not using Aqua at the present time because we have notâ
Mr MORRISON: So you may use Aqua?
Mr Moorhouse : If the circumstances were such that we needed to, we would be able to do so.
Mr MORRISON: So what you are telling me is that if you had your druthers you would only have 400 people at North West Point?
Mr Metcalfe : If I had my druthers I would have no-one at North West Point.
Mr MORRISON: Well, we used to have that. That was four years ago. That is no longer the case. So if you had your druthers it would be 400 at North West Point. How many are currently on North West Point did you say?
Mr Moorhouse : As at 7 December there were 597 people in North West Point. We are in the process of moving people off there as quickly as possible. In fact, there was a transfer to Wickham Point yesterday from CI.
Mr MORRISON: But you said there were 1,318 on CI, so I take it there are another 750-odd people at places on Christmas Island other than North West Point?
Mr Moorhouse : I do not have a total in terms of what is there but basically at 7 December we had 184 in Phosphate Hill Bravo compound, 98 at compounds A and C, 343 in Construction Camp and 96 in the Lilac compound.
Mr MORRISON: One of the issues that was raised in the Hawke-Williams review was to ensure that there was a sufficient contingency capacityâand you will be familiar with that phrase from the report. Do you believe there is currently a sufficient contingency capacity within the network to deal with the expected number of arrivals over the next three to six months?
Mr Metcalfe : On the basis that there is implementation of the full range of policies that are now in placeâbridging visas and community detentionâI believe there is.
Mr MORRISON: So how many people are you expecting in the next three to six months then?
Mr Metcalfe : We have had long discussions about crystal ball gazing around this, but I have been on the public record as indicating that, in the absence of any effective legislation, we could expect to see numbers return to where they were this time last year, and that has been proved to be correct.
Mr MORRISON: That is happening.
Mr Metcalfe : We do know that across this particular period of the year there are weather factors that can severely impact on travel. But there is no indication that I see that would show that the current high rate of arrivals was going to significantly decrease or increase. We seem to be back in a fairly steady state again.
Mr MORRISON: So over the next six months that would mean we would be expecting, based on your earlier statements, about 3,600 people in the next six months?
Mr Metcalfe : That is possible. But there are so many factorsâ
Mr MORRISON: I understand.
Mr Metcalfe : that go into this that it is very difficult to make accurate predictions. We have to plan, and we obviously take a conservative approach to planning. But in the absence of any effective arrangements to stop people from coming, notwithstanding the significant efforts that are being made to disrupt ventures and to work with other countries in the region to prevent people from coming, we are back at a fairly high level of arrivals.
Mr MORRISON: So it will be 3,600 over the next six months and you have just told me you think there is sufficient contingency capacity to deal with that level of arrivals.
Mr Metcalfe : That is on the basis that there will be people moving through the system. It is a factor of how many come, how long they stay, whether they move on as a holder of visa and whether that is a permanent visa or temporary visa.
Mr MORRISON: What is the number of people currently in the network, not including people on bridging visas but those who are actually in facilities?
Mr Metcalfe : I think I gave that figure in my opening statement.
Mr MORRISON: Could you just remind me.
Mr Metcalfe : The detention population has increased to be now just over 5,500.
Mr MORRISON: That is not including people in community detention?
Mr Moorhouse : That is including 1,343 in community detention.
Mr Metcalfe : So it is a bit over 4,000.
Mr MORRISON: What is the spare capacity on that 4,000? Let us call it 'the formal network' for the sake of argument. How many more spaces are there in the formal network? Running at 4,000, are we operating at 60 per cent, 80 per cent, 70 per cent, 100 per cent?
Mr Moorhouse : I will give you the raw number and provide some qualifications to that. Essentially, as at 7 December there was potential capacity for an additional 1,479 people in IDCs and an additional 905 in APODs.
Mr MORRISON: So there is extra capacity of around 1,500?
Mr Metcalfe : We have further accommodation coming on stream.
Mr MORRISON: Does that include Wickham Point?
Mr Metcalfe : Wickham Point will progressively provide more places and, of course, Yongah Hill will provide some places as well.
Mr Moorhouse : That is one of the qualifications I wanted to make because this is as of 7 December and Wickham Point came into use yesterday. There are an initial 500 spaces there.
Mr MORRISON: So you are effectively saying we have currently got about 5Â½ thousand places in the formal network. There are 4,000 there now and there are probably another 500 to come on at Wickham Point in, I would assume, the next quarter and maybe about 400 to come on at Yongah Hill.
Mr Moorhouse : No, the numbers are larger than that. If you are talking about capacity, we have a total capacity of 6,676 plus Wickham Point. So we are talking there about 7,100 and we have, as you mentioned, about 4,400.
Mr MORRISON: Okay. Now I am starting to get to where I was hoping to understand. Those figures are the surge capacity, full to the brim, people in bunks, people moving into rec rooms, people moving into tentsâ
Mr Moorhouse : No. It is not putting people into rec rooms and into tents, it is using the surge capacity that is available within the network.
Mr MORRISON: So remove the surge capacity and give me an idea of the size of the formal network.
Mr Moorhouse : It is difficult to remove the surge capacity, but our basic operational capacity is 3,871 plus 500. I beg your pardon, including Christmas Island it is 5,165, and if you add Wickham to that it is 5,665.
Mr MORRISON: So it is 5,665 and we currently have 4,000 in the system. This is not a question relating to the operations of community release; I just want to make that clear. When the minister announced the onshore release program he indicated that he would be releasing about 100 people in a month. On my fuzzy maths it would seem that releasing people at the rate of 100 a month would not be sufficient to ensure that we do not get a fairly major increase in the detention population over the next six months, when we are potentially expecting up to 3,600 people.
Mr Metcalfe : I think we should expect a significant number of arrivals. The minister has made some public statements about bridging visas, and no doubt he will continue to talk about that. Of course, there are other dynamics in the system, such as the grant of permanent visas and community detention as well.
Mr MORRISON: You can visa people out of the systemâthere is no doubt about that. You can just give them a visa and they will go out of the system. As you know, the minister has all sorts of powers available to give people any number of visasânot just protection visas.
Mr Metcalfe : That is correct.
Mr MORRISON: So if we continue at the current level of arrivals, which is basically what you are saying we should at least expectâ
Mr Metcalfe : I am always careful about being verballed, as you would probably be awareâ
Mr MORRISON: That is why I am giving you the opportunity to respond.
Mr Metcalfe : I said that there are many variables, but I am not seeing anything in the reporting available to me that would disprove my earlier prediction that we would return to the sorts of numbers that we saw at this time last yearâand I think that events have borne me out.
Mr MORRISON: Is the release of 100 people into the community enough to ensure that the detention population does not become overcrowded if arrivals continue at 600 a month? Would it have to increase?
Mr Metcalfe : I do not want to respond to that because there are other dynamics in the system, as I described.
Mr MORRISON: Maybe you can explain that to me.
Mr Metcalfe : I have described that there is the availability of community detention as well as the fact that people are getting protection visas as well. We are talking aboutâand I am sure you fully understandâa dynamic situation. As people arrive, they are processed and whatever. The length of time in detention or their circumstances in detention will vary depending upon the claims they make, whether we can identify them, whether there are any health issues and whatever.
But to reassure you: we are keenly conscious of not wishing to return to the very overcrowded conditions that we saw previously. There has been a significant expansion of detention accommodation and a gearing up of capability in terms of service provision. We are very focused on the point that you are making about not returning to very overcrowded conditions.
Mr MORRISON: Would it be fair to describe the 100-a-month release plan as conservative given the current level of arrivals?
Mr Metcalfe : I would not want to get drawn into commenting on comments of the minister as to whether it is conservative or not. He said what he said, and he can say different thingsâ
Mr MORRISON: Well, let me ask you directly then: do you think the release of 100 people a month, when you have got 600 potentially arriving each monthâwill be sufficient to ensure that we do not get to a position of overcrowding?
CHAIR: I do not want you going down the policy path.
Mr MORRISON: That is a technical question. I am not asking for policy advice; I am just asking whether we are going to be releasing people under the government's policies, because the government has made the decision not to expand the network any further.
Mr Metcalfe : I am happy to respond.
CHAIR: Are you sure?
Mr Metcalfe : The minister made comments a few weeks ago about bridging visas, but that was in the context that there are other ways that people move through the system.
CHAIR: That is what I wanted to explore quickly at this stage. Mr Morrison is obviously painting his scenario, but would it be fair to sayâgiven what you have just said about you not wanting a return to the old days in terms of the level of people or having too many people in a particular place and the problems that it casesâthat the department is looking at contingency plans or options?
Mr Metcalfe : Absolutely.
CHAIR: So you are comfortable with where the department is at in terms of addressing what are legitimate concerns expressed by Mr Morrison?
Mr Metcalfe : I absolutely understand the concern that Mr Morrison hasâI share itâthat we do not wish to find ourselves back in the situation. There are some things I can control and many things I cannot.
CHAIR: But in your professional opinion, all is being done within the departmentâ
Mr Metcalfe : Certainly the department is keenly conscious of the issue and is working very hard in terms of our planning and our policy advice. We are obviously mindful of the fact that the sorts of conditions we saw earlier in the year arose not only from the numbers in detention but also the length of detention. We also have to therefore have to factor in, although numbers may be coming up, whether people are passing through the system more quickly. That is a related factor. Clearly, the government's recent announcements are quite significant in that regard.
Mr MORRISON: On that, the announcements now are that someone who may have had a negative decision will now be able to goâI think from 1 January; correct me if I am wrongâthrough the RRT.
Mr Metcalfe : I do not know if a date has been put in the public domain, but our expectation is that it will be some time after 1 January.
Mr MORRISON: Okay, so the new process means that people will be effectively processed the same as onshore applicants?
Mr Metcalfe : It would be arrivals after that dateâ
Mr MORRISON: Will be subject to that system.
Mr Metcalfe : And, as you know, I am sure, the cumulative effect of the High Court decisions from last year and this year have essentially unwound the legislation put in place in 2001.
Mr MORRISON: Well, what I think has happened in the last few weeks is that we have had policy announcements that take us back to the situation pre Tampaâthat is what has happened. We are now in that situation and the policy announcements of onshore release confirm that. But my question was relating to how. You raised the issue of length of detention in terms of what will impact on how many people are released. Clearly, those who come after this date when the new system applies will be able to have a more extensive line of appeal under the new system, even more so than they have had even since the last High Court decision, given the case law around RRT decisions is far more extensive than those that existed around the process you have been running this year.
My point is that we are already seeing a higher rate of negative decisions. I do not see any reason, unless you wish to enlighten me, as to why we would expect that to change. If there is an expected change in that, I would be interested to know. Given we have just had a boatload of those come from Sri Lanka, I would be very surprised if we would see a change in the rate of negative decisions. So, more negative decisions and a longer process. I have no reason to believe why we would see anyone spending any less time in the process. If the government makes a decision to release people in the community while that process is continuing to ensure that they are not in detention, well, that is the government's rightâthey can do exactly that if that is their policy. I keep coming back to the point that you have got more people coming and the same pressures on how long people are going to be in the system. The minister himself said, when he said it would be 100 a month, 'Well, that of course will depend on the rate of arrivals.' The rate of arrivals is going to be high, so I keep coming back to this point: is 100 a month going to be enough and is it possible that that may have to increase because of the arrivals?
Mr Metcalfe : Just to give you a very short answer, it is always open to the government to make further decisions. The minister is very focused on this issue and we are very focused on the difficulties of managing large numbers of people where all sorts of tensions and concerns might arise, and we are concerned about the ability of service providers to respond to the numbers of people. That is exactly why the department has continued to provide policy advice on alternative policy or legislative options.
I think it is important, given what you have said, to just make a couple of comments. It is my view that the cumulative effect of the High Court decisions last year and this year have effectively undone the legislation put in place in 2001. They have effectively ensured that people arriving at an excised offshore place do have access to the Australian legal system, and section 75(v) of the Constitution makes it quite clear. The decisions this year have been the subject of a lot of words said in this place and I do not need to add to those words, but the state of the law at the moment has taken us back to prior to August 2001.
Mr MORRISON: The government has also made some policy decisions, Mr Metcalfe, but we could go on around that. I know we are conscious of time so I am going to move on.
Mr Metcalfe : Sorry, if I could just add one further thing, because I think it is important. You said that persons who might be processed under a protection visa RRT review regime could expect to be longer in the process than people under the non-statutory process independent merits protection office regime. I would doubt that.
Mr MORRISON: What about if they were processed on Nauru?
Mr Metcalfe : Well, that isâ
Mr MORRISON: Because that is a completely different set of arrangements.
CHAIR: We are not going there. It is outside the terms.
Mr MORRISON: We are making comparisons, Chair.
Mr Metcalfe : I was just responding to a point that you made. I think it is importantâ
CHAIR: We will stick to onshore.
Mr MORRISON: The government is sticking to onshore, Chair. That is the problem.
CHAIR: Just hang on, Mr Metcalfe. This inquiry has particular terms of reference. We have done exceptionally well. You are getting a fair go, which I have no problem with, but we are not going to Nauruâthat is for others.
Mr MORRISON: I know we are not going to Nauru, Chair. I think that is the problem.
CHAIR: I am just saying to you there is limited time. Mr Metcalfe, let us continue.
Mr Metcalfe : If I have 15 seconds I can just make the pointâ
Mr Metcalfe : that the RRT does of course have extensive jurisprudence in relation to decision making and it is therefore quite settled law. There is a very low success rate of matters that are appealed from the RRT to the courts by individual applicants. Therefore, effectively the efficiencies of running long term one system not two are greater than having two systems where the jurisprudence is quite different.
Mr MORRISON: That is arguably true provided you do not consider other alternatives which obviously those on the coalition side have recommended. As the Chair said, he does not wish to discuss that, so we will move on.
CHAIR: I do not wish to discuss it because it is outside our terms of reference.
Mr MORRISON: I understand the point you make, Chair.
CHAIR: I am not trying to be cute. I have a job, as chair, not toâ
Mr MORRISON: No one is accusing you of being cute, Chair. You talked before about the capacity of the detention network and the formal network. Will that include the Northern detention centre at Darwin continuing to operate? Does the department have any plans to close that facility? The reason I raise it is thatâI will not speak for other members who may want to add their own commentâthere have been serious problems at the Northern detention centre. It was not built for long-term detention and we have had a lot of problems up there. That centre should be closed. I am wondering whether the department has a view on that and whether they plan to close it.
Mr Metcalfe : I agree with the concerns you have raised, Mr Morrison. Northern was developed several years ago when responsibility for detaining illegal foreign fishers moved from asthma to the department. It was never a job with particularly wanted but we took it on because the government asked us to. The facility was very much designed with four short stays for Indonesian fishermen prior to their repatriation. Because of the pressures across the detention network, it has been used for long-term detention of asylum seekers and of failed asylum seekers. The sooner we can significantly reduce the number of people in Northern the better. If there is any way we can avoid using it for the detention of asylum seekers that will be our desire. The numbers Mr Moorhouse gave you before did include the capacity of Northern. A key objective for us is to avoid overcrowding and to use the available accommodation which is coming on stream at places like Wickham Point to start bringing down the number of people at Northern. I agree with your concerns and we are onto it.
Mr MORRISON: Let us take this further. When Wickham Point was commissionedâI toured the Wickham Point facility before it was opened. It is an expensive facility but it is a good facility. Was it the intention when Wickham Point opened that you would close Northern?
Mr Moorhouse : I was not here when Wickham Point was decided but it has been our intention for some time to limit the use of Northern as far as possible and, if necessary, for contingency or surge capability but not for long-term detention purposes.
Mr MORRISON: Is it more likely, now that we have more than 600 people arriving a month, that you are going to be less able to close Northern than you were before?
Mr Metcalfe : I think that is a reasonable conclusion but that does not mean we cannot continue to work for that outcome. There is so much written and said about this so I had better check, but I do not recall thinking that Wickham Point was a direct swap for Northern.
Mr MORRISON: That is what I was asking.
Mr Metcalfe : Wickham point is the additional capacity across the entire network. There has been a long-term desire to return Northern to a facility used for Indonesian fishermen and no-one else. Given the arrival numbers we are seeing, which were predicted by me and by the minister some months ago, we are seeing pressure on the network. We are very conscious of that and we have a range of tools at our disposal which we will seek to employ to deal with that.
Mr MORRISON: Acting Chair, it is going to be a long day and there are other matters. I might break there and will come back to other matters shortly.
ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Hanson-Young ): I want to ask about updated figures on those who have arrived since the announcement in October. How many children are currently being held on Christmas Island and how many unaccompanied children as well?
Mr Metcalfe : I suspect our figures are probably monthly figures rather than since the 13 October announcement. If you bear with us we can probably come up with something.
Ms Pope : I have the figures as of 7 December. I just want to put the caveat on it that there are a lot of movements happening at the moment, so the numbers might not be 100 per cent correct and the location might not be 100 per cent accurate either, but I certainly have the totals. The total number of accompanied children in held detentionâthat is, APODSâat the moment is 295 and the number of unaccompanied minors is 260.
ACTING CHAIR: You said 'APODS'.
Ms Pope : Yes.
ACTING CHAIR: Just to be very clear: are you only giving me the Christmas Island figures?
Ms Pope : No, that is the total for Christmas Island and the mainland. There are 147 accompanied children and 111 unaccompanied minors on Christmas Island.
ACTING CHAIR: How many of those children have been identified as having a disability, as part of the health screening?
Ms Pope : I would have to take that on notice. I do not know if my colleagues are aware but I am personally not.
ACTING CHAIR: Are you aware of reports that a number of disabled children have arrived on the boats?
Ms Pope : I am personally aware of reports that there were a number of disabled people, but I am not aware that they were children.
Mr Metcalfe : I have seen media reports, but I have not seen independent verification of that yet. We could find out whether we are seeing some children who are disabled or who have medical needs and so on.
ACTING CHAIR: Yesâanyone who falls into that special-needs category. That would be helpful. If we could have that sometime todayâ
Mr Metcalfe : We will make a phone call and see if we can get it, even if it is some broad advice for you.
ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I appreciate that there have been significant movements in the last couple of weeks. I assume that the 147 that are currently accompanied and the 111 that are unaccompanied are being held at Construction Camp, or are they across the road as well?
Ms Pope : I believe so.
Mr Moorhouse : My understanding is that they are all at Construction Camp, but I will double-check that.
Mr Kelly : That is my understanding.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How long would you envisage they would be there before they are moved to the mainland?
Mr Moorhouse : Mr Kelly and I could probably answer that. The answer is: as short as possible. We see Construction Camp not as a place for holding people but as a place for receiving them while they go through their initial checks and their health screening and then we move them off to more suitable, long-term facilities as quickly as possible. Essentially, we are using Phosphate Hill and Construction Camp as reception points. We would then transfer families to the Darwin Airport Lodge and possibly Inverbrackie or other locations.
Mr Kelly : We have a number of charter flights that are arranged. We will be moving over 500 people off the island over the next few days or so. We have had a couple of cancellations of charters, including a movement of 60 in family units to Inverbrackie, as a direct result of either weather conditions on island or the loss of the Antarctic Division's aircraft for medivac out of Antarctica. A number of movements are on the way, including movements up to and including 23 December.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the average length of time children are held at the Darwin lodge?
Ms Pope : I can answer the question but cannot give an average. It is a very difficult thing to calculate. In terms of movement into community detention, all of the unaccompanied minors who arrived before 18 October have been approved by the minister, if they can be, to move into community detention. There are a few who are still transitioning at the moment. The unaccompanied minors who are not new arrivals, as in post 18 October, being held in Darwin are the ones who have either been revoked or have failed security clearances or their parents have. So we have a group that cannot immediately be placed into community detention, and some of those are being held in Darwin.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What you mean by 'revoked or have failed security clearances'? I did not think you got ASIO to do the checks for children.
Ms Pope : People who are 16 years old and older are required to have a check.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Sorry, for those who are 16 and overâbut you would not be suggesting that anyone under had failed their security assessment?
Ms Pope : No, but their parents may have, and that affects them. We have a small number in that situation. Those who are 16 and over, who are the majority of the unaccompanied minors, are subject to security checking for placement into CD, and we have one or two who have not successfully been granted a clearance for CD purposes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Those that you are moving post 18 October from Christmas Island are either going to the Darwin lodge or to Inverbrackie in the first instance; is that right?
Ms Pope : They are being held at a range of centres, including Leonora as well. There are unaccompanied minors at Leonora at the moment. And there are small numbers in the Sydney IRH, in the Perth IRH and in Port Augusta.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But all of those people would have been intercepted much earlier than 18 October, I imagine?
Ms Pope : No, I would say quite a number of them have been moved from Christmas Island since 18 October, and they are the case load that we are working on at the moment.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And they were sent directly to Leonora from Christmas Island?
Ms Pope : I cannot confirm that.
Mr Kelly : Certainly a group of unaccompanied minors were sent directly from CI to Leonora.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Why are we still using Leonora to send unaccompanied minors to, when it has been criticised extensively as not being an appropriate location?
Mr Moorhouse : We have used Leonora in a number of different ways. We have used it for families pending their transfer into community detention and we have also used it for unaccompanied minors pending their transfer into community detention. As recently as a few weeks ago, there was no-one in Leonora, so it really isâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Except for 75 unaccompanied minors.
Mr Moorhouse : But I am trying to say that it is not that we are keeping them there for an extended period of time. In many respects, for unaccompanied minors and for families, it becomes a place where people are held pending their transfer to community detention.
Ms Pope : There are 32 unaccompanied minors at Leonora at the moment and they are on the move into community detention, so that is the case load we are working on at the moment. As my colleague says, that is a place where they spend a short amount of time and are moved through. The ones who have been returned to held detention, to APODs, are in Darwin for the most part, as I said, so those who are not eligible for CD are not being held in Leonora.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the current capacity of the Darwin lodge at the moment?
Mr Metcalfe : Just while we are finding that information, I should say that the use of Leonora in that way is an indication of the discussion I was having with Mr Morrison earlier about us seeking to keep numbers on Christmas Island low, or as low as we can, notwithstanding the arrival rate, by moving people off. So we undertake initial processing on Christmas Island and they are then taken to another transit point such as Leonora pending their placement into community detention.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you do not dispute, Mr Metcalfe, the criticisms that the Human Rights Commission and others have about the inappropriateness of keeping unaccompanied minors at Leonora?
Mr Metcalfe : I note that, but if the alternative is leaving them on Christmas Island and having overcrowding thereâwhat I can say is that we are moving people through that facility quickly and we are mindful of the points that we have. We are also mindful of the community of Leonora, who have been very welcoming and have provided this assistance here. As I said to Mr Morrison before, I would prefer that no-one was coming. It would be much easier to deal with if we had empty facilities, but we have to work in a real world here. We have people coming and we are seeking to use the facilities we have available to us in the most flexible way. If that means moving people off Christmas Island to Leonora for a short period before they move into community detention, I think that is better than leaving them on Christmas Island.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How are you making the distinction between who should be sent to Leonora and who should be sent to the Darwin lodge?
Mr Kelly : The unaccompanied minors are being sent to Leonora. Those accompanied minors are being sent to the Darwin Airport Lodge.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So there is some systematic process then? They are not just being sent across the country willy-nilly?
Mr Kelly : We have talked before in hearings, Senator, about the client placement model that we use to try and assess risk and determine what facilities are appropriate for particular clients and how we might be able to use those facilities in the future. At this point in time we have assessed that Leonora, for a short term, for unaccompanied minors transitioning through to community detention, is the preferable place.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Moorhouse, do you have thoseâ
Mr Moorhouse : The numbers for Darwin Airport Lodge?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, please.
