September 17, 2013
Freedom of information requests reveal that key reports from companies that run detention centres do not exist.
Widespread failures by global security companies Serco and G4S to report on Australia’s detention centres are raising concerns about whether the quality of care provided to asylum seekers is being accurately monitored by the Department of Immigration (Diac).
A freedom of information (FOI) investigation by Guardian Australia has revealed that key reports from Serco and G4S, the companies that run detention centres on Australia’s mainland, and the regional processing centre on Manus Island, do not exist.
The scale of the failures has never been publicly reported before, and exposes major gaps in reporting by both companies as well as Diac’s oversight of the centres.
There are no “joint performance reports” from the Manus Island processing facility from February to June 2013, according to a letter from Diac responding to FOI requests for the documents.
The reports were intended to monitor the welfare, care, security, health and medical, counselling and education of detainees, according to theperformance management framework for the Manus facility, released under a further FOI request.
Greg Lake, a former Diac employee turned whistleblower who worked in Canberra from July 2011 to December 2012 as the director of regional processing operations, said the failure to produce the report would affect the quality of care provided to detainees at the Manus facility.
“[It affects] how easy it is to access clothes washing and toilet amenities, how often water is being turned on and off … those really fundamental things that are being affected by infrastructure works. This [the report] is a chance for Canberra to be made aware of the collective concerns of the people on the ground and then choose to take action or not,” he said.
Serious allegations of sexual assault on detaineesat the regional processing facility on Manus were made on SBS Dateline in July. Guardian Australia understands the allegations of assault were made between March and April 2013, when the oversight reports had not been completed.
Guardian Australia has previously reported that the joint committee between the Australian government and Papua New Guinea government to oversee processing times on Manus had never met.
“The Manus Island [joint performance] report is absolutely critical because that forum is one which ultimately brings together all service providers contracted by Diac to discuss priorities and directions,” said Lake.
The contract between G4S and the Department of Immigration, a copy of which which was obtained by New Matilda earlier this month, says: “The joint performance report must be delivered to the department every month within 10 business days of the end of each month. The report will provide an overview of the operations in the site.”
A spokesman for G4S said: “G4S was not required to file its first report under the performance management framework until August 2013. G4S has complied in full with the timetable for reporting established by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.”
The first transfers to the reopened regional processing centre on Manus Island occurred in November 2012.
The Department of Immigration did not respond to questions about the Manus Island reports.
Separate FOI requests have revealed extensive reporting failures by Serco, which runs Australia’s mainland detention facilities, dating back to 2011. Numerous reports have never been made to Diac from the Serco-run detention facilities at Villawood, Christmas Island and Curtin.
Each detention facility in Australia was expected to lodge a service excellence review team report and required under contract to produce a joint executive report, but letters from Diac responding to FOI requests have confirmed they too have not been produced.
The service excellence review team reports are designed to monitor issues in detention centres, and “assess the service provider’s performance against the incentive indicator metrics”.
They were expected to have been produced for each individual facility in Australia. They were also expected to include an independent auditor and Diac representatives.
But FOI requests to the department for these reports from April 2011 and January 2013 at Villawood, Christmas Island and Curtin detention facilities all returned the same result: the documents could not be delivered because they do not exist.
According to Serco’s 2009 contract with Diac, which expires in 2014, the joint executive reports should have looked at “key issues identified during the month”, “contractual management issues that have arisen” and “issues in relation to people in detention that have occurred and been resolved”.
Lake said the failures to produce these reports were because some national meetings were not taking place in Canberra between Serco and the department. He said the lack of these reports means that the government is unable to evaluate properly whether Serco should suffer financial penalty for poor performance.
“There were situations where we couldn’t seek abatements from Serco, financial penalties from Serco, because our hands were tied on the ground by decisions taken by a meeting that wasn’t always taking place, so we couldn’t even raise our concerns,” Lake said.
“Oversight issues relating to expenses and abatements and incident reports weren’t being overseen properly.”
Heath Chapple, the acting managing director of Serco Asia Pacific, sent an email on 23 April 2012 to Diac that said: “The joint executive report was designed as a shared responsibility between the department’s regional manager and the Serco centre manager. In practice, most centres do not produce this report. Instead, these areas are covered in daily, weekly and monthly formal meetings.”
He added that “issues are reported separately from the department regional management and the Serco centre manager to their respective organisations, through internal reporting channels”.
But Lake said the mechanisms Chapple referred to were “informal” processes and were insufficient for effective oversight.
“There was no formal mechanism for Diac staff on the ground to raise and have the attention of the national executive. Those meetings in Canberra where they would look at those issues and say ‘this is what we think should happen’, weren’t being held.”
Serco and G4S have been contracted by Diac to run Australian detention facilities, and it is not clear why the department are not regularly requesting the production of these reports.
Diac also declined to comment on the oversight reports from the facilities run by Serco.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the party’s spokesperson for immigration, said the revelations highlighted there was “no proper reporting of what is happening inside our Australian taxpayer-funded detention centres”.
She added: “The deals with private contractors who run immigration detention centres are worth hundreds of millions of dollars and it is simply not good enough that basic reporting requirements aren’t being met. Both Serco and G4S should held accountable if they have breached their contracts.
“We know from whistleblower and personal accounts from refugees that the conditions inside detention centres are getting worse every day. The Manus Island detention centre is riddled with accounts of degrading and inhumane conditions.”
Serco Asia Pacific did not respond to a request for comment from Guardian Australia by deadline.