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Federal

Mar 16, 2012

Serco manual 'outdated', but Bowen won't talk about new training docs

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen called the 2009 and 2010 Serco training manual published this week by Crikey "out-dated" and "no-longer in use", yet Bowen, the Immigration Department and Serco have refused to detail how it has been changed.

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Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded to Crikey‘s publication of the 2009 and 2010 Serco training manual — calling the manual “out-dated” and “no-longer in use”. Yet Bowen, the Immigration Department and Serco have refused to detail how the British-owned multinational has altered or updated it.

A spokesperson for Bowen told Crikey this morning the Minister would not be “discussing further the contents of the current manual for matters of operational security”.

When asked how many Serco guards trained in combat techniques to hit, strike and jab asylum seekers remain employed in the detention system, a Serco spokesperson responded that “staff receive refresher training at least annually, based on the most recent training materials”.

Serco didn’t explain what has been altered or updated in its induction documents, despite Department spokesperson Sandi Logan asserting there has been “at least four iterations” of the Serco training manual since 2009-10, including a 2012 version.

Yesterday, Crikey released 400 pages from manuals, including illustrated sections on the use of force believed to be similar to those Serco has previously fought to keep out of the public realm.

It includes graphic sections on how “Client Services Officers” — many with the same level of training as nightclub bouncers — are to “hit” and “strike” asylum seekers, and how to needle jugulars and pressure points in the event of a ruckus.

Crikey understands that despite Serco’s high staff turnover, many guards that received the controversial training remain in the nine-lockup Serco-run system across the country. This morning, the Department of Immigration declined to elaborate on whether the sections dealing with the Use of Force and Use of Restraints were still taught.

According to several media reports in late January, defence lawyers in the NT Magistrates’ Court requested a 2011 version of the training manual, including Use of Force, after three Darwin-based detainees — Haroon Rashid, Abdul Basir and Habiburahmam — appeared in court on charges of assaulting a guard. However, Serco’s lawyer successfully argued it should be suppressed because they were not in the “public interest”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young will today put a formal motion to the Senate calling on the government to release all of Serco’s manuals.

She will press the Department to prove its documents meet the duty of care provisions in Serco’s contract, released last year to New Matilda after an extended Freedom of Information fight.

“We want the department to prove its claims that the manuals meet the conditions of its contract with Serco and the department’s duty of care to all workers and asylum seekers,” Hanson-Young said.

“How does the Minister believe his department is abiding by its duty of care if the very department says it is not responsible in any way for the training of staff in the facilities?”

Overnight, Bowen issued an official statement on the matter, stating the manual had been superseded by other versions.

Bowen suggested that the instructions on how to hit asylum seekers with batons were irrelevant because “Serco staff in immigration detention facilities do not carry weapons”. And “any use of force or restraint in any detention environment is used strictly as a last resort”.

However, Serco stated this morning that in “extreme circumstances” batons may be “approved for defensive use by a very limited number of specially trained staff, along with other personal protective equipment”.

Logan in Immigration said “approved instruments” might sometimes be employed: “The department may agree to approved instruments for use of control such as flexi-cuffs from time to time, if a high level of risk is assessed, but only after approvals have been sought.” But guards only rarely accessed the instruments “… temporarily where the use of force or control is required”.

The Minister said a recent review into detention incidents at Christmas Island at Villawood had explained the clear Use of Force’ guidelines that Serco staff must adhere to.

Logan also repeated the line that the 2010 training documents were superseded. He also accused Crikey of making “unsubstantiated” allegations on the use of force, despite Crikey‘s stories quoting from an official Serco document.

Crikey asked Logan the following questions but he declined:

  • You claim there have been “at least four iterations” of the Serco training manual since 2009-10. What specifically has changed between 2009-10 and March 15, 2012?
  • Does the 2012 training manual contain a section on Use of Force and Use of Restraints?
  • How many guards trained using the 2009 and 2010 training manuals are still employed by Serco?
  • You say that “approved instruments for control” include “flexi-cuffs”. Have guards ever used batons?
  • Are any batons present inside Australia’s detention centres? Who is authorised to use batons?
  • You allege that Crikey has made a series of “unsubstantiated allegations” about the use of force. Given that the quotes are drawn from an official Serco document, how precisely are they unsubstantiated?

*You can read the full response from Serco, the Immigration Department and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in our comments section.

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