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Regional Processing Centre in Nauru
Commonwealth government's responsibilities relating to the management and operation of the Nauru Regional Processing Centre

BETTS, Ms Samantha June, Private capacity

BLUCHER, Ms Natasha Emily, Private capacity

CHAIR: I welcome Ms Samantha Betts and Ms Natasha Blucher. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. However, I want to remind you that in giving evidence to this committee you are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is against the law for anyone to threaten or disadvantage you because of that evidence. If anyone did, that action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. We have received your submissions which we have numbered as submission 85 and 83 respectively. I now invite you to make a short opening statement. Then, after you have spoken, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Betts : I was a former child and youth recreation officer with Save the Children Australia.

Ms Blucher : I am here in a private capacity but I was previously a Save the Children senior caseworker.

CHAIR: Would either of you, or both of you, like to make an opening statement?

Ms Betts : Thank you for inviting me here today. I am representing myself and I am happy to answer any questions relating to my submission dated 26 April 2015. As I just mentioned, I was employed as a child and youth recreation officer with Save the Children from October 2013 to June 2014. I held a Bachelor of Arts in (Community Development), majoring in sociology, and a Bachelor of Applied Management. I am currently undertaking a postgraduate diploma in social policy and social research. Prior to my employment on Nauru, I worked in the field of community services and child welfare for five years. I have worked in many capacities, including in domestic violence refuges, contact work and post separation services for children, and in running wellbeing support groups for women in prison.

As I am the first recreation officer to give evidence at this inquiry, I would like to briefly explain our role. The role was quite different to those of the child protection workers and the educational staff. As a team, we had face-to-face contact with all of the children in OPC3 for a total of four hours each day on weekdays and five hours each day on weekends. Due to the amount of time we spent with the children, we often got to know the children in a different capacity to the teachers and to the child protection workers. They told of their happy memories and their fears. Also, when we arrived each time, they told us of what was happening in the camp. We built a strong rapport with the children. We were regularly observant of any changes in an individual child's behaviours and moods, which usually signalled distress in children.

Bearing on the individual circumstances, this distress would be displayed through a few markers. These markers included predominately unpredictable behaviour, outbursts and emotional collapse, disturbing depictions in artworks relating to their trauma, rapid and very extreme mood swings. They included children becoming mute and refusing to talk, being clingy and wanting to stay close to us Save the Children workers. They also included significant changes in friendship groups and relationships, very short attention spans and regression in children up to the age of 13, with behaviours such as thumb sucking, sleepwalking and bedwetting.

My submission stated that there were frequent staff reports of sexual, physical and emotional abuse put forward to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and to Wilson's knowledge. I would like to clarify that I never directly witnessed sexual abuse to minors during my deployments; however, I have witnessed the sexualised behaviour in children and was aware of the sexual abuse occurring through the vulnerable minor meetings held by Save the Children staff members every Sunday, where we would discuss children who have been identified as being vulnerable in the camp. As recreation workers, every week we would file our statements for each child that was considered the most vulnerable, reflecting on their behaviour and the psychosocial context that recreation time provided.

During my employment, I completed numerous reports in relation to the emotional and physical abuse, which were forwarded to either the child protection manager within Save or directly to Wilson for their use. Within the camp, children were directly exposed to lip sewing with staples, attempted suicided by hanging, attempted suicide by wrist slitting, mothers attempting to terminate pregnancies through starvation, high rates of depression and other mental health issues, as well as verbal and physical violence between members of the camp. I know this because the children told me. Most of the children would tell us in a panicked or, for lack of a better term, excited way, because incidents like these were the talk of the camp. With little distraction from the real world that they are in, children as young as four are being exposed to directly witnessing these events or knowing the people involved. Having situations such as these within the proximity of children is detrimental to their sense of security and safety, as well as their emotional wellbeing. So I urge, I insist and I beg that the Senate committee advocates for these children, who have no-one to help them but us. Thank you.

CHAIR: Ms Blucher.

Ms Blucher : Thank you for the opportunity to provide evidence to this committee. I appear today in a private capacity as a former senior adult caseworker in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, with Save the Children Australia. My academic qualifications include a Bachelor of International Relations and a Master of International and Community Development. I have seven years experience working with refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian context, including cases management, community development and front-line management roles.

I was employed with Save the Children from 5 July 2014 until 3 October 2014, when I was removed from Nauru, along with a number of other colleagues, at the behest of the immigration minister at the time, Mr Scott Morrison. This removal occurred amidst a number of very public and damaging allegations made by that minister against me and my colleagues. At no time since that removal nine months ago have I had any specific allegations or reasons for that decision put to me, nor have I had any chance to respond to these allegations. I still have no idea why I was selected for this removal, and I believe that my professional reputation and that of my colleagues has been publicly damaged.

