More pressure on Comcare, DIBP over detention centre safety

Questions continue to be raised by lawyers over Comcare’s limited role in preventing abuse at offshore immigration detention centres. Psychiatrists and social workers have alleged that reports of child sexual abuse were ignored by Australian officials, and that secrecy only adds to the health and safety risk.

The civil rights-focused Australian Lawyers Alliance wants Comcare to “immediately investigate” allegations that sexual and physical abuse in detention centres was tolerated for 17 months by other parts of the government including the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The lawyers’ group says an open letter published yesterday by a group of 23 psychiatrists and social workers who worked at the Nauru detention centre is “the first direct evidence that the Commonwealth, with knowledge of the physical and mental harm being caused, did not take the appropriate steps to protect individuals from that harm”.

Comcare is responsible for monitoring health and safety in Commonwealth workplaces and taking enforcement action in cases of non-compliance with Work Health and Safety legislation. It has found no evidence of WHS breaches in several inspections of the offshore detention centres, despite consistently receiving far more reports of injury, illness and harm than for other workplaces it oversees.

On behalf of the ALA, outspoken asylum seeker advocate and criminal lawyer Greg Barns said in a statement there was a distinct possibility that the Commonwealth could be held liable by courts in future compensation cases:

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