26 March 2012

2010 report warned Australian immigration authorities before detention centre riots

A 2010 report by an independent consultant warned Australian immigration authorities that conditions in the Christmas Island detention centre could result in a riot if they weren't addressed.

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Australian immigration authorities were warned a year before the riots of the poor conditions which eventually led to disaster.

The report, commissioned in March 2010, 12 months before the riots which rocked the facility and triggered the ongoing Australian immigration row, warned the federal government that mismanagement could result in a disaster similar to the one which occured in the following March.

The report, by independent consultant Keith Hamburger, stated that the freeze on new asylum claims for Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers divided the detainees and created separate 'classes' of asylum seeker.

The report also specifically cited overcrowding and staff shortages as threats to maintaining order in the centre.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has claimed he was not aware of the report's findings until after the riots, in which buildings were set on fire and several members of staff were assaulted.

Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison labelled the report as the "canary in the mineshaft" and highlighted evidence given to a parliamentary committee in December 2011 by department secretary Andrew Metcalfe in which he admitted knowledge of the report's findings.

"We were certainly conscious of the issues that he was raising in May but we continued to work with [Mr Hamburger], and it was some time before we received the final report," Mr Metcalfe told the committee.

A spokesperson for Mr Bowen, who assumed the immigration portfolio in September 2010, six months before the riot, said one of Mr Bowen's first actions had been to publicly acknowledge the pressures in the detention centres and discuss ways to address them.

"Today there are just 191 detainees on Christmas Island, and about 3,800 in detention centres on CI and the mainland," said the spokesperson. "Significantly below the thousands on CI alone at the time of the incidents."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people lodge their Australian visa application with the Australian High Commission

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