By Ben Doherty
Immigration department asks AFP to investigate submission to Human
Rights Commission detailing sexual and physical abuse of children.
Child protection whistleblowers who alerted the Australian Human
Rights Commission (AHRC) to child sexual abuse, violence and self-harm
on Nauru are being investigated by the Australian federal police.
Guardian Australia has discovered the AFP has been asked by the
Department of Immigration and Border Protection to investigate Save the
Children staff who anonymously wrote a submission to the commission’s
inquiry, outlining cases of sexual and physical abuse of children, and
acts of self-harm.
said: “We believe that the children have been subjected to multiple
violations of their human rights and wrongdoing from multiple parties.
“Unfortunately, due to confidentiality clauses that have been imposed
on us by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, we are
unable to provide our full names and … titles … However, we believe the
evidence that will be submitted will validate the statements that we are
making in this submission.”
The submission detailed specific allegations – including names and
dates – of sexual abuse of child detainees, violence and bullying of
children, suicide attempts by children and medical neglect.
Appended to the submission as evidence of its claims were more than 100 working documents from Nauru, including minutes of meetings, incident reports, intelligence notes, and email correspondence.
Submission 183 was made public by the AHRC, but the appended documents were not.
The commission’s inquiry, which attracted more than 200 submissions, has been intensely controversial since its report, The Forgotten Children, was launched in February.
The report is excoriating of both Labor and Coalition administrations for their policies and practice of detaining children.
The commission was refused permission to visit Nauru. It relied on
first-hand professional accounts such as submission 183, and testimony
from detainees. The commission found: “Children on Nauru are suffering
from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and
Tony Abbott has rejected the report as partisan, and a “transparent stitch-up”.
The AFP confirmed to the commission it was investigating the author
or authors of submission 183 over the attached working documents.
Police are investigating a suspected breach of section 70 of the Crimes Act,
concerning “disclosure of information by commonwealth officers”. A
single disclosure carries a penalty of up to two years in jail.
Guardian Australia sought access to the suppressed documents attached
to submission 183 under freedom of information laws, but was refused
access. Guardian Australia was told by the AHRC the release of the
documents would prejudice a police investigation that was underway.
The AHRC said: “In oral submissions from the Australian federal
police they have confirmed there is a current investigation into the
unauthorised disclosure of the documents attached to submission 183.”
“The department and the AFP submit, and I accept, that disclosure of the documents would … prejudice the investigation”.
The immigration department told the AHRC the documents’ release would
“attract media attention” leading to a “real risk that material
witnesses may be discouraged from volunteering information”.
The immigration department confirmed to Guardian Australia the AFP investigation was commenced at its request.
“As the AFP is currently investigating this issue, it would not be
appropriate to comment further at this time,” a department spokeswoman
A spokesman said Save the Children was aware of the AFP investigation and would cooperate fully with police inquiries.
“The Forgotten Children report confirms Save the Children’s view that
prolonged, mandatory detention of children has profound and devastating
impacts on their physical and mental wellbeing. Our staff remain firmly
focused on doing everything in their power to minimise such harm, to
the extent possible in the circumstances,” the spokesman said.
The AFP confirmed to Guardian Australia it had “accepted the matter for investigation” and that the investigation was ongoing.
According to the AHRC, the attached documents withheld included:
Transfield Services incident investigation reports; the identities of
confidential intelligence sources within the detention centre, and;
“Wilson’s case notes dealing with a number of ongoing issues in relating
to bullying, racial tension, allegations of assault by a member of
staff, sexual assault harassment and intimated and specific threats to
Transfield Services said the public release of documents detailing
its operations and conditions on Nauru would reveal personal details of
detainees and compromise its ability to keep order.
“We are concerned that the disclosure of such documents may lead to
incidents of protest and riots as disclosure of such material may also
enable others to use the information to the detriment of the good order
of the operations of the regional processing centres,” it said.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government was obsessed
with shutting down voices of dissent, instead of addressing the issue of
“This is just another case of the Abbott government shooting the
messenger. Witch-hunts and cover ups won’t keep the children on Nauru
safe from harm.”
The AFP is regularly asked to investigate leaks of information from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Almost every referral made to the AFP
by federal government agencies for “unauthorised disclosure of
commonwealth information” in the past 18 months has been directly
related to journalists reporting on asylum seekers and immigration.
At least eight referrals to the police were on the subject of
asylum-seeker stories, over reports in Guardian Australia and the West
This article originally appeared 4 March in The Guardian.