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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
12/06/2014
Incident at the Manus Island Detention Centre from 16 to 18 February 2014

THOMPSON, Miss Elizabeth Maree, Private capacity

CHAIR: Welcome. The committee has received your written submission as submission No. 19. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submission?

Miss Thompson : No.

CHAIR: I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee emphasises, however, that parliamentary privilege does not extend outside of Australia and that Australian law cannot protect individuals in another country, whether they are Australian nationals or not. For this reason and so as not to prejudice ongoing criminal investigations and legal proceedings the committee urges witnesses to exercise caution with regard to naming or otherwise identifying individuals located outside Australia, including Papua New Guinean nationals alleged to have been involved in the incident at the Manus Island detention centre during 16 to 18 February. Do you have any additional information about the capacity in which you appear?

Miss Thompson : I am a registered migration agent. I am appearing in my capacity as a former employee of Playfair Visa and Migration Services deployed to Manus Island during the period of the events under discussion as a CAPS provider, claims assistance provider.

CHAIR: Would you like to make a short opening statement before we go to questions?

Miss Thompson : It might be valuable to just clarify a few matters that have come up in evidence that I am in a position to comment on over the past few days. Firstly, when Mr Bowles was giving evidence a couple of days ago, on page 11 of the transcript, he said: 'At no point did DIBP tell service providers that there were no plans for RSD.'

I was in a phone link-up with Jo Boardman on 5 February prior to my deployment. It was made very clear to us in response to a direct question from Mr Adler: will we be conducting RSD interviews? No, there is no plan to conduct RSD interviews. So I think it might be worth following up with Mr Bowles or Ms Boardman in relation to that because it directly contradicts discussion that I was involved in. Also Ms Playfair, Shanil or Mr Adler could clarify those matters as well.

I do believe that the committee has been misled by members of the staff of Playfair in relation to the level of communication with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. I was directly told by Mr Adler, and it was suggested to myself and other CAPs providers that this was information coming from Mrs Playfair as well, that we were being called in once or sometimes even twice a day and told: 'Everything you're saying and doing is being reported back to Canberra. They are calling us and yelling at us. You've got to be careful. Everything is being monitored.' It seems to me a fairly clear indication that there was a lot of correspondence and phone calls between Mrs Playfair and Mr Adler and the department of immigration, either in Canberra or on Manus Island. I just wanted to clarify that.

In relation to clarifying some matters that I think the department was in a position to know about, I understand that Mr Bowles gave evidence to Senate estimates in relation to whether or not the department was aware of the existence of people who have made claims in relation to homosexuality in PNG. I understand that Mr Bowles said that there may be gay asylum seekers amongst the transferees, but that no-one had made a claim in relation to that. I believe that to be false. I was part of the team that processed and prepared those claims. At least one of those claims was made in my deployment—my first deployment—in August 2013. Again, that may be something that the committee would like to follow up with Mr Bowles. I think it would be useful if the committee asked for Mrs Playfair to produce records of any and all communications with Jo Boardman from DIBP, who I was led to believe was the person that Playfair was communicating with most directly within the department in Canberra. That is just a suggestion.

It is obvious in my submission that I believe that the department of immigration was exercising very firm control from Australia over everything we did at the centre and, in fact, over other service providers as well. There have been suggestions given in media reports and elsewhere that G4S asked for that meeting on the 16th not to take place—it went ahead anyway. Certainly, all of my interactions with the RSD process and all the information we were given came through the department.

On the transferee information leaflets, which goes to something that Senator Singh raise a few days ago, in my submission I have suggested that information given to transferees about the process—Senator Singh you mentioned that that was by the department. The transfer information leaflets that I have provided in my submissions as attachments were given to us by Playfair. I was told that they were produced by Playfair. I do not know to what extent—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: By who, sorry?

