Australian border agency admits failures over Nauru abuse claims

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 2:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 2:50pm

The Australian Border Force admitted internally that it failed to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual assault and abuse on Nauru but did not disclose these findings to a parliamentary inquiry.

A tranche of internal emails obtainedunder freedom of information laws reveals the reaction of the agency after the Guardian published leaked reports on the abuse of children in Australian offshore detention. The agency deployed at least eight Australian Border Force officers to work on it, and contracted staff to conduct forensic work and data analysis.

The internal emails show the Department of Immigration and Border Protection set up a special taskforce to assess whether incidents detailed in the Nauru files were appropriately responded to.

The taskforce’s final report identifies six incidents with a severity rating of “major” where the immediate action taken was not deemed appropriate. This includes two incidents of an alleged assault on a minor, and one incident involving an alleged sexual assault of a minor. There is also one incident of self-harm where immediate action was not taken.

These internal findings were not disclosed in the department’s written submission to a parliamentary inquiry, set up in response to the publication of the files.

“The department continues to assist and support service providers, the government of Nauru, and local Nauruan authorities to support continuous improvement to incident response and reporting practices, including referrals for additional services or to the Nauru Police Force in cases of possible criminal wrongdoing,” the department’s submission said.

“Of the 281 reports categorised as being major incidents ... 270 incidents had immediate and appropriate action taken ... 11 had insufficient information to determine what actions were taken and accordingly it is not possible to determine if appropriate action was or was not taken.”

The 11 incidents with insufficient information include two categorised as “concern for a minor” and two self-harm incidents.

The assessment also acknowledges issues with the classification of incident reports, saying “reporting of incidents in 2013 was poor with a number of incidents misclassified when compared with the incident management framework. This situation progressively improved over the following two years.”

Incident reports in the Nauru files are classified by severity as critical, major, and minor. There is also a large number of reports classified as “information”, or with no classification. However, analysis of incidents classified as “information” in the database, rather than minor, major or critical, shows many incidents that could be considered major or critical.

The internal emails identified 249 minor, unclassified and information incidents that did not have an appropriate response, and 106 where immediate action was not taken. Within these are more than 20 incidents that involve children, as well as family violence incidents. None of these figures was disclosed to the parliamentary inquiry.

The immigration department has been contacted for comment.