However, more important than my concerns in relation to my and my colleagues personal circumstances are the concerns that I have in relation to the circumstances and treatment of asylum seekers in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. In short, these key concerns include the lack of provision of basic needs, including material needs, appropriate accommodation and appropriate care for people with particular vulnerabilities; the lack of provision of timely and accurate information relevant to people's circumstances in current policy delivered in a sensitive manner, which I believe would go some way to de-escalating distress and associated protest behaviours; and the lack of respect for welfare professionals who are qualified to provide this. There is an emphasis on behaviour and compliance from a security framework as opposed to an understanding of the trauma impacts and deterioration of mental health that, in my view, is the primary presenting issue and must be addressed through a specialised trauma informed welfare framework. There is overall mistreatment and lack of respect and dignity afforded to asylum seekers by stakeholder staff due to the toxic workplace culture in the Nauru RPC and a lack of accountability for all of these issues due to the excessive secrecy and lack of external oversight and complaints mechanisms in the regional processing system.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Ms Blucher and Ms Betts, you have obviously seen today some of the evidence given by both Transfield Services and Wilson Security in relation to conditions inside the camp. What is your response to their arguments that they are doing everything they can to facilitate a safe environment?

Ms Blucher : I think from what I can see there appears to be a significant disconnect between the understanding of management who are located in Australia and the actual implementation of policy on the island. An example that I would give of this is that I heard Wilson saying to this committee earlier today that they had paperwork that contained asylum seekers' names and not boat identification numbers or names and boat identification numbers at all times.

They also said that any time when paperwork was completed only with boat identification numbers that this was in error; however, for the entire period of time that I was working in the Nauru RPC, the only Wilson paperwork that I saw—in the form of internal movement sheets, which officers would tick off at the gates as asylum seekers moved through—contained only numbers, only boat identification numbers, and there were no names on those sheets. I repeatedly questioned this, and I repeatedly questioned officers at those movement areas in relation to their use of boat identification numbers and not names, and they said to me: 'We can't remember the names. All of our paperwork only contains numbers. We have no reference point for names. It is really, really difficult for us.' So I can see some significant conflicts between what I witnessed and what was said today.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I obviously understand that my next question would seem to be more appropriate for the management of Save the Children, but we have had the management of Save the Children in front of us and I must say, again, that it is a very different experience for the people who are based in Australia and do site visits compared to those who actually work within the facility. I am really interested in your perspective. Both Wilson Security and Transfield today, when asked about individual, specific incidents relating to the harm of children—sexual abuse, assault, the general wellbeing of children—both put it that that is all the responsibility of and falls at the feet of Save the Children. Could you explain to us, enlighten us a little bit, about the power that the Save the Children staff have in the facility and what you can do about it if something has occurred?

Ms Blucher : From my perspective, any advocacy that was to occur needed to be channelled through Save the Children management. We had very limited access to management of other service providers. Where I wished to advocate for asylum seekers, I needed to either put it into an information report or an incident report, or report it to my manager, who would then speak with other service providers as far as I am aware. Something that I did quite frequently was put my concerns into emails to Save the Children management, because that was the only avenue I had. I believe that I would have been disciplined if I had tried to approach the Nauruan police, or any stakeholder outside of that RPC environment, in relation to a concern.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the general sense of staff when they arrive in the morning? Are you given some kind of briefing or pep talk? Previous evidence has suggested that people were reminded that what they saw and heard in the camp was to stay inside the camp. Was that often part of briefings? What would happen at the beginning of a day?

Ms Blucher : At the beginning of the day we would take the bus to the RPC—RPC3—and we would go into the tent and we had a morning meeting at 9 am, which we referred to as sitrep—that is, situation report. We received from our manager a list of asylum seekers who had missed meals or who were on the support mentor engage list, which meant that they had either self-harmed or they were particularly vulnerable for some reason. We would have that information provided to us and then we would seek to touch base with those clients during the day to find out how they were going.

CHAIR: Just on that point, that situation report and the list of people that you would interact with, was that by number or name?

Ms Blucher : I think, to my memory, it was mostly by number because I do remember in the morning searching on Formulise, which was our electronic database, to find clients' names. On occasion I would run that sitrep meeting and I was insistent on only using names to identify people. So to my memory it was only numbers.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who provided you with that list of people in the mornings?

Ms Blucher : It was emailed to our managers.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: By whom? Who created the list?

Ms Blucher : I am not 100 per cent sure who emailed it to the managers, but I believe it was made by Wilson.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it was not a Save the Children list?

Ms Blucher : No, it was not a Save the Children document.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are Save the Children staff there overnight, or it is just during the day?

Ms Blucher : I think some rec workers were there.

Ms Betts : The recreation team had a slightly different daily routine. We would start at 12 midday and go into the office at OPC3, do our prep work and then proceed to the camp in the afternoon. Although we had internal meetings, it was more about what we were planning to do with the children that day. There was no information from management, Wilson or Transfield as to any emergency situations that had happened overnight. So we did go into the camp quite fresh every day and we had to pick it up on the run if anything was happening. Usually, and concerningly so, the children were the ones to tell us if there were any major incidents overnight.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So the children would tell you rather than you being briefed by a member of Wilson Security or Transfield?

Ms Betts : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about the disclosure of information about what may have been going on or an incident that involved somebody? Ms Blucher, you said you did not feel confident that you would have the support to go to the police.

Ms Blucher : Certainly not, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Why is that?

Ms Blucher : Because we were informed that we were only able to share information with stakeholders within the RPC and it was very clear that we could not share information outside the RPC.

Ms Betts : I second that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Ms Blucher, in your submission you talk about an incident where some Nauruan men, locals, had been seen at various times at night sitting on the hill and looking down and watching the women in the single women's quarter of RPC3, and using binoculars to do that.