Miss Thompson : The leaflets were provided to us by Playfair. I understand that they were produced by Playfair, but I am not sure to what extent that was in consultation with the department. In relation to the script, which was a question that was raised with Playfair the other day, we were told very firmly in the 5 February link up with Jo Boardman and other members of the department that Jo Boardman and Playfair were working on the script together, that they were approaching messaging in the same way that the department had approached this with Craddock Murray Neumann, which is the provider of similar services on Nauru. Again, I believe that the script was—we were told the script was provided. I understand and Mr Adler told me directly that he was using it script. Mr Adler was not the only person who used that script. There was another employee of Playfair who read that script out to transferees and, in fact, described to me the reaction of transferees when they heard information that they were very clear was an Immigration script. They laughed and did not take it very seriously, which is what she reported to me. I am happy to provide that employee's name to the committee, but I am not comfortable necessarily doing it on camera, unless that is specifically requested. That is all I have to say in opening, just to clarify a few matters.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Miss Thompson. From your understanding, who do you regard to be in control of the centre?

Miss Thompson : The Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia.

Senator SINGH: So not the PNG government or associated bodies?

Miss Thompson : All of our work was controlled—all of the schedules, our coming and going from the island and everything we did was controlled by the department. For example, when we scanned the refugee status determination applications that were completed, we provided them to people I knew as DIBP staff from Australia. Whether or not they were seconded to the Papua New Guinean government officially, we dealt exclusively with Australia staff—people I recognised and have worked with before from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Australia. In terms of, effectively, who was controlling the centre, it seemed to me clear that it was DIBP Australia.

Senator SINGH: From what dates did you work there?

Miss Thompson : My first deployment was in August 2013. For my second deployment, we arrived on, I think, the morning of 6 February and I left on the 20th.

Senator SINGH: How many RSD applications did you conduct over your two deployments? And please break them up.

Miss Thompson : The schedule was three a day. We did not always get through those, for various reasons. I worked on my day off as well to try to ameliorate some of those issues. I have my work sheet that I have de-identified. I should be able to—

Senator SINGH: Was that the beginning process you were working on—the transferee interviews?

Miss Thompson : I might just lay it out. Transferee interviews—like entry interviews, I understand, in Australia, although I have never seen one—are conducted not with us in the room but just with the immigration staff member, the transferee and the interpreter. Then we do what is called the CAPS interview, which is the claims assistance provider interview. That is when they meet us. We explain the process to them and take their statement. The next step, the third interview, is the RSD interview, the refugee status determination interview.

Senator SINGH: My first question was how many RSD applications you conducted?

Miss Thompson : RSD interviews?

Senator SINGH: Yes.

Miss Thompson : I have never been involved in an RSD interview on Manus; I have only ever done CAPS interviews.

Senator SINGH: So, in your two deployments, there were never any completed RSD applications?

Miss Thompson : There were some completed very soon after my first deployment, I understand. When we got back to the island the second time, I was led to believe that about 50 RSD interviews had taken place. There were no decisions, but I understood about 50 RSD interviews had taken place. As I said, in our second deployment it was made very clear to us, on 5 February, that there was no plan for RSD, only CAPS interviews. So we were being deployed simply to undertake that initial process of taking the statement, filling in the forms and then providing them to the Australian immigration department, who would then provide them to PNG.

Senator SINGH: So, from your August deployment to your February deployment, there had been a change of policy in RSD applications. In August, the entire process was in place—the initial transferee interview, the CAPS interview and the RSD interview to enable the completion of an RSD. But then, when you went in February, you are saying that that had changed and a transferee was stopped after the CAPS interview process from having their application processed any further to the RSD stage.