Mr Moorhouse : The capacity of the Darwin Airport Lodge stages 1 and 2 is 435. Stage 3, which we are using for single adult males who are low risk, has a notional capacity of 250. We have 89 in there at the present time.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So there is still space for 435 in the Darwin lodge for stages 1 and 2.
Mr Moorhouse : We have the space for 435. We have 256 people in there as of 7 December. But it is a flow through, so the 256 will not necessarily be held there for an extended period.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it is basically half then at the moment.
Mr Moorhouse : It is 256 out of 435âso, approximately, yes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I just have a question that chases up a little bit on what Mr Morrison was asking about the capacity and the facilities on Christmas Island. How do you foresee managing that space when Christmas Island is being used as a place that you also send people to?
Mr Moorhouse : What we try to do is to use the facilities that are available to us in the way that best assists the management of detainees and allows the best accommodation for people. As Mr Kelly mentioned earlier, we have been trying to use the various immigration detention centres around the network for people according to their level of risk. As I mentioned before, we are using Dale stage 3 for low-risk single adult males and we have also used MITA and BITAâMelbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation and Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodationâfor the same purpose.
In relation to Christmas Island, we essentially see the Phosphate Hill, the construction camps, the APODs and Aqua and Lilac compounds as facilities that people move through on their way to the mainland. North West Point is a substantial facility that gives us a lot of flexible options in relation to the management of people. So we are using North West Point for people who have demonstrated behaviours that are not consistent with the good management of facilities. I do not want to label those people, but if their behaviour puts at risk the safety of the broader detainee community and the facility then we use Christmas Island for that purpose. It has been extremely successful because, even though we have had to transfer people there who have been behavioural problems, our capacity to work with people to manage their behaviour means the number of behavioural incidents we are having now is considerably reduced, in particular on Christmas Island. What we have sought to do with North West Point is create different levels of accommodation so that people have incentives for positive behaviour. That is how we are using North West Point. If a person demonstrates positive behaviour and that they get on very well with the people around them then of course we will also try to move them from North West Point to other lower risk facilities around the network, including MITA.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I understand that that is the point. I come back to my feeling that therefore you believe that North West Point is able to be used as some type of incentive or disincentive for behaviour.
Mr Moorhouse : North West Point gives us much greater options than other facilities in order to manage people who are demonstrating behaviours that are not consistent with the good order of the detention community, potentially putting themselves and others at risk. We do not seek to punish people; we seek to place people in facilities that allow us to work with them to help them control and manage their behaviour.
We have a large number of people, many of whom are quite frankly struggling with the concept of detention. Many of them are young males. They may be over 18 but they are still young people who are struggling with the circumstances they are in. When they demonstrate negative behaviours, if they are sufficiently significant that they put at risk the others in the community in which they are being detained, then we look at the prospect of transferring them to Christmas Island and we manage them more actively in that facility. If they demonstrate that they are able to operate and function more positively within the detention community, we look to try and move them into different facilitiesâless secure, more benign facilitiesâas quickly as possible.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have not quite answered my question. You have outlined your rationale for moving people there. The question was about how that impacts on the capacity of people who are coming to Christmas Island and therefore using Christmas Island as that first port of call in terms of assessing people. Are you suggesting that no new arrivals will be put in North West Point and they will be held in Lilac and Aqua?
Mr Moorhouse : I am sorry if I created that impression. That was not my intention. What I was describing is that North West Point gives us a series of options in terms of accommodation, so, yes, we are using some of the compounds in North West Point for people who are relatively recent arrivals, pending their transfer to the mainland.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But only recent arrivals will be held at Lilac and Aqua?
Mr Moorhouse : That is correct, and only for a short period of time. That is the key point. We are treating it as surge accommodation.
Mr MORRISON: What is 'a short period of time'?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That was going to be my question.
Mr Moorhouse : That very much depends upon factors such as the availability of transfers. Greg could probably give you a more meaningful number.
Mr Kelly : It is a logistical issue. It is how quickly we are able to organise flights. There are a range of things clearly in that initial reception process that need to be conducted, including a health assessment prior to moving to the mainland, which includes X-rays. We have had a problem with our X-ray machine on Christmas Island, which was unserviceable for a period of time, which has delayed the X-rays and therefore also impacted on the logistical arrangements of moving people off the island.
Mr MORRISON: Just so we are clear: these are not wrist X-rays we are talking about; these are chest X-rays for TB?
Mr Kelly : This is chest X-rays for TB.
Mr MORRISON: How long has this machine been out of operation?
Mr Kelly : It was only for a few days, I understand, but I will let Mr Douglas confirm that.
Mr Douglas : It was out of action for several brief periods, but that did require us to bring a technician from the mainland to do the repairs. It is now operating fine again, but it did cause us some delays, as Mr Kelly indicated, that affected the speed with which we could move people out.
Mr MORRISON: So there is no-one who went off that island without having a chest X-ray for TB?
Mr Douglas : That is correct. We have a contingency measure which is to access the X-ray facility at the Indian Ocean Territories health facility and we mostly do that, for example, out of hours.
Mr Metcalfe : That is why we are saying 'short' is an elastic concept, depending on the circumstances, but it is a short period.
Mr MORRISON: I suppose that is the problem we have got. Terms like 'a short period' are often used, but no-one can ever tell us what a short period is. Is it weeks? Is it months?
Mr Metcalfe : We could perhaps give you an indication as to some recent arrivals on how long they have been there pending their transfer off, if that would help.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I think that is helpful.
Mr MORRISON: I think that is helpful, but what has been conveyed to us is that there is, I suppose, an aspiration on behalf of the department. I understand the aspiration. I am just trying to understand what it actually means. Are you trying to get people to be not in Lilac compound for more than a month, two months, three months? I am trying to understand the trigger point where a short time becomes a long time and therefore when you obviously would think that you are going to have problems if they are there for that period of time in that place.
Mr Moorhouse : There are a couple of comments I could make in relation to that. The reason I said 'a short time' is that it is not possible for me to be precise, in terms of three days or two weeks.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you have not come up with some internal protocol that you are trying toâ
Mr Moorhouse : No. Our wish is to move the initial arrivals off Christmas Island as quickly as possible subject to the appropriate reception processes and health clearing processes. Given the numbers of people that have arrived in the last couple of months, it has been necessary for us to bring the Lilac compound online so we are not looking at overcrowding in Construction Camp and in Phosphate. In a sense, you can see Aqua and Lilac as potentially surge capability to supplement Construction and Phosphate pending people's removal within a matter of a small number of weeks.
Mr MORRISON: The problem is this all sounds terribly familiar. In December 2009 temporary accommodation in the form of tentsâthey were called 'marquees'âwas put adjacent to the Red compound. Those tents were there until they burned down. Lilac is going to be there and it is going to be used and it is going to be part of that facility for the foreseeable future. Is that a fair assumption to make?
Mr Moorhouse : Could I make a comment in relation to that. There is nothing inherently bad about Aqua and Lilac; in the past, it was the way in which it was structured and used that was a particular problem. You have referred to the lack of security in relation to the walkway and the gates of Aqua and Lilac; others have mentioned its lack of suitability because of the facilities that are there for long-term detention.
Mr MORRISON: That is right.
Mr Moorhouse : But I would not want to leave you, or others, with an impression that there is something inherently wrong with using Aqua and Lilac as surge accommodation.
Mr MORRISON: If it is only used as surge accommodation, if it is only to be 'In case of emergency, break glass', then I am struggling to understand how the committee can form a view other than that it is not an optimum use of the network to have people in that place. Equally, in Darwin the Northern detention centre is not an ideal place to have people within the network. I take your point that you may have made some changes to Lilac, but I also would not want the committee left with the impression that somehow the use of Lilac is going to be temporary. Based on the arrivals, we can expect that it will not be temporary but will be operating for the foreseeable future.
Mr Metcalfe : We have described how it is being used as transitory accommodation as opposed to long-term detention accommodation.
Mr MORRISON: Okay. So you would move them out of there to other places on Christmas Island?
Mr Metcalfe : No, we are moving to them to the mainland, as we have been describing. The intention is that Christmas Island is essentially used for initial processing and reception pending transfer to the mainland, whether that is to Leonora or other centres, or North West Point being available in terms of some of our more difficult clients, to put it less politely than Mr Moorhouse did. That is the intention but obviously we live in the real world. We have got the facilities that we have got and, if we have to deal with increasing numbers of people, we will continue to be as innovative as we can.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Metcalfe, can I go back to your proposal to give us an indication of how quickly the people have been moving through that system. I think that would be helpful.
Mr Moorhouse : It is approximately two weeks.
Mr Kelly : Aspirationally it is two weeks but again the caveats are around 'whether'âthe logistics in terms of charter aircraft, the availability of the X-ray machine et cetera. So, aspirationally, it will take two weeks to move people off the island to the mainland.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In that two-week period people have had their health checks done. Have they started the first security assessment as well in that time?
Mr Kelly : The preference for the department originally, probably until the last month, was to have the entry interview conducted on the island. But with the recent arrivals we have had to rethink the entry interviews because we want to move people off the island to ensure there is available accommodation and we do not get into the situation of having too many people on the island. So the entry interviews would then have to be conducted at the next centre where they are based.
Mr MORRISON: I want to go away from this now. The Hawke-Williams review found that overcrowding was a key contributing factor to the incidents that occurred at Christmas Islandânot at Villawood, I note, but certainly at Christmas Island. To talk about overcrowding and not talk about arrivals is a bit like talking about a flood and not talking about the rain. I think it is important for us to understand how we got to the situation we were in in March of this year: what warnings were in place, what actions were taken on those warnings and, in fact, even what warnings were even given. That is more for the purpose of the chair to understand the questions I am about to ask.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mr MORRISON: Going back to February 2008 or earlier, did the department at any time warn the government that if it were to abolish the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas it could expect an increase in people smuggling activity?
Mr Metcalfe : I recall having been asked questions in Senate estimates about this. I think my response has always been that I have many conversations with the minister about many things and that would be an issue that goes to policy. I have confirmed in Senate estimates that in the incoming government brief handed to Senator Evans in 2007 was advice from the department as to how we would go about implementing the government's policies. It had clearly stated policies. Those policies were well understood and we provided advice as to how the government would perhaps go about undertaking those policy arrangements.
Mr MORRISON: I am going to pursue that further. You have also given evidence at Senate estimates where you have gone into quite a lot of detail about what advice you have given the government and you have engaged in briefings to the media on advice that you have given to the government. I think it is only reasonable for people to form a view about advice you gave to the government back in 2008 or late 2007 on whether it was the department's view that abolishing those policies could lead to an increase in people smuggling activity and about whether the government was so warned.
Mr Metcalfe : I would not want to add to what I have just said apart from saying that the evidence I gave at estimates about policy advice given to the government more recently was to a series of questions asked by Senator Cash.
Mr MORRISON: I understand that.
Mr Metcalfe : I was responding to Senator Cash. It was not material I was volunteering; I was answering questions. On the issue of how the policy advice that I had provided came into the public domain, it is well understood that the Prime Minister asked me to provide some briefings to a number of journalists, because the government thought that was in the public interest. The normal rule, though, is that unless specifically authorised by the minister a public servant will not go into the issue of policy advice.
Mr MORRISON: You have never received such an authorisation from the government to tell the Australian people whether you warned the governmentâ
CHAIR: Hang on.
Mr MORRISON: No, Chair, this is a criticalâ
CHAIR: You can ask your question, but I am going to ask Mr Metcalfe to refrain from answering it till I consider whether your question is within the terms of reference. Ask your question.
Mr MORRISON: You have just given evidence that you are allowed to disclose advice that you have given to the government where the government has given you that authority.
Mr Metcalfe : That is correct.
Mr MORRISON: My question is: has the government have given you the authority to disclose the advice you may or may not have given it in late 2007 or early 2008 as to whether there was a risk that abolishing the measures of the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas and other measures that were part of the government's policy would lead to an increase in people-smuggling activity?
CHAIR: Because of the latter part of that question, let me say this to you: I believe that is outside the terms of reference. As I read them, people smuggling is not part of the terms of reference for this inquiry.
Mr MORRISON: So the detention centres just filled up of their own accord?
CHAIR: No, you know the connection I am talking about. The committee has a particular reference. I am very careful that if you rephrase your question it is then a matter of Mr Metcalfe and policy. I am telling you that I regard the latter part of your question as being outside the terms of reference.
Mr MORRISON: Has the government giving you any authority to disclose the advice you gave to it when it came to power in 2007 regarding the previous measures of the coalition government relating to the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas?
Mr Metcalfe : No, the general rule is that I do not discuss policy advice and I have not been given such authority.
Mr MORRISON: So the government is happy for you to talk about the advice you give to them when it agrees with their position but they are not happy for you to talk about advice that may have disagreed with their position?
CHAIR: The question is out of order. Next question.
Mr Metcalfe : I cannot confirm or deny whether such advice was given.
Mr MORRISON: This all started back in late 2007, early 2008, and I am trying to understand whether the government was warned that, by abolishing the policies that they hadâ
CHAIR: And I am sayingâ
Mr MORRISON: previously, the boats would arrive and our detention centres would fill up. And you are not allowing me to pursue that line of questioning. What is the government trying to hide?
CHAIR: I know it is the last day of the public hearings of this committee that are scheduled, and I know you might be desperate for a headlineâ
Mr MORRISON: No, I am just desperate toâ
CHAIR: You hear me out for a second.
Mr MORRISON: actually get to the truth for a secondâ
CHAIR: I am quite proudâ
Mr MORRISON: I am trying to get to the truth and the witness will not answer the question and you are shielding him.
CHAIR: No, the witness will not answer the question because it is out of order. We have proceeded, I think, impeccably as a committee up to date. I am a bit disturbed that you are choosing to go on a different tack today. That is fine. Do it within the terms of reference.
Mr MORRISON: I resent the implication, Mr Chairman, and I am asking you to withdraw it. You are impugning another member's motives in asking questions, and you should withdraw.
CHAIR: Mr Morrison, let me tell you this, and let the world know it: the public record will speak for itself in terms of my interventions, which have been minimal. I have allowed any question that you wanted. Mr Metcalfe is a senior public servant who has served both sides of the parliament. I do not need to protect him. He is better served protecting himself than me. What I am doingâand I have done it in a very limited capacityâis to say quite clearly: your question is out of order. The way I have conducted myself again is a matter for record. If you rephrase your question, fine.
Mr MORRISON: I have rephrased it twice, Mr Chairman, andâ
CHAIR: Yes, and last time it was outlawed.
Mr MORRISON: You have disallowed it on both occasions. I will just take it that we do not have an answer to the question as to whether the government was warned about the impact of abolishing the coalition's policies. So I will move on to this question: did the department receive any advice, in the six months following that decision in February 2008 to abolish the Pacific solution, that there had been an increase in people smuggling networks being reformed over that period following that decision?
Mr Metcalfe : I would have to check, Mr Morrison. You can imagineâand I am not being evasiveâthat we receive so much information about so many things that I would be happy to take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: If we could understand if that actually occurred in the wake of that decision I would be grateful. I am going to turn now to events of late 2009 and the decision following the incident that occurred on Christmas Island in late 2009. There were a series of reports undertaken. One was a report by the AFP that found: North West Point was overcrowded; tent locations posed a major security risk; internal tensions based on ethnic lines and standover tactics; poor access to amenities because of overcrowding. There was also a report to the minister from the CISSR, the advisory group to the minister on detention matters, that there was an urgent need to develop alternative accommodation options as CI was overcrowded. That was in December 2009. That followed a statement by Minister Evans that he had rejected claims that there was overcrowding at the centre, which has housed about 1,000 asylum seekers, and that that may have been a catalyst for the incident. Was Senator Evans appropriately informed about the nature of the situation on Christmas Island when he said that overcrowding was not an issue, when we had two reports that immediately followed that statement saying that overcrowding clearly was an issue?
Mr Metcalfe : I would have to answer generally because, again, I do not have recollection of precisely what advice might have been given two years ago. But my expectation and my belief at all times is that the department has acted properly in ensuring that the minister is appropriately briefed on issues and that, with one exception, we have lived up to that obligation.
Mr MORRISON: We had reports in late 2009 that overcrowding was a problem on Christmas Island. When did the department first recommend to the minister that people should be transferred off Christmas Island to the mainland and that facilities should be established on the mainland to support people transferred?
Mr Metcalfe : I would have to check what that date was.
Mr MORRISON: Do you recall whether that advice that was given about the need to get people off Christmas Island was in January or February?
Mr Metcalfe : I would prefer to check. I know that there was a decision of governmentâfrom memory, it was April.
Mr MORRISON: That is when it was actually announced. What I am interested in isâ
Mr Metcalfe : Clearly that did not just come out of the blue. There was a consideration process before that. As to the precise date, that is a matter I would have to check.
Mr MORRISON: Was there any delay, to your knowledge, after the advice was first given to actually get people off Christmas Island because the centre was overcrowded and it was creating tensions? I wonder if you could give me an idea about this. I am trying to understand the delay between when the advice was given and when the decision was taken.
Mr Metcalfe : We will check that. It depends upon the timing. I certainly do recall what I would describe as an iterative process of discussions and checking facts and information being provided. Whether that would be seen as a delay or simply an appropriate period of consideration of an issue different people may characterise it in different ways.
Mr MORRISON: If you could tell me when the iterative process started, that would be good.
Mr Metcalfe : I have taken that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: Did that iterative process include any engagement with the Prime Minister's office over that period in the lead-up to the decisions that were taken?
Mr Metcalfe : I personally recall discussions involving the Prime Minister's office through that period.
Mr MORRISON: If you could let me know when the Prime Minister's office became engaged in the decision process, I wouldâ
Mr Metcalfe : Some of those contacts may be beyond my knowledge if they happened at the political level. But I certainly recall at least one or two conversations that I was involved in. Whether there is a written record of the date of that I will have to check.
Mr MORRISON: Yes, if you could. In the demand predictor which the department has provided to the committee the three-month forward projection of what Serco could expect from March 2010 onwards consistently forecast that the facilities at Christmas Island would be at 100-plus per cent capacity on every single forward demand indicator from March. I think the first one was 19 March, but I will stand corrected. Had the decision been taken to expand facilities at that time?
Mr Metcalfe : We have now come forward to March 2010.
Mr MORRISON: It was 16 March, sorry. In 2010 the department wrote to Serco and said that for the next three months Christmas Island would be over capacity for the first time. I would like to know whether the minister was advised of that and what, if any, decisions were taken regarding capacity and transferring people to the mainland from Christmas Island.
Mr Metcalfe : Just purely going off personal recollection without the benefit of briefing notes, in 2010 that took us through to the announcements in Aprilâ
Mr MORRISON: On both Darwin and Curtin.
Mr Metcalfe : Clearly there was a process underway at that time saying, 'We need more capacity. What should that capacity be? How big can it be?'
Mr MORRISON: If you could let me know when the capacity that you had in mind had actually set in terms of the viable options for the department and what was being put forward I would be grateful. In addition to the decision to reopen the Curtin facility, which had been closed by the previous government, could you also let me know when the decision to transfer people to Northam took place. I recall that a month or so before that actually happened Serco was advertising for staff at Northam. Could you let me know when the decision was takenâ
Mr Metcalfe : I will take it on notice.
Mr MORRISON: The asylum freeze was also announced. I noticed the Hawke-Williams report makes mention of the asylum freeze and the impact it had in effectively gridlocking the detention network and contributing to the problems of overcrowding and lengths of stay, which was a key factor. When was the asylum freeze first proposed by the department?
Mr Metcalfe : I will have to check on that as well. That is an interesting issueâthe interplay between refugee status decision-making and detention in that, if you look at the issue purely from a detention perspective, you would say it would cause many more people to be detained, but if you looked at it from the perspective of our primary obligation, which is to see whether in fact people are owed a protection obligation given the dramatically changing circumstances in both Sri Lanka and at that time Afghanistan, it is a different perspective.
Mr MORRISON: Had the idea of an asylum freeze been floated prior to the end of December 2009?
Mr Metcalfe : I would have to check. The answer is probably no. There clearly was a whole range of policy work, consideration and ideas being worked through in that period, particularly the period leading up to the announcement of the decision about the processing pause, but I will have to see if I can provide more detail.
Mr MORRISON: If you could confirm that the idea of freezing asylum applications and assessments had at least been identified by the department prior to the end of December and, if not, when it was first identified.
Mr Metcalfe : I will take that on notice. One of the key issues in our mind in considering that was particularly reporting out of Kabul based upon UN advice about the actual circumstances that Hazaras found themselves in. Of course, there was the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka and the move into a post-conflict stageâa dramatic development. I will take on notice the timing of those issues.
Mr MORRISON: The proposal for a freeze was generated from the department?
Mr Metcalfe : Certainly there were discussions that I was involved with, with senior officersâboth have now retired from the departmentâin relation to the issue. Whether or not we would claim sole ownership or whether it arose in aâ
Mr MORRISON: The idea started somewhere. Did it start with the department?
Mr Metcalfe : As with a lot of these things, you tend to think about how you might approach an issue and there is rarely one owner of the idea.
Mr MORRISON: Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan, it would seem. Regarding the asylum freeze, did the proposal initiate from the department?
Mr Metcalfe : I will check. I may need to check the recollection of the former division head. Certainly, the former division head and I were very closely involved in the idea. Whether we would lay claim to having come up with the idea or whether it came out of a shared discussion is something I would have to check.
Mr MORRISON: Let's move on to the shared discussions, then. The discussion was shared with other agencies. Who was it shared with?
Ms Pope : Again, I would have to take the question of detail on notice because there are a range of agencies that we work with on this. Some ideas come from us, some ideas come from them, some ideas come out of joint discussions, but the people we work with most closely in this policy area are, of course, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Prime Minister's department, the Australian Customs Service and related agencies such as ASIO, Defence and other parts of the intelligence community.
Mr MORRISON: It is an iterative process, as you often describe it. At any time during that iterative process, until the announcement, did the department lose its enthusiasm for the wisdom of this idea?
CHAIR: I do not know that that is relevant toâ
Mr MORRISON: Chair, the asylum freeze is a critical contributing factor to the overcrowding and length of detention that we have seen exhibited over the last 12 months. I think it is reasonable for the committee to try and find out how this decision was made and who made it.
Mr Metcalfe : I think I have said as much as I can on the record. I do notice that the response to question 82âand I am not sure when this was provided to the committee, because we have been providing responses progressivelyâessentially confirms what I have already said: it was an iterative process based on discussions between the department and the government. But if there is anything that I can add, Mr Morrison, I willâ
Mr MORRISON: If you could let me know when the Prime Minister's office became involved in the iterative process and if you could let me know what involvement they had in the decisionâ
Mr Metcalfe : To the extent I can. As I have said, discussions may have occurred that I simply was not aware of.
Mr MORRISON: Did the Prime Minister's office get involved early in 2010 or in the months or weeks leading up to the announcement?
Mr Metcalfe : Of the processing pause?
Mr MORRISON: Yes.
Mr Metcalfe : I will have to check on that.
Mr MORRISON: Did the department express any concerns at the time that the decision was taken to implement the asylum freeze that this could lead to what we saw occur, which was effectively a logjamming of the detention network?