Ms Blucher : That was told to me by a Wilson Security officer who was off duty at the time; we were engaging in a social context. He told me that some Nauruans had been seen looking with binoculars down into the single adult female areas, that he had been tasked with essentially trying to catch them and that he had not caught them yet.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: We have heard about exchanging sexual favours for access to longer showers or marijuana or cigarettes or indeed some of the other incidents of organised viewing of sexual activities. Were these things that were often talked about in a social setting?

Ms Blucher : They were things that were talked about in a social setting and often in what was to me a disturbingly casual manner. I was horrified by the way these issues were presented in a social context as that they were some kind of joke or as though they were not of great concern. People stopped saying things like that to me after my initial rotation because whenever things like that were said to me my response was: 'This is very serious. This is not a matter for joking. Why are you speaking about this so casually?' People learnt not to tell me about it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Where would that social setting occur?

Ms Betts : At the Odn Hotel. There was a lot of interaction between service providers. In the smoking area there was a lot of interaction between service providers.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Which is in the camp?

Ms Blucher : In the RPC1 staff accommodation area.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about in the mess room in OPC1? Would there often be conversations in there?

Ms Blucher : There was a little bit, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: As you have explained, you were quite surprised and shocked by the candid and casual nature in which these things were spoken about. Did you ever question whether they had been formally reported, or did anybody ever mention that these incidents were being formally reported?

Ms Blucher : I think it was very much presumed that everybody had a responsibility to report any incident through an incident or information report. I believe everybody was quite comprehensive in doing that; I certainly was, and I believe the recreation workers were as well. Everybody that I was aware of would report things when they became aware of them—in a firsthand context. I would not report something that was told to me in a social way because that was not part of my professional engagement and I could not verify the accuracy of it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Rogers, from Wilson Security, stated earlier that he had never heard rumours like this before. Does that mean he is just totally out of tune with the rest of his staff?

Ms Blucher : You would have to be not on the island, I guess, not to have heard that information. Or perhaps members of senior management might not be privy to that kind of information because staff may not talk in a casual way in front of them.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What do you know about members of staff arriving at work intoxicated?

Ms Blucher : I do not know anything about it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You never saw that or heard of that occurring?

Ms Betts : Yes, I had heard of that occurring on several occasions but, as Tash just alluded to, that was second-hand knowledge. To my knowledge those staff were asked to leave the camp immediately and get some bed rest and return to work the next day.

CHAIR: People would turn up for work under the influence and be asked to leave and then just back up again the next day with no—

Ms Betts : To my knowledge—until it started happening quite regularly. Then protocols—

CHAIR: Were these locally employed people, fly-in fly-out people or a combination of both?

Ms Betts : Fly-in fly-out workers.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I ask you about the issue of insufficient clothing, particularly for children, and access to sanitary products. There have been a number of submissions put forward to this committee that reference this, and both of you do as well. The immigration department has strongly refuted that sanitary products are limited and that there has been any issue with the supply of clothing, for example, for children. Could you expand on why you have referenced both of those in your submission.

Ms Blucher : I will let Sam talk about sanitary products because I did not actually really have any complaints or speak to anybody in relation to that.

Ms Betts : When I first started, the RPC was still in the rebuilding phase. This was when the Salvation Army were involved in the camp as well. The issue of clothing is absolutely horrendous. There were parents who actually had to cut holes in their children's sneakers because their feet were growing too much and the shoes were too small. Children would often ask us to help fix their thongs, which we tried to do on several occasions—we got a bit ingenious with bread ties and bits of string. So shoes were not adequately provided in any sense.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And it is gravel?

Ms Betts : Yes—sharp, white rocks. The clothing was often ill fitting. Children would get clothing that was too big—in particular, shorts. The children had to tie their shorts with hair ties to hold them up so that they would not fall down. There were often instances with the sanitary items as well; they were provided as needed, and often only two at a time, from the guard station in RPC3.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So women who had their period would have to go to the guards to get another pad before they went to the toilet?

Ms Betts : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is pretty dehumanising.

Ms Betts : Absolutely. There were several occasions where the asylum seekers, particularly the women, would come and ask me or another female worker who was in the camp at the time to go and ask the guards on their behalf because they did not feel comfortable asking a male for such items.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would you be able to do that?

Ms Betts : I was, but I would have to bring the person with me so that the guard could witness me handing it over.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So they would not just hand you as welfare officers a pack of pads and say, 'If women ask for them, here they are'?

Ms Betts : No. I did question this on several occasions and I was told that it was for security reasons.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What security reasons?

Ms Betts : I was informed that it was alleged that sanitary items, pads, were used to soak gasoline from the floodlights in the riots of 2013 and that was why they were not being handed out.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There were no women in the facility in 2013.

Ms Betts : This is just what I was told.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I just want this to be made very clear. During the riots, there were no women asylum seekers at that camp.

Ms Betts : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So who would have been using sanitary products?

Ms Betts : I am not sure; this is just what I was told.

CHAIR: Ms Betts, can you give us some idea of the time frame for these shortages and events?

Ms Betts : This was happening as Save the Children were taking on the adult casework as well, after the Salvation Army left the island. During my entire employment up until June last year sanitary items, clothing and shoes were not readily available.

CHAIR: How long was your term of employment?

Ms Betts : From October 2013 to June 2014.