Miss Thompson : Yes, that is right. I might provide a de-identified schedule so you can see how it would usually work. As I have explained in my submission, usually on a deployment like this you would have the CAPS or IAAAS interview and then, a couple of weeks down the track, you would organise the schedule, ideally, so that for the person I do the CAPS interview with I also go to RSD. Obviously, anyone can read the information that I have taken, but I have sat with that person, I have worked on developing a relationship of trust and I take them through the next stage of the interview. It was clear from the initial schedule we received in August that that was the plan for what should happen. We had a schedule that said, 'You'll do this and in a week's time you'll do the RSD.' So I would take a person through both the CAPS and RSD stages. Things became quite chaotic, as I have described. We were stopped a couple of days in and it was like, 'Woops, we forgot to do the transferee interviews. We've got to do those first.' So the schedule was completely reorganised—and, again, that was the first deployment. By the second deployment, there was no suggestion that we would do CAPS then RSD. It was just CAPS, and that was made very clear on 5 February.

Senator SINGH: Where did that directive come from?

Ms Thompson : That came from Jo Boardman in the briefing we had that started about 3:11 pm—that is what I have noted down—on 5 February. It was a phone link-up between all the CAPS providers, all of the Playfair representatives who were here yesterday, Jo Boardman and, I believe, one other person from DIBP Canberra, although I do not have a record of that person's name. She said to us that there was no plan for RSD, no schedule for RSD.

Senator SINGH: What did you take that to mean?

Ms Thompson : Ms Boardman said, 'We are happy for you to try and create a pipeline.' I think that was the term she used. I did not quite understand what she meant by that, but she made it clear that there were protests going on and they really wanted us to get onto the island because they thought that might stop the protests. I think the idea was to get something happening to calm things down. That was the way we talked about the meeting.

Senator SINGH: You are saying the department wanted to get something happening to quell the protests by having Playfair come onto the island?

Ms Thompson : That is right.

Senator SINGH: And do the CAPS interviews?

Ms Thompson : That is correct.

Senator SINGH: But not go any further?

Ms Thompson : Yes. As I said, there was a specific discussion about messaging. Ms Boardman indicated she had a very long discussion with Shanil and that they wanted us to provide group advice sessions and they really wanted us to reinforce the good character clauses that are partially outlined on the PNG application forms. I think I noted, though, that they start referring to the character provisions but then the rest of that section of the act does not exist. They wanted us to go and say, 'If you are naughty, you may not be interviewed—you may not get your process happening.' That was explicitly discussed on 5 February.

Senator SINGH: When you conducted those CAPS interviews, did some of the transferees ask you about the next stage, the RSD stage?

Ms Thompson : Everyone asked about the next stage.

Senator SINGH: How were you able to respond to that?

Ms Thompson : Not very effectively for the most part. My clients are adults and some of them—particularly the client group I was dealing with there—had a much higher level of formal education than I do. They were not easily fooled, they were not illiterate and they were familiar with these processes. One of their questions, sometimes, was, 'Are you a real lawyer?' and I would say, 'No, I do not have a practising certificate for PNG, so I cannot practise law here, and I am a migration agent in Australia.' I would try to respond by saying: 'This is what I know about what is happening. This is what we know the Australian government is saying and this is what we know the PNG government is saying.' That was a particularly difficult process for us because, on the PNG government information leaflet which we had handed out previously, there was reference to resettlement in a third country and, on the form every client is required to sign in order to put in their RSD, it says that their information could be given to the UNHCR or to other countries. So the stuff about resettlement was there in the information. The directive not to talk about it, therefore, was not very helpful to me—because it was there in the information we were handing out to people.

Senator SINGH: You were directed not to talk about the RSD process?

Ms Thompson : We were directed not to talk about resettlement. On RSD, we had previously had a leaflet that referred to a review team—that is my attachment 6. As I stated, that was withdrawn from circulation by Mr Adler on, I think, 7 February. That was the only information we could give people about the next stage of the process if, for example, they got a negative with their RSD. So, unlike here, we did not have any policies or procedures about how the RSD would be conducted. As I said, we had the guidelines written by Wendy Brown, but, again, those were not provided to us at the second deployment. I had no idea what their status was, so I could not use them to offer guidance. That certainly made it difficult to answer their questions. I certainly could not tell them when, because there were no plans, and I could not really give them much information about what guidelines would be used or—

Senator SINGH: Did you actually say to them that there were no plans to go down the RSD process pipeline?