Mr Metcalfe : We are going fairly close to the issue of policy, but I think I could answer it in saying that we were certainly conscious that a processing pause could have an impact on detention accommodation capacity, providing people continued to come. Of course, one of the policy objectives here was to obtain, at a time of significantly changing country circumstances in Sri Lankaâwhich was a large source country at that stageâand given that the fact that the vast majority of our Afghan asylum seekers are of the Hazara ethnicity, indications as to the true situation of the Hazaras throughout Afghanistan. There was certainly an awareness that it could have an impact on detention accommodation, but there was also an awareness that, to get to the bottom of whether people are refugees, perhaps some of those events needed to be explored further or to mature before we moved to decisions. That was in an area where we had very high approval rates, as you will recall, on Sri Lankans, Tamils and Afghan Hazaras, and, given the changing information that we needed to explore fully, many people would say that we would have been derelict in our duty if we had not paused and explored those issues fully.
Mr MORRISON: There was an alternative, and I am going to ask you if the alternative was considered. The freeze was designed to allow new information to assist with an ultimate decision about someone's refugee status and whether they should be given a permanent visa. Equally, the department could have advised that you restore temporary protection visas. People who may have been considered a refugee at that point in time could have been given a temporary visa for six months and the whole thing could have been reviewed six months later, and they would not have been in the detention network clogging it up for the next nine months. Were temporary protection visas considered as an alternative at that time?
Mr Metcalfe : That is a straight policy question. I am sorry; I cannot answer it. In saying that, I am neither confirming nor denyingâ
Mr MORRISON: Were any alternatives considered to the asylum freeze by government, and did the department define any other alternatives at the time?
Mr Metcalfe : We certainly have continued to provide advice as to a range of possible policy settings that may be applicable and achievable within relevant Australian law.
Mr MORRISON: Is it fair to assume that any proposal that the department may have been considering would have appeared in an incoming brief to a government in 2010 and that, if there was a live option the department was considering as something the government may want to consider and if it was still being actively considered by the department, you would have put that in your brief?
Mr Metcalfe : In some respects; but, in my experience, quite often for an incoming government brief it is best to provide a general briefing and then to sit down and have a good long discussion with the incoming minister.
Mr MORRISON: On that basis, why in the incoming brief in 2010 were there still references to how you would implement Nauru for the incoming Labor government?
Mr Metcalfe : I would have to check on that.
Mr MORRISON: So it was possibly still a live option in the department's mind, given that you included it in the brief in 2010?
Mr Metcalfe : The department has the luxury of having a whole range of possible options and contingencies available to government regardless of who the government is. It is a matter for the government as to whether they seek to implement particular policies.
Mr MORRISON: I just note that the incoming brief did include advice to an incoming Labor government about the establishment of Nauru. I want to turn to the Hamburger reportâor Knowledge Consulting; whichever way you want to refer to it asâwhich was another warning given to the government about the situation on Christmas Island, as well as Villawood in a separate report. When was that report first commissioned? Was it in March?
Mr Metcalfe : I think that that would probably be detailed in Dr Hawke's report.
Mr MORRISON: I think that is right. Just for the sake of argument, I think it was March. If anyone has a different view, then I amâ
Mr Metcalfe : I do not have that, but I am sure we can probably get that information to you.
Mr MORRISON: That is fine. In May Mr Hamburgerâ
Mr Metcalfe : It was in March.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you. In May, Mr Hamburger gave his draft report. The final report concluded that facilities on Christmas Island were overcrowded and understaffed; detainee accommodation was not fit for purpose; staff and detainees' safety was compromised; processes for detainee case management were conceptually sound but implementation was degraded through the lack of detainee placement options and staff shortages; intelligence gathering was compromised due to staff shortages; centre maintenance and services were under stress; and detainee mental wellbeing was at risk due to a lack of meaningful activity. Those were the findings of the report that was provided on 14 October 2010. Can you tell me which of those finding was not included in the draft report that was provided to the department in May? In other words, was the draft report you received in May effectively the same as the report you received in October and, if there were any material differences, what were they?
Mr Metcalfe : I will take that on notice because, again, I want to be quite careful to check whether there were any particular recommendations that changed or came into play or went out of play during that time. I do recall the general view that the draft report certainly raised a number of issues but it required considerable polishing and further work to be useful to us, and that was essentially the period that occurred between the receipt of the draft report and the receipt of the final report. Also Mr Hamburger, I gather, was unavailable for some periods of time through that period.
Mr MORRISON: He was travelling or something, wasn't he?
Mr Metcalfe : I think he was overseas.
Mr MORRISON: But, on the issues that were highlighted in the final report, I am sure that Mr Hamburger at that point would have had a pretty clear idea about what was happening in the centres. You may have wished to finetune some of the elements of his report, but what I am asking is: in terms of some of the key weaknesses that were identified, had they been identified in May?
Mr Metcalfe : My understanding is that they were and that we were certainly conscious of the issues that he was raising in May but we continued to work with him, and it was some time before we received the final report. But we did not sit on our hands in Mayâ
Mr MORRISON: No, I understand that.
Mr Metcalfe : We were obviously seeking to address the issues he was dealing with.
Mr MORRISON: That is my next question. You had this report in May. Was Minister Evans aware of the report?
Mr Metcalfe : My understanding is that the minister or his office was briefed, but I would have to check as to the precise way that was done.
Mr MORRISON: He was aware of the general conclusions, then, of the report that you received in May?
Mr Metcalfe : That is my understanding.
Mr MORRISON: And you were as well, Mr Metcalfe?
Mr Metcalfe : In broad terms. I may have seen a copy but I was certainly aware that the relevant division head at the time, who is now a deputy secretary in a different area, was intimately involved in the management of the issues.
Mr MORRISON: What actions were recommended in response to that draft report? The report had identified overcrowding and understaffing, particularly overcrowding. Was any recommendation made at that time that there was a need to expand the capacity of the immigration detention network in order to ease overcrowding?
Mr Metcalfe : This came very soon after, of course, the government's decision to reopen Curtin and to transfer people off Christmas Island, soâ
Mr MORRISON: This was a month after that.
Mr Metcalfe : That is right. So, to a certain extent, the particular issues that Mr Hamburger had identified we knew about well and truly, and the government was acting in that regard.
Mr MORRISON: So you felt that in May 2010 there was no need to further expand the detention network other than what had already been done in reopening Curtin and transferring people to Darwin?
Mr Metcalfe : Remembering that Curtin was opening in stages and thatâ
Mr MORRISON: There were only 600 beds max.
Mr Metcalfe : preciselyâthere were initial accommodation and further transfers to occur.
Mr MORRISON: There was a max of 1,000 beds, I think, when you combine Northam and Curtin, from the announcements of April, so that is what was added to expand the network, then you had a report in May that said overcrowding was a problem. I just want to understand whether the department had formed the view that that expansion of capacity at that time was sufficient to deal with the expected demand or whether you felt at that time that the government should be going further to expand the network even more broadly than that.
Mr Metcalfe : I will check to see precisely what our state of mind was at that time, but certainly we were very conscious of the overcrowding. The conclusion of Mr Hamburger was no surprise whatsoever in that regard, and we were acting to expand capacity.
Mr MORRISON: Obviously it also followed the CISSR report, the AFP report and your own reports to Serco with above-capacity forecasts for all of the three months leading from March all the way through to the riots themselves.
Mr Metcalfe : Yes.
Mr MORRISON: At that same time, there was another meeting of the CISSR. We understand from the minutes of that meeting that Allison Henry, an adviser to Mr Evans, said that over 3,000 additional arrivals were predicted within the next few months, which in turn would mean that in the three months the facilities would be 160 beds short for families, in six months they would be 400 beds short for families and in six months the department would be 900 beds short overall. That was in May. Mr Metcalfe, Senator Cash and you would go around this issue every estimates, and in May you were as forthcoming as at other estimates on the issue of your predictions of what arrivals would be.
Mr Metcalfe : That was largely in relation to financial issues.
Mr MORRISON: I understand that. Was the advice of the adviser to Mr Evans, Allison Henry, correct and did that confirm your own concerns about the looming shortage in accommodation capacity in the detention network on 6 and 7 May?
Mr Metcalfe : I will have to check on that. I accept that you have a record there of what Ms Henry may have said. I certainly recall at that time us being very worried about the pressure on detention accommodation, and the government was moving in relation to expanding accommodation. But beyond that I do not have a specific recall that zeros in on those dates. I will take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: You would have been talking to the minister regularly, as is the appropriate practice of the secretary?
Mr Metcalfe : Very regularly.
Mr MORRISON: Were issues in May of the potential to further expand the network after the existing expansion of Darwin and Curtin a matter of regular discussion between you and the minister and did you think that you needed to expand it then further? Was it going to be enough?
Mr Metcalfe : I will take on noticeânot at all seeking to be evasiveâexactly what I was doing and saying at that time. I would rather go back and check.
Mr MORRISON: Okay. When the incoming brief was provided to the ministerâand I recall some other briefings over that 17-day period when things could have gone either wayâthere was no doubt that the most urgent and pressing decision that had to be made by an incoming government after the August 2010 election was to expand the detention network. I note that in reasonably short order the minister made that announcement with a number of facilities. Why wasn't the decision to expand the detention network made prior to the August 2010 election, given that you had had a series of reports, whether it was the draft Hamburger report or the many other reports that we have talked about and that were detailed in the Hawke-Williams review? Why did the government not make a decision to expand the detention network prior to the August 2010 election? Had they been advised to do so and, if not, why didn't theyâ
CHAIR: Before you answer that, Mr Metcalfe, I should quote the Senate resolution in relation to parliamentary privilege of 25 February 1988, under which this committee operates. At (16), it says:
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.
That is what I am relying on.
Mr MORRISON: I will rephrase the question. I do not want to delay the meeting further.
CHAIR: I am just telling you that those are the rules. I am not inventing them.
Mr MORRISON: Mr Metcalfe, did you receive any instruction to expand further the accommodation network within the detention network between April 2010 and the federal election in August 2010?
Mr Metcalfe : I will take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: You would not remember whether the government told you to expand the detention network?
Mr Metcalfe : I recall that there were numerous discussions. I recall that there were formal government announcements. But, to answer your specific question, I will have to take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: There was only one formal announcement, and that was in April and that was an asylum freeze and transferring people to Curtin and to Darwin. There was no further decision or announcement by the government to expand the network between that point and the decision made by Mr Bowen after he became the minister.
CHAIR: The witness has said he will take it on notice.
Mr MORRISON: Chair, I am pursuing a line of questioning. I am trying to establish that during the entire time there was no announcement of government policy to expand the detention network. Despite all the warnings of overcrowding, there was no announcement.
Mr Metcalfe : I have taken that on notice, Mr Morrison.
Mr MORRISON: I find it a bit hard to believe, Mr Metcalfe, that you would not recall something as significant as an announcement to expand the detention network, which now cost us over $1 billion a year.
CHAIR: You have made your point. He is taking it on notice. I have read out the standing ordersâ
Mr MORRISON: The standing orders had nothing to do with the question I am asking.
CHAIR: Yes they do.
Mr MORRISON: I am simply asking the secretary to the department of immigration when he remembers the government making a policy announcement to expand the detention network after the announcements made in April 2010.
CHAIR: He said to be would take it on notice.
Mr MORRISON: The secretary is quite implausibly telling meâI have a much higher regard for him than his answer is suggestingâthat he does not recall.
CHAIR: We do not need your commentary. He has given his account that he will take it on notice.
Mr MORRISON: I am asking for an answer, Chair. If he does not recall and needs to check itâ
CHAIR: There is no grey area here. He is taking it on notice.
Mr Metcalfe : I said I am happy to take it on notice. Mr Morrison, I am not being evasive.
Mr MORRISON: You are going to have to work hard to convince me of that.
Mr Metcalfe : You know I am a cautious person. There is so much that happens and so many things occur that for me to rely on perfect memory would only serve to mislead you. I have therefore phrased quite a few of my answers in the general and tried to assist you but said that I would check on detail. That is what I am doing now.
Mr MORRISON: Let me ask you a different question then. Did the department undertake any other expansion of the detention network other than to transfer people to the Northern detention centre and to reopen the Curtin facility between April 2010 and the federal election in August 2010? That would have been about 600 beds at Curtin and 400-odd at Darwin.
Mr Metcalfe : Colleagues are drawing my attention the department's submission to the committee at page 230, which indicates that on 18 April 2010 the government announced that it would reopen RAAF base Curtin. On 1 June 2010 the government made a further announcement that a site in Leonora, Western Australia, would temporarily house family groups. So there was an announcementâI am glad we are checking. In September 2010, the minister announced extra accommodation for families and unaccompanied minors in Melbourne and for single adult men in Northern Queensland and in Western Australia.
Mr MORRISON: That one was after the election. So the only other announcement was Leonora.
Mr Metcalfe : That is right and I am glad I have checked.
Mr MORRISON: I am glad to. Remind me of the capacity of Leonoraâit was for families only.
Mr Metcalfe : For temporarily housing family groupsâit was a couple of hundred people.
Mr Moorhouse : 210 people.
Mr MORRISON: We had another comment from the minister's own advisor in respect of thousands of people.
Mr Metcalfe : What I can say broadly, in respecting the chair's concerns, is that of course the department is looking at options and at issues and asking how we could manage the situation. It is a matter for the government as to how it made decisions in this area. I have taken that on notice and if the government wishes to add anything further on notice, I am sure the minister will do that.
Mr MORRISON: I have no doubt that the department was being incredibly vigilant in highlighting the need to expand the detention network because I remember very vividly the urgency, as it was put to me in September, the need to make decisions about expanding the detention network.
Mr Metcalfe : I certainly cannot comment on briefings you may have been given in the caretaker period.
Mr MORRISON: It clearly was urgent that this be undertaken. What was the impact of an announcement being made as late as September 2010 with the lead times of establishing new facilities? You cannot just turn a detention centre on, as we all know. What was the impact of the decision being made in September rather than, say, in July or June? How much better would the situation have been if you had had an extra three months up your sleeve in terms of getting these facilities on the ground and being able to alleviate overcrowding?
Mr Metcalfe : That is pretty hypothetical because there are so many variable factors at playâbuilding approvals, construction times, consultations with communities, arrival rates and exit rates from detentionâso I do not think it would be proper for me to hazard an opinion on that.
Mr MORRISON: Would it have been better to expand the detention network earlier than the announcement in September?
Mr Metcalfe : I think that becomes very speculative, Chair.
CHAIR: I am not requiring an answer to that.
Mr MORRISON: I just thought I would ask it.
Mr Metcalfe : I just do not think it would be proper for me to speculate on that.
Senator CROSSIN: I want to pursue a couple of matters that go to the dispensing of medication in detention centres. I think you would be aware of the fact that I have asked a number of questions on this in other committees. I want to know whether or not the department undertakes a regular stocktake of what is happening with IHMS and the dispensing of pharmaceuticals in those centres.
Mr Moorhouse : Can I clarify what you mean by whether we undertake a regular stocktake. We do monitor the administration of the centres through our detention operations managers and contract managers, but are you asking whether we stocktake the drugs or the processes?
Senator CROSSIN: A couple of things. First of all, I want to know whether you have some mechanism by which IHMS stocktakes a drug to report to you about what is happening.
Mr Douglas : We have regular discussions with IHMS regarding the administration of the contract, but for clinical matters we rely on the clinical administration arrangements that apply within IHMS. IHMS has a medical director and a number of clinicians and they are all responsible through their own licensing arrangements and professional registration arrangements for those matters.
Senator CROSSIN: I will stop you there because I understand all that. What I want to know is: in the contracting do you require IHMS to get a pharmacist in to regularly do an audit and stocktake of the drugs that are kept on site?
Mr Douglas : I would need to take that on notice.
Senator CROSSIN: All right. Secondly, any drug that is administered to me if I am a client in a nursing home, for example, must be given to me by either an enrolled nurse or a registered nurse and signed off when that person gives that drug. Is there such a requirement in a detention centre that each and every drug that is provided to a client must be given by someone who is either an enrolled nurse or a registered nurse and signed at the time of administration of that drug?
Mr Douglas : In much the same way as operates in the general community, the medication is prescribed by a general practitioner or specialist. It is given to the pharmacist to fill and the pharmacist fills that directly to the consumer, in this case the detainee. Only drugs prescribed by a general practitioner are provided and they are dispensed via a pharmacist to the detainee.
Senator CROSSIN: So you are telling me that detainees have their own medication and do not rely on other people to provide them that medication?
Mr Douglas : No, I am saying that they are prescribed that medication by a clinician and that medication is then dispensed to them by a pharmacist in the same way that operates in the general community. They have no more than one week's supply of that medication.
Senator CROSSIN: Where is the medication kept? With the detainee personally?
Mr Douglas : All of the medications are kept in a dispensary at the centre. They are then provided to the detainee, as I said, with no more than a week's supply at a single point in time.
Senator CROSSIN: But you are still not answering my question. My question is: who provides it, then, to the detainee on site?
Mr Douglas : The dispensing pharmacist.
Senator CROSSIN: No, that is not possible, because there is not a pharmacist in each and every centre 24/7. Okay, the pharmacist fills out the script and that packet or jar of tablets is sent to the centre. Where is it held in the centre?
Mr Douglas : I am sorry, could you repeat the question.
Senator CROSSIN: Where is the medicine actually held in the centre? Is it held personally by the client or is it held in a dispensing store?
Mr Douglas : The medicines that are dispensed to the client are held by the client. Those medicines not yet dispensed are held in a dispensary which is under the supervision of IHMS.
Senator CROSSIN: What about schedule 4 medication?
Mr Douglas : What about what medications, I am sorry?
Senator CROSSIN: Schedule 4 medications like temazepam?
Mr Douglas : That would be included. There would be appropriate storage arrangements that are required for each of the drug categories as required by various legislation.
Senator CROSSIN: Yes, I understand that, but what I am really in getting to the heart of is: who actually gives the client three times a day or four times a day the medications they require?
Mr Douglas : IHMS staff.
Senator CROSSIN: In what way, though? I do not believe that that is correct. I believe that that is what they might be telling you, but I want to know whether DIAC actually thoroughly check that. You are telling me that if I am a detainee and at 10 o'clock at night I need a sleeping tablet an IHMS staff person gives me that tablet and signs off on that tablet being taken by me, as I would expect if I am a client in a nursing home?
Mr Metcalfe : You have indicated you have some evidence or some information that indicates that our belief is not correct. Obviously that raises a concern for me. So we would be very happy to receive any information you have in whatever form you have that might indicate that our understanding is not correct. But, notwithstanding what you are able to provide us, we will undertake some further checks with IHMS as to the appropriate protocol for the dispensing of medication to reconfirm our understanding.
Senator CROSSIN: Okay. But I still want to try to get an answer today of this: is it your understanding or is it in the contract that each and every time a client takes medication, particularly if it is a schedule 4 drug, that that is given to them personally, individually, one-on-one by and IHMS staff who would sign a record that that person has taken that drug? Because, you see, if you have read my transcript of Adelaide, for example, you would have seen that I asked Serco, 'Who is responsible for what might happen?' because Serco employees are telling me that they are being asked to provide medication to clients. They are asking Serco to provide them with a letter to say that if something goes wrong they, as employees, are not liable. If you have followed my line of questioning in Adelaide I tried to get out of Serco whether they believed they were liable as the employer or whether the employee was liable. Finally, Serco said that they were liable as the employer. But now you are telling me that you believe IHMS staff should be giving that medication. What I am trying to get to the bottom of exactly is: who is giving clients their medication on a daily basis in these facilities?
Mr Douglas : My understanding of the way the arrangements are supposed to work is that clients who are prescribed medication by a clinician have that medication dispensed and distributed to them only by IHMS with the usual distribution arrangement of up to one week's supply for self administration by the detainee. I am aware that in certain circumstances a clinician may recommend that a certain pharmaceutical should only be supplied on a daily basis and my understanding of the contractual arrangements also are that Serco officers would only be distributing what would be known as over-the-counter medication such as aspirin and other forms of light pain relief.
Senator CROSSIN: Okay, so my question to you is: what is the department doing, daily and weekly, to ensure that that is the caseâto ensure that Serco employees are only dispensing over-the-counter drugs, to ensure that IHMS staff are individually signing off on drugs that are commonly known as schedule 4, which only people with a medical background should be dispensing because they know what they are giving them? How do you convince yourself what you think is happening is actually happening?
Mr Douglas : We have regular contract administration activities which cover a broad range of the activities required of our service providers in each centre.
Senator CROSSIN: Tell me how that works.
Mr Douglas : Where there are specific concerns raised in relation to a particular process we would investigate that process. But in the absence of any evidence to the contrary we would use our own observation to determine whether or not there were actions occurring that may be in breach of the contract. But there are no specific investigations of that particular element in each centre on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Senator CROSSIN: See, that isâ
Mr Metcalfe : Senator, given what you have said this morning, I think that we do need to undertake some more detailed checking in this area, to go beyond treating it simply as part of the overall administration and undertake some specific inquiries in each centre as to what the practice might be and whether it complies with our requirements. Following this hearing I will ask the relevant officers to start that work. If you have any particular times, dates, places. We will obviously look at the Adelaide transcript, but if there is any other information that would be helpful we would very much appreciate it. But, notwithstanding that, we will undertake some specific checks to satisfy ourselves that things are working the way they should.
Senator CROSSIN: Well, you see, there will not be any specific times, dates or places because Serco employees are not going to tell you that because they are fearful they will lose their jobs. My concern is that maybe Serco are telling you that things are okay. I am wanting to know: does each and every client have a pharmacy dispensing chart, for example, and each and every time they are given their drugs, even if it is out of a pet pack, do you physically go and look to make sure that an IHMS officer signs beside that? If they are given a sleeping tablet late at night, do your people specifically go and look at the pharmaceutical records of that client to make sure that next to that drug being dispensed, even if it is only one tablet, there is an IHMS signature and name next to that?
Mr Metcalfe : It is not the role of DIAC staff in the centres to stand over the shoulder of Serco or IHMS every minute of the day to make sure they are doing the job. But you have raised some specific issues. They are, obviously, important and we will undertake to have a very specific look at the issue and if there are problems we will fix them.
Senator CROSSIN: Okay. All right. The other thing I wanted to ask about was the level of numbers of Serco employees on workers compensation. Under the contract or under the regular dialogue you have the Serco, are the reasons for people taking workers compensation raised as a matter of ongoing dialogue, because obviously the reasons are triggered due to the circumstances in the centres? How is that handled?
Mr Moorhouse : Essentially the issues relating to the management of Serco staff are a matter for Serco. We do not look into the details of their relationships with their staff.
Senator CROSSIN: All right. So if, as in Adelaide, they told us that about 10 per cent of their staff are actually on workers compensation, they do not raise that with you and say, 'Our staff are lodging claims under workers compensation because of particular problems'?
There must be a reason why so many staff are making OHS claims. Do you never have a discussion with Serco about the causal problems and the link between the two?
Mr Douglas : If there was an underlying business practice issue that Serco believed would result in improved conditions then they would bring that to our attention. But, as Mr Moorhouse has said, the management of those staff is a matter for Serco.
Senator CROSSIN: But would they bring it to your attention?
Mr Douglas : If they believed that us agreeing to change a particular process or output would deliver a better outcome then I have no doubt they would raise it with us.
Senator CROSSIN: So it is not part of a normal ongoing dialogue?
