There's a move to give a construction company responsibility for welfare services in Australia's overseas detention centres.
(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
Refugee advocacy groups have slammed a move by the federal government to give a construction company responsibility for welfare services in Australia's overseas detention centres.
The move was revealed last week, in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange by Transfield Services.
According to the statement, Transfield could soon take over responsibility for asylum seeker welfare services from the Salvation Army, at Australia's detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
Aileen Phillips reports.
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In its statement to the ASX, Transfield Services says its contract with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to manage overseas detention centres is to be expanded on an interim basis.
It says subject to completion of contract negotiations, the company will be responsible for what it calls 'garrison support services' and welfare on both Nauru and Manus.
The Salvation Army has confirmed that its contract to provide humanitarian support services to adult asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru will not be renewed beyond this month.
The contract involved the charity providing emotional support, humanitarian assistance and general education and recreation programs.
Transfield Services describes itself as an operations, maintenance and construction services business, operating globally in the resources, energy, industrial, infrastructure, property and defence sectors.
Chief Executive of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Kon Karapanagiotidis says the move will put asylum seekers at risk.
He says Transfield is ill-equipped for the job.
"They have no qualifications or experience in welfare. So to place a construction company on Manus Island and Nauru with thousands of refugees who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, are suicidal, suffer depression and anxiety, where self-harm and suicide attempts are a daily occurrence. It's a recipe for disaster."
The Refugee Action Coalition is also opposed to the proposal.
Spokesman Ian Rintoul says Transfield's top priority is profit, rather than the welfare of asylum seekers.
He says while there have been deficiencies with the Salvation Army contract, ultimately its priority was the asylum seekers.
"You see a very direct clash between a government that wants to maintain a detention facility as an absolute deterrent and anybody, Salvation Army or otherwise, who think there is a responsibility for the welfare....that you've got human beings, women and children, family groups, who have committed no crime and yet being held in shocking conditions that have been condemned internationally."
Transfield Services spokesman David Jamieson says the company has previously worked with vulnerable people in challenging environments.
He declined to give a recorded interview, but told SBS that what he termed specialised counselling would still be handled by medical personnel.
And he says Transfield would not be starting the contract from scratch, with plans to retain at least 40 per cent of the Salvation Army's staff working under the previous contract.
Mr Jamieson added that Transfield provides entertainment and recreation programs at defence bases in Australia.
But Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition says this statement is proof that Transfield is an inappropriate choice.
"It seems to be simply an absurd comparison. The kind of entertainment that may be provided at a defence base in Australia is nothing compared to what kind of recreational services are needed in the detention centres. We have seen that problem over and over again."
A spokesperson for the Salvation Army told SBS it prefers that welfare services are provided by non-governmental organisations or not-for-profit companies.
Transfield's current responsibilities involve catering and building maintenance at the Nauru detention centre.
The company says it's also involved in negotiations with the federal government to also conduct these services on Manus Island, where it has no current involvement.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrson says more details on the negotiations with Transfield will be released in due course.