Ms Thompson : I said that we had no information—that we had not been given any information by the department. Part of the issue I had was that it was really difficult to develop trust. The guys were very suspicious of us. They would say, 'You work for the department,' and I would say, 'No, we are independent.' I would say: 'I have literally not been given that information. If I had that information, I promise I would tell you.'

Senator SINGH: How many people did you interview in that 6 February deployment?

Ms Thompson : It was three a day for—I could get the number for you. I do not have it offhand.

Senator SINGH: Just roughly—probably about 50?

Ms Thompson : I personally saw three a day for about nine days—so somewhere between 25 and 30, I would say.

Senator SINGH: Yourself?

Ms Thompson : Yes, myself.

Senator SINGH: After interviewing those 30 people, how did you view their state of hearing the information you were giving? I am trying to determine when some of this tension started to mount. Obviously one of the contributing factors that has been made very clear in this inquiry is the delay and the lack of processing of transferees' RSDs, so I am trying to get from you and your 30 interviews what was the kind of outcome in the response by the transferees from the information you were giving.

Miss Thompson : I think probably the best way to reflect on that is to reflect on the discussion I had with someone who is a delegate who also happened to be one of my clients. I would have discussions individually and people would say, 'Look, you have to tell us what is going on.' He said to me, 'I've got to go back and I have to be able to tell people where they are going to live, whether they are going to have work rights, can we bring our families.' They are not single adult males a lot of them; a lot of them have families. He would say, 'You have got to give me something. How can we make decisions about whether we stay or whether we take risks and leave if we do not know what visa we will get, whether we have work rights, where we can live. You've got to give us something.' I was like, 'I am sorry, I can't, and if I even try to answer your questions the information goes back to Canberra. I have been warned that we will be removed from the island if I go off script. I'm really sorry.' He would say to me, 'I promise I am not going to tell anyone, just be straight with me.' It was very hard for me to do. I treated my clients like adults. I would say to them, 'This is what I know, this is what I do not know, this is what I suspect, this is what the PNG government is saying on TV.' So we would line up all of that and I would say, 'That's what I can tell you and you make of it what you will.' And that was a pretty messy picture.

CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, you have until 11.32.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Miss Thompson, thanks for coming along. Your first stint was 1 August to 15 August, I see your submission says. That is 14 days. Your second stint was from 5 February to 19 February, again 14 days. Is that a normal tour of duty?

Miss Thompson : We were basically told both times that it could be two, three or four weeks as the usual deployment, depending on whether someone is staying to do shopfront. Two, three or four weeks is the normal deployment.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Your employer was Playfair. Are you still working with Playfair?

Miss Thompson : I resigned from Playfair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What do you do now?

Miss Thompson : I am still a registered migration agent. I am a subcontractor.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you a lawyer as well?

Miss Thompson : I am not a lawyer, no. I am a migration agent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So you took your instructions from the head of Playfair, did you?

Miss Thompson : Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: From what you have said, you assume that Playfair were being told, I think by the department—

Miss Thompson : I was told directly. My team leader, Nick Adler, at one point explain to me exactly the chain of information, where he was getting his information from and where information was going to.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You talked a lot about clients. I used to be a lawyer and lawyers have certain codes of conduct, their only responsibility is to their client. Who are your clients in the instance you have been talking about here?

Miss Thompson : In my submission I have used the term 'transferee' to describe all the people held at Manus Island as asylum seekers and 'clients' I have used to refer specifically to people I represented.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But your client is really the person who pays you, that is Playfair or the department, I guess.

Miss Thompson : No. The information we were provided is that my role was to assist the transferees; the transferees were my clients.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, but who pays you?

Miss Thompson : Playfair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And who paid Playfair?

