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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 19/10/2010 - IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP PORTFOLIO - Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Senator CASH -Thank you. My understanding is that Senator «Hanson»-«Young» will actually take us through to the dinner break. Thank you very much, Mr Correll, and I will be providing questions to you. Thank you very much.

Senator Hanson-Young -Thank you, Senator Cash. As I have limited time, I thought I would talk mainly about trying to tease out where we are going with the announcement yesterday but then also some of the things in relation to the service providers in the various detention facilities. I might move to yesterday's announcement first. Firstly, I just want a clarification. Maybe if Senator Carr is not here.

Mr Metcalfe -He is not far away. We can keep going.

Senator Hanson-Young -Okay. I am wondering whether, in light of yesterday's announcement, the minister's previously announced review into the detention network is still underway or was yesterday's announcement it? We wait for it to be rolled out?

Mr Metcalfe -Certainly I think the minister would probably say you would never say you are not going to review the facilities, but he has clearly said that there are firm plans to move to a couple of locations and there are clearly identified contingency facilities. So I do not think the minister would be seeing any need for further examination of the issue for the foreseeable future.

Senator Hanson-Young -The review per se that had originally been announced is not necessarily still going?

Mr Metcalfe -The minister made it clear soon after he became minister on 17 September and he made some announcements that there would be further work done. That is clearly the work that has been done and announced yesterday and the minister has laid out a plan for what he believes is prudent, responsible provision of places in detention to be used if necessary. Some contingency sites have been clearly identified so that appropriate consultation and other discussions can occur. As well, of course, there was a major announcement relating to the use of residence determination for minors and for vulnerable families.

Senator Hanson-Young -In relation to the announcement about residence determination, and particularly vulnerable children and families, we know that a time frame has been set down because of the reality of needing to roll out that process. I understand that. Has there been any thought of removing the restrictions of movement from the current facilities in which families are housed, such as the Aspen or the Darwin Lodge?

Mr Metcalfe -I am not aware of any such consideration, but I could take that on notice.

Senator Hanson-Young -Could you?

Mr Metcalfe -Certainly the immediate focus is to now engage closely with the Red Cross and other organisations-church groups and others-and map out a plan for how we can bring about residence determinations. One of the things the minister made clear, though, was that they would be individual assessments based on particular needs and risks. That is why I think the focus is on working through the most vulnerable cases first, getting the arrangements in place. While I have taken it on notice, I have not seen any announcement about any change to the circumstances of people located in motels, for example, at the moment.

Senator Hanson-Young -In relation to dealing with the need that the minister has identified to individually assess each person's status of vulnerability and therefore eligibility to fit within this new residence determination, is the department being tasked to increase resources, for example personnel, to make sure we can move more people through that process ideally before June?

Mr Metcalfe -We certainly will be focused on that activity. It is probably more a reassignment of resources than additional resources. We will be going through a process and working with our key advisory body, the Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution, to identify people most at risk-obviously unaccompanied minors or a particular priority group, such as the folks held at Port Augusta and at the MITA; vulnerable families; young children; or people in cases where there may be torture and trauma issues evident. We have a strong and established casework service and that will be the centrepiece. We are now moving to an implementation phase, and we are obviously happy to keep you briefed about that.

Senator Hanson-Young -One of my concerns is that a number of the people who are in these facilities have not had that referral to, say, the external torture and trauma counsellors, so it would be good to get a determination or a recommendation back that those people should perhaps be on that vulnerable list. I would say that there needs to be a bit more of the direct, hands-on resources put in to get those people help.

Mr Metcalfe -There will certainly be proper resourcing. We are focused on implementing this properly and in accordance with the time frame, working closely with the community sector. The Red Cross has been a critical partner in this area, as well as, obviously, the torture and trauma groups and others. Of course, there will be consideration not only of needs but of risks; the minister has made that clear. So, where persons may not be prepared to abide by the conditions or where there may be security issues, clearly those are going to be factors as well. There will be individual case management of each of these folks, and we will be putting resources into making sure it happens properly.

Senator Hanson-Young -In terms of the external organisations-the Red Cross, Uniting Care, Hotham Mission and all of those-what is the time frame for working out how much extra funding those organisations are going to need?

Mr Metcalfe -There are some initial discussions occurring tomorrow. Mr Tickner from the Red Cross will be in Canberra tomorrow meeting with senior departmental officials. As you know, we have had a very good relationship with the Red Cross. They have done a great job in the five or six years that residence determinations have been in place.

Senator Hanson-Young -Absolutely.

Mr Metcalfe -It has been in relation to smaller numbers of people. So clearly we will be working with the Red Cross and others-you have mentioned Hotham Mission-to establish a way of managing this particular initiative. But there is a strong will to make this work effectively. We are delighted by the response from the community sector to help us in this area.