Mr Moorhouse : There are a number of discussions we have with Serco on an ongoing basis. As Mr Douglas said, if they have a concern they have plenty of opportunities to raise it with us but it is not our job to manage Serco staff on their behalf. They are responsible for the management of their staff. As Mr Douglas said, if there were systemic, procedural or other related issues and Serco believe we would have a capacity to influence these things then I am sure they would bring them to our attention.
Senator CROSSIN: But it is a bit of a catch-22 situation, isn't it. They manage their own staff and you leave them to their own devices, but you also need to make sure that they are compliant with the contract you have with them. Let me give you an example. Let us say there are 10 staff on duty at an IDC and three or four clients are up on the roof. If five or six of those 10 staff have to go to the roof area to assist those clients and try to get them down, that leaves only five staff left in the rest of the centre. What are the arrangements with staffing there? Are Serco expected to backfill the number of staff that are taken offline to deal with the emergency situation?
Mr Moorhouse : In a situation where a contractor is responsible for the delivery of services, unless there are previously agreed or prescribed ways of delivering that contract then it is a matter for the contractor. As we have said at a number of different parliamentary hearings, the contract with Serco is an outcome related contract. The number of staff required or the staff to client ratio are not specified in the contract. That is a matter for Serco. It would not be appropriate for us to look over their shoulder and say whether they have the right number of staff in a particular situation at a particular time. That is very clearly their responsibility as the organisation that have accepted the contract for this work.
Senator CROSSIN: All right. I want to go back to how you might have a dialogue with them about this. Ultimately they have got a contract with us and with DIAC for a whole range of issues, including staff. Ultimately I would have thought the department would want to satisfy itself that there are enough staff on duty hour by hour and incident by incident. And surely a reduction in staff or not having enough staff on at any one time might lead to the high incidence of workers compensation claims that we are seeing. I am just trying to work out where in the system we might see this loop being closed with a discussion about the obligations under the contract to have enough staff on at any one time and when there is an emergency in one of these places, and the impact that it is having on the employees and their workers compensation claims.
Mr Moorhouse : From the department's perspective we are administering a situation where the detention services are provided by a contractor. What you are describing to me is a situation where we would take control over the management of the centre; they would provide the people, and we would be responsible for how those people are managed, allocated and deployed. But that is not the contract that we as a department have been asked to administer.
Senator CROSSIN: What do you do to satisfy yourselves that there are enough people on duty at any one time?
Mr Moorhouse : As Mr Douglas has explained, we have contract managers and detention operations staff who are responsible for making sure that the outcomes are delivered, that the facility is managed properly and that the services that are meant to be delivered are delivered. The government has contracted Serco because of its expertise in managing facilities to appropriately manage this contract and the detention facilities. It would be simply inappropriate for us to then say, 'We don't trust you to make the appropriate judgments and we're going to monitor your deployment of staff and tell you how to do the work.'
Senator CROSSIN: I am not suggesting that you do it at the minute level that you are suggesting. What I want to be convinced of or satisfied with is that somewhere in the contract you must specify, obviously, that they need to run the centre so it is secure and safe.
Mr Moorhouse : That is correct.
Senator CROSSIN: Okay. Are you satisfied yourselves that that is occurring with the number of staff that are on duty each shift?
Mr Moorhouse : As I mentioned, we monitor the contract. We engage in regular contract discussions with Serco. For example, if we have concerns, we discuss those with Serco. In recent times we have had a number of discussions with Serco about, for example, the management of good order in facilities. Serco, in response to those discussions and in response to the circumstances that have arisen, have changed their practices and their staffing. In this particular example, they have built up their emergency response team capability in response to our concerns that there was a need to do so. So, in the broad, we do engage with Serco. As I mentioned, there is a regular dialogue on a wide range of issues. If we have a concern, we bring that concern to their attention. But the point I was trying to make is that we do not, on a day-to-day, incident-by-incident basis, monitor how they are deploying their staff.
I guess another point to make, though, is that, if the outcomes are not delivered, if we believe that there are problemsâfor example, this relates to abscondmentsâif there are issues where things are not delivered in the way that they are meant to be delivered, there is the capacity to apply abatements under the contract, and we do so. But we do not seek to do their job for them and to tell them how to deploy and manage their staff.
Senator CROSSIN: I raised the issue about the administration of medication, which I have some very serious concerns about. I want to highlight the fact that Serco employees are asking Serco to put in writing whether or not they are liable if they administer medication. So, if you are saying that Serco employees should only be administering over-the-counter drugs, I am wondering why there is not or whether there should be an individual pharmaceutical log supplied so that you can check an IHMS register's name and signature after that.
The other thing, just following up on the questions I have asked you, is: have you ever asked Serco to do an OH&S risk assessment centre by centre?
Mr Douglas : We have been doing risk assessments on a centre-by-centre basis over the course of the last couple of months in conjunction with Serco.
Senator CROSSIN: Are the outcomes of those available?
Mr Douglas : I am not too sure what state those centre risk assessments are in. Many of them go to security issues, but with the intention of trying to assist the committee where possible I will take that on notice and see what can be provided.
Senator CROSSIN: The other thing I want to ask you about is the activity that Serco undertakes in each centre. Again, I suppose, you would tell me that you have no influence over the number of activity officersâthe activity. So, for example, if two activity officers are allocated for 400 clients, you would say that that is a matter for Serco.
Mr Moorhouse : Our concern is that the agreed level of program activities is delivered, and that is the requirement under the contract. We do engage with Serco in relation to the types of programs and activities which are delivered. There is an active dialogue with them. I have met with senior Serco staff on three occasions to talk about the activity programs that are delivered given the fundamental importance of this to the good management of the centres. But the question of how many programs are delivered and the quality of those programs is the responsibility of our contract managers on the ground.
I am conscious that there are at times some vigorous dialogues in relation to making sure that these are delivered, and this has been in the context, of course, where in the past we have had to stand up facilities in remote locations and where there have been some other challenges in particular locations, such as some of the disturbances. There have been times when it has been challenging for Serco to deliver the range of programs that are required, but, as I said, there is an ongoing practical dialogue and an ongoing strategic dialogue in relation to this.
Senator CROSSIN: I am not talking so much about the range of programs. They are there, and Serco are proud to boast about them, but when you drill down a little bit you might find there are 400 clients who want to access those programs and two activity officers offering them or supervising them. So the next layer is not only the variety and types of activities but also how they are managed. I might ask you to have a look at that.
I have two other really quick questions. Here in the Northern Territory, do you know if it is a requirement for all Serco employees to have what we call now an Ochre Cardâa working with children card? They might have a Queensland card, but is not the same as the Northern Territory card. I think Serco told us in Darwin that they may have had a Queensland card. Is it a requirement of the contract that all Serco staffâam I am only focusing on the Northern Territoryâhave a working-with-children Ochre Card?
Mr Moorhouse : It is a requirement under the contract that Serco meet all of the regulatory and legal requirements which are necessary to perform the functions they are required to perform, so everyone working with children is required to be appropriately qualified. If it were brought to our attention that that was not the case, we would take it up immediately.
Senator CROSSIN: I am sure you would, but Serco is not going to say to you, 'A third of our staff don't have it.' How do you find out if their staff have it? Every three months, do you ask for proof or evidence of it?
Mr Douglas : We undertake a monthly audit of the contract and these are matters that are checked in that audit.
Senator CROSSIN: So the next time you do an audit, you will convince yourselves that all Serco staff here in the Northern Territory have an Ochre Card?
Mr Douglas : There is a contract specification for Serco to ensure that staff who work with minors comply with the relevant state child protection legislation, are subject to all necessary checks in accordance with the relevant state child protection legislation and hold relevant certificate III qualifications in child welfare. That is what we will be checking.
Mr Moorhouse : I could add to that. As Mr Douglas said, we do a monthly audit of that. That does not prevent us intervening at any time should we believe that there is an issue in this regard. Could I say to you, just as I would say to any member of the public, if you were to bring any concerns to our attention we would deal with them.
Senator CROSSIN: I am bringing a concern now. I am saying to you: you need to satisfy yourself that every Serco employee in the Northern Territory has an Ochre Card.
Mr Moorhouse : We will do that, but, if you have specific concerns, please let us know.
Mr Douglas : Not every Serco employee in the Northern Territory is required to deal with children. It is only those employees who are dealing with children who are required to have those qualifications.
Senator CROSSIN: Anyone under the age of 18, actually. If they are under the age of 18, you must haveâ
CHAIR: Whatever the Territory law is, you have basically saidâ
Mr Moorhouse : We will check it.
CHAIR: They do it.
Senator CROSSIN: The final issue I want to raise with you is a concern that has been raised with me about the lack of time in responding to DIAC allocating case managers.
Mr Moorhouse : I am sorryâI missed a word there. It was about the lack of time.
Senator CROSSIN: The lack of time regarding DIAC allocating case managers to clients. An issue that has been highlighted to me is that, even though it is in Serco's little handbook, they try and match up Serco employees, one-on-one, with clients, and sometimes if a client is going to have a negative decision that day the individual Serco employee may not know that is happening as well. There needs to be better communication between the Serco team on the ground and communication that is happening, particularly with case managers.
CHAIR: Could I suggest, given the nature of the question, the secretariat will draft something and write to the department so that we can nail this for you in an accurate and timely manner. It is a very serious matter that you have raised. I will get the secretariat to liaise with you. Perhaps it could be taken on notice, but we will tighten up exactly what it is that we are asking for.
Mr Moorhouse : Perhaps I could add just one thing, Chair.
Mr Metcalfe : I think we will do it that way.
Mr Moorhouse : Okay. I beg your pardon.
CHAIR: I think it is best if we do it that way because Senator Crossin has made an important point.
Mr KEENAN: I have a series of questions that I want to ask and they go to a number of different areas. After lunch I want to go back through some of the answers we have had to the questions on notice we put. Like Senator Hanson-Young, I would seek some clarification to the answers the department has given. I just forewarn you that that is what I am keen to do. Could you update the committee on the status of negotiations for the MOU with the various state and territory police forces?
Mr Kelly : I will give you the latest. The department recently met here in Canberra with the AFP and relevant assistant commissioners of each of the state and territory jurisdictions, with the exception of New South Wales who were unavailable on the day and the Northern Territory who were preparing for President Obama's visit. We have reached an agreement with respect to the wording of the overarching MOU. There are some small elements for further discussion. The NT Police Force are coming back to us with a further proposal in terms of costing on the basis of some information that we asked them about. They had previously put to us a proposal in terms of the cost involved for the NT police service. We had a meeting with Queensland this week, in Queensland. They are ready to go ahead and sign the agreement. In Victoria, they are also ready to sign the agreement. With respect to Tasmania, there is an issue regarding indemnity at the moment; we are working through the definitions around 'indemnity'. South Australia are also well placed at the moment. I am travelling to WA on Wednesday next week for a meeting with all of the assistant commissioners in the Western Australian police force to brief them on where we are at with the MOU, but they are also close to being able to sign that agreement as well.
Mr KEENAN: Where are we up to with New South Wales?
Mr Kelly : As a result of the meeting recently here in Canberra I referred to, New South Wales Police wanted to put forward a previous draft MOU that was prepared back in 2010. When they provided us with a copy of that MOU, it looked very similar to the proposal we had put forward. Since that discussion, New South Wales Police have indicated they would be now prepared to go ahead with the MOU we have prepared. We will have further discussions with them and they are now well advanced as well.
Mr KEENAN: Is the expectation that all the states and territories will sign up at the same time to the same MOU or will you have different understandings with different states that will be signed at different times?
Mr Kelly : It is an overarching MOU that has received, at the moment, tacit agreement by all parties including the AFP. Each of the state and territory jurisdictions will then have an individual annexure that will be a part of that. That individual annexure will be signed as that is completed with each of the jurisdictions. That could occur quite separately from each other but the overarching MOU has, as I said, received tacit agreement by all parties.
Mr KEENAN: Will the overarching MOU deal with responsibility for policing the detention centres and responsibility for investigating crimes within them?
Mr Kelly : That is correct.
Mr KEENAN: Will the annexures agreed with the states deal with appropriate resourcing for the states based on the extra responsibilities that the Commonwealth has given them by placing these detention centres within their jurisdiction?
Mr Kelly : Ultimately, the individual annexures will go to the heart of the expectation of each of those jurisdictions from their point of view and from the AFP and our points of view.
Mr KEENAN: What we heard as we have moved about the country, with the exception of New South Wales, whose issues related to jurisdiction, was that Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory were deeply concerned about the remote nature of the detention network, the fact that they have very few resources up thereâthe Commonwealth essentially has no resources up thereâand what was going to happen if something happened at those centres like we saw in Darwin or like we saw on Christmas Island or like we saw at Villawood.
Mr Kelly : Yes, that is correct. I do not think the jurisdictions will have changed their minds in their ability to service remote detention facilities. There is an expectation from the state and territory jurisdictions that Serco also provide further services. They have been ongoing discussions as well. You would know, through other hearings, that Serco have increased their ERT capabilities at virtually every site. They now have over 90 staff that are trained as an emergency response team. They are looking to expand that.
Mr KEENAN: With appropriate equipment?
Mr Kelly : Yes, with appropriate equipment. We understand that they intend to take that to over 120 trained staff in the network. It has been a process of engagement with all parties. The discussions have been very good. As I said, we have reached a position now where most parties are confident that we are close to being able to sign the MOU.
Mr KEENAN: When will it all be finalised? What is your best guess?
Mr Kelly : All things being equal, we could have some jurisdictions signed up before the end of the year with the remainder coming on line hopefully in the first month or so of the new calendar year.
Mr Metcalfe : The minister and I have both been concerned that this issue was dragging on so, at the minister's request, a few weeks ago I spoke to each of the commissioners or their acting commissioner or deputy and there was a very strong will in each of those conversations to finalise this issue, and I think we are now getting pretty close. We will continue to press to get these agreements signed.
Mr KEENAN: Okay. I have a series of very quick questions which I think can be dealt with relatively quickly. There have been reports in the media about customs officers being exposed to IMAs who have had TB. Can you clarify whether that is the case or notâwhether customs or immigration officers have been exposed to TB as result of some of the IMAs having TB?
Mr Metcalfe : We will check on that. Obviously, the first time we see IMAs is when they come ashore at Christmas Island, and one of the first things we do is undertake health checking. We have seen a very small number, I think, of active TB cases. The issue of exposure and the actual circumstances are something that people are concerned about, but I think it is best if we take that on notice and come back to you, and we will talk to Customs as well.
Mr KEENAN: What is the process if someone is identified as having TB? How does that affect their processing?
Mr Metcalfe : The person is given appropriate medical treatment including isolation. There are facilities on the island to manage that and the protocols around it. If you like, I could get someone with greater information about the medical protocols and how the protocols apply to people who have may have had contact with that person. We can give that to you orally or we can take that on notice.
Mr KEENAN: All right. Just in relation to the source countries where people are arriving from, have you noticed a change with these latest arrivals, or are they still coming from the same source countries?
Mr Metcalfe : I cannot give you right up to date information because, as Mr Moorhouse indicated, we have not undertaken entry interviews for everyone who has arrived. We certainly have seen a significant upswing in recent times of Iranian nationals or people from that part of the world who might claim to be stateless. We have seen a vessel where largely the people were claiming to be Sri Lankan, and we have seen an ongoing flow of people from Afghanistan and Iraq. The entry interviews will give us more information, and we will have more information as we get to talk to people.
Mr KEENAN: Are we seeing people arrive from Syria?
Mr Metcalfe : I have heard a suggestion that we have seen some people from Syria and from Palestine, but that has not been confirmed through entry interviews.
Mr KEENAN: Just very quickly, because I am aware of the time: have we seen any of the survivors from the boat that sank off Indonesia in November come down on other vessels that have arrived recently?
Mr Metcalfe : Can I take that on notice? I will answer you after lunch.
Mr KEENAN: Okay.
Mr MORRISON: Just for the record, can the department please provide a draft of the Knowledge Consulting, or Hamburger, draft report provided to the department in May as well as the response and actions taken?
Mr Metcalfe : We will take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you.
Proceedings suspended from 12 : 33 to 13:31
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Given that some of these discovery questions were answered right back in the beginning and things have changed a bit, could we have an update to question 1, which is about places, capacity, costs et cetera, and question 3, which is about detention population location. I guess I got an update to No. 4 today in relation to the number of children in the network. In answering those questions could you give us the most updated information. Over summer when we are writing the reports it would be good to have the most current information.
Mr Metcalfe : Sure, so questions 1, 3 and 4.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. I have been asking everywhere we go about staffing levels. In response to question 10 that we gave you on notice you gave us the staffing levels of IHMS. Of course, there has been an issue with the Serco staffing levels. Every time I ask Serco they have said they want to do that in camera because there are concerns around what that information would mean publicly. I want to get a sense from you, Mr Metcalfe, if that is something you actually accept. If you wanted to see what the staffing levels are, you could I imagine. What is your understanding of what is so sensitive about having that information given to us?
Mr Metcalfe : I will ask Mr Moorhouse to answer that, Senator.
Mr Moorhouse : I would prefer not to speak on behalf of Serco, but I think the issue really relates to one of security and the potential risks to the facilities at various times if the staffing ratios are disclosed. You are quite right: we do have visibility of that. It is an outcome related contract, so we do monitor the outcomes and whether we believe the staffing levels are impacting on those outcomes. So it is not that we are monitoring whether they have got a specific number of staff on at any particular time, but if we feel that the number of staff on in a facility is impacting on the services provided to our clients, the security of the facility or any other outcomes that are meant to be delivered then we can discuss that. I gave the example this morning of dealing with negative behaviour and the way in which Serco have, at the request of the police and ourselves, increased their emergency response capability. That is really an example of building outcome related capability in response to our concerns.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I guess I still struggle to understand why, knowing what the staff numbers would be in Weipa, for example, in the Scherger detention facility. We were there last week. It is in the middle of nowhere. I do not buy the argument that we cannot have those numbers public. If you, from your conversations with Serco, understand why that is such sensitive information, I would really like to be enlightened, because it is becoming quite frustrating.
Mr Moorhouse : I am not sure I can add to my answer.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Because you know who is there, you have never had to deal with thatâis that what you are saying?
Mr Moorhouse : As I understand itâand I will be corrected by my colleagues if I am missing some aspect of itâthe reason why staffing numbers are sensitive is to do with wanting to maintain the security of the facilities.
CHAIR: You might take it on notice. If you want to expand a little bit on that by way of a supplementary answer to Senator Hanson-Young that fleshes that out, that might assist.
Mr Moorhouse : Okay. I will do.
CHAIR: I understand where you are coming from in relation to the vulnerability of any facility should numbers be known, given what has happened in recent times in terms of other facilities.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Moorhouse, that would be helpful. So, as far as you are aware, it is not a commercial reason as to why we could not have access to those figures publicly?
Mr Moorhouse : I cannot see that it would be. Without having further advice, I cannot see that it would be a commercially related issue.
Mr Douglas : Serco believes there is a commercial element to it because Serco believes the significant proportion of the cost of delivering its services, and therefore the price it bids for those services, is related to the number of people that it has employed. So Serco certainly believes that there is commerciality to the answer but, as Mr Moorhouse has indicated, it also strongly believes in the security elements to the answer.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What kind of confidence do you have in that? We have had all of these publicly released reports that squarely question the staffing levels in facilities. There are big question marks over themâthe quality of the staff in terms of training that are on the ground at facilities at any one time, the numbers to deal with the population within centres. How can you as a department defend yourselves if you cannot even rely on public release of how many staff we have to deal with the issues?
Mr Moorhouse : I appreciate the point. Could I make a couple of points in response. I would not want to give the impression that we are not interested in what Serco's staffing levels are. They are the subject of quite active and quite vigorous dialogue at times. There have been a number of issues in relation to this, including the availability of adequate staff for things like programs and activities as new facilities were being stood up and also the issue I mentioned in terms of what was Serco's role in relation to public order management or the good order of the facilities. So there have been a number of aspects of the operation of the centres that have been the subject of active and sometimes vigorous dialogue between us.
But this is a point that I really would like to put on the record, because Serco does cop a lot of criticism in this regard. And let me say as a preamble that it is not my job to defend Serco; it is my job to monitor them and, where necessary, to abate them, but at the same time I would like to have it on the record that what they have done in standing up facilities in challenging locations at very short notice is a considerable achievement for any organisation, and, as a senior manager, I would not like to have had to do the scale of what they have had to do in the time frame that they have had to do it. I am not wishing to be an apologist for them. We do actively work with them. But I do think that, at the same time, the scale of the challenge with which they have been presented needs to be acknowledged, and their capacity to respond to that. Having said that, there have been, as I said, issues with the availability of staff and the particular capabilities that have been present. I also know thatâand I think you mentioned thisâthe issue of training has been on the public record. The contract does provide for their client service officers to begin work before they have the full range of qualifications, as long as they are qualified within the first six months. In a sense, that gives Serco a capacity to stand up facilities quickly, despite the fact that they may not have the requisite number of skilled staff. But, at the same time, that is not their preferred way of working. They do train people ahead of time. They trained a substantial number of people in Northam in Western Australia, in anticipation of the establishment of Yongah Hill, and in other locations as well. So they do seek to ensure that they have adequate numbers of fully trained staff, but sometimes they have got to be able to respond to the circumstances.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I was referring to question 10 in the discovery questions, but I also want to take you to question 205 from the Sydney hearing, which related to the submission given to us by United Voiceâthe union that represents the Serco workers at that facility. You have said in your response that you would actually like to be able to have a more detailed conversation and give us more information in following, upcoming hearings. So that is today. Part of their submission, just to remind youâI do not know if you have a copy of it there somewhere; I am happy to get the secretariat to deliver you oneâwas on a survey of the workers at the facility. It came up with a number of things: 72 per cent said that the centre was understaffed; 15 said it was not understaffed and 13 were unsureâ72 per cent said that it was. Ninety-three per cent thought there should be enforceable minimum ratios for immigration detention centres. This is something we keep talking about, obviously. The Comcare report raised that in particular. The thing that workers wanted more than anything else was more mental health awareness training. Suicide awareness came a close second. The department was going to come back to us with more detailed responses to these, and I guess this is your opportunity.
Mr Moorhouse : In relation to question 205, the nature of our response was influenced by the general nature of the question, asking us to comment on another submission, and what we were saying was: if there was a particular aspect you would like us to comment on, we would be happy to do that. I am not sure that I have all of the information. I could check with my colleagues to be able to respond to particular aspects of this. But the response in relation to 205 was saying: if you would like us to comment on a particular thing then please let us know and we will comment on that.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: These are all the issues that we have spoken about at every hearing so far, and this is just coming from another group, the Serco workers. As you have already said, Serco of course are working in pretty 'challenging', to quote you, locations and environments. What is the department's response when you hear that 72 per cent of the staff on the ground are saying that they are understaffed? We do not know what the staffing numbers are. The public does not know what the staffing numbers are because we are not allowed to access them publicly. You see them. The workers tell us that it is understaffed. Where is the nexus here of reality versus policy?
Mr Douglas : A challenging issue too, Senator, as you also know from evidence we have provided and in answer to questions on notice from both us and Serco, is that the level of staffing in a centre varies over the course of the year in anticipation of the number and type of people who will be positioned in that centre. So, at any given point in time, it is likely that people will have a view about whether or not the staffing is adequate. The number on any given day is likely to be affected by unscheduled absences. There are a whole range of factors. If I can reflect on my own personal experience, I do not think I have worked in a single workplace in my career where the majority of people in that workplace believed they had sufficient staff to do the job.
