Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has confirmed allegations she was spied on while visiting the refugee detention centre on Naura, saying she could ‘sense being watched’.
During a submission to a senate inquiry, a former staff member accused the Australian company responsible for security at the detention centre of ‘corruption’ and ‘deception’, of which the spying allegations were just one.
The former employee claimed that a Wilson Security supervisor gave orders to spy on the politician during her 2013 visit, handing over her room number and vehicle registration. The Senator was code-named ‘Raven’ during the surveillance, the former employee said.
Responding to these allegations on Friday, Senator Hanson-Young described the surveillance as “creepy” and “intimidating”, and attacked the Prime Minister for dismissing the allegations.
At an earlier press conference, Mr Abbott said instead that the senator was “looked after” while she was on Nauru.
“I don’t accept that characterisation [of surveillance]. I believe she was being, in fact, looked after while she was there,” he told the media on Friday.
The Greens senator described his response as being out of touch with the sentiments of women.
“I can’t believe the Prime Minister thinks this is alright,” she said.
“The minister for women doesn’t understand that women don’t like to be watched… it’s just creepy.
“I’d like to ask the Prime Minister how he’d feel if his wife was being watched. How he’s feel if his daughters were being watched.
“I was in Nauru to do my job.
“We must be free to do our work without intimidation.”
Wilson Security has strongly denied it spied on the politician.
It said it was aware of individuals who attended her hotel at the same time, but their primary motivation was “the security of the senator”.
“This activity was not authorised by Wilson Security,” the response said.
The company added the matter was investigated and those involved had been disciplined for “acting beyond their brief”.
Senator Hanson-Young is seeking a full explanation and said the core values of Australia’s democracy were called into question when MPs were spied on.
“A company contracted by the Australian Government, under scrutiny for its poor management of detention centres where women and children are abused, now spying on a senator of the Australian Parliament. Some very serious questions need to be answered,” she said.
“After seeking legal advice and consulting senior counsel, I will be referring this matter to the parliamentary privileges committee as serious breach of the law.”
Wilson executives were grilled for more than an hour taking 50 questions on notice at the first Senate committee hearing on Nauru on May 19.
The company strongly rejected allegations that it took part in the “abuse of asylum seekers, corruption, cover-ups, discrimination and deceptive conduct”.
Wilson Security is expected to reappear in front of the Senate committee this month.
Guards planning to use ‘unreasonable force’
In July 2013 security guards were faced with a full-scale riot in the centre in which several buildings were burned to the ground causing $60 million in damage. Four people were hospitalised.
According to the whistleblower, guards were called to respond to a disturbance are heard saying “we go to Charlie 2 and take c***s down”.
The whistleblower, who alleges to have seen a video of the incident, says it was obvious the guards were planning to use “unreasonable force” on asylum seekers.
During the riot Nauruan police were called into the centre to take charge.
When briefed on the chain of command, the Wilson guards are heard saying: “I don’t understand Nauruan so I’m just gonna say he told me to do everything … I’m fairly confident he gave me that direction.”
Wilson Security said it was concerned by the allegation but was not aware of the video footage.
General manager John Rodgers told the Senate committee video cameras are worn by emergency response guards at times of “heightened risk”.
Wilson security contract manager Brett McDonald explained that when the cameras are activated, a Wilson investigator views the footage to determine if there is relevant information.
If so, it is passed onto the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. If not, the footage is deleted.
‘Military imposters’ on staff
It is alleged “approximately five” employees of Wilson Security are military imposters, those who wrongly claim they have served in the Australian Defence Force.
Military imposters face federal charges under the Defence Act and are subject to six months’ imprisonment.
In the submission, the former guard claims to have an email proving human resources at Wilson were aware of at least one military imposter who remains on staff.
Responding to the allegation, Wilson said it was “aware of one incident where one employee misled colleagues as to his professional background” and that the person had been disciplined.
Wilson’s human resources general manager Lara Donnini was not directly asked about the allegation in the Senate hearing but said Wilson staff were subject to rigorous pre-employment screening, including police checks, drug and alcohol tests and working-with-children checks.
Settled refugees ‘not safe’ on Nauru
Safety concerns remain for the approximately 488 refugees, including 77 children, who have been settled on Nauru.
In the submission the former guard says he received “distressed phone calls” at 3:00am from a female refugee claiming a local Nauruan was trying to break into her room.
Former magistrate on Nauru Peter Law says he does not have confidence in the local authorities to deal with the threats faced by asylum seekers who have been settled in Nauru.
“They are not safe, and although there have been a number of violent incidents reported, I have not heard about anyone being charged,” he said.