Hasty arrangements and reduced health services at Manus detention facilities
Refugee accommodation at West Lorengau does not appear to have been finalised at the time of the closure of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre on 31 October last year, contrary to assertions by the Federal Government, according to documents detailing Australia’s arrangements with contractors in PNG.
The documents – redacted contracts and agreements made with service providers in PNG – were provided in response to an Order for Production of Documents (OPD) made by NXT Senator Stirling Griff, and show what appears to be hasty arrangements and contract variations made weeks after the Manus RPC’s closure.
The release of the redacted documents follows the Government’s initial refusal to supply any of them on the grounds of public interest immunity because it might impact Australia’s relations with PNG. Senator Griff sought them in the wake of conflicting claims made by Government and observers on the ground about the state of the West Lorengau accommodations (as opposed to the pre-existing East Lorengau Transit Centre) in the weeks after the Manus RPC closed.
The redacted documents only show a partial picture, but they put into serious question the Government and Department’s assertion that accommodation and services at West Lorengau were completed and ready for the hundreds of men meant to be rehoused there from 31 October.
They also put into question the adequacy of the contracted health and medical services provided at Lorengau.
The documents supplied by the Department of Home Affairs show:
- Construction contractor Hornibrook NGI made a ‘variation price request’ on 15 October 2017 for the installation of prefabricated buildings at the “300 man camp at Lorengau (West Lorengau Haus)”, but it was not approved until 15 November - more than two weeks after the closure of the Manus RPC.
According to the schedule of works, the positioning of the accommodation and office units was expected to take 11 days, but if this work did not commence until the variation was approved by the Department, then the accommodation units at West Lorengau were still being erected weeks after the closure - at a time most of the men refused to leave the Manus RPC due to fears for their safety and at least a week after the Government reportedly stated that the accommodation was “fully operational”.
- The agreement with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) appears to show limited staffing of mental health services in PNG compared to its previous agreements. It appears to stipulate one psychiatrist, two mental health nurses, two mental health counsellors and one mental health team leader – what appears to be six mental health professionals for more than 600 men. Emergency services are only provided on site during clinic hours, which aren’t stipulated in the documents provided.
The department has redacted relevant information that does not appear to be commercially sensitive or go Australia’s relationship with PNG (the Government’s reason for initially refusing to supply any of the documents requested by the OPD). For instance, it redacts the maximum deployment period of IHMS staff, plus their start and end dates. Why is that?
- While the Government has supplied a heavily redacted Heads of Agreement with IHMS from 2014, my office separately obtained the 2012 Heads of Agreement with IHMS which was tabled in the Senate, almost in full. That document shows what appears to be much more generous onsite staffing arrangements at Manus once the number of asylum seekers hit 500 or more: 2 psychologists, 1 psychiatrist (0.5 FTE), 5 mental health nurses, 2 mental health team leaders and counselling provided via Sydney as telemedicine. Also 5 nurses and 5 paramedics, 1 GP and another locally engaged GP.
- According to the 2012 agreement, IHMS provided emergency services after clinic hours, seven days a week (where currently emergency services are only provided during clinic hours). It also provided a dentist and dental assistant, which are not mentioned in the current arrangements.
“I know a number of bodies, including UNHCR, have raised concerns about the adequacy of medical services and mental health staffing at Lorengau and, prima facie, it seems that these concerns are substantiated,” Senator Griff says.
- The Department has only supplied the draft contracts with Paladin and JDA Wokman, which were still being negotiated in December. The Department admitted as late as Estimates hearings on 26 February it did not yet have signed contracts with these providers.
- Paladin was providing garrison services and accommodation management from 1 November, but a letter of intent from the Department to Paladin on 4 December notes that while contract negotiations had progressed, “a number of matters relating to the draft contract remain to be fully agreed”.
“This raises a number of questions,” Senator Griff says. “What matters were still to be agreed, and have they had any bearing on the services offered on the ground? Why was this contract still in draft form, months after the closure of Manus RPC, given the Government had ample time to prepare for the transition?”
- A letter from the Department to JDA Wokman, endorsed 29 December, noted “final approvals are still to be obtained and as such there is no contract between the parties in relation to the provision of the Services” and that the draft contract would apply. The documents provided through the OPD do not include any of the schedules listed in the draft contract, including the schedule which outlines the scope of work to be delivered by JDA Wokman.
- The OPD returned no documents relating to site management provider NWK Group.
“As I said after the first OPD was rebuffed by the Government: I sought these documents because I wanted to get to the truth about what has happened at West Lorengau and the conditions the men are facing there.
“However, the documents provided have only added to my questions, not cleared them up. What has been provided speaks of a hasty and disorganised process – where final contracts may still not have been issued for the transitional arrangements,” Senator Griff says.
“The documents also affirm the concerns of observers on the ground, that medical and mental health services have been scaled back compared to what was previously delivered at the Manus RPC – and yet, these men aren’t healthier than they were then. If anything, their prolonged detention means they have a greater need for these services.”