It is a really difficult set of interpretations. As Mr Moorhouse has indicated, where we have focused most of our attention is on whether the staffing and activity levels provided in a centre are sufficient to meet that centre's needs in terms of programs and activities, in terms of access to services and amenities, and in terms of meeting the company's commitment to us about the activities or the way that it would engage with the clients of those centres. It is a matter we take under constant review, but I also think at times it is a 'how long is a piece of string' question. You might conclude that, a particular number, 20, is the answer, but equally it could be 18 or 21 or 22. As Mr Moorhouse has indicated, really the issue is whether or not there are activities and engagement with the clients and whether the services that are undertaken to be provided are being delivered. No doubt everybody at some stage would like to think that, with more staff, they could do better.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: With all due respect, these workers are working in a pretty stressed environmentâand I think we can all acknowledge that. Their concerns are about being undertrained. They say they need more suicide awareness training and mental health training. They are screaming out for this. They were asked which of these issues they or their colleagues had faced at work and which were the biggest onesâunderstaffing, inadequate or broken facilities, inadequate training, work related stress and unsafe work environment. These are pretty serious issues for people who are already working in pretty stressed environments. I do not think you can just brush that aside and say that, as long as Serco can tick off that they have given two classes of English a day, we should all be happy.
Mr Douglas : Since the time United Voice prepared that submission we have been rolling out much more detailed mental health awareness and policy training across our network. We have already delivered that training at Pontville and at everywhere in Darwin. It has been delivered at Leonora and it is being delivered at Christmas Island. It is progressively being rolled out to the network over the remainder of the six months.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That brings me to one of the other questionsâand I am not exactly sure what the number was: how many staff have not been given the mental health awareness training? You are unable to tell me how many that was because of the high staff turnover rate.
Mr Douglas : That is correct.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you may have rolled this out but you cannot even tell me who has had it and who has not.
Mr Douglas : We can tell you the number that have attended but we cannot tell you who has not attended. Your question was 'How many haven't attended?' and I cannot tell you that.
CHAIR: Are you able to identify a static number at a point in time?
Mr Douglas : We can identify those who have attended particular training courses on particular dates.
CHAIR: No, is there a point in time at which you can identifyâ
Mr Metcalfe : Let us say: how many staff employed as at 1 November have and how many have not?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But the point is that we do not know how many staff there are, Daryl, so how do we know how many that means?
CHAIR: Mr Metcalfe wanted to say something.
Mr Metcalfe : It would be a percentage. Why don't we take it on notice. We will establish what seems like a sensible date in the last few months where there are accurate records. We will work with Serco to indicate the proportion of staff working in detention centres at that time who have attended and, therefore, how many who have not.
Mr Moorhouse : Senator Hanson Young, in response to your question could I just add that one of the reasons I was at pains earlier to in a sense defend Serco and their staff was because of the challenging role they have taken on. I note Mr Douglas's comment and as a manager I agree with it, but I have seldom worked in a place where people felt we had enough staff to do what we needed to do. At the same time, I do not want to downplay the very important issues raised by United Voice and which you have raised with us today. It is a big ask to ask Serco staff and our own staff to deal some with some of the personally challenging situations we face in the work we do. I want to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication of the Serco staff and the fact that we can always do more. We are intent on trying to give people as much support as we can. Where issues are brought to our attention we will certainly have a look at them to see whether we feel there are deficiencies in terms of the outcomes which are being achieved. I do not want to leave the impression that we are not taking the issue seriously. It is something we take very seriously. We can always do better and there are a series of other issues which impact on those observations. They include the quality of the leadership which we would provide from DIAC and the quality of the leadership within Serco. We have been working with Serco to build up those capabilities as well so that we can better support and guide our staff, who are doing a very challenging job.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Moorhouse, I accept all of that except that this is not just one criticism on these issues from United Voice; it has been consistent through submissions we have had over and over again from independent observers as well as from people within the facilities. I absolutely except that it is very difficult to deliver this type of service in these facilities and that goes to my other point about the appropriate location of some of these detention facilities, frankly.
Mr Moorhouse : And also, as Mr Metcalfe mentioned earlier, the length of time people are spending into detention.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Absolutely.
Mr Moorhouse : You and I have spoken at other hearings about the levels of self-harm. It is not something that most people in the working community have to face in their job; it is a profoundly challenging thing to have to deal with people who are self-harming. I want to convey a sense that we do understand the pressures on Serco staff. We want to support them to the extent we can with profit training and also, very importantly, we want to try to reduce some of the profound challenges they are facing through better management of facilities, through better management of behaviour and through reduction in self harm. I would like to put on the record that we have had substantial reduction in the level of self-harm since August. I think that comes not just from reducing populations but from more active management of these issues, better staff capability, and a range of other issues which we have been trying to put in place.
Mr Metcalfe : I think it is important to recollect the very dynamic situation we are in. As I said in my opening statement, even since we saw you here at the end of August a great deal has happened in that time. This contract was conceived and written in response to the Cornelia Rau case. It was very much focused on delivering outcomes rather than being prescriptive. It was a quiet conscious policy decision taken by the previous government in relation to setting up a contract where the service provider would be held accountable for the results, rather than trying to tell them how to do their job. The tender process commenced on that basis and, of course, it is a matter of record that the number of people in immigration detention when Serco took on the contract was far smaller than it has been in recent times.
Mr MORRISON: To be fair, Mr Metcalfe, the number was also quite small when the government made that decision in relation to the Rau matter.
Mr Metcalfe : That is correct. I do not want to get into the issue about numbers. The facts are quite plain that, having a series of contracts in place since 1997, each contract has improved and developed. With this contract, with its outcomes basis, Serco was elected as the preferred tenderer because of their commitment to care of people in detention. It is quite clear that what we have seen develop over the last couple of yearsâwith a very large number of people arriving here, a massive increase in detention capacity, going from half-a-dozen or so centres to over 20 different facilities Australia wideâhas been extremely challenging for all of us. Mr Moorhouse has properly pointed to the efforts that Serco have made. We are continuing to improve. That is the point I wanted to makeâthe lessons that we have learned this year and that we continue. The concerns raised by the staff of the centres and the workers are all very valid. I think a real challenge collectively for us and the service provider is how we respond to that.
I will be surprised if this committee does not provide us with recommendations as to changes to the contract. Indeed, there may be a philosophical issue some members pursue as to whether the services should be provided in an outsourced manner or within government. That is an issue for politicians to deal with. But we have a contract, we are committed to making it work and we constantly are seeking to refine and change the procedures to improve outcomes. I think we can claim some success in that respect. We will be very interested to hear what you have to say about what the future should look like.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have there been any live discussions in relation to ratios, trying to define some way of giving Serco staff as well as the department an assurance about levels in facilities?
Mr Moorhouse : I cannot say an absolute no, because there may have been at some of the regular discussions, but it is not really one of the key issues on our agenda. One of the things that we have sought to do in our higher level discussions with Serco is to allow them to do their job. This might be a strange way of putting it but, through the contract, we have bought their expertise. We have sought to allow them to use their expertise to do their job well. We hold them accountable for the outcomesâplease do not misunderstand me; I am not trying to say this is a hands-off, laissez-faire approach; we do hold them accountable for the outcomesâbut we do not try to tell them how to do their job.
CHAIR: There is one concern I have got. It is a concern I have had in any area that I have worked in. It really flows from what Mr Metcalfe has said in terms of the challenges now being much more than what you anticipated when the contracts were first let and the number of facilities compared to originally. My concern always is, where there is a massive expansion, with the nature and quality of the service provided across the sector. I had this concern with ASIO, when there was a massive influx of resources for ASIO, about the quality of people. They were very honest, saying, 'We haven't filled our quotas because we didn't have the quality that was required.' It was the same with the Federal Police and a whole range of others. That is the part that I want to be reassured aboutâhaving that level of quality. It happens in the disparity, for instance, on our bench with judges, where we have had a massive explosion of judges. I want to hear, Mr Metcalfe, if there have been strategies in place to ensure that that quality is maintained or lifted across the sector, if that helpsâgiven your regional status as well.
Mr Metcalfe : It is an issue the department, of course, has faced as we have gone from having to make a certain number of refugee status assessments every month to having to make a much larger number, setting up review bodies, recruiting caseworkers. So it has affected everyone. It is affecting the not-for-profit sector. Our ability to get people into community detention is limited by the ability of the Red Cross and other service providers to provide accommodation. So Australia generally is having to rise to a new challenge, and there are growing pains associated with that.
Certainly I agree that one of the key issues for us as managers in that is: are we appropriately planning; are we reassuring ourselves; and, where clearly there are deficiencies, what are we doing about them? That is an issue for me as head of the department in terms of our capability. It is an issue for Serco in terms of their capability, and IHMS and the Red Cross and the Ombudsman and everyone else as well. It is an issue we have all had to face. But Senator Hanson-Young has made a good point on the issue of ratios. Our response has been that the approach at this stage, under the contract, is that we focus on outcomes, not ratios, and that the nature of our clientele can be very different. The ratios required in a MITA will be very different to those required in a Villawood stage 1, in a Blaxland. The issues around children, family groups and all those sorts of things will vary, and to come up with some ratio or set of ratios for us would be in some ways meaningless because we do need flexibility across these issues. But I think you raise a very important issue and I will be very interested to see what advice you have as a result of the evidence you have taken and the information people have provided you in this hearing.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I take the point about this six-month clause in the contract to allow people to gain their qualifications over that period and I understand the point about flexibility, but that has a direct tension with exactly what you said, Mr Moorhouse, about these being people who are dealing with circumstances that most of us never would have to face. I have been to more detention centres this year than I would have liked, frankly, and each time I go it is still an awful experience, and I am only there for a few hours. I can imagine what it would be like for some of these people who work day in, day out dealing with some of the issues they have been confronted with. Surely that has to start affecting the thinking about who, in the light of the new population and what it looks like, should be front and centre dealing face to face with asylum seekers in detention and what qualifications these people should have.
Mr Moorhouse : I think your point is a very important one. Detaining people is a confronting task. It is not an easy thing to do. If anyone thinks that locking other people up is easy, they have never had to do it. It is not easy; it is a challenging thing for us in the department and it is a challenging thing for the people who work with us. The observations you make are perfectly valid and we acknowledge those observations. I would, however, refer back to what Mr Metcalfe said: it has been challenging for us as we have had to step up and build up the network. I am privileged to work with a very large group of professional and capable people, but I do not have enough people with the sort of experience and expertise that I would like. I have some great people but never enough of them, and it is exactly the same for the people who are right in the front line, the Serco staff. I acknowledge what you are saying about the confronting and challenging nature of the work and that we can always do better. We understand that. I certainly would not pretend that we have everything right and it is working well. There are very big challenges that we continue to work on and I accept what you are saying.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Were you at last week's hearing, Mr Douglas?
Mr Douglas : I was.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I had an engagement with Serco around the roles of their contractors in dealing with asylum seekers, and you would have seen that. There was this confusion about whether subcontractors like Wilson Security or MSS could have direct contact with asylum seekers and are there on the ground dealing with them. Serco tell me that is not their policy, and yet we have seen time and time again that that is the practice. I went through some of the incident reports, particularly where one man was found by an MSS security officer in his room after committing self-harm. Let's be specific. In relation to the conversation I had with Serco last week, what has happened? Is that a breach of the contract? Or do you just wait for Serco to say, 'Senator Hanson-Young was asking about this; it's all right'?
Mr Moorhouse : Can I just come in in relation to that particular incident report. We were conscious of that when we released it to you, and, as we have sought to do with everything we have given it to you, we have given it to you warts and all. We have not sought to selectâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I thought it was a good example, Mr Moorhouse.
Mr Moorhouse : We have tried to be brutally honest. We do not want to gild the lily in terms of what we are dealing with. In relation to that particular incident it is absolutely true that people who provide security services should not be dealing with clients. But I am pleased that, as any other Australian would, when they saw someone in a situation of need they helped. You do not say, 'It's not my job; I'm going to wait for the right person to come along.' I think that incident report needs to be seen in that context. It is not the situation that should happen. The MSS guards should be providing perimeter security and that is the end of itânot necessarily perimeter security, but security for particular facilities. But we were aware of that when that incident report was released.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If there are already concerns, as I referred to in the United Voice survey, about the level of qualifications and abilities of Serco offices and that they are not being trained and feeling confident about their skills, how can we possibly think that Serco are fulfilling their duties if we have people like Wilson Security and the MSS staff finding people in their rooms? They also refer to themselvesâas you would have seen from the exchange, Mr Douglasâas client service officers, just as Serco staff do. Yet that is not what they areâ
Mr Douglas : I also heard Mr Manning say that they did not regard them as client service officers, even though they themselves may call themselves that. As Mr Moorhouse said, if we look at that particular incident without knowing the details of it and without prejudicing any investigation of it, my sense is that an emergency was called and that people reacted humanly, felt that they were the closest to the location and moved in without necessarily thinking about whether they should have been there or had the right. As I said, I want to make it clear that I do not know the details of the incident and really cannot comment on it other than to say that human nature is to respond in such a way.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I accept that, but I just want to clarify: the incident report talks about the emergency call being made by the MSS officer after finding the person in their room.
Mr Douglas : My understanding is that a code was called over the radio network and that MSS staff attempted to engage with the client, who became very angry and agitated and slammed the door to his room.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Maybe we are referring to a different one. Regardlessâ
Mr Douglas : The point I want to make is that we do have an expectation of Serco that all the staff who are engaged in a detention centre are appropriately skilled for the tasks that they are undertaking.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But we know that they are not. We know that they are not even when they are Serco officers, let alone if they are subcontractors. This is the point.
Mr Douglas : I am trying to get to the point of distinguishing between what we expect them to do and then, as Mr Moorhouse says, when we have circumstances when they are not. We do have monthly audits of their performance under the contract, and if they fail to meet particular requirements of the contract there are provisions in place to make sure that that is effectively reflected. There are abatements, for example.
Mr Moorhouse : It is the case that client service officers can begin their duty without having the full qualification they need, but they are given specific, limited roles and mentored by an experienced person until they have the qualifications. So they do not have the full qualifications, but they do meet the requirements of the contract. It is not what we would likeâwe would like everyone to be fully trainedâbut they are, in a sense, qualified in the terms of contract. That is probably the wrong way of putting it, but they do meet the requirements of the contract if they have limited duties and they are being mentored. In relation to this particular incident, as I understand it, the client involved had cut himself badly by punching out the windows of his room, and that is probably what drew the attention of the MSS guard who was providing security, and that caused that person to rush quickly to assist the person.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: We have spoken a lot about abatements. I want to go to the incentive matrix. When was the last time Serco was given a payment based on the incentive payment system?
Mr Douglas : I am not aware that any have been made.
Mr Moorhouse : Neither of us are aware of that. Is that a definite no?
Mr Douglas : That is a definite. I am not aware of any incentive payment being made.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Since the contract was signed with Serco? Or are you saying in the last financial year?
Mr Douglas : Since the regime came into effect in March 2010.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So since March 2010 there has been no payment for incentives?
Mr Douglas : My understanding is there has been a persistent view that in any month there has been an abatement there could not be a performance incentive payment.
Mr Metcalfe : We will look at that if it needs to be examined.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It would make sense not to pay an incentive in a month where there is an abatement.
Mr Douglas : Without necessarily shutting the issue entirely off, I think there is an issue. But there is a very broad range of performance indicators. There is an active question that Serco raised informally with me. Serco says that it can accept that it is underperforming in some parts but may have overachieved in other parts. For Serco to get an effective incentive regime with its own staff it would be helpful if that performance improvement could be recognised and not just the negative aspects focused on. On the record to date, there has been no performance incentive payment made in a period where there has been an abatement.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: On the abatement indicator matrix on page 10 of schedule 4.1 there is a table of all the different indicators such as catering, programs, activities, amenities, transport, security, reception, induction, maintenance, facility presentation, incident reporting, interaction and wellbeing, complaints, information sharing and issues management. When I look through the details column of that matrix, I see that catering, programs, activities, amenities and transport all fall under the duty-of-care key performance indicator. Where does self harm and the disruptive behaviour that flows from that fit into this matrix? I do not see it.
Mr Moorhouse : I would need to check that for you. I am not aware that they form a part of the performance matrix. They are essentially due to factors that are outside of the control of Serco. As we discussed before, the level of self harm tends to relate both to the period a person has been in detention and their experiences in detention including the outcome of their visa applications. It is indeed our experience also that they are the sorts of things that do contribute to those behaviours. Those things are outside of the control of Serco, but I would say that Serco has worked very cooperatively with us in the strategies we have implemented over the past few months to try to reduce the level of self harm, which have been successful. So it is not that they are not interested in it; it is just they are not abated for things that are outside of their control.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Self harm, hunger strikes and the types of behaviour that people are displaying fall under the category Mr Metcalfe described earlier todayâthat is, people who perhaps had more difficult behaviour.
Mr Moorhouse : That is not what I am referring to.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Let me finish. In all the facilities that we visited, people were put on particular close watchâtake the Villawood facility, for example. The stage unit has people who are on suicide watch, people who have participated in hunger strikes, people who have threatened self-harm, plus people whose behaviour has been seen as disruptive. They are all in the same facility.
Mr Moorhouse : I would like to tease that apart. I am sorry, my memory for names is not good. We have Blaxland, which is a more secure part of the facility, and we have Banksia, which is the part of the facilityâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Where is the one with the dorms that we visited?
Mr Moorhouse : The one with the dorms is Blaxland. That is used for people who are at higher riskâsection 501 cancellations and removals; other people who have demonstrated negative behaviour. People who are on PSB, people who are potentially self-harming or in a dangerous place, are placed in the Murray compoundâthere are so many facilities and so many compoundsâwhere they can be more closely monitored and we can manage them for their own safety.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When we went to Villawood, we were told very clearly that the people in Banksia were people who were onâ
Mr Metcalfe : Blaxland or Banksia?
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Blaxlandâsorryâin the dorm section. Everyone knows what we are talking about.
Mr Moorhouse : The old stageâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, the very old, run-down part. The people who were there were at higher risk.
Mr Moorhouse : From a behavioural perspectiveâyes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When we were there I clearly asked: 'What type of high risk? Are these people just behaving badly?' The answer was: 'No. They are also people who have been continuously threatening self-harm or have participated in actual self harm.' My point is that these activities, when you talk about people's location, are taken into consideration and yet, in the metrics of performance for Serco, it does not even rate a mention. In the metrics of key performance indicators, it clearly sits there as to how you determine where people go and what type of interaction they have, but, when it comes to the service provider, it is not even listed as part of what you review on a monthly basis to decide whether they qualify for abatements or not.
Mr Moorhouse : It is not one of the things we used to abate them on. The contract has been there since September 2009. It is something that those of us who currently administer the network inherited. However, despite me having said that, I do not feel that it would be appropriate to apply sanctions to Serco for things that are outside of their control. The point I was trying to make before is that, in terms of things like voluntary starvation, or hunger strikes, self-harm and attempted suicides, or actual suicides, they tend to be more related to a whole series of things such as their experiencesâsuch as refusal of applications, the length of time or experiences prior to coming into detentionâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How do you measure the appropriate response to those types of incidents and whether Serco is upholding their duty of care if you do not look at that as part of your monthly performance review?
Mr Moorhouse : We look at it constantly in the sense that that is what we do. Responding to these sorts of issues is what I and my colleagues in the detention operations area are involved in on a daily basis. We are looking for ways of responding to some of the manifestations of pressure that people are under. It is not that we do not deal with it; it is something that we are dealing with every single day, but it is not something for which we are seeking to apply a sanction to Serco. In a sense, we are in control of most of thoseâsorry, 'control' is the wrong word.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: My point is how Serco deals with those incidents and those individuals when it happens. Of course it is not Serco which is making people do this. It is the environment. It is the circumstance. It is their length of detention. It is their lack of understanding about where their case is. We keep hearing over and over again why people are led to this awful self-destruction. My concern is that we have heard a lot from the department, yourselves, and from Serco about the abatements processes, how you keep yourselves confident that everything is being managed the way it should be and if there are problems you can deal with it, yet it does not rate in how you analyse, month by month, whether the service provider is doing its job.
CHAIR: I will now go to Mr Keenan. He has some time constraints.
Mr Metcalfe : I have a couple of issues I could come back to for Mr Keenan as well, Mr Chair. Mr Keenan, you asked me about whether anyone who had been on the ill-fated boat that sank on 1 November had come to Australia. I am advised that three people who arrived on SIEV276 on 8 November have claimed to have been on the vessel that sank on 1 November. That is an issue that we are following through with those people, but it would appear that at least we have a claim that three people who have arrived in Australia have been on the vessel that sank off Indonesia.
Mr MORRISON: Are those three individuals adults?
Mr Metcalfe : I will have to check on that as well. The question was: are they adults?
You also asked me, Mr Keenan, about TB. We have taken that on notice, but I draw your attention to our response to question No. 40, which sets out the department's disease management protocol, which sets out a lot of detail about various diseases including tuberculosis, both active and latent. But we will respond in more detail on notice.
Mr Kelly : Mr Morrison, you asked earlier this morning, I think, in your opening questions about people on the water, how many are on CI and boat arrivals since 1 December.
Mr MORRISON: I understand we have just had another one too, so I assume the answer will take that one into account as well.
Mr Kelly : I can give you the boats. They are slightly out of order, but I will explain why they are slightly out of order. There was an interception on 30 November which was SIEV282, which had 112 passengers and four crew on board, which arrived on CI on 1 December. On 1 December there was an interception, SIEV283, with 104 pax and two crew, which disembarked at CI on 1 December. On 2 December there was SIEV285, with 69 pax and three crew, which disembarked on 2 December. On 6 December there was SIEV287, with 181 pax and three crew, which disembarked on 6 December. On 8 December there was SIEV288, with 76 pax and two crew, which disembarked 8 December. SIEV284 was intercepted on 2 December north-east of Ashmore. It has 19 pax and three crew, with an ETA on Christmas Island of 12 December. SIEV286 was a 5 December interception. It was boarded west of the Lacepede Islands, with 54 pax and two crew. It has an ETA of 12 December. And, as you quite rightly said, a 9 December interception, SIEV289, was boarded on the Ashmore islands. At this stage there are 48 pax and three crew, but we do not have final numbers on that, so please excuse us. The ETA at this stage for Christmas Island is unknown.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you.
Mr Douglas : There was one other question about minors or children with disabilities on Christmas Island. At this stage our preliminary investigations have identified two. One is a Sri Lankan minor. The preliminary diagnosis is that this minor is autistic. They arrived with their family on 6 December. And one unaccompanied minor travelling with a cousin, nationality unconfirmed, has been identified as possibly having developmental delays. Both the recent arrival and the cousin are priorities for community detention placement.
Mr Metcalfe : Just to complete an answer, the three persons I was talking about earlier were three adult males.
Mr KEENAN: I was asking about tuberculosis. Is it possible for someone to arrive in Australia and be granted refugee status but then, in the same way as they might not be granted a security clearance, not be granted a health clearance?
Mr Metcalfe : The health requirement is part of the overall visa process. If others cannot help me, I will take on notice the precise point. Normally there would be a course of treatment under way. We have long had, for example, tuberculosis undertakings from people who commit to follow-up and ongoing treatment. That applies to migrants as well as other people. I do not know if anyone can assist me.