CHAIR: You witnessed this. Your evidence is that these shortages of sanitary products, shorts, T-shirts and thongs were prevalent all through that time?

Ms Betts : Yes.

Ms Blucher : Can I add to what Sam was saying? My employment commenced on 5 July of the same year, 2014, so I would have arrived maybe a month or so after Samantha left. By the time I arrived, my understanding was that sanitary items were provided to people through the canteen, where they went to get lollies and things like that, which they could use their points for. But I believe that sanitary items were provided without the need for points. However, there was absolutely a marked and continuing lack of clothing and material needs. I recall, and I mentioned in my submission, pregnant women who could not access clothing that fitted well. That was something that was told to me by other caseworkers as being the case as well for their clients. Many people had ill-fitting shoes, shoes that were too large, or ill-fitting clothing. I mentioned in my submission that a caseworker once came back into the tent holding a pair of pink hotpants that had been provided to an elderly Burmese client of hers, as shorts. At that time we were constantly asking for our clients to have appointments to be issued with more clothing, and we were told that because everybody had insufficient clothing they were going to go through the camp bit by bit and have rolling appointments for people to receive additional clothing. But my experience of that was that a lot of the time clients attended those appointments and then came back to us saying that they had been provided again with ill-fitting clothing and told just to keep it so that they could swap it at a later date, because there was no clothing or shoes that would fit them.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to ask you about the issue of dealing with individuals who were clearly quite distressed, whether they be children or adults, who were contemplating self-harm or suicide. How often would you see clients in that situation?

Ms Blucher : Almost every day. I think the majority of my clients had, at some time, disclosed to me suicidal ideation. Many, many people talked about suicidal ideation.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Including children?

Ms Blucher : I did not have any clients who were children, because I was with the adult caseworker team. But I also mention in my report a period of time when that was particularly prevalent, and there were a number of plans and suicide pacts going on throughout the camp, where people were telling their caseworkers that they had suicide pacts with other members of the camp to all kill themselves at once.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What did you do when you heard that?

Ms Blucher : We wrote reports. We wrote report after report after report to Wilson. There was a particular day—I think it was the last Sunday in September. I was a senior caseworker at that time, so my responsibility was to check caseworkers' reports and then sign them off and then provide them to Wilson. Literally all that we could do was try to provide emotional support to people in that circumstance and try to convince them that that was not the answer and that it would not achieve anything, and write reports to Wilson requesting that they be put on high watch.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to clarify, this was September/October of last year?

Ms Blucher : This was the last Sunday in September. It was five days before my removal from Nauru and my colleagues' removal.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Before the minister ordered you and nine of your colleagues to be removed?

Ms Blucher : I think it was the Thursday afternoon that there was a video played in the camp—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Of Minister Morrison?

Ms Blucher : Of Minister Morrison. And then the response to that was a number of protests, a marked increase in self-harm and a very, very, very high volume of people stating that they were going to commit suicide all at once, to the point that I was absolutely terrified that that would occur.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You are saying that you and your colleagues did everything you could to talk people out of that?

Ms Blucher : We were desperately trying to talk people out of harming themselves and out of these suicide plans.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is very different to what the intelligence report suggests.

Ms Blucher : That is correct.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That report was obviously leaked to The Daily Telegraph and suggested that in fact you were coaching self-harm.

Ms Blucher : At that time I was distraught at the allegation, because you can imagine that I and my colleagues were terrified and we were desperately attempting to convince people not to harm themselves. I attempted to convince seven men who had stitched their lips to unstitch their lips and write a letter to the Refugee Council in lieu of that and had explained to them that stitching their lips was not in their interest, that the department would not listen to them if they did that and that there were more appropriate ways to do that. I was signing incident reports desperately supporting caseworkers to try to give them strategies to talk their clients down from self-harm or from suicidal ideation, and I was going to bed at night terrified that I would wake up in the morning and find that more clients had harmed themselves. And then to be told that I was accused of having tried to facilitate that was beyond comprehension.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who was helping in that situation? Was it left to Save the Children staff to manage that very heightened situation, or were there other staff?

Ms Blucher : No, Wilson actually did quite a good job. They flew in a lot of extra security officers at that time, and they did their utmost to keep people safe in that heightened situation. I have to give them credit for that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you are saying that there was an escalation around the Thursday, this incident report was written on the Sunday or the Monday following, and then Minister Morrison gave a press conference on the Friday following, saying you had all been given the sack, after it had appeared in the front of The Daily Telegraph that morning. Can you step us through what happened? When were you told that you were to leave the island?

Ms Blucher : I went to work on the Friday morning. On my way to catch the bus to go to RPC3, I passed one of the other case workers who had been stood down, and she showed me the letter that she had, from our human resources manager, and she said to me, 'Can you check on my clients, because I can't go to work today.' I said, 'Yep, no problem,' got on the bus, went to our office tent at RPC3 and walked in. The HR manager was there, and she said, 'I've got to see you after sitrep,' but I was the most senior staff member on shift on that day, so she said, 'Just run the sitrep and then I'll talk to you afterwards.' So I ran the meeting and then grabbed her and we went outside. She gave me the letter and said: 'Look, I'm really sorry. We've got to go back to RPC1. You can't have any work related stuff. Make sure you hand over all of your work related stuff.' So I did that. We got in the car and then it just seemed to escalate. That letter contained no information; it just said that we were stood down.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who was it written by?