Miss Thompson : the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It might be different as a migration agent but as a lawyer your client is the one that pays you. You have a responsibility to them.

Miss Thompson : But also we were not migration agents or lawyers—while we were hired by Playfair on that basis, we are not migration agents or lawyers with practising certificates in PNG.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You do not have to if you are not comfortable, but do you mind telling me what you received as a migration agent while you were working for Playfair on Manus Island? You would be getting some sort of loading, would you?

Miss Thompson : I actually cannot remember. I am happy to provide that later but I cannot remember off the top of my head. I do not do money stuff very well but it was maybe $300 or $500 a day, I am not sure.

CHAIR: Take that on notice, then.

Miss Thompson : Yes. I will authorise Playfair to release information if you want.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What does a migration agent get working for Playfair in Melbourne? I am only asking this because if I finish a career here I might go back to a migration agent rather than a lawyer.

Miss Thompson : I wouldn't advise it! I am a subcontractor, so I am not on salary. I am paid per piece, so it depends how many RRT hearings, how many immigration interviews.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are paid by the number of RSDs you do?

Miss Thompson : I get paid a certain amount for attending an immigration interview, a certain amount for attending an RRT interview, a certain amount for interviewing someone in relation to a split family.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you give us a rough example, just so I have some concept.

Miss Thompson : It is probably difficult because, again, it is per piece. I am happy to provide something later to the committee about what I get paid roughly by Playfair or by the other people I work for, as long as it is not commercial-in-confidence for them—I would have to clear that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay. You say you were directed not to refer to resettlement and other things you have mentioned. Directed by whom?

Miss Thompson : Nick Adler.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sorry, I do not know Nick Adler.

Miss Thompson : He was here yesterday. He was my team leader. He is from Playfair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was not here yesterday. What is he, not who is he?

Miss Thompson : He is a migration agent. He was leader of the CAPS team.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: He works for Playfair?

Miss Thompson : Yes, he does.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Who does he answer to?

Miss Thompson : Petra Playfair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is the CEO of Playfair?

Miss Thompson : She is the managing director of Playfair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Had you worked with Playfair for a long time before you ultimately resigned?

Miss Thompson : Yes, I had been an employee on the previous deployment and prior to that I had worked with them as a subcontractor quite intensively. In 2012 and 2013 I worked almost exclusively to them.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are very involved with immigration and refugee issues. Are you a member of Lawyers for Refugees or these other—

Miss Thompson : No.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: None of those?

Miss Thompson : I am active with a number of refugee advocacy groups and I support the work they do, but I am not officially a member of any of them.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: We have spoken to various groups in Melbourne in other inquiries so I was just wondering if were a part of them. You just didn't like the process that was happening, that you couldn't tell these asylum seekers what the rules were all about?

Miss Thompson : Yes, I thought it was contrary to what my obligations are, which are about providing refugee status determination assistance, claims assistance. It became very clear to me that there was not actually a documented process to take people through and that it was hard to provide information or claims assistance to someone. For example, as I have said in my submission, if someone has what you might consider to be a weak convention claim it is impossible for that person to weigh up the pros and cons and the risks to themselves of either continuing with the process or deciding to take the risks associated with returning home if they do not know where they will end up, whether they will have work rights—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But you would have read the papers and in your professional role you would have read the agreement that Mr Rudd made with the PNG government—

Miss Thompson : Certainly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: and you would have realised that in fact you were working for the PNG government, who was the one who was going to determine refugee claims, do re-settlements and those sorts of things. You would have known that.

Miss Thompson : But, in effect, that did not appear to be the case. You can see from attachment 6 and the PNG government info sheet we were giving out which made this clear—and this information was never contradicted in terms of the information we provided to transferees. There is attachment 6 and there is also the RSD application. Both of those things refer to resettlement and also the involvement of the UNHCR. That is stuff from the PNG government. Whatever Australian Immigration was telling us, we thought we were working under the PNG system, so—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But as an aware person, and as one who I assume qualifies as a lawyer although you are not currently a practitioner—

Miss Thompson : No, I do not qualify as a lawyer .