Mr Moorhouse : Perhaps I can help given that I have been an immigration officer for a long time. As you would appreciate, in many parts of the world TB is endemic and virtually everyone has contact with TB at some point in their life and therefore has traces or scars. An applicant for a visa, including a protection visa, may show signs of having had TB. If that TB is considered to be active, they would not be approved while they have active TB. If people have any indication that they have had contact with TB they will be asked to sign a TB undertaking, which would mean they would go for monitoring to make sure the TB does not flare up.
If I am starting to sound like a doctor, beg my pardon. Having dealt with this for 30 years, I can tell you a lot about it. TB is the sort of disease that looks as though it is completely dormant but if you experience major stressorsâand migration can be sometimes a stressorâthen it can start to emerge. Hence we ask for people to do TB undertakings as an extra degree of assurance.
Mr KEENAN: Presumably that undertaking could be a lifelong undertaking.
Mr Moorhouse : No, it is basically just monitoring to make sure it has not flared up after their arrival in Australia.
Mr Metcalfe : It is an issue of following up with the chest clinic. From memory, we report on the issue of TB generally in our annual report as an annual indicator. My recollection is that Australia has if not the lowest than amongst the lowest TB rate in the world, notwithstanding our very high migration rates, because of the very careful protocols associated with TB management.
Mr KEENAN: And there is no further indication about whether any immigration officers or Customs officers have been exposed?
Mr Metcalfe : I will take that on notice. Exposure could simply be being in the presence of someone with active TB who is coughing. Certainly staff on Customs vessels and the Navy are trained in relation to first aid circumstances. You have seen some pictures of people with masks coming ashore, for example. That would have been in response to that sort of concern. I will take on notice the precise issue of whether there is a view that anyone has been actively in contact or whether they have simply been in the broader presence of someone who may have had TB. My recollection is that we have only had a very small number of active TB cases that have been treated according to the protocols, but I will confirm all of that on notice.
Mr KEENAN: Thank you. I want to ask about how the department goes about sourcing accommodation for community detention. This relates to some experience I had in my own electorate.
Mr Metcalfe : I will ask Ms Pope to assist us on this, Mr Keenan.
Mr KEENAN: I am interested in how you identify, or what are considered to be, suitable accommodations for people.
Ms Pope : In terms of where we source it from, just to give context, the majority of properties are sourced from the private rental market, so they are properties that are rented out by a real estate agency in the usual fashion. We select properties from them using the Red Cross as the lead agency in most cases and the remainder of the properties have come through church organisations. All properties are required to meet the regulations around the building code and so on for the state in which they are located.
In terms of our requirements, we have KPIs in the contract that set out in very broad terms what we expect from a property that would be rented for our clients. One of the stipulations we have put on this is that we do not go to the very bottom of the market, because we are conscious of the availability of property for other people, Australian citizens and others, who are trying to enter the rental market from homelessness. We aim a bit above the very lowest.
Mr KEENAN: What is the floor and what is the ceiling for what you might pay on a weekly or monthly basis?
Ms Pope : It varies from city to city, depending on the rental picture for the city, so I could not give you that.
Mr Metcalfe : Perth would be fairly high.
Ms Pope : Perth is high, Sydney is high. It just depends. We work with locations that are suitable for our clients, particularly those where there might be other migrant communities and so on, and they tend to be in the outer suburbs. For example, we have properties in Dandenong in Melbourne and in all of the lower rental rate markets of all of the major capital cities. We have a very small number of people placed in regional and rural areas as well. I would not call them rural, actuallyâBallarat, Geelong, those sorts of regional locations.
Mr KEENAN: But the department do have dollar figures for what they consider to be appropriate?
Ms Pope : We do not specify a range across the country. Red Cross is aware of the range that we are looking at, and it is more the quality of the property rather than the cost of the property that we are particularly looking at. As I said, we are not wanting to go to the very lowest level, and they know the market in their state. We work it that way.
Mr KEENAN: How do you go about identifying where is appropriate to try and source property? Do you take into account the prevailing number of rental properties on the market, for instance?
Ms Pope : No, I do not think it would be quite that, Mr Keenan; more that we were looking for available properties. The Red Cross register their interest with a range of real estate agents across the country and they work pretty hard to find properties. As you would be aware, it is not easy to find rental properties, and at times the availability of rental properties has been a limitation on how quickly or how extensively we could expand community detention.
Mr KEENAN: There is no rationale why you go to a particular state or city? The department does not do any analysis such as: 'The vacancy rate in this particular state is significantly higher than in state B and therefore it would be a more appropriate place for us to look'?
Ms Pope : No, because it plays out in what is available. The states are staffed by Red Cross as to the level of accommodation that is available. There are times when we avoid certain locations. For example, we did not seek property in Brisbane for a time after the floods, recognising that there might be other people who needed those properties, so we stayed out of the Brisbane market for a while. The spread of properties is not even across the country. The state with the largest number is Victoria. Whether or not that equates to greater vacancy rates in Victoria, I could not say. Red Cross may well be studying vacancy reports provided by the Real Estate Institute of Australia but I am not aware of them doing that. My understanding is they are out in the streets working with real estate agents and seeking property.
Mr Metcalfe : Yes, I think so. It could be described as a sort of market based approach. The Red Cross is going to real estate agents basically saying, 'We need properties of this broad description,' and the real estate agents are responding to that, and so, naturally enough, the ability to respond will vary city by city. I have visited one family in community detention in Melbourne to see personally the sorts of circumstances that people are in and I would describe it as a very modest bungalow in the far outer suburbs, quite appropriate but certainly not anything grandâfar from it.
Mr KEENAN: That is not what I am getting at. I suppose what I am getting at is a skewing of the market when DIAC comes in and asks for a very large number of properties within a defined geographic area, particularly in markets that already have enormous stresses placed on the availability of rental accommodation.
Mr Metcalfe : We are very conscious of that. Part of the consultations in moving to the expansion of the community detention scheme, about a year ago, was consulting with FaHCSIA, the department of housing, who made that very point as to the competition for rental properties, particularly for people with low income in certain cities. That, I think, has seen the natural placement of people vary by city, depending upon the availability of accommodation. But we are conscious, as Ms Pope has said, of the fact that others are looking in the same market as well. Frankly, Red Cross have done a remarkable job in finding properties, but we continue to place pressure on them to find properties, because of the issues we were discussing with Mr Morrison before about the pressures on the detention network. The only other comment I would make is that we are also mindful that the services required for people are not just physical accommodation, but some people may have other needs as wellâwhether it is torture or trauma or other needsâthat Red Cross would take into account in relation to their placement in particular cities. The result of that, a year down the track, as Ms Pope says, is that we tend to be bigger in some cities than others, and that probably reflects the reality of the market.
Ms Pope : That was the point I was going to make. We would be interested in some other regional placements, but we have to be sure that we can get medical services, torture-trauma services and those other kinds of things that the people need in those locations. We do not tell Red Cross or any of the other providers, 'We want you to find 50 properties in Melbourne,' or anywhere else. They manage their arrangements nationally with their state offices and we ask them to seek properties wherever they can find suitable accommodation. So we do not target a particular area. But it is not surprising that it pans out that many of the houses we use are in the areas where migrants are already settling, because it is that sort of market and that is where the price range fits. It is our preference that, if people are granted a visa, they can stay in the house that they are in while they transition from community detention into settlement. Where that is possible, it is obviously a much better outcome for them, so those locations are important for that reason as well.
Mr KEENAN: It strikes me that it would be a sensible thing to do for the department to actually identify where there are high levels of vacancies. I represent an area of Perth that has an incredibly small vacancy rate. People find it incredibly hard to get rental accommodation, particularly in that lower bracket, and the Red Cross came and was asking real estate agencies in my electorate for 30 to 40 houses, which would have completely and utterly skewed everybody else out of that market. It just strikes me as a very, very poor way of doing business, when there are other areas in Australia which would obviously have higher vacancy rates and might be more appropriate places to seek that sort of accommodation.
Ms Pope : Western Australia has one of the smaller populations of people in CD. The number is relatively small in WA. That is part of the reason. But there are also sometimes reasons why it is good to be able to locate people there, if they have family or other connections. Some ethnic groups have more active communities in certain locations than in others, so all that sort of stuff is taken into account. I certainly take your point about studying the vacancy reports, and Red Cross may well be doing that. I just do not know that myself. But it would seem to me that the numbers pan out, as I said, where there are vacancies, because Red Cross is not going to keep searching for properties where there are none, if you know what I mean. They have staffed their states in response to the number of properties that are available, and the program works that way.
Mr KEENAN: It ultimately would depend on how deep your pockets are, wouldn't it? If they have got more money to outbid the people who are looking for accommodation, then clearly it would make a bad situation significantly worse.
Ms Pope : I am not aware that they are in bidding wars to secure properties, but I certainly understand what you are saying. The standard that we are aiming at would also keep them within a certain bracket. But, as I said, that varies from state to state, depending on where the market is in those states.
Mr KEENAN: But there is no ceiling for what we would pay, is there? That is what I thought you told me before.
Ms Pope : There is no national ceiling. I can provide on notice the details out of the contract, if that is helpful, around the bandwidth that we operate broadly within. But bigger properties are sometimes cheaper, so if you have a larger family the overall rental cost per person is commensurately lower and so on. It is a bit hard to generalise. But, if there is something you would like me to take on notice that I can discuss with Red Cross and come back to you on, I am very happy to do that.
Mr KEENAN: I would be very interested to know in what sort of range they are looking for with respect to property, given what you said about them trying to avoid the cheaper rentals. I would be very interested to know the range, where they are looking for property and in what numbers.
Ms Pope : Is that particularly in relation to Western Australia?
Mr KEENAN: No, I was just using my own case as an example because I know the rental situation in my own electorateâand it is very dire. Clearly, if you are going to come and seek 30 or 40 properties you are going to price a significant number of other people out of the market.
Ms Pope : I understand. I will chase it up.
Mr KEENAN: All right. I wanted to go to some of the answers that were received to questions on notice and see if we can clarify some of the responses we have received. I think Senator Hanson-Young was keen to do a similar sort of thing as well. Can I ask you about question on notice Nos 125 and 127, which we received the responses to today.
Mr Metcalfe : Yes.
Mr KEENAN: Mr Metcalfe, I just want to know whether you feel that that does actually answer the question that that committee was asking, because it would seem worthy of me as a parliamentary response, quite frankly, because it really does not address what the committee was seeking. I am wondering whether we might be able to seek some clarity to actually get the answer to that question.
Mr Metcalfe : I will ask Mr Kelly if he can add anything further, to try and provide greater assistance to the committee.
Mr Kelly : I am not sure what element of 127 you would like clarified.
Mr KEENAN: Nos 125 and 127. A paragraph is exactly the same in both of those. You can understand why the committee is seeking this information. We had a situation on Christmas Island where there were warnings about what was going on. The Hawke-Williams review said that what happened was entirely predictable, yet at the same time the government is withdrawing the very people who could deal with that sort of contingency. The committee has asked the department what its response was to that, and a response has just come back that does not actually address the question. The questions were: what response did DIAC put in place after the withdrawal of those high-order public management Federal Police from the island; was the local security management response discussed amongst the three organisations at your regular meetingsâ
Mr Moorhouse : I appreciate the point you are makingâindeed, when I cleared that second response I noticed how close it was to the earlier oneâ
Mr KEENAN: Not just close; exactlyâ
Mr Moorhouse : I guess the point we are trying to make there is that AFP face a number of competing priorities. As you are aware, they have pressures in a whole range of different places and they have to make strategic decisions in relation to the placement of their staffing resources. What we were trying to say in that response was that we have a regular dialogue with them, and we engage with them about our concerns in relation to our facilities, but ultimately it is their choice where they deploy their resources. So I apologise; it does look very bureaucraticâ
Mr KEENAN: I fully appreciate that the AFP makes decisions about where their police are located, but the actual question was: what response did DIAC put in place after that withdrawal?
Mr Kelly : I can certainly talk about post the March event, because there has been a significant amount of work that has been doneâ
Mr KEENAN: I know, but that is not the question. These police, from memory, were withdrawn in December, prior to the March event. The question is: what was DIAC's response to that?
Mr Kelly : I will take that one on notice, if I may, andâ
Mr KEENAN: It has already been taken on noticeâit is the question that we asked you, and the department has already responded.
Mr Kelly : I accept your comment with respect to that. The responses wereâ
Mr Metcalfe : We will look into providing a more detailed response. My recollection was that we were certainly conscious of AFP's plans to withdraw and Iâor, if it was not me personally, one of my senior officersâraised the issue with AFP as to whether they thought that was a prudent thing to do, and the withdrawal did occur. Your question, I think, then goes on to what did we do after that. If there is anything we can add to the response, we will.
Mr KEENAN: Okay. If the answer is that DIAC did not think it was appropriate to do anything further then that should be the response, but the problem is that we have got back something that does not say anything at all.
Mr Metcalfe : Okay, sure. We will review our response.
Mr KEENAN: All right. I think it is very important that we do get answers to these questions, because they are critical questions for what ultimately happened on Christmas Island.
Mr Moorhouse : I think the key point there, Mr Keenan, is that the AFP are the agency with the capability to deal with public order management. DIAC do not have the capacity to do anything about that. We do not have people who can intervene in situations of violence. Whilst Greg and myself are relatively new and cannot talk about the detail of what might have happened at that time, what I would like to say is that certainly the way the contract had been drafted and interpreted in its early stages was very much focused on managing the interests of people in detention as opposed to managing violent incidents and that sort of stuff. What we have been doing with Serco in recent times, which addresses the sort of gap that you are pointing out, is to look at how much Serco can do to maintain good orderâwhat to expect of them? We have been, in a sense, more demanding of Serco in maintaining the good order of facilities, including through the establishment of a much, much larger emergency response team. The contract as it was in originally drafted did not anticipate violent incidents and certainly that was not how Serco saw their role in the early stages of the contract, including at the times we are talking about.
Mr KEENAN: I appreciate all that. I would not suggest anything. All I am asking for is a clear response. There are two parts to the question. Neither of them have been addressed in the answer the department has provided.
Mr Kelly : What we were focusing on, I must admit from my perspective, was post the event on Christmas Island and what we had put in place post that event. So I will go back and certainly talk about that intervening period between the withdrawal and the incident.
Mr KEENAN: Okay. Thank you. You can appreciate that the committee is very keen to find out these sorts of things. We heard other evidence in relation to the way the AFP interacted with DIAC in the lead-up to those events. When we had the AFP come before us they suggested that they had raised issues with DIAC in relation to the security of Christmas Island and DIAC just had not responded or indeed they were not sure what response DIAC had taken to the issues that they had raisedâin particular, the issue of the fence around the compound. We received evidence that that was raised by the AFP twice in the security meetings they had with DIAC and the response from the DIAC's officials at that meeting was that they needed to go up the chain of command to get a response. But nothing ever came back to the AFP. I am just wondering if we could clarify what happened in response to the AFP concerns that were raised within those meetings?
Mr Metcalfe : I do not think we have anyone here who would be able to respond to that immediately, Mr Keenan. If that is a new question on notice, we will take that on notice.
Mr KEENAN: It relates directly to the evidence that was given by Assistant Commissioner Prendergast to the hearings that we had here it in Canberra in August.
Mr Metcalfe : Can you assist at all?
Mr Moorhouse : I cannot assist in detail, Mr Keenan, but I think the message that comes through clearly in the Hawke-Williams reportâand I think does reflect the situation that my predecessors facedâis one where the detention network was under considerable pressure as a result of numbers and there was very limited flexibility from a DIAC perspective. So whilst AFP were raising concerns about the nature of the infrastructure and the suitability of the infrastructure for the pressures that were being placed on it, I do not think there was much that my colleagues could do in relation to that; we had to find accommodation for people and if that was meant using, for example, Aqua and Lilac, with the raceway that was there at the time, there were not a lot of alternatives.
Mr Douglas : I can explain what we have done with fencing at Christmas Island since those events.
Mr KEENAN: That is all right. I appreciate what has happened after. We are interested in how it got to the events in March. I understand that remedial action has been taken subsequently to that. We are interested in how it got to the stage that it got in March when clearly there was a lot of pressure in the system building up. The AFP were interacting with DIAC and they were explaining their concerns. It is all there in Hansard.
Mr Douglas : I thought your question was: what action have we taken with respect to the AFP's concerns aboutâ
Mr KEENAN: What action was taken to the concerns that they raised prior to March?
Mr Douglas : I cannot comment.
Mr KEENAN: The department has allocated a lot of resources to the inquiryâ
Mr Metcalfe : We certainly have.
Mr KEENAN: This has been in evidence for months, so I am a little bit surprised that someone in the departmentâ
Mr Metcalfe : Going to the very precise question as to what was done in that precise circumstance, if anyone can assist me during the course of the hearing I will come back to you; otherwise, we will take that on notice and provide an answer to you.
Mr KEENAN: I move on to some other questions on notice where I feel that the answers probably require some further clarity. I go to question on notice 141 in relation to those identified as participating in the riots.
Mr Moorhouse : We have the answer here. What was it that you wereâ
Mr KEENAN: It is just a simple question. The answer talks about 50 to 150 clients participating in the disruptive activity. The Hawke-Williams review says that 300 to 400 participated in that activity. I am wondering about the discrepancy.
Mr Moorhouse : We were saying 50 to 150 at any one time.
Mr KEENAN: And they are figures in relation toâ
Mr Metcalfe : Anyone who might have ever been involved.
Mr Moorhouse : Both of them are estimates. Where we have been able to identify people who were involved in violent activity, they were referred to the AFP, were subsequently investigated and, if it was possible, they were charged.
Mr KEENAN: So 300 to 400 people were involved in total. Can you update the committee? I know you have provided information in the past, but if there has been any advance and people have been charged and prosecutedâ
Mr Moorhouse : In terms of being charged and prosecuted, I am not sure that we have that.
Mr Kelly : No, we do not have anything further. The AFP investigation is ongoing with a number of those who have been identified as persons of interest. We are still waiting on further feedback from the AFP in terms of that. As you know, we have had a number of people transferred to the Silverwater correctional facility and, since that point in time, a number of those people have moved out of there and have gone to other facilities. Initially, 58 clients were identified as persons of interest by the AFP. After the investigation, that was reduced to 27. Of those remaining of interest to the investigation, nine have been charged and the remaining 18 are accommodated at either Maribyrnong or Villawood IDCs.
Mr MORRISON: Of the 58 that you originally identified, how many have been given a visa and how many have been released into the community or have been put on bridging visas?
Mr Kelly : We may have already answered that question on notice from the committee; otherwise, I will take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you.
Mr KEENAN: There were 300 or 400 people involved in those events. How satisfied does the department feel regarding the limited number of prosecutions that have been taken? How satisfactory an outcome does the department think that is?
Mr Moorhouse : That is a difficult question for us to answer. We are the subject of the legal system and procedures that exist. So, if there is inadequate evidence to charge a person, then that does not proceed.
Mr KEENAN: But the inability to gather evidence directly relates to the CCTV that was around the centre and the things that DIAC had in place to deal with this sort of situation.
Mr Moorhouse : It relates to whether evidence is in existence and the nature of what people did. Certainly there was a lot of violent activity and damage, but I am conscious that our colleagues, the police and the prosecuting authorities, have got to make a judgment about whether the actions that an individual undertook justified their being charged. It may be that someone was running around and participating in the mayhem but their actions did not necessarily warrant them being charged with a particular offence. I am speaking in general terms here. So, yes, from our perspective, there is a question in our mind in terms of the numbers of people who were charged, but at the same time we have to acknowledge the two points that I sought to mention.
Mr KEENAN: The minster's powers in denying people a visa have not been used in any of these cases yet because they could only be implemented once somebody was convictedâis that correct?
Mr Moorhouse : My colleagues may wish to comment on the section 501 powers. If a person is convicted of an offence while in detention, then they come within the provisions of section 501.
Mr MORRISON: It depends. It is one of the provisions for which you can come under the powers of section 501. It is not restricted solely to convictions; there are still general character grounds that come under section 501.
Mr Moorhouse : I understand that.
Mr KEENAN: But they have not been used in any of these cases yet because none of them have been prosecuted to conclusionâis that right?
Dr Southern : There have been three cases of conviction, but they have not been considered by the minister yet.
Mr KEENAN: I turn to questions on notice Nos 179 and 181, which were asked in relation to getting people off the roof at Villawood and the interactions the department had with both the AFP and the New South Wales Police. These questions and answers sit there without any context, so it is difficult for me to remember the context in which they were asked. Could you clarify the chain of events of the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Police getting people off the roof at Villawood?
Mr Metcalfe : We discussed this at great length at the May estimates, when our memory would have been much more recent. We will give evidence on this now, but we might check what the facts were to ensure that what we said in May and what we say now is the same thing.
Mr Douglas : We were in a dialogue with the AFP during the Villawood incident in relation to what they were able to do and particularly in relation to the people on the roof. The concern of the AFP was whether it was possible for people to be removed from the roof safely not only in terms of the impact on the people themselves but also in relation to the AFP officers who would have to undertake that task. There was a series of discussions with them. Their key concern was the issue of whether they could do that safely. I will let Greg supplement my responses if necessary. After the protestors had been removed from the roof of the minister's electoral office, there was a discussion with the New South Wales Police. The New South Wales Police did offer to assist in removing people from the roof, but then the issue of legal powers came up. While the issue of legal powers was being clarified, the final two people on the roof came down. We were always of the view that the power existed for the New South Wales Police to assist us, but a question arose in between them offering to assist us and anything coming to fruition. While that question was being answered, the last two people came down.
Mr Metcalfe : That question now has been answered. We are quite confident everyone knows what their legal situation is.
CHAIR: You are also confident of your position, aren't you, in relation what happened earlier and subsequently?
Mr Metcalfe : Everyone's position now is what our position was then.
CHAIR: That is the point I wanted to highlight in view of some evidence we got in Sydney.
Mr KEENAN: The New South Wales Police accept that, do they?
Mr Metcalfe : That is my understanding.
CHAIR: The advice of Corrective Service New South Wales, which I saw, was basically was a confirmation of your position, wasn't it?
Mr MORRISON: Chair, the evidence was from New South Wales Police, so I do not think you should go verballing them.
CHAIR: I understand very clearly what the evidence was, and I also saw the subsequent advice, which is absolutely inconsistent with the evidence we were given. I am not saying it was not given in good faith; it was.
Mr MORRISON: I do not know if it is appropriate to make those comments without the person who gave that evidence having the opportunity to reply. I think you should withdraw!
Mr Metcalfe : As Mr Kelly said earlier, negotiations with New South Wales in finalising the MOU had been around that issue.
CHAIR: Correct, and it is resolved.
Mr Metcalfe : I have spoken with Commissioner Scipione and I think that we are pretty close to having that finalised. But the legal position is pretty clear, I think.
CHAIR: Mr Metcalfe, the committee requested the minutes of the Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution and the department has provided those taken until June 2011. I have the June 2011 minutes in front of me. Both Mr Moorhouse and Dr Southern attended and I will have some questions arising out of that. Is it possible, if there are subsequent minutes, for the committee to be given those minutes? I know they might have to be confirmed. You could take that on notice.
Mr Metcalfe : There would be more minutes and we are happy to provide them to you.
CHAIR: That is fine. Is the department currently considering a change in the way that it classifies detainees based on risk? For example, are you looking at creating subclassifications for the large group of unaccompanied adult males? I note that Mr Moorhouse gave a bit of a report to that June meeting about some goals that you had.