Senator Hanson-Young -I think it is wonderful that people have been so willing to put up their hand and help. The issue is that they are going to need that extra support to do that.

Mr Metcalfe -That is correct.

Senator Hanson-Young -The Red Cross, for example, are on the record saying they are going to need extra support.

Mr Metcalfe -They are supporting us and the Commonwealth will be supporting them in this particular measure.

Senator Hanson-Young -Thank you. I want to go to the issues in relation to what is currently going on in some of these facilities. I want to firstly touch on the issues in relation to the increased number of attempted self-harm attempts and suicide. There obviously has been an increase. We could argue about that being because of numbers or whatever.

Mr Metcalfe -We are not arguing about it.

Senator Hanson-Young -There has been an increase. What has the department started to put in place? What is your plan for dealing with the increase?

Mr Metcalfe -In my opening comments this morning, which are obviously in the Hansard, I said that it is a sad but regrettable fact that we are seeing, because of the increased length of some people's time in detention and because of their disappointment with decisions-either delayed decisions or the fact that decisions have not been positive for them-a range of behaviours occurring. Most tragically, of course, we saw a suicide recently, which is being properly investigated; I cannot comment further. That is obviously a very tragic occurrence. We have seen a number of self-harm attempts. We have seen other difficult issues for us to manage. We understand that, and we are very committed to working with people in detention to try to reduce the stress that they have, but we accept it is a sad fact of the business we are in. I also made the point that our staff and those of our service providers-IHMS, Life Without Barriers and Serco-are all very much focused on this issue as well, but Mr Correll might have a bit more detail on some of the precise measures that are underway.

Mr Correll -This is an area where the role of case managers is absolutely vital in all of the centres, and also the nature of activities that are set up and structured at the centres and keeping a strong activity program. There was discussion earlier in the hearings today about a major aquaculture activity at Curtin. Curtin was a site where almost all of the people were subject to the suspension arrangements and, therefore, the development of a very comprehensive activities program was vital. I think that has broken a lot of new ground in some terrific initiatives at that location. I think that shows when you visit that particular location.

So all of those measures are underway, together with close linkages into torture and trauma counselling and very close monitoring and review. Not only the department's case managers but also Serco are very heavily involved in this activity. Having said all of that, incidents of self-harm are still way down on where they have historically sometimes been in the past, but we are working across all of those measures. Certainly, the use of residential determinations should be a key area of help in that area. You would be aware that there have been some self-harm attempts at the MITA in Melbourne with the unaccompanied minors there. That is an area where we would see an immediate vulnerable group for careful consideration.

Senator Hanson-Young -Can I just touch on the issue of case managers. It seems to me that it is always going to be very difficult to keep that monitoring of somebody's mental health and their complex needs when we have a constant rotation of their case managers. I have spoken to many of them about how they share information and update each other and pass that on, but it seems to be one of the key issues that have been raised with me and with others-that people feel as if they are having to retell their story and rejustify their needs for assistance. They feel as if they were promised a referral and then it does not happen because their case manager has changed. What types of practical things are we doing to address the issue of the constant changeover of case managers?

Mr Metcalfe -Ms Hand might comment a little bit more about that.

Ms Hand -As you noted earlier, we need to make sure that we have the right ratio of case managers to our increasing client population. So we are in the midst, in concert with Marilyn Prothero, who is the division head for our people division, of a major recruitment exercise to bring in and train-and that is very important: train-more case managers. To date, we have been relying not predominantly but in large part, I should say, on internal people, because obviously you need specific skills to be able to do case management and have specific behaviours as a person-interpersonal skills et cetera.

To date, as you have said, we have had short-term deployments rather than longer term deployments. We are now looking at longer term deployments. We are also looking to increase significantly the number of case managers and assistant case managers and, in fact, over the course of the next five months to almost double the number we have not just to deal with IMAs but also to backfill the normal case management in areas from where we have taken people to look after IMAs. So we are very conscious of that and we have a very active program to manage clients on a sort of three-tiered basis-really active case management for sensitive clients.

Senator Hanson-Young -It was quite positive to hear about the recruitment of more case managers. I think that is absolutely vital, and investing of course in our own internal Commonwealth capital means that when they are not needed they can go back but we have already trained those people when we do need them. I totally get that. I think that is really important. But just let me clarify: with the recruitment of those case managers, your view is to then be able to extend the period of time by which they are assigned individual cases; is that right?

Ms Hand -That is right, and not have so many short-term deployments. Obviously it is a taxing job and you would not want to put someone in a centre for three years, because they would be stressed themselves. The other thing I would say is that we are putting huge effort into the training and mentoring for case managers such that they are equipped if they are new people coming in to do the job well from the beginning.

Senator Hanson-Young -Great. Thank you. Just moving on to the service providers within the facilities, I was just wondering whether the department has a scheduled review of performance of both Serco as the managers of the detention facilities and also IHMS? Is that something that is in our existing contracts with them and, if so, where are we up to? Are we in the process of a review?

