Comcare must prosecute for Nauru abuses

10th Aug 2016

The Nauru files detailing large-scale abuse of detainees in offshore detention camps on Nauru show that Comcare, the Commonwealth workplace regulator, must prosecute for offences, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

Today thousands of incident reports have been released by the Guardian showing the ongoing abuse of children, women and men on Nauru.

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said authorities need to immediately scrutinise and lay charges against those responsible for the breaches.

“These files again point to the urgent need for Comcare to investigate and prosecute the Commonwealth and contractors for breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth),” Mr Barns said.

“It is important to note that this Act applies to Australian activities on Nauru, and it clearly states that workplaces must not only be safe for employees and contractors but any person who is in that workplace. This of course means detainees as well,” Mr Barns said.

“The Australian Lawyers Alliance published a comprehensive report outlining the liability of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and contractors under the WHS Act in June this year.”

“That report makes it clear that Comcare should be prosecuting under Part 13 of that Act for abuses in Nauru and Manus Island,” Mr Barns said.

“It has been known for years now that people are being abused and mistreated in Australia’s offshore detention network. The Australian Human Rights Commission revealed it, Senate Inquiries have revealed it, and advocacy groups have revealed it.”

“It is outrageous that the government continues to ignore such overwhelming evidence,” Mr Barns said.

“It is not good enough to argue that this is Nauru’s responsibility. The Federal Court has found that the government owes a duty of care to refugees on Nauru. Our report also outlined how the WHS Act applies in the offshore immigration regime.”

“Only last month a Royal Commission was instituted to investigate abuse of children in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory after images of abuse in Don Dale were aired. Asylum seekers and refugees deserve a similar level of scrutiny,” Mr Barns said.

“From what the Guardian has revealed, the abuses that the detainees suffer are as bad, or worse, than those revealed in Don Dale”, Mr Barns said.

Mr Barns said that the Guardian files also pointed to the need to reform secrecy laws surrounding immigration detention facilities.

“We call on the Commonwealth to repeal the secrecy provisions of the Australian Border Force Act. That Act contains serious civil and criminal penalties, including two years’ imprisonment for detention centre workers disclosing information they obtain at work.

“It is essential that information of this nature is available to the public in Australia. It is our name these abuses are being committed in and our money that is being spent on keeping these people on this island,” Mr Barns said.

“Government arguments that secrecy is required for reasons of national security is quite frankly farcical. How can it be a threat to national security to know that children are regularly being abused in our name?”

ALA’s report, Untold Damage, is available here:

Tags: WorkCover Asylum seekers and refugees Comcare