Mr Moorhouse : I want to clarify the terms around how we categorise people. The key point is that we are not seeking to stick some sort of label on people that affects how they are treated. What we are seeking to do is continue to monitor people's behaviour and the risk that their behaviour presents to the rest of the detainee community. It is really that issue that I am seeking to address, rather than the categorisation or labelling of people per se. The key issue that we have tried to address in recent times is to ensure that, where people have behaved in a way that represents no risk to themselves or to the detainee community, we utilise what you might call the most benign forms of detention for those people. We have been fortunate in recent times in that, as a consequence of a declining detainee population resulting from the increased use of community detention, we have had spare capacity in the alternative places of detention, the APODs. There is absolutely no reason why we then could not use those APODs for single adult males.
Also, at the same time we have sought to build a level of community engagement and, I would like to say, a degree of openness in those facilities, although I am conscious that I do not want to overstate that. We have tried to build a level of community engagement and openness in those facilities that makes detention less challenging for people where it is appropriate for us to do so. We have utilised MITA, the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, BITA, the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, and the DAL3 for single adult males who we believe represent no risk of flight or disruptive behaviour and to place people into those facilities. We have also, by the way, sought to develop Pontville as a reasonably relaxed and community engaged facility. We have a large number of community volunteers in Pontville whom I would like to pay tribute to because they have done a wonderful job in engaging with the people in detention in Pontville. So we have tried to create an incentive for people to behave while they are in immigration detention.
CHAIR: That is the next question: is the department considering ways to reward good behaviour in detention centres? It is something we discussed earlier.
Mr Moorhouse : That is exactly what has happened. It has had, I have to say, a profound effect on the culture of the facilities.
CHAIR: So it has been positive?
Mr Moorhouse : It has been absolutely positive to the extent that people are now asking us, 'How can I reduce my risk rating?' They have asked us, and they know the answer now and are doing that.
The other thing I want to put on record is that we have now commenced what we call the directed persons pilot. This is a way in which we can allow members of NGOs to come into facilities and take people in detention out on excursions that allow them to have a degree of freedom. It is based on risk, of course, and people do have to come backâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is not new though, is it?
Mr Moorhouse : We have been talking about it for a long time, but it is in practice now. We have had some successful visits, so it is now operating.
CHAIR: Mr Metcalfe, I want to quote from the minutesâparagraph 6.5 and 6.6âof 27 and 28 June. The chair, Mr Paris Aristotle:
â¦ raised the idea of using the national security monitor to undertake risk analysis of negative security assessments. He saw as appropriate the use of an independent person to look at the position of security assessment of people in detention and the risk they pose.
Dr Southern noted the national security monitor is a relatively new role set up under legislation to deal primarily with counterterrorism issues. It was not intended to be used in the way suggested by the council, and she would prefer to speak with Duncan Lewis of Prime Minister and Cabinet about pursuing this avenue before preparing the proposal for the minister.
Just for the record, I think the independent national security legislation monitor was appointed in April 2011. It is Bret Walker SC, who is a pre-eminent barrister from New South Wales. My concern is this, and I am putting it openly in these terms: the independent Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security came before us and was, I think it is fair to say, of her predecessors' view that there should be a level of review in relation to these matters, although she did not want herself to be the reviewer. You are saying that that position is not appropriate, but I quietly submit to you that the position could be expanded to include that and that that could be done quite comfortably by the relevant person.
I have a philosophical problem with 'who guards the guard while the guard guards you' and not having a recommendation. Irrespective of what other members of the committee think, I am telling you where my head is at. I am looking at something that will work, that will protect our national security and that will also protect the integrity of the system; it is not about letting people out on the streets.
I am interested, Mr Metcalfe, if you can provide the committee with statistics on notice as to those people who might have had adverse security assessments and who were subsequently released into the community after reassessments or whatever and have not created a problem. I am not comfortable with people remaining in detention without charge, technically for the term of their natural life, and saying, 'There is not one person in the whole of Australia who can safely review an initial assessment from ASIO.' I just want to put this here because I have had it out there for a while. I am now going to hand over to my colleagues, and they have the rest of the afternoon, but I do not want to walk away without a solution that people are comfortable with and that works.
Mr Metcalfe : Chair, I understand the issue very fully and note your views. The answer to your question is zeroâno-one has been released from detention if they have been the subject of an adverse security assessment.
CHAIR: Is that because they have subsequently been cleared to be released into the community?
Mr Moorhouse : No; no-one has been subsequently cleared.
CHAIR: So are you saying that, since the system has operated, anyone who has had an adverse security assessment has been returned to a third country or is languishing?
Mr Metcalfe : The only case that I can recall of a reconsideration which resulted in a person's being treated differently was one of the last persons who was detained on Nauru and who was brought to Australia because of severe mental illness. In that case, ASIO subsequently revised their opinion and indicated that the person was not a security concern. Of the current case load, there is no appeal mechanism against an adverse security assessment of a person who is not a visa holder, and that of course is a policy matter for the Attorney-General.
CHAIR: It is a policy debate. I am saying: if you were to review it, if the policy changed, what is the most secure and safe way for national security and in every other way to have a system in place to review it?
Mr Metcalfe : I think that does take us back into a policy discussion, which I am unable to do.
CHAIR: If you are unable, that is fine.
Mr Metcalfe : Clearly I have views. But there is an issue as to whether adverse security assessments should be the subject of Administrative Appeals Tribunal review in the way that they are for Australian citizens or residents. The other issue is: what is the most appropriate place of detention for people? That would vary greatly, I suspect, depending upon the particular security concerns held against them.
CHAIR: I am not disagreeing.
Mr Metcalfe : We have some people, of course, which I am sure you are aware of, in residential housing in a family situation. We have other people in detention centres.
CHAIR: Mr Metcalfe, I am not trying personally to challenge. I am saying to you that there has been a principle as long as I have practised the law and have been around that says: who guards the guard while the guard guards you? You have checks and balances. I am sorry; I do not accept indefinite detention without charge, ad nauseam, on the basis of unseen assessments that have not been reviewed by someone. It is a policy question. It is not your fault. I am just trying to get confidence. We have 40-odd people, as you gave evidence to us earlierâsome 40 out of the 49 or whatever are Tamils. If we had had Nelson Mandela on a boat some years ago, he would have been classed as a potential terrorist and never released from jailâand Xanana Gusmao. They are now seen in a different light than they were originally. I am not trying to be a radical; I am trying toâ
Mr Metcalfe : It is a very difficult issue for the people who are currently in detention and subject to adverse security assessmentsâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And their children.
Mr Metcalfe : and the children. The government is of course exploring whether there are any opportunities for them to be settled somewhere else. But I very much note the point you are making.
CHAIR: That is okay. I am not trying to drag you in.
Mr MORRISON: Mr Metcalfe, in the incoming brief to the government it was mentioned that additional mainland accommodation was urgently required. When did that become urgent? This was the brief that went to the government. Obviously it would have been prepared around the 31st or thereabouts of August.
Mr Metcalfe : Certainly at the time the brief was provided to the incoming ministerâ
Mr MORRISON: How long would it have been urgent?
Mr Metcalfe : it was urgent. Whether it was urgent prior to that time is a matter I would rather not be drawn upon because it goes to policy advice to the government. The incoming government brief has been partially released, and it was very clearâand Mr Bowen has made it very clearâthat the first task he had on becoming the minister was to deal with this issue.
Mr MORRISON: What I want to understand is how long the department thought it was urgent.
Mr Metcalfe : I think you are trying to go back to where we were this morning, and I cannot help you.
Mr MORRISON: What, if anything, was preventing the earlier commissioning of new detention facilities prior to the election in August 2010?
Mr Metcalfe : That was a matter for the government.
Mr MORRISON: So the government had simply not made a decision to further commission additional facilities prior to the election?
Mr Metcalfe : I cannot comment on what the government did or did not do or thought or did not think. I can confirm that the department was providing advice on the matter and I cannot really go further than that, and I am sure you understand why.
Mr MORRISON: Did the incoming brief make general reference to the fact that a series of reports had identified overcrowding and security risks within the detention network?
Mr Metcalfe : Yes.
Mr MORRISON: It referred to actual reports? I am not talking about specific reports, but it generally referred to reports?
Mr Metcalfe : There was a reference to the fact that we had had a number of reports. I think that is referred to in the Hawke-Williams report.
Mr MORRISON: Did the minister ask to see any of those reports?
Mr Metcalfe : I would have to check on that. Certainly the minister, by his actions, clearly understood the urgency of the matter and moved with alacrity in relation to the issue.
Mr MORRISON: Over the course of 2010âor 2009 or even 2008, for that matterâthe government had the opportunity to take a decision at any point to use the residence determination powers to release children into the community, which obviously would have relieved some of the pressure in the detention network at the time. Had that been considered at any stage prior to the election in August 2010? Was that a matter that had been considered by government?
Mr Metcalfe : Again, it goes to policy, I am afraid, Mr Morrison.
Mr MORRISON: Well, there was an existing act that provided residence determination powers. There was a series of reports that said there was pressure and overcrowding in the network. I just want to know whether it was recommended to the government that they use those powers to relieve pressure on the network.
Mr Metcalfe : You will excuse me for saying that it is not appropriate for me to disclose what policy advice might have been provided to government. What the government did or did not do is now a matter of historical record.
Mr MORRISON: It is not, because we do not know whether they considered this at all, and that is why I am asking the question.
Mr Metcalfe : There were public announcements to that effect, and it is a matter of historical record as to whether or not that power was used. I do note that there were residence determinations occurring in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but of course a much larger number occurred subsequently.
Mr MORRISON: Over the course of 2009-10 there were a series of very clear statements and reports about the lack of capacity by Serco to deal with public order management. There was the AFP's advice in December 2009. There were similar observations made in the Hamburger draft report in May 2010. Serco advised the department directly by their own letter in July 2010 that they did not have that capacity. There was a report by FutureWise. Were these warnings noted specifically or generally in the incoming brief to the ministerâthat Serco did not have the capacity or the people to deal with a riot in a detention centre?
Mr Metcalfe : I just do not recall whether that was noted or not. I will take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: But clearly the department was aware, based on all of those reports, that Serco did not have the capacity to deal with a riot in a detention centre.
Mr Metcalfe : That is correct.
Mr MORRISON: In November 2010, as we have noted, the Federal Police took a decision to terminate Operation Chiron on Christmas Island and removed those officers who did have public order management training from the island in November of that year. Those police, as we know, did not return in any number until several days after the breakoutâand a more initial incident on 7 March. In the intervening period of time there was an increase in population. There was an increase in the number of incidents. There was an increase in the number of negative decisions. This is all evidence from previous hearings. There was an increase in the risk defined by the department because of the change in the case mix, which was defined by the increasing number of Iranian detainees who were coming into the system. And the three-month forward demand predictor was also advising Serco that Christmas Island would be over capacity in the months of January, February and March. With all of that occurring, when did the department say to the AFP, 'We need to get police back on the island'?
Mr Metcalfe : I will take that on notice. I indicated to Mr Keenan before that either Iâand I am not sure whether it was I personallyâor one of my senior colleagues, either the then deputy secretary or then division head, certainly had conversations with AFP at the time of their withdrawal of resources. What subsequent discussions may have occurred most likely occurred at deputy secretary or division head level. I will take that on notice.
Mr MORRISON: Was the minister aware that the police had been withdrawn from the island in November 2010?
Mr Metcalfe : I think the answer is almost definitely yes, but I will need to check that to confirm.
Mr MORRISON: When the Afghan asylum freeze was introduced in April 2010, part of the preparations that the department wisely made on that occasion was to ensure that there were public order management trained police from the AFP on the island to deal with any unrest that may have occurred as a result of the announcement of that decision. How was that arranged between DIAC and the AFP?
Mr Metcalfe : There would have been consultations within government in the lead-up to that decision occurring. That was a cabinet decision, so there was considerable whole-of-government consideration of the issue. As part of the prudent contingency planning around that matter, one issue was obviously how it would be received by people affected by itânoting that of course it was, from recollection, only to apply from new arrivals, at that time, not to people already in the system, so to speak. So that would have been the subject of routine consultations and discussions between agencies.
Mr MORRISON: So you anticipated there was a risk that there could be some trouble and you thought it was necessary to have Federal Police with public order management training on the island to deal with that risk?
Mr Metcalfe : Yes.
Mr MORRISON: Given what I outlined before and the significant escalation in risk factors around what was occurring on Christmas Island over the months of January and February, in the lead-up to the March riot, why wasn't a similar action taken?
Mr Metcalfe : I would need to go back and check what occurred, and I suspect the AFP would be an important part of that response as well.
Mr MORRISON: Was there any reticence, to your knowledge, about returning the AFP to the island because of budgetary constraints on the AFP? Was that a concern raised with you by the AFP?
Mr Metcalfe : Not to my knowledge, but I will check that.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you. In October 2010 the new minister visited Christmas Island. That was evidence we had on Christmas Island.
Mr Metcalfe : I know it was quite soon after he became minister. I recall I was not able to accompany him because I had to attend a family funeral, and it would have been around October.
Mr MORRISON: We were told in that hearing on Christmas Island that the minister had been briefed on the security and infrastructure needs on Christmas Island at that time which included issues surrounding the fence, the CCTV and the connecting walkway. At any time subsequent to the minister's visit where he had been apprised of the issues on Christmas Island, did he raise with you whether these matters had been dealt with prior to the riots in March?
Mr Metcalfe : I will ask Mr Moorhouse to assist in this area.
Mr Moorhouse : I am sorry, Mr Morrison, could you repeat the question for me, please?
Mr MORRISON: The minister was on Christmas Island in October. He was taken on a tour of the facility and briefed on the needs at the facility including the walkway and the CCTV cameras that needed to be put in place, which had been recommended by Serco, and I understand he was apprised of the situation with the electric fence, which was not operational. I am asking whether the ministerâand this is why I am puzzled as to why Mr Metcalfe is not answering the questionâat any time raised with Mr Metcalfe as a follow-up whether these matters had been attended to by the department.
Mr Moorhouse : The reason I wanted to clarify that, I beg your pardon, was that you may be aware that we have corrected the evidence that was given on Christmas Island. There was a question in relation to the minister's program, and in that correction we spelt out that the minister's program and brief did not include a visit to Lilac and Aqua compounds and therefore looking at the link between them, and also that the briefing material did not include a briefing on security infrastructure.
Mr MORRISON: So you had the minister on the island, Serco are telling you they need to upgrade the infrastructure on the CCTV and the walkway and other matters around the facility, the minister is your advocate around the cabinet table to ensure you have the resources to do thisâand the department did not even bother to raise these matters with him when he was actually there?
Mr Metcalfe : I do not think we can add to what has been put on the record there, Mr Morrison. Unfortunatelyâ
Mr MORRISON: Why wasn't he apprised of these issues? Why wasn't he told about what was going on and what was needed on Christmas Island when there were countless reports and other issues being raised with the department about the need to upgrade security infrastructure? And why was I getting conflicting evidence when I was on Christmas Island? I asked these questions of the department and I was told he was apprised.
Mr Metcalfe : I do not think we can add to what has been put on the record by Ms Mackin, who was answering questions on that, and the subsequent clarification. What I can say, though, is that the minister has clearly been extremely focused on the issue of detention accommodation. He moved very quickly following his appointmentâ
Mr MORRISON: That is not the question I am asking, Mr Metcalfe. We do not have much time and I am trying to understand why an issue such as this was not brought to the minister's attention?
Mr Metcalfe : I am unable to provide an answer to that, Mr Morrison.
Mr MORRISON: Maybe if you could come back to us we would be grateful. That walkway was the key point of breach, and the issue of the CCTV footage has proved critical in not being able to pursue a number of actions against those who were responsible. As a result it is quite likely hundreds of people were involved in these things and many of them were not charged and some we will never see.
CHAIR: I think he has answered to the best of his ability. I get the impression that nothing else is going to surface.
Mr MORRISON: Maybe I could ask this question: what measuresâ
Mr Metcalfe : I am sorry to interrupt, Mr Morrison. I would simply add that Dr Hawke and Ms Williams, who are very experienced and eminent Australians, have thoroughly investigated these issues and provided a very detailed report.
Mr MORRISON: Yes, it is. What measures then did the minister put in place specifically or ask you to undertake in response to the daily reports he would have been getting in relation to critical incidents and other things occurring on the island? I assume he was being told about the increased risks that I referred to in the change in the mix and the fact that the population was still going up at Christmas Island through all of those months when your own demand indicators were saying you were over capacity?
What did the minister ask you to do in response to the emerging problem?
Mr Metcalfe : The minister asked us to urgently undertake the creation of additional detention capacity, and that is what we were involved in doing.
Mr MORRISON: So there were no questions from the minister about security infrastructure or anything that was required? He did not ask for any briefs on anything like that?
Mr Metcalfe : I did not say that. The minister has been properly and fully briefed on these issues, but we all saw that not only were there issues of managing the clientele on Christmas Island but there was an important need to reduce the pressure on the island, not only for the physical accommodation levels within North West Point but the broader pressures on infrastructure and services acrossâ
Mr MORRISON: I understand that, but at the same time for three months the fence did not get switched on, the fence did not get fixed, police did not go back on the island and no-one spoke to Brendan O'Connor, it would seem, the other minister responsible for Federal Police. His ministerial colleague did not say, 'We need to get police onto this island.'
Mr Metcalfe : I do not think I have said any of that.
CHAIR: I do not know that you need to respond to any of that. We have been down this path. Next question.
Mr Metcalfe : I would simply respond by saying that there has been a clear and demonstrated effortâvery successfulâto respond to the need to increase detention accommodation, and of course there was a very determined pursuit of strategies to reduce and remove the incentive for people to come to Australia in the first place.
Mr MORRISON: All I can say is that none of the things you have mentioned dealt with dealing with improving security on Christmas Island.
Mr Metcalfe : The minister had clear expectations that the department was managing that issue, and I think the department was doing its best to manage a difficult issue at a time of enormous pressure.
Mr MORRISON: Let us turn then to the Hawke-Williams review, because it is an incredibly exhaustive chronicling of what occurred over those months. It has highlighted weaknesses across the board and it in particular attributed a lot of the problem to the overcrowding, as we have already discussed. Overcrowding does not happen by accident. It happens when people turn up on boats and you put them into a detention network and you run out of beds. That is a matter of government policy, but I will not draw you on that again. Who was responsible for the failings identified in the Hawke-Williams report?
Mr Metcalfe : I cannot add to what their report says.
Mr MORRISON: I am asking who is responsible for the failings identified in the Hawke Williams report. This is a report that talks about numerous failings at a whole range of levels, lots of warnings, not sufficient responses. Who was responsible forâlet me finish, Mr Chairâ
CHAIR: You finish, then I will make a ruling.
Mr MORRISON: Who was responsible for addressing the shortcomings that were identified in the Hawke-Williams report in the period from May through to March of 2011?
CHAIR: The report speaks for itself, so I am not going to get into that debate. Are you talking about post the Williams report?
Mr MORRISON: No, noâ
CHAIR: You are talking pre the report? The report speaks for itself, doesn't it?
Mr MORRISON: It is a fairly straightforward question. There is a whole series of failings identified in the Hawke-Williams report.
CHAIR: Mr Metcalfe did not write the report.
Mr MORRISON: If I could just finish, Chair. I am not asking him to rewrite the report. I am asking him, as the secretary of the department, to tell me who was responsible for fixing that fence, who was responsible for heeding the warnings that came through the numerous reports, who was responsible for getting police on the island, who was responsible for the issues that were raised in that report being addressed.
Mr Metcalfe : Of course the answer to that is: many people.
Mr MORRISON: Do they include you, Mr Metcalfe?
Mr Metcalfe : I certainly was secretary of the department and continued to be through the whole period. I am one of those people.
Mr MORRISON: Do they include the minister?
Mr Metcalfe : There have been two ministers. There have been two prime ministers. There have been various other people involved.
Mr MORRISON: This is a good list. This is a pretty big list of people who are responsible.
Mr Metcalfe : I am saying that there is collective responsibility and that there was a collective effort. The Hawke-Williams report also provides proper context as to the stresses and demands on the system, and I think the department has moved with alacrityâ
CHAIR: Your opening submission says:
I would like to confirm that the department is committed to implementing all 48 recommendations of their report.
There is nothing that you are walking away from.
Mr MORRISON: That is after the fires, Mr Chairman, and it is after the riots. I want to knowâ
CHAIR: He did not do the investigation.
Mr MORRISON: I want to know who was responsibleâ
CHAIR: The last I heard, Mr Metcalfe did not investigate himself.
Mr MORRISON: for taking the actions before the place blew up and I cannot get an answer to the question. You continue to try and talk over me when I am trying to ask legitimate questionsâ
CHAIR: Because you are talking rubbish. It speaks for itself.
Mr MORRISON: No-one is responsible for the fires and riots at Christmas Island or Villawood, and all of these failings are identified in the report, and no-one is responsible.
CHAIR: Let's be very clear: I have no problem with you asking. It is on the record.
Mr MORRISON: So no-one is accountable.
CHAIR: That is not the issue. You are asking a particular question of an officer of the Commonwealth to try to achieve a particular purpose. A report has been commissioned. It was given. The department has accepted its 48 recommendations.
Mr MORRISON: I want to know who was accountable for the failings identified in the report.
CHAIR: Well, read the report.
Mr MORRISON: It does not tell me who is accountable for those failings. That is why am I asking the secretary.
CHAIR: Then get Dr Hawke and Ms Williams. Do not ask the people who were investigated as part of the report.
Mr MORRISON: I am sure the secretary of the department, who has decades of experience, can tell me who was responsible for not fixing the fence. Let's start with that one.
Mr Metcalfe : I have indicated that there are a number of people with responsibility. I delegate a considerable amount of my responsibility to officers on the ground.
Mr MORRISON: Is it the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's responsibility to fix the fence?
Mr Metcalfe : No, Mr MorrisonâI am not going to get drawn into trying to allocate particular responsibility to particular people. Dr Hawke and Ms Williams have had extensive inquiries into the matter and their report stands for itself. The governmentâ
Mr MORRISON: The report does not detail who was accountable and who was responsible.
CHAIR: Then attack them.
Mr MORRISON: I am simply asking someone who was very involved in these matters: who is accountable and responsible for these things?
Mr Metcalfe : Ultimately, there is ministerial accountability through the parliament to the people of Australia. I am accountable to the minister and it is a matter for the minister as to how he wishes to exercise those issues. What is clear, though, is that there is a context around this. There was a great deal of work being done to reduce the pressures and there was a great deal of work being done in some innovative, diplomatic activity to remove the incentive for people to come here in the first place. Sadly, that has not been able to be put into place.
Mr MORRISON: The context is that we have had over 14,000 people turn up since 2008, which is more than turned up in the entire period of the Howard government. That may be the context, but we are not allowed to talk about that context, so I will move on to my next question.
CHAIR: Do not verbal me.
Mr MORRISON: I will move on to my next question, Chair, because we are running out of time.
CHAIR: Hang onâyou are entitled to ask whatever question you want. My responsibility as chair is to make sure that it complies with the standing orders of the Senate and is within the terms of reference for this committee.
Mr MORRISON: I was responding to the witness's comments regarding context, Chair.
CHAIR: Tens of thousands of questions and submissions have been made to this committee. You have not been censored. I cannot be responsible if you do not know how to frame a question.
Mr MORRISON: Okay, Mr Chairman. I refer now to the report made by the ombudsman. The ombudsman made reference in his recent reports on a number of cases where he said that departmental officers had made a suggestion to those who had adverse security assessments that they were eligible to apply for community release. Is that true?