Ms Blucher : It was written by the HR manager for Save the Children.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did it say who directed you to be stood down?

Ms Blucher : It said, 'The department has directed for you to be stood down; we have no reasons.'

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: For the sake of this committee, it would be helpful if you still have a copy of that letter.

Ms Blucher : I do, but I do not have it with me. It is attached to my submission.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Okay. That is fine.

Ms Blucher : So when we were in the car, driving back to RPC1, the HR manager received a phone call, and she said, 'Look, I'm really sorry, but when we get back you're going to have to pack your stuff, because you have to leave RPC1.' We said, 'Yes, okay.' We got back to RPC1 and I started packing my things, and then she came and saw us again and said, 'Actually, once you've packed, don't leave A block'—which was the block where we were all living—'because you need to be under guard by Wilson.' At that time I thought, 'Wow, this is a bit serious,' because people had been stood down before but they had just gone back to their accommodation, and then there had been an investigation, and then they had been cleared, and then they went back to work. So I had initially thought it would be a couple of days process. She said, 'Don't leave A block, and stay under guard, and take the Wilson security guards' directions.' So we did all of that. We then sat down in a row, once we had all packed, at the end of A block, under guard by Wilson.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And there were nine of you at this stage?

Ms Blucher : No, there were six of us that were on the island. There were three that were off island, off rotation, and one had already left. So at that time, when we were sitting under guard, at the end of A block, I received a phone call from somebody in Australia who said, 'I'm looking at the television and Minister Morrison is making a media statement saying that he is accusing Save the Children workers of this, this and that—what do you know about that?'

I said, 'I am sitting at the end of A Block under guard, so maybe he's talking about me.' So we were escorted off OPC1. We went into a hotel overnight on the Friday night. We watched the media over that afternoon. The only information we had in relation to anything was in the media. We were provided with plane tickets by Save the Children management that afternoon, and then in the morning the Nauruan police arrived. One of my colleagues said to them that we could not speak to them until our management arrived, because we were quite scared. They said, 'Okay', they waited, our management turned up and then they told us that we had half an hour to pack our bags and they would be taking us to the airport and we had to travel in their vehicles. So we did that. We went to the airport under police guard and went through under police guard, and then the police escorted us on to the plane.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And no-one has, to this day, ever given you any information?

Ms Blucher : No. I have no idea. The only information that I have in relation to what was alleged is what the minister said on the television and what was reported in news reports.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Were you interviewed by Philip Moss?

Ms Blucher : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did that give you any indication?

Ms Blucher : No. He did not tell us any of the allegations. He did not tell us any information that the decision was based on.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What do you think you have been accused of?

Ms Blucher : I genuinely do not know. I have a couple of guesses. One of them is that perhaps I was not supposed to give the Refugee Council email address to the men who had stitched their lips and asked them to unstitch. Perhaps somebody at Wilson reported me for giving that email address. I do not know. The other is that, as I indicated earlier, I was always telling people if I thought that something was not right. So I was constantly saying to Wilson, 'Can you please not refer to this person by their boat identification number. Can you please refer to them by their name?' or 'This is isn't appropriate; don't speak to her like that'—things like that. I do not know if that is what it was.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But of course the Philip Moss inquiry found that you and your colleagues have done nothing wrong.

Ms Blucher : That is how it seems, yes. To my mind, we must not have a case to answer if nobody has ever been able to give us a case.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The department has been running their own—another—process looking at whether the way you were treated was proper and fair. Have you been contacted at all by the department?

Ms Blucher : No. In relation to this most recent review we have not had any contact from the department. Sorry—our lawyers have spoken with the department but we have not spoken with the department, and the reviewer has not contacted our lawyers. I do not think our lawyers even have a contact for him.

CHAIR: Ms Blucher, were you sacked, deported or both?

Ms Blucher : Save the Children was quite good in that they kept us on until 9 January.

CHAIR: So you were not terminated by Save the Children; you were just—

Ms Blucher : My understanding is that we were deported from Nauru and that Save the Children was told by the department to terminate us or that we could no longer provide services in the Nauru OPC. But then we were terminated on 9 January, because Save the Children hoped, I think, that we would be able to be reinstated—and that clearly has not happened.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would you like to be reinstated?

Ms Blucher : I would like the opportunity to be reinstated. I do not know what the environment is like. One of the most upsetting things—one of them—was not being able to work with our clients anymore. We were all working very hard to the best of our ability to protect our clients, to advocate for our clients and to provide the best service that we could to them. So I guess I would like the opportunity to be reinstated because if it were possible I would like to return to continue to provide service to the asylum seekers in the OPC.

CHAIR: Ms Blucher and Ms Betts, I just need to check that it is okay for people to take photographic images of you. Are you both in agreement?

Ms Blucher : Yes.

Ms Betts : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you think that if you, Ms Blucher and Ms Betts, and your colleagues had not been there this Senate inquiry would have any idea about the child abuse, sexual assault and overall conditions inside the Nauru detention centre?

Ms Blucher : Do you mean Save the Children in general?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Ms Blucher : I guess that if Save the Children were not there then Transfield and Wilson would be required to write incident reports which would then be lodged with the department, which has happened the entire time. But, to my knowledge, the impetus for this inquiry was our removal, so I guess I would say that I am glad that we were removed so that this inquiry could happen.

