Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Detention centre staff 'cracked'

Immigration Minister, Chris Evans... certainly there may be some obligations on the department in relation to these matters.

More than 60 former staff at Australian immigration detention centres have reported long-term mental health problems associated with the stress of the job.

There were 62 cases of mental illness among former guards at the Woomera and Baxter detention centres in South Australia.

One former guard is suing for damages, and the former managers of the centres could face a series of other claims.

A doctor employed at Woomera, Simon Lockwood, says years on he is still counselling many former staff.

"I saw severe depression. I saw post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders," he said.

"I saw a lot of alcohol abuse - people would drink to try and cope with what they saw.

"I saw a lot of relationship difficulties and marriage break-ups and it was a very toxic environment for a lot of the officers."

Several former employees, including Clive Skinn, say the ongoing riots and violence damaged their own lives as much as it did the detainees.

"I was on WorkCover for 18 months and then I tried to do myself in four times over it actually," Mr Skinn said.

"The only thing that kept me going was me kids and ... it's something I never ever want to see or do again. I don't recommend it to anyone."

The former guards say they were given inadequate training to deal with the violence and challenges the job involved.

One former manager at Woomera, Allan Clifton, says most guards were not equipped to deal with the conditions.

"The majority of officers, given that they were poorly trained, were very, very good people who were trying to do the best they could under difficult circumstances," he said.

"We had a group of officers that had come from prisons, in particular Arthur Gorrie in Brisbane, who belonged to the so-called boys club. They were all about crash and bash, crash and bash, that's the only way to do it."

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, says he is aware some staff are already seeking compensation.

"I think first of all, as I understand legally the duty of care is with the employer," he said.

"Certainly there may be some obligations on the department in relation to these matters, but as I understand it those are about to be tested in a court case and obviously that'll be a legal decision."


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