Mr Correll -The answer to that is, yes, very much so. There is a very strong performance management regime built into the contracts with Serco and IHMS, the medical service provider. I will ask my colleague Ms Wilson to comment.

Ms Wilson -Clearly, in such a busy period of ramp-up we are meeting with all service providers quite regularly at a senior level, so we would meet with them face to face at least fortnightly and talk to them quite often. We have formal processes within both the IHMS contract and the Serco contract for monitoring performance monthly and to review a set of metrics to tell us how they are going against different criteria that are specified in each contract. We take those very seriously because, especially as we expand across centres, we need to make sure that each centre is self-sustaining, we have the right mix of staff and we have the right skilled and trained people. So we are actively following up on all of those arrangements on a regular basis.

Senator Hanson-Young -Will there be any type of ministerial statement in terms of an audit of either of their performances? Is that something that is part of the contract? I know it is difficult for Senator Carr to answer this and it might be something that is going to have to be taken on notice, but would there be any publication of their performance and audit of their performance?

Mr Correll -Their performance is subject to the rigorous contract management. All of our regional managers have in fact gone through accredited contract management programs which have been specifically developed to give them very strong contract management skills. So they go through that process. They represent the local contract manager on the ground, working closely with Serco at a given site location. The overall contracts are managed from the centre, where Ms Wilson will liaise directly with the principals of the organisations concerned, and then there are periodic key performance review processes that are undertaken. If there are issues then performance under the contract will impact on the payments made under the contract. So there is a fairly rigorous process. I do not believe there are any proposals for more broadly publishing performance at this time, although there is of course a periodic tender process that it goes through where-

Senator Hanson-Young -But we are still five years out or something, aren't we?

Mr Correll -That is a pretty tough performance regime to go through.

Senator Hanson-Young -Have there been any recorded breaches of the arrangement-of the contract-in the last 12 months from Serco?

Ms Wilson -I am not sure if you would call it breaches per se, but as Mr Correll indicated there are abatement mechanisms under the contract, so for repeated failures in a number of areas. In addition to what Mr Correll said, we also monitor consistency and performance across centres because if there is a multiple breach in the same area then they are subject to an abatement as well. In a previous contract, it was just about a number of escapes or things like that; this is actually about delivering a certain standard of service across all facilities. As Mr Correll indicated, we train the staff in each centre but then we also look at the metrics of each centre on a monthly basis and compare improvements or deteriorations and then follow that up with a meeting at a senior level.

Senator Hanson-Young -Unless I know something in particular which I had to ask you a question about, none of this is actually available publicly, is it?

Ms Wilson -No.

Senator Hanson-Young -I assume that is not for Serco; that is also meant for the health provider, IHMS?

Ms Wilson -That is right.

Senator Hanson-Young -My last question actually goes from the issues in relation to the service provision and publication of performance to the publication of the number of arrivals, the people in detention, children, their nationalities, those sorts of things-that is, the statistics. The department's own website says that the statistics will be updated weekly but this has not really been happening. What is the reason for that? Is this going to be rectified in the near future?

Ms Wilson -If you are talking about the document 'Immigration Detention Statistics Summary', we do aim to update it weekly. There have been problems with data and integrating data from different systems which we have experienced in the last few weeks. We are trying to get all of that sorted out and it certainly is still our aim to make those figures correct. We are just trying to work through some of those issues because the data that forms the basis of that document is extracted from a range of different systems.

Senator Hanson-Young -It is because people are more dispersed now; is that what you are saying?

Mr Correll -The data area has been a challenge for us. As the number of irregular maritime arrivals has grown and we have had new sites come on stream, that has presented some technology challenges to the department to bring all of that into its mainstream computer system processing rather than having lots of small databases. We are getting there but it has presented some issues in the way we gather data and statistics. I think we are confident that we should be able to keep the data rolling at the present stage.

Senator Hanson-Young -My concern is that it has not been updated, and I take on board that there have been reasons for that. For example, the information on there on 12 October was from 12 September, so it was a month out of date. When we are talking about a lot of public scrutiny going on and all of those types of things, I think it is really important that the information that is publicly available is correct information.

Mr Correll -We would agree with that.

Ms Wilson -I think we now have 30 September on but we are working hard to catch up from there as well.

Senator Hanson-Young -In relation to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration reports. There were three reports, and we are yet to hear any response from the government to those reports or the recommendations. It has been quite some time now-12 months in relation to the most recent one and longer in relation to the other two. Is the government going to be responding to these reports? If so, when?

Mr Metcalfe -Senator, I will have to check with the minister in relation to that. Clearly, we have had a change of minister and he is getting across a whole range of issues. I do not know if he has considered that matter yet, but if you would like I could raise it with him and reply on notice.

Senator Hanson-Young -Thank you.

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