Ms Betts : I believe that, as Natasha just said, the incident reports would have occurred. I do not believe the extent of the evidence that has come forth would have been initiated without Save the Children.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the attitude between Save the Children workers and Wilson Security staff inside the camp?

Ms Betts : It really depended on the personal workers. Some of the Wilson Security guards had quite a good working relationship with us and would fulfil their duties of staying in line of site of us workers and ensuring that we had everything that we needed and felt safe while we were running programs. Other workers would not be able to fulfil that, for reasons unknown to me. So the relationship was varying, and I think it was due to the rotational work as well. We never really worked with the same person more than twice, so it is hard to make a generalised statement on that.

Ms Blucher : I think that there was an inherent conflict in the approaches that Wilson Security officers took and the approaches that Save the Children staff took. Something that I have outlined quite extensively in my submission is that of course Wilson Security are security trained professionals. I guess their priority is to control and to manage behaviours, whereas Save the Children staff members' priority was to address welfare, wellbeing and mental health concerns. I think that created an inherent pushing point between the two service providers.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There have been a few submissions that have referred to incident reports that have been written by Save the Children officers where the critical nature of the incident has effectively been downgraded by the Wilson or Transfield staff once the initial report was made. Did you ever experience that?

Ms Blucher : I think I can shed some light on how that might happen. Essentially we went to incident and information report training, and the protocols and grading of the incidents seemed to change quite frequently, and then we would be retrained in it. It was never overly clear whether the course that we had gone to and the way that we were rating incidents were accurate, because it seemed to change quite frequently. I, as a senior caseworker, would receive an incident report or an information report from somebody, and I would sign it off, and then I would go and provide it in its paper form to Wilson. Sometimes they would say that we had rated it incorrectly against what their rating system was.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would imagine a case of child abuse or sexual assault would be the highest that there could possibly be.

Ms Betts : Within the recreation team, anything that involved a child that we had to compile a report for we put as critical. There were other incidents that we were encouraged to downgrade. For example, there were times that children would faint in the school tents because the temperature was just phenomenal.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Children would faint in the school tents because of the temperature?

Ms Betts : Yes. We took a thermometer in multiple times, and the temperature would reach about 48 to 50 degrees. Children as young as five would faint because of heat, so we would put that as a critical incident report. We were encouraged, because there was no interaction with another worker or another staff member, to put that it was not critical.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Because it was just the atmosphere?

Ms Betts : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you would be encouraged to downgrade the fainting of a child in what is effectively the classroom?

Ms Betts : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What would they suggest that you downgrade it to?

Ms Betts : Minor, because it was environmental. We were also encouraged to put requests in to Transfield to somehow modify the ventilation in the tent.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did you raise that with the Save the Children management?

Ms Betts : Yes. Our managers were very aware and strongly advocating, to my knowledge, for the conditions to change. To my knowledge, it was one of the primary instigators of the children and the school being moved to OPC1 and air-conditioned classrooms.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did you ever witness the fainting of a child yourself?

Ms Betts : Yes. On one particular occasion, I was running a playgroup in the larger space of the recreational tent in RPC3, and I assisted the teacher to carry out the five-year-old who had fainted.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That must have been pretty confronting.

Ms Betts : It was quite distressing, particularly for the other children in the classroom. We did have a teacher's assistant who continued to run the class while I assisted the teacher, and I believe that first aid was then carried out.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Obviously the pseudoclassroom has now moved to OPC1, but in OPC3, where the family actually is, they live in tents. These tents that families are living in must be pretty hot if in one tent a child can faint because, as you have testified, the temperature is 40 to 53 degrees.

Ms Betts : Yes. They were phenomenally hot, particularly during the lunch period. So, from around 11 o'clock to two o'clock, the feeling in the camp was very sedate, because people just could not move. It was very hot, particularly over the summer months there.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That would still be the case, because there is no air-conditioning in the tents.

Ms Betts : No, and the pedestal fans that are supplied in the living quarters are not enough to fully ventilate the air. With the amount of people that are crammed into those tents, the body heat that would be exchanged as well would just contribute to the heat rising in the tents.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, could I just get some indication from other senators who may be seeking the call?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is fine. I am happy for Senator Carr to have a go.

Senator KIM CARR: I am having a bit of trouble reconciling this proposition. As I read the Moss review, the allegation is that you are accused, effectively, of encouraging self-harm and fabricating and manipulating allegations about sexual and other physical assault. That is the nature of the claims that were made against you, according to Moss.

Ms Blucher : According to the television and the Moss report, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: That is the only thing you have got to go on?

Ms Blucher : That is all I have, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Neither of you strike me as coming across with an image of being great professional subversives. What is your experience in this area of assisting refugees? Can both of you indicate to the committee your qualifications and experience?

Ms Blucher : My professional experience is seven years of working specifically in the refugee and asylum sector in Australia. I hold a Bachelor of International Relations and a Master of International and Community Development. I have worked in casework rolesfor approximately four years directly with refugees and asylum seekers, with large humanitarian organisations. For the past three years, I have been in supervisory roles, particularly in migration support.

Senator KIM CARR: What international experience do you have?

Ms Blucher : I have done some volunteer work in South America, in Bolivia and Argentina, but I have not actually worked in a paid capacity overseas.

Senator KIM CARR: But you have worked in facilities other than Nauru?

