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Thursday 8 May 2003 22:30 WST
For Immediate Release
The declared withdrawal of Security Company Group 4 Falck from running asylum centres, places the Department of Immigration's tender process for new contractors to run detention centres in serious doubt, say Australian refugee advocates.
Last week Group 4 Falck sold its 57 percent stake in Wackenhut Corporation, as reported by Associated Press. Recently the Minister for Immigration Philip Ruddock announced that Group4 Falck was the preferred tenderer to run Australian detention centres, although it remains unclear when the current company in charge, Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) would hand over its contract to Group4 Falck.
According to AP - as reported in The Seattle Post - Group 4 Falck spokesman Nels Petersen said last week that the company's "interest is in guarding and alarm services, not in running prisons and asylum centers".
ACM Staff sacking in Baxter
Group 4 Falck's move away from running detention centres comes in a week that saw the sacking of three ACM staff at the Baxter detention centre for "breaching the code of conduct". The sackings come amid complaints of assault from detainees and indications that the Australian Federal Police will investigate.
Refugee advocates have received reports of alleged assaults through their networks and have spent considerable time urging Australian Federal Police as well as South Australian Police to investigate these incidents.
Melbourne refugee advocate Pamela Curr reports that while ACM have conducted an internal investigation and sacked three staff, the Australian Federal Police will not begin their investigation until next week.
In a letter written yesterday to Australian Federal Police, Ms Curr suggested that "ACM would not sack 3 guards unless they felt that criminal charges were inevitable", and she urges AFP to promptly proceed with its investigation. "You have the formal requests on behalf of the victims of the assaults and you have the names of witnesses who have indicated a willingness to give evidence so the matter should now be able to be pursued with vigor", Ms Curr writes.
Last year, after an alleged and reported assault of a minor at the Woomera detention centre, three former ACM guards failed to appear before Australian courts on three occasions to answer charges, while ACM alleged they could not locate the former staff member. Refugee advocates report that at least one of those ACM Staff currently works at the Baxter detention centre again.
Mr Jack Smit of WA based refugee group Project SafeCom said that these events provide perfect timing for Minister Ruddock to admit to the abject failure of his mandatory detention regime, which can only be kept in place with excessive squandering of taxpayers' money.
"The government should abandon the mandatory detention model which has seen camps in isolated locations where pain and suffering are inflicted on detainees. We should return to the Reception Centre model which welcomed Vietnamese refugees in the 70's and assisted them into the community."
Just two days ago, Dr Louise Newman, spokesperson for the Royal Australasian College of Psychiatrists lodged with two other medical experts three medical negligence complaints against ACM with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.
"Minister Ruddock's policies have no longer any relationship to border protection; they are about a Minister who is unwilling - or unable - to face up to an overwhelming body of damning evidence from experts and refugee advocates alike", Mr Smit said.
Minister Ruddock's policy has destroyed lives. "It is an experiment in deterrence which has gone horribly wrong, leaving in its wake abused and damaged children, distressed and made mentally ill adults struggling to survive amidst the brutality of constant musters, room searches, body searches, the threat and actuality of physical abuse and the systemic abuse of never knowing when detention will end. Added to this, is the threat of deportation which for many, presents the fear of more imprisonment, torture or death", Curr continued.
SBS's Insight this week revealed yet more intrigue by ACM and DIMIA, disappearance of essential coronial inquest evidence, as well as denials and 'squirming around facts' by the Minister of Immigration in the story of the death of Mohammed Saleh.
Mr Smit expects that the current policies of mandatory detention will end with many class actions against the government by failed asylum seekers for torture, amounting to billions of dollars.
"It's too late to turn this around", Mr Smit said. "Hundreds of asylum seekers have been permanently damaged by the appalling regime of the Australian government, and no doubt they will be back - not for new asylum claims, but for justice through compensation. This government steals and destroys the lives and the sanity of asylum seekers, and they will need to pay for this, not just in class action but also in its good name around the world."
"As we have heard this week, Australia also pays dearly with its human rights record, with Professor Spencer Zifcak of The Australia Institute being quoted as saying that "the long-term harm to standards of human rights internationally is incalculable."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
National Spokesperson for the Greens
[phone number posted]
Doctors challenge detainee health care
ABC Lateline 6/5/2003
Group 4 Falck Sells Stake in Wackenhut
The Seattle Post, May 1, 2003
Group 4 Falck
The case of a bashed boy and three missing guards
The Age 05/10/2002 (Russell Skelton)