Treasurer Scott Morrison has refused to apologise for allegations he made about Save the Children staff encouraging asylum seekers to self-harm on Nauru — claims that have forced the government to pay compensation to the charity organisation.

As Crikey has previously reported, nine workers from the organisation were removed from Nauru in October 2014 after reports emerged of guards in Nauru’s immigration detention centre sexually harassing asylum seekers (the department stressed Save the Children staff were not removed because of the sexual harassment allegations against guards, but did not say why they had been removed). Then-immigration minister Scott Morrison also announced an independent review of the allegations to determine whether they were “fabricated as part of an orchestrated campaign, involving service provider staff to undermine the government’s border protection policies”.

A review Morrison ordered into the event found that Transfield and Wilson Security were pushed by the immigration department to indict the Save the Children workers, and the department lacked sufficient evidence to warrant the staff being removed from Nauru.

Last week the department confirmed it had reached a “confidential financial settlement” with Save the Children as a result of the damage it had inflicted on the organisation with the allegations that staff had orchestrated protest activity, encouraged self-harm and misused and improperly disclosed sensitive and confidential information.

“The Department also recognises that SCA has suffered detriment for which — to adopt the words of Professor Doogan — the payment of money cannot be adequate compensation. In this regard the Department regrets the way in which, until the Department released Professor Doogan’s review in January 2016, the allegations relied on by the Department to issue the removal direction may have led other NGOs and members of the public to question the integrity of SCA as a provider of government services or, to the extent that it may be relevant, as a child rights organisation.

“Although SCA is no longer providing services for the Department on Nauru, the Department affirms SCA’s good standing with it and acknowledges that at the time of the removal direction and subsequently, it had no reason to cause doubt to be cast on SCA’s reputation.”

Morrison filibustered in his Insiders interview on Sunday when questioned about the events, to avoid his own quotes about Save the Children at the time he was immigration minister being read back to him:

BARRIE CASSIDY: Let me show you how clear. This is what you said: you accused them of being political activists. You said they made false claims.

SCOTT MORRISON: No, Barrie, I did not do that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes, you did. I’ve looked at the transcript.

SCOTT MORRISON: I did not say that. I said – Barrie, I said the evidence that was presented to me …

BARRIE CASSIDY: You said they allegedly coached self-harm.

SCOTT MORRISON: Allegedly.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You said they used children in protests. Is it not now … ?

SCOTT MORRISON: Allegedly. And that’s …

BARRIE CASSIDY: The allegedly applied to just one allegation.

SCOTT MORRISON: I said allegedly, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: To one allegation — they coached self-harm. But there was no allegedly about them being political activists, there was no allegedly about them making false claims. Surely now you’ve paid compensation, that’s a concession of guilt, it’s time for an apology.

Morrison refused to apologise, stating he was using the evidence he had at the time. Crikey asked Save the Children if an apology from the government had been sought, but the organisation’s director of policy and public affairs, Mat Tinkler, said the statement from the department was sufficient.

“Through the statement the department has recognised that Save the Children suffered detriment for which the payment of money cannot be adequate compensation. It has expressed regret for the way in which the allegations relied on by the Department may have led others to questions our integrity, and it has confirmed that at the time of the direction to remove our staff and subsequently, it had no reason to cause doubt to be cast on Save the Children’s reputation.

“We are satisfied with this response. Our mission is to protect the rights of vulnerable children around the world and we were contracted by the Australian government to support and protect children and families in Nauru. Our focus was and remains the well-being of those children and families.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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