Ms Blucher : I worked for a very short period for Serco at the onshore detention centre in Darwin. I think that was for about two months. I was employed as a client support worker. But, when I commenced, I realised I was expected to undertake security-type duties and so I resigned from that position.

Senator KIM CARR: Ms Betts, what is your background?

Ms Betts : I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development, majoring in sociology. I also have a bachelor's degree in applied management, and I am currently doing a social policy graduate diploma. For the last seven years, which is my entire career so far, I have worked in community services and child welfare. That has predominantly been in domestic violence refuges for women and children escaping domestic violence. I have worked in contact work, supervising visits between parents and their biological children where care and protection have had intervention. I have worked in post separation services for children—so for parents that have had very high-conflict separations—supporting the children through the changes of the family. I have also worked in the local prison here in Canberra, running wellbeing support groups for women pre-release and during their sentences.

Senator KIM CARR: Both of you have worked in other types of environments where people have been detained. Are you able to compare the conditions that you experienced on Nauru with what you have seen in other environments?

Ms Betts : From a standard prison experience of what I have experienced here in Australia, they are very similar. I found the points system used for the canteen strikingly similar to an incarceration, as was the physical nature of the standardised mealtimes and standardised shower times—that sort of regimented living, I guess you would call it. In terms of the similarities of the actual experience of the detainees, it was quite dissimilar. The asylum seekers have no knowledge of the length of their stay. There are so many questions, and they do not know how long they are going to be there for. They do not see any hope of what is going to happen in the future. So that is quite concerning.

Senator KIM CARR: You talk of the conditions in the tents:

temperatures of up to fifty degrees

unhygienic, unsealed ply-wood flooring

lack of privacy with a tarpaulin 'door'

inadequate ventilation in heat

inadequate protection from rain/wind

Do you think that the physical conditions in which people are confined affect their behaviour?

Ms Betts : That is a really tough question because I think that there are two different parallels of what the people are experiencing in these detention centres. So although the physical environment does make it very uncomfortable for living, there is also the psychological environment which they are in, which, I think, no amount of air conditioning and no amount of nice flooring will be able to complement.

Senator KIM CARR: The question then arises: to what extent are the physical conditions part of the deterrent? Do you have any evidence that would go to that issue?

Ms Betts : Could you repeat the question?

Senator KIM CARR: The physical conditions are they part—or do they seem to be part—of the deterrent value of the Nauru experience itself?

Ms Betts : Yes, I believe so.

Senator KIM CARR: Why do you say that?

Ms Betts : If we were to make a report to Transfield that someone required a replacement pedestal fan in their tent—if there needed to be any improvements for the health and safety or the wellbeing of transferees—any action was not taken quickly enough. It seemed that it was purposely kept uncomfortable for deterrence.

Senator KIM CARR: Ms Blucher, can you explain to us what you have experienced in various centres?

Ms Blucher : I think onshore detention is not a particularly conducive environment to family life and healthy children; however, the Nauru detention centre is a lot worse than onshore detention. The environment is rough. It is very hot. There is what seems to be an excessive exertion of control by security officers—to an extent which I do not really understand, because I do not think that that level of control is necessary to keep the camp safe. The levels of distress and mental health decline among clients appear to be much higher. I have seen a lot of mental health decline in onshore detention centres. I worked in the CAS and ASAS programs, which were working with asylum seekers who had been detained long-term, so I had seen a lot of mental health deterioration. But in Nauru it appeared to happen far more violently and quickly. By violently, I mean it was loud. There was screaming; there were people collapsing, people hurting themselves. The facilities were dirty, unhygienic. People often complained of being treated as less than human. Something that was really common was for people to just repeatedly say to you: 'They're treating me like an animal. They think we're animals.' It is a very, very dehumanising environment. I would agree with Sam, in terms of your question in relation to whether the environment was part of the deterrent. This is only my opinion, from my experience. However, my understanding is that Transfield Services is a very large logistics company and that the Australian government is paying a lot of money for these centres to be run. I do not understand how they could do such a terrible job unless it was purposeful.

CHAIR: We know that this is a significant investment of taxpayers money, through the published tender process, of $1.2 billion. Your contention is that there is a degree of purposeful behaviour to create a deterrent?

Ms Blucher : The reason that it seems to me to be purposeful is that I do not understand how the Australian government could pay $1.2 billion to a large logistics company that specialises in logistics—that is, provision of services and items and materials— and then children could not be supplied with shoes that fit them, or toys—really basic needs. It does not make any sense to me. I do not understand.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the basis for your belief? Can you enlarge on why you have come to that conclusion?

Ms Blucher : Because I repeatedly observed people with their material needs not met for the entire period that I worked there.

Senator KIM CARR: Is that a deliberate act of policy? That is the question we are trying to come to terms with. Is it incompetence or is it policy?

Ms Blucher : That I do not know the answer to. I do not why it happens. I do not understand why it happens. I cannot speak to why certain decisions are made or why certain material needs are not met.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What would be the response if you said, 'This child needs new shoes'?

Ms Blucher : 'We will put them on the list for an appointment. It could take several weeks.' Then they might get to that appointment in several weeks and they might be issued with a pair of shoes that do not fit them again.