Mr Metcalfe : No, it is not true.
Mr MORRISON: Has it been investigated?
Mr Metcalfe : Yes, it has.
Mr MORRISON: When was it investigated?
Mr Metcalfe : Following the ombudsman's report.
Mr MORRISON: So why wasn't that referred to in the minister's response?
Mr Metcalfe : I am not exactly sure what the minister said in his response.
Mr MORRISON: He made no reference to the accuracy of that claim at all. He let it stand.
Mr Metcalfe : Certainly, I was concerned when I read those reports. I think that there is an explanation, which I am happy to provide, which provides some context for how the misunderstanding may have occurred.
Mr MORRISON: Please do.
Mr Metcalfe : The former ombudsman, in that report, reported some facts in a way that I do not believe properly indicated what may or may not have been the case. Mr Moorhouse could probably assist.
Mr Moorhouse : I may be able to be assisted by my colleague who is responsible for case management. We are not aware of officers asking people with negative security assessments about their interest for community detention. It is a clear situation that that is not something that is available to them and we would not want to lend people false hope by seeking their agreement to community detention.
Mr MORRISON: So how did the ombudsman form this view?
Mr Moorhouse : That is an interesting thing that, I guess, he has to be accountable for.
Mr MORRISON: We observed it three times.
Mr Moorhouse : I know, and we have also had situations where he has come to us with other concerns and when we looked into them in some detail they were not able to be substantiated. I do not know what happened in a detention facility. There are case managers talking to people. They sometimes talk to people in groups; they sometimes talk to people while others are around. Someone may have gained an impression from the discussion with someone else that they might have had access to community detention if they wanted to do so. It is difficult for us to speculate how a particular detainee could come to a conclusion that they were being considered for community detention. The simple, plain fact is that, at the present time under the current guidelines we are operating under, people who have adverse security assessments are not eligible for community detention. According to the accounts that I have had from my colleagues across the network, we are not aware of incidents where that has happened. It is very difficult to prove the negative: to establish that something has not happened. That is why I said it is important, therefore, for the Ombudsman to be able to come out and indicate to usâ
Mr MORRISON: Are you aware of the case officers the Ombudsman was talking about in these individual cases?
Mr Moorhouse : No, I am not.
Mr MORRISON: Surely it would not be that hard to find out who the case officers were.
Mr Metcalfe : We obviously contacted the Ombudsman's office, and I think that dialogue is continuing. You can understand how some people may cling to a hope and get a false impression from hearing something.
Mr MORRISON: I understand that.
Mr Metcalfe : Why the Ombudsman chose to highlight it in this particular way, I am just not sure. But the position is very clear.
Mr MORRISON: I understand what the policy is, but that is not what is troubling me. What is troubling me is that, if it was just one I would could understand it, on three occasions the Ombudsman has drawn attention to this. I accept that it is not the policy and I accept that the minister did not give these people release into the communityâ
Mr Metcalfe : Absolutely not.
Mr MORRISON: What I want to be sure of, though, is that we do not have officers in the department who are potentially fuelling a false hope.
Mr Metcalfe : No.
Mr MORRISON: So I want to be satisfied that the individuals who the Ombudsman may be referring to have been contacted, that we have put the question to them and they have either said, 'No, that did not happen,' or 'It did and I apologise and it will never happen again.'
Mr Metcalfe : I will ask Mr Walsh, who is responsible for this area, and see if he can assist us.
Mr Walsh : When these reports came out we talked to the senior management of case managers about this. They have no indication that this had occurred. It is a large case management network and we have issued fairly clear instructions and have re-clarified that this is not the case.
Mr MORRISON: Thank you. A final questionâand I imagine we will be seeing each other again in the new year, particularly to talk about the community release scheme. This is a follow-up question and Mr Kelly might be able to assist with this. We were unable to determineâand we are still waiting for the response on noticeâthat the improvised explosive device, whatever you want to call it, in Marchâ
Mr Metcalfe : It was a can of fly spray.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I thought you called it a bomb.
Mr MORRISON: Well I did call it a bomb and it can be a bomb. Anyone in this room who knows what they are talking about knows that it can be a bomb.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The anti-terror legislation suggests that you should not be describing those things and what makes them up. That is my point.
Mr MORRISON: Anyway, what I am trying to determineâ
Mr Metcalfe : We are talking about a can of fly spray to connect to some oilâ
Mr MORRISON: We are talking about something that could have blown up. Anyway, I do not want to waste the time of the committee by going through that debate again. We all know what it was. What I do want to know, though, is this. It was mentioned that this was actually filed as a critical incident, but I cannot find any record of a critical incident of that nature in the critical incident report for that period. Mr Kelly, we have not had a response to that. Could you confirm for the record that the fire that took place at the time was reported as an incident and was reported to the minister's office on 19 March.
Mr Moorhouse : Yes, that is correct.
Mr MORRISON: So the minister was aware that there had been a fire on that day?
Mr Moorhouse : Yes, the circumstances were that the fire in itself was the subject of a situation report. Situation reports are circulated to the minister's office for the information of the minister. So that was sitrepped. The problem was that later, when the improvised device was identified, a situation report should have been lodged. It came at a time of extraordinarily busy activityâ
Mr MORRISON: Sure.
Mr Moorhouse : and the officer who should have logged the situation report did not do so.
Mr MORRISON: I understand that. I understand one was subsequently lodged, but it does not appear in any of the summaries of the reports for that period, and that is the matter I was following up.
CHAIR: We will go to Sarah for the finishing questions.
Mr Metcalfe : Chair, we have a bit more information for Mr Keenan but I know he has gone, so it is a question of whether we put it on the record or take it on notice. We will see how the time goes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I still have a stack of questions but we are not going to get to them all. I will go to bridging visas and the community detention program, both of which you touched on briefly in your opening statement, Mr Metcalfe. You talked about the first group of long-term detainees that have been moved onto the bridging visa program and you said:
Some will also be eligible for support services through existing Department of Immigration and Citizenship funded programs such as the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme and the Community Assistance Support scheme.
Could you give us an outline of how you are determining which people are being selected for bridging visas and how you are determining what access to service they are being delivered?
Mr Metcalfe : Mr Moorhouse will assist you.
Mr Moorhouse : And Mr Allen might want to add to my answer, but I will lead off. At the present time we are looking at the oldest casesâpeople who have been in detention for more than 15 months. We are also looking at others, but we are giving priority to the oldest cases. We are looking at people in the first instance who have support in the community, people who are able to offer them accommodation.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Family?
Mr Moorhouse : Family, friends, community members who can provide them with accommodation and, if not accommodation, at least other forms of support. So the first group were people who had indicated that they had got that support in the community. We are working through the rest of the detainee population. Obviously we are seeking to give priority to people who have got existing accommodation offers, but we are also talking with community organisations, multicultural communities and NGOs about others who can assist with accommodation for people in detention. So we are working our way, in cooperation with our case management colleagues, through the oldest cases in detention to identify who can move out.
The people who are able to move out will have access to work rights. If a person is not able to obtain work and if a person has a need they will have access to ASAS and potentially CAS. Those programs are means tested, so if a person has a job obviously they are not going to qualify; if a person has got substantial means they will not qualify.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If we are going from those that have been there the longest then, by virtue of that, you would have to assume they are people who are also at a higher risk of mental health damage through long-term detention, through the process being unclear and all of those things that we know lead to people being in that higher risk category. How are we dealing with those needs of those people? I understand the asylum seeker assistance program and the CAS, but how do we make sure we are giving those people the support they need because of the impact that long-term detention has had?
Mr Moorhouse : I appreciate the point you make. Can I just clarify that we are not only looking at the oldest group. We are obviously starting with the oldest group because that is the fair thing for us to do.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Sure. I also want to point out I am not advocating that they should be staying any longer in detention. I just want to know what we are putting in place.
Mr Moorhouse : Absolutely; I understand. To some extent we are conscious that there are people in detention with a range of existing needs. We acknowledge that community detention is a useful step down for people who would struggle to cope in the community by themselves. Our view is that it is most likely that community detention will be a necessary step down for some of the older cases. We would expect that proportion to diminish as we get to people who have been in detention for a lesser period.
We envisage that there will be several streams of people who will be eligible for community detention. Obviously the easiest group to look at are the ones who have got support, and that is why we are looking at those first. But we will then look to others who are able to cope as individuals and others who may be able to cope with generalised community support, as supposed to an individual offer, and others who might require a period in community detention as a step down toâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So for somebody who is on a bridging visa and still needs access to torture and trauma counselling, for example, where does that fit? How do we offer them that support particularly considering that their mental health has obviously been impeded by the length of detention?
Mr Moorhouse : The short answerâand I will let my colleague Mr Allen add to my answerâis that people who are released on bridging visas will have access to health care through Medicare eventually. At the moment that particular plank is not in place, but it is about to be put into place. With that will come access to torture and trauma services. I will ask Mr Allen to give a fuller response.
Mr Allen : In terms of the CAS and ASAS arrangements, they do cover a range of access to health services. This includes torture and trauma and mental health counselling. It can also include other forms of health care as well. Again, this is determined on an as-needs basis. The intention is that when people go out they are provided with a summary of their health history and healthcare arrangements, and in some particular cases where there are vulnerabilities, information is also handed on through Red Cross to appropriate providers so that services can be arranged for them as they move into the community.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Let me just go back, Mr Moorhouse. At the moment these people do not have access to Medicare as you or I wouldâ
Mr Moorhouse : Under the current arrangements they will have assistance with medical costs. What we want to do is provide that assistance through Medicare, and we are in the process of putting that into place. As an interim measure, those people who are released now will still have access to medical care, but through the departmentâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So does that mean through IHMS?
Mr Allen : No, it means both CAS and ASAS are administered by the Australian Red Cross. ARC actually then organises the appropriate health care for these people.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But in the Red Cross contract there is specific reference to having to engage and use IHMS in certain circumstances.
Mr Allen : I believe that is for CD, Senator.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: This is the distinction that needs to be made, yes?
Mr Allen : As Mr Moorhouse has said, these are our current arrangements. We are in the process of negotiating a more direct arrangement so that provision can be made through normal Medicare arrangements.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When do you think this will come online and people will be able to access basic community services and health services? Will they be given a special Medicare card?
Mr Allen : Those arrangements are still in the process of negotiation. We have been given an initial indication that this can be provided, but there is obviously a period of time required for the appropriate agencies to get the arrangements in place for this group to be eligible. We would anticipate that it would be occurring quite early in the new year.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What type of funding has been put aside to support the various different NGOs who operate under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, CAS, and any of those engaged directly or indirectly through the Red Cross?
Mr Allen : We are still in the process of developing the budget that will be put forward in the normal budget contextâ
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you mean in May for the May budget? What you mean by that?
Mr Allen : Until then we are working with the Red Cross. The Red Cross has already gone out with expressions of interest to increase their caseworker capability and, because these clients are IMAs, we are funding the placements that become necessary until we have a better idea of what the overall situation will be. Until we have a good picture of the kind of profile these people require in CAS and ASAS, we are working towards a position where we will have a better understanding of the budget estimate. It may be possible for one of my Finance colleagues here, Mr Sheehan, to explain this better than I can in the context of the budget system, but this is the way we handling it at the moment. Clearly, one of the issues that we are looking at is how quickly we can ramp up the capability that will be required to provide services for these people.
Mr Sheehan : There are two budget processes, as you know, for the year. One is the annual process in May, and there are additional estimates. We will be looking at our estimates between now and when they are revised after Christmas, so it is in the next four to eight weeks, I would suggest.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is this simply a renegotiation? For the Red Cross contract for community detention, has the new negotiation post 31 December been finalised yet?
Ms Pope : It is not signed yet, but we have an agreed final draft with the Red Cross. It needed to take into account changes to CD over the past 12 months and also, looking forward, with the BV arrangements into the future, because the one contract covers CD, CAS, ASAS and the family tracing.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That was going to be my question. That new contract will cover all of this?
Ms Pope : Yes, it does. There are separate schedules in relation to each of the programs, but we have sought to move as much as was common to those schedules into the overarching contract and we also have operational guidelines that sit for each program.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In terms of the estimates process, then, we will have the new Red Cross contract by January or Februaryâcorrect me if I am wrong.
Ms Pope : This one expires on 31 December.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So there will have to be a new one before then.
Ms Pope : It will be ready before then.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you anticipating that there will be any other contracts with any other community based service provider to make sure that you are able to deliver the services under the new bridging visa scheme?
Mr Allen : We considered that the arrangement with Red Cross will remain the primary arrangement in this area. As we develop a better understanding of the requirements, there will obviously then be opportunities for us to look beyond that in terms of particular areas of service provision, but certainly the current head arrangement with Red Cross provides us with a very sensible and coordinated way of accessing a variety of services. In terms of the contract, Red Cross are the service provider, but they are also playing a role in terms of the assessment of services. They are well positioned to access those servicesâalthough clearly, as you would understand, we have been talking with a variety of stakeholders in the non-government and community area and we are going to continue to do that in order to develop a better awareness of the needs and requirements of this particular group.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Sheehan, do you have anything to add to that?
Mr Sheehan : No, Senator.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Those who have already been put onto bridging visas are living in kind of hosted situations then, with family or friends; is that right? There has not been any negotiation?
Mr Moorhouse : Not all of them.
Mr Allen : Not all of them. The majority are living with families and friends. There were some who required an additional level of support. I believe nine of the clients went out into a form of transitional accommodation provided by Red Cross, although my understanding is that four of those have now obtained longer term accommodation arrangements and either have moved or are about to move out of that transitional accommodation into longer term placements.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is, I guess, a step in between community detention and being fully independent on a bridging visaâsomewhere in between?
Mr Allen : They are still on a visa. It is just that in some cases that form of initial accommodation was required and may be required in the future to ensure that we can continue to release eligible people.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes. I am just trying to get my head around how it looks in a practical sense. If we are going to go to moving 100 or more people per month onto these visas in coming months, how is it going to look?
Mr Metcalfe : As I said in my opening statement, we are quite carefully putting these measures in place. You have probably had feedback from elsewhere that we are working very closely with the community sector and others in designing the arrangements. The first 27 people have given us some experience as to how to manage the process. It is pretty clear we are going to have to ramp up quite substantially. If we keep getting the numbers of arrivals that we are getting, and given the detention accommodation constraints we have got, then we need to expand the numbers. The minister indicated 100 or more a month, and we are heading in that direction. I do not think we will see a model where the only people getting bridging visas would have family or friends to go and live with. We will have to move to a situation where people will become more self-reliant. There are the various support mechanisms that we have described, but we will have to see a substantial increase in people being prepared to accept the responsibility of finding their own accommodation and beginning to lead their own life in the community while their status is determined. We are moving as to how we design that now.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the department had direct conversations with organisations who already offer support under those two programs about increased funding to deliver this and also access to other types of resources?
Mr Moorhouse : We have had engagement with a wide range of stakeholders and we have another meeting on Monday with another large group of potential stakeholders. The focus has been on the sorts of services and the support for people. The focus has not been on the establishment of new programs. It is important for me to distinguish between the support that is available through existing programs, like ASAS and CAS, and creating an impression that there are any new programs involved in thisâthere are not. There may be the need for exploration of how we match people with accommodation, for those people who do not have links in the community, but that is something we have not got to yet.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has there been a call from any of those stakeholders you have been speaking to for an increase in either the flexibility of or the budget for those two existing programs, in terms of bridging visa support?
Mr Moorhouse : It is inevitable that there will be a need for an increase in the budget for those two existing programs, and that is factored into our costings.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have the stakeholders heard that loud and clear?
Mr Moorhouse : I believe so.
Mr Allen : There is a recognition in relation to the capacity of both of those programs, and it is not just a question of the dollars. The dollars are one thing; the other is the need to actually get the physical capabilities available. This has been something that we have discussed now on a couple of occasions with the sector and, as Mr Moorhouse suggests, we are going into much bigger engagement with a much wider group of stakeholders on Monday.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In terms of a time frame, you said there is going to be another meeting next week.
Mr Moorhouse : On Monday.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is there a view to reviewing how the bridging visa program is going onceâ
Mr Moorhouse : We have not even got it going really yet. We have got the first group, and we have got another two groups in process. We really do have to develop our own processes. The reason we have started with people who have got links in the community is because that is the easiest thing to do. They have got people to support them and two-thirds of them did not need accommodation to be provided. So we started with the easiest groups while we are at the same time consulting with stakeholders and looking at what forms of support are available in order to be able to expand.
There was a lot of discussion earlier today about 100 a month. The minister's statement was 'at least' 100 per month. It is clear and understood within government and by the minister that we will need to be well ahead of 100 a month. So we are in the process of looking at how we can ramp up the numbers and what will be involved. As Mr Metcalfe said, it is absolutely clear that some of these people will have to be able to look after themselves. Indeed, many of them are capable of looking after themselves. What we do not want to do is to adopt a model where we are holding everyone by the hand when many of them are able to walk alone.
Mr Metcalfe : We accept your point, Senator. Essentially, there is the issue about those folks who have been in the detention system for some time who may have particular needs and will therefore require a greater level of support in this transition, compared to people who may be very recent arrivals, who are eligible to move through into the system after checks have been made and who have come from a situation where they are not in detention and are moving back into a community situation. They are in a foreign land and there are all the adjustment issues associated with that. But of course these programs have been operating for many years with people who arrive on aeroplanes and that is the experience we are drawing on here.
I think we are trying to strike the balance between moving to reduce the numbers in detention centres particularly given the pressures of new arrivals, while at the same time ensuring that people are supported. We are gaining confidence in that. Our stakeholders and service providers are gaining confidence in that, and those numbers will increase.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Where do families and unaccompanied minors sit with this new bridging program?
Ms Pope : The decision has been made that unaccompanied minors should remain in community detention. It is partly to assist in meeting the minister's guardianship responsibilities, but also it is not really appropriate to expect someone who is under 18 to use work rights and then their own efforts to find a job and support themselves. So the decision has been made that unaccompanied minors will remain in community detention.
When they turn 18 there is the possibility of transitioning to a bridging visa if that is appropriate and, as we get to that point, we will consider those cases. But we are not looking to push unaccompanied minors or those just going over the cusp of being minors onto bridging visas. Newly arrived families will be assessed for consideration as to whether they go onto a bridging visa or into CD. As is the case with the longstanding single adult male caseload, where someone looks particularly vulnerable, then we consider a placement in CD as a transition towards a bridging visa when the person is in better shape to do that.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is there any consideration for foster type programs for unaccompanied minors?
Ms Pope : When unaccompanied minors are granted visas, they move into a range of other sorts of environments. For those that are 12 years and underâand we have very few of thoseâthey are fostered. The older kids, as you know, live in houses with carers and 24-hour supervision, both those granted visas and those in community detention.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But given the increase in the numbers of unaccompanied minors recently, has there been any thought beyond the community detention model as it stands that may actually deal with their needs better?
Ms Pope : Not for those who do not have visas, and for those that do there are very tight conditions for getting foster families, as I know you would be aware as well. We would be careful not to be putting pressure on state based foster care arrangements other than for those who are quite young and need it. The households that we have established for unaccompanied minors, both in CD and more particularly when granted visas, seem to be working reasonably well, although I think you would also be aware that we are looking to pilot some different arrangements for care for unaccompanied minors who have been granted visas. This is looking to capitalise on the fact that many of them are quite independent and have been through quite a lot of experiences that mean that they are relatively self-sufficient and just need help to manage their lives so that they can become truly independent. We are certainly considering all of the options, but foster care is probably the hardest to obtain and resourcing in very short supply. So in CD we are not looking at extensive use of foster care.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: My last question is in relation to questions that I asked after the Scherger visit in Weipa last week. It is about the list of criteria used to determine the various locations of new facilities. I used Scherger as the example, but I was asking what criteria the department uses to assess whether Scherger or anywhere else is a suitable location.
Mr Moorhouse : Perhaps I will lead off and let Mr Douglas add to my answer, if necessary. There is not a formal list of criteria, as such. At the time we were looking at the rapid expansion of the detention network, one of the key factors that we considered was the availability of sites, and that meant that we looked primarily at defence sites because they tended to be the sites that were available to us.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Because they were on federal land?
Mr Moorhouse : They were already owned by the Commonwealth government and therefore they were available to us. So in a sense it was a response to the urgency that led us to defence sites and then, of course, the sites that were available tended to be in the more remote locations where they were not currently in use or in demand. They were not the only reasons why we looked at Scherger and at Curtin, but they were two of the main contributing factors. Clearly there are a number of other issues.
The point I would make, and this is exemplified by some of the sites that are about to open, is that when we have more time we can look at facilities that are closer to urban centres and we can take more time in establishing the services there. The sites that we have got opening up nowâmost recently in Pontville, and now in Wickham Point and Yongah Hill in northern locationsâare much closer to urban centres where services, including security services as well as health services, are available.
But the key point about Scherger was that it was available, and the things that influenced its availability were the fact that it was a defence site; it was easily able to be signed up, in a sense, or an MOU developed; and there was existing defence infrastructure that we could draw upon, which meant that we were looking in remote locations. Many people have told us that the remote locations are not optimum for us.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Including your own health provider.
Mr Moorhouse : We clearly understand that, from both a health and a security perspective. It is inconvenient and it is expensive, but it is what was available at the time.
Mr Douglas : As Mr Moorhouse has said, there is not a formal set of criteria, but there are a number of factors which we take into consideration. We certainly look firstly at whether there is available Commonwealth property, whether through the Department of Defence or through the Commonwealth Land Register managed by the Department of Finance and Deregulation. We also look at the suitability or the availability of accommodation, including for the department and for service provider staff, and obviously the access to utilitiesâpower, water, sewerage, telecommunications and transport servicesâor that the required services could be brought up to speed quickly and efficiently. We consider already established infrastructure on the potential site. In the case of Scherger, for example, there were already buildings on site that could be used for accommodation. There is also consideration of whether there is an existing site already established in the area, consideration of the impact on the local community, the environmental impact and any heritage issues.
For future feasibility assessments for possible centres we are looking at issues of how quickly can the site be established, what capacity can be supported by the site, what support is available from the state or local government, what sort of people could be accommodated at the site, can the local community support the facility and whether the service provider is able to adequately offer services.
Mr Metcalfe : I would just make the point, though, Senator, that the government has indicated it is not looking to build any further centres.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Douglas, can I just clarify what you are reading from.
Mr Douglas : A briefing provided to me.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it is not a protocol?
Mr Metcalfe : No, it was prepared for Mr Douglas after your discussions last week.
Mr Douglas : You will recall, Senator, I said that we would probably have difficulty meeting your seven-day request for us to table, but I indicated that I clearly understood you would be asking this question and I would be prepared to answer.
CHAIR: Like a good scout, he was prepared!
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have done very wellâand the dog didn't eat your homework!
CHAIR: Can I thank everyone for their participation today and say to you again that I am impressed with the way the department has been handling the inquiry and making genuine attemptsâas you outlined in your opening statement, Mr Metcalfe, a lot of resources have been allocated to this. That shows the department is taking it seriously. The committee members are taking it seriously because it has substantial consequences for a lot of people who are currently in detention and, from our point of view, we are assisted by those who have got the professional background like you. There are some supplementary matters we will raise with the department and we will continue to talk to you in relation to whether any further hearing is required. It came out of left field to me, but the committee has been operating in a cooperative sense, despite a bit of the drama todayâthat is all par for the course. I thank you again for your cooperation.
Committee adjourned at 16:10