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay. Anyhow, as a professional migration agent you would have known the rules of the game, and that is that asylum claims are dealt with by the sovereign government, not Australia.

Miss Thompson : But I had no guidance from the sovereign government about how to do that and it appeared that all the guidance I was getting was from Australia. With the constant threat to us of being removed from the island if we spoke about things that were, for example, in the PNG government info sheets, that is what I became very concerned about, particularly as on 12 February the Papua New Guinea parliament reiterated that there was in fact, as far as they were concerned, no process by which resettlement would happen and they had not agreed to it. And I was not the only person who noticed that; the transferees did as well.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: As a professional migration agent, you refer to your clients as the transferees, not—according to my definition—by those who pay.

Miss Thompson : I refer to them as clients. As I said in the submission I have used 'transferees' to refer to people who were not my clients.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You did not feel, as a professional migration agent, that your duty was then to your client—that is, the transferee—to tell them the truth and give them all the information you had?

Miss Thompson : I did believe that that was my obligation. Unfortunately—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Did you do that?

Miss Thompson : I did, eventually. It got me in a lot of trouble. And when I did it, it was when I would be hauled into meetings with Mr Adler.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So you were removed from Manus Island on 15 August 2013, were you? Because you did not do the digging for your boss?

Miss Thompson : No, that was the end of my deployment, 15 August. In 2013 no issues were raised—I raised issues internally with Playfair, but there was no concern about my employment which, I am assuming, is why they took me back to the second deployment in February 2014.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You were being given directions from someone else but, because of that, you are not telling your 'client' what the real story is because you are being directed on pain of being sacked not to discharge your duty as a migration agent?

Miss Thompson : Not on pain of being sacked but the threat was that if we continue to engage in those discussions the entire CAPs team would be removed from the island. As I explained to my clients, I was really concerned that if what they wanted was us, I did not want to jeopardise that—I tried to explain this conflict to the delegate client I had that I felt that I was in an impossible position of wanting to be as honest with him as possible but, when I was honest, we were disciplined and we were told that that was coming directly from Canberra.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Your principal duty is to your employer, not to your 'client'.

Miss Thompson : I considered my principal duty to be to the clients.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But you are saying that you did not tell them because you were told not to?

Miss Thompson : I did and that is why I got into trouble. I continued to do so—

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: For a start, she has no relationship—no legal relationship—with the department.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Miss Thompson : As I said, we were told that the department of immigration in Canberra was concerned about what we were saying and so that we should stop talking about it. I do apologise to Mr Berati's family and also to my other clients who I feel I did mislead, under pressure from my employer and from Canberra. I was not entirely honest with them at all times about what I believed was happening, because I was threatened with being removed from the island.

CHAIR: Thank you, Miss Thompson, I am going to go to Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear: there seems as though there is a lot of information out there. Firstly, we have been told by the department and Mr Bowles that the processing of RSD applications had started and was well underway. In fact, the department told us that that was signified by the fact there had been 800-odd initial interviews completed by 16 February. We heard from Petra Playfair and the other members of Playfair yesterday that that initial interview is actually not part of what is considered to be part of the RSD process. That is the first point. You then raised the issue that Mr Bowles, the department secretary said here in front of us two days ago, that RSD interviews would be happening and you made the point that you were told before you were deployed not to actually discuss the next stage after your initial meeting with your client, putting together their paperwork, ready, waiting for the actual RSD process to begin. Is that correct?

Miss Thompson : We were told that there were no plans to do RSD. That is what we were told.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Clearly, there was no official RSD process going on. There were two stages beforehand. The second point I want to clarify is: you are suggesting that with regard to the issue of resettlement—and I did discuss this with Mr Adler yesterday as well—you were explicitly told not to discuss that with the people who you were dealing with one on one, filling out their paperwork and negotiating with them about what would be the best way of putting their claim together. Is that correct?

