The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has said that the amount it paid to charity Save the Children in compensation for false allegations directed at the organisation over its work in the Nauru detention centre is so secret, only a few within the department know the actual amount, and it’s on a “need-to-know” basis.
The government removed nine workers from the Save the Children organisation from the Nauru detention centre in October last year alleging at the time that staff were encouraging asylum seekers to self-harm and orchestrating protest activity in the detention centre. Then-immigration minister Scott Morrison initiated an independent review into the allegations, and the resulting report found that the department lacked sufficient evidence to warrant their removal.
In May, the department and Save the Children reached a confidential agreement including a financial settlement, and the department acknowledged that the allegations “may have led … members of the public to question the integrity of SCA” and “it had no reason to cause doubt to be case on SCA’s reputation”.
Crikey filed an FOI request for the agreement in May, and on Monday the department released the 11-page deed of release and indemnity between the department and Save the Children. However, all but the cover page are completely blacked out and redacted.
In the accompanying decision, the department’s FOI decision-maker, Geoff Hill, argued that the release of the document in full would be a “breach of confidence”, and indicated the department was so worried about the amount being paid for the slur against Save the Children that Immigration was keeping the agreement under close watch.
“This document contains highly confidential information, the knowledge of which is limited only to the parties involved. The department itself has safe-guards in place in relation to the handling of this document and its handling is strictly limited to a need-to-know basis.”
Save the Children declined to comment on the document, referring Crikey back to its earlier statement with the department.
Although the department has settled with Save the Children, Morrison has refused to apologise for comments he made about the organisation when he was immigration minister.
The impact on the mental health and employment opportunities on the staff involved has been immense. One removed staffer, caseworker Natasha Blucher, told a parliamentary committee last year that she was distraught at the allegation that Save the Children staff were encouraging self-harm and had helped organise protests:
“I was signing incident reports desperately supporting caseworkers to try to give them strategies to talk their clients down from self-harm or from suicidal ideation, and I was going to bed at night terrified that I would wake up in the morning and find that more clients had harmed themselves. And then to be told that I was accused of having tried to facilitate that was beyond comprehension.”