Ms Betts : My understanding was, as well, that we had to fill in a request form or assist the asylum seeker to complete a request form for Transfield to obtain these items. On several occasions—and this is just the feeling that I got from the situation—it seemed to be that they did not want to be seen to be giving preferential treatment to certain asylum seekers, so, if there was a pair of shoes that were able to fit, they were hesitant to hand them out because—

Ms Blucher : Unless they had 10 of them.

Ms Betts : Yes, unless they had 10 of them—unless they had a full amount of shoes or well-fitting clothes. It was all or none.

CHAIR: For goodness sake! How many children were on Nauru?

Ms Betts : While I was there, the capacity reached 129 children.

CHAIR: So you are saying that there was expenditure of $1.2 billion in logistics services and we could not get 120 pairs of shoes to fit those children on Nauru?

Ms Betts : Yes.

CHAIR: That it took months and appointments and requisitions for 120 pairs of shoes?

Ms Betts : Yes.

Ms Blucher : And that is when there were planes arriving frequently during the week. Why couldn't they put a bunch of shoes on a plane? This is what I do not understand.

CHAIR: How frequent were the turnover of staff and the aircraft?

Ms Blucher : Our flights were always on the same day each week, so I do not know how many flights there were.

CHAIR: Once a week?

Ms Betts : While I was there, there was a public flight that Save the Children was utilising, and there was also a separate charter flight through Wilson Security.

CHAIR: Logistically, the stuff would arrive by airfreight or seafreight?

Ms Betts : It was seafreight in shipping containers, to my belief.

Senator KIM CARR: Let us just deal with the clothing. Where does that come from?

Ms Betts : Brisbane.

Senator KIM CARR: Who provides that? Is it new? Is it second-hand? What is the contract?

Ms Blucher : I have been to a clothing appointment, so maybe I can step you through what happens. Essentially, clients are issued with a slip that tells them that they have a clothing or material needs appointment for a particular time next day. They then present at a tent in the middle of the camp; half of that tent is the canteen and half is for property, like clothing. The staff that attend that tent are from Transfield. The client takes that slip and lines up outside that tent. When it is their turn, they will be called in, and then they go to the counter, provide the slip and say what they need. The staff there have a list of the clothing items that they are allowed to have. They will ask what the size is and then they will go and look for it, but often they will not have the particular size or the particular item, so they will give them something else that does not fit. There is also no language support, so I think there is an issue there as well, because the clients cannot communicate what they need to the English-speaking staff well.

Senator KIM CARR: All right. I take you to the Doogan report. I understand you have had a bit of trouble finding out from the department what the review process will be following the Moss report. One of the recommendations there was that there be a further review established. I am reading through your submission. It suggested that Holding Redlich has made numerous attempts to find out what that process will involve. Finally, on 19 May, there was a telephone discussion indicating that Christopher Doogan, a former registrar of the High Court, would be conducting a review and 'had been provided with draft terms of reference, the un-redacted version of the Moss Review and some other documents'. Have you seen the terms of reference?

Ms Blucher : No. Our lawyers have requested it, but I think you will see on the next page, at point 27:

On or about 23 June 2015, the Department informed Holding Redlich in a telephone discussion that … Mr Doogan would not be providing Holding Redlich with the terms of reference for the review …

Senator KIM CARR: So you have been advised that there would be no adverse finding against you?

Ms Blucher : That has been told to our lawyers, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: But you will not be getting the terms of reference.

Ms Blucher : No, and it says here that the review will be completed by the end of June, but I do not—

Senator KIM CARR: You have not had any further advice?

Ms Blucher : We have not had any further information.

Senator KIM CARR: So that is the latest information that you have.

Ms Blucher : That is correct, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: What is your response to that advice from your solicitors that you have no adverse finding? You have had what appear to be very serious allegations made against you. You have been deported. Your public reputation has been put through the mill through the Telegraph. There are no adverse findings. Are you seeking an apology? What is your response to them?

Ms Blucher : I would seek to know what the information was that led to that decision being made, because I think that if anybody has such a significant allegation made against them they should have the right to respond to that and explain. I feel that perhaps it might be some minor issue that I could explain, if it is anything at all.

Senator KIM CARR: It says there were no adverse findings.

Ms Blucher : But the decision must have been based on something, so I would like to know what that decision was based on so that I can respond to that.

Senator KIM CARR: It is based on an intelligence report.

Ms Blucher : But I would also seek to have a public apology or some sort of public acknowledgement that there was no wrongdoing on our part and also have some sort of accountability mechanisms put in place to prevent that from happening again to other people, because I think that the effect that that removal had on other staff members would have been chilling in that they would have been concerned about making reports.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you think that the events you have been through will affect your employment prospects?

Ms Blucher : I would hope not, but I do not know.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you think you are entitled to compensation?

Ms Blucher : It is not my most important consideration.

Senator KIM CARR: No, it might not be, but is this matter simply resolved by an apology?

Ms Blucher : I think that, for the way that we have been treated, there would be some entitlement to compensation for harm—lost income, mental health impacts and things like that. But, to be honest, I do not feel good talking about compensation, because I feel like it is the least important thing in relation to the seriousness of the harm that is occurring to asylum seekers in the offshore processing centre. So it does not feel right to me to talk about it.

Senator KIM CARR: Fair enough. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence. If you did take anything on notice—and I am not sure that you did—we would want the answer by 24 July. Thank you very much for appearing today.