Miss Thompson : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who told you that the issue of resettlement was not to be discussed?

Miss Thompson : Mr Adler.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did he give an indication of why that decision was made? Was that a decision made by Playfair?

Miss Thompson : I believe it was a decision made by Playfair, in consultation with the department. Again, the reason why I think it is useful to clarify this with the department is that I would like to know who decided to pull the various information leaflets that we had been handing out in August 2013, some of which were PNG government info sheets, attachment 6 in particular.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Which go to the point of resettlement?

Miss Thompson : Yes, which specifically talk about resettlement but also the transferee information leaflets that we handed out. We got a couple of versions of those. The first one we were handing out—again, I have made that clear in my submission—specifically used the term 'resettlement'. As one of my colleagues raised in a meeting with Mr Adler: how do you expect us not to talk about this when it is in the information that we are handing out? But, in terms of the chain of communication about what was in those leaflets and who decided what information was going in there and when things would be pulled, that is not clear to me.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In relation to the questions that Senator Macdonald was asking you, because I think they are fair enough, there seems to be confusion as to what information was being presented to the individual asylum seeker. You were directed not to talk about resettlement, but they had a flyer that did talk about resettlement?

Miss Thompson : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But as the person who was presenting themselves to them in a meeting, to say, 'I am here to advise you as to what you should put on your claim or whether you should even put forward your claim or go home,' you were not able to discuss the issue of resettlement. Is that correct?

Miss Thompson : That is right. It became difficult, particularly with certain clients, who, it was already clear, should never have been sent to PNG because of the refoulement provisions: you obviously should not send someone who openly identifies as homosexual to Papua New Guinea. It became extremely difficult in terms of talking to that person as well, because he was like: 'Where are you going to send me? Surely you can't suggest I'm going to be resettled in PNG?' My response to that was, 'We're aware that that is a really big issue,' because we discussed it at length in our previous deployment when those claims had come up. It was extremely difficult to talk to him about that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You were conflicted. You were expected to go in—we heard from Mr Adler directly that all Playfair officers on the island were directed not to talk about the issue of resettlement. We had that in evidence directly from him yesterday. You were directed not to speak about the issue of resettlement, yet in advising and talking about the issue with your clients it became impossible not to. Is that correct?

Miss Thompson : That is right. That is what I considered was the conflict of my professional obligations.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So did you, in the end, have to speak to the issue of resettlement with your clients?

Miss Thompson : Yes, I did.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What was the response to that?

Miss Thompson : From the clients or—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: From the clients?

Miss Thompson : It obviously depended on the particular client in relation to the question of homosexuality, that claim. My client was extremely concerned that I could not give him any information.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear: that is because homosexuality is illegal in PNG?

Miss Thompson : Yes. So I could not—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But not everybody out of your 25, 30 people were gay?

Miss Thompson : That is right. Again, in relation to resettlement the main issues were raised. Some people talked about the fact that they had wives and daughters and that they had heard information about the level of violence against women. They had concerns about whether it would be safe to bring their relatives—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In raising their concerns about whether they were to be resettled in PNG, the concerns they had about being in PNG, did they reference that back to information that had been given to them while inside the centre?

Miss Thompson : I did not know who had given them that information. It is all publicly available, so I did not question them about where they had got that information from, because the information was consistent with what I have read in various Amnesty International reports. I do not know where they got that information. But having subsequently read reports about what they were being provided, it is all consistent. It was about disease and—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I think we have clarified that you felt conflicted and that is obviously why you put your submission forward. I understand. Can I move on to the issue of the night of the 16th—the day of the 16th and the nights and days following, because you were on the island at that time?

Miss Thompson : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I asked Mr Adler yesterday whether Playfair had been consulted, told, advised about the meeting on the 16th, given it was part of the application process, RSDs and the questions that asylum seekers had in relation to what was going on. Were you told prior to the meeting that the meeting was going ahead and what would be discussed?

Miss Thompson : We knew about it. I do not think there was any official communication as far as I know. We had heard from interpreters and I heard from Mr Adler that the meeting was going ahead, but I do not believe it was an official communication. I asked if we could go, because I thought it was absurd that we did not receive that information. Mr Adler expressed, as he explained the other day, that he thought it would be best for us not to go in order for us to not seem to be part of the process.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I think that is a legitimate reason.

Miss Thompson : My response to him was that I thought that could be better managed by—looking at the meeting, I would have asked for us to sit with the transferee so that it was obvious that we were receiving information at the same time. Again, they were being told things about the process and we were never given the script. I was expected to then go and provide information about the RSD process that day and the next day to people without knowing what they had been told the day before, which struck me as a bit of a problem.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It seemed as though it was quite messy, this whole process. Things were being made up on the run almost; that is kind of how it is being described.

Miss Thompson : Yes, in terms of the shifting information, the fact that there is now a whole bunch of transferee information leaflets with different information on them, depending on when you have sat down with your CAPs provider. It did feel like things were being made up on the run in response to various events.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you think that that is what led to the frustration and the outburst of frustrations over the preceding two nights?

Miss Thompson : I think it is a combination of factors: the lack of information about resettlement in particular and what the end process would be, and the conflicted information definitely. I think rather than assisting, we probably actually made things worse. Initially our presence did seem to tone down the protest—when I walked through the compounds, the guys were like, 'It's so great you're here'—but after people actually sat through the interviews and heard that we did not have anything more to tell them, I do not think it assisted.

CHAIR: There is one point of clarification from Senator Seselja and one from Senator Singh.

Senator SESELJA: Ms Thompson, I just want to clarify your earlier statements in relation to the RDS process over who has control. My understanding is that it is the PNG government that makes those decisions. Is it your understanding that that is not the case, that the PNG government does not control the RSD process?

Miss Thompson : My understanding of the RSD process is that a person who is an employee of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Australia sits and conducts the interview while a PNG counterpart sits quietly, listening in. That is how the process has been described to me.

Senator SESELJA: But who makes the decision? Is it the PNG government that makes the decision?

Miss Thompson : My understanding is that it is probably their name on the decision record, but in terms of who conducts the interview, controls the interview and asks the questions, it has been made very clear to me by both interpreters and transferees that that person is an Australian DIBP employee.

Senator SESELJA: But ultimately PNG has control because they are the decision maker in the process—is that right?

Miss Thompson : I think that is a broader legal question as to effective control and what it really means.

Senator SESELJA: But is that correct? Is my understanding incorrect?

Miss Thompson : I have told you what I think happens. As I said, I think the actual legal question of effective control is much more complex than that, and I am not going to—

Senator SESELJA: But the decision maker is PNG though?

CHAIR: Thanks, Ms Thompson; I think you have given the answer that you are intending to give to that.

Senator SESELJA: I have just—

Miss Thompson : I have not seen a decision record, so I could not—I have seen a partial decision record.

Senator SESELJA: So you do not know who makes the decision?

Miss Thompson : 'Makes the decision', who writes it up: I do not know if the person who decides is the same person who puts their name on the piece of paper that is the RSD. I do not know the answer to that question.

Senator SINGH: You said earlier—this is on your February deployment—that the department instructed Playfair to stop after the CAPs process; so no RSD process and not to provide anything past the CAPs process. Is that correct?

Miss Thompson : Yes. We were just told there were no plans for RSD.

Senator SINGH: Was there any inference the minister's office was involved in that directive?

Miss Thompson : All I know is that the information came from Jo Boardman in Canberra; it has never been clarified to me exactly what her role is.

Senator SINGH: Okay, no worries.

CHAIR: Miss Thompson, thank you for your evidence.