Engineering firm slammed for taking 'toxic' Nauru contract

An undated picture taken at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. Source: Department of Immigration

Human rights groups have accused an engineering firm with no experience in refugee services of profiting from the abuse of asylum seekers.

The federal government has awarded a lucrative contract running facilities on Nauru to a Queensland-based engineering firm, despite the company having no experience in providing refugee services and being axed from a controversial Indigenous housing initiative in the Northern Territory.

Canstruct International Pty Ltd has been awarded an $8 million contract to run “garrison and welfare services” for the island’s refugee processing centres for the next six months.

The company takes on the role from next week after the global infrastructure group Ferrovial announced it would be ending the involvement of long-running operator Broadspectrum, formally known as Transfield Services, after taking over the company last year.

The move has been slammed by human rights groups, with Amnesty International accusing Canstruct of taking up a “toxic contract” profiting from the abuse of asylum seekers.

“It is particularly appalling that the contract has been awarded to an engineering company with zero experience dealing with vulnerable people,” Keren Adams from the Human Rights Law Centre said.

“Canstruct is an engineering company with a background building bridges. In accepting this contract, it will be taking the job of running a cruel, open-air prison detaining people, including many children, who are deeply traumatised.”

Government disclosures reveal that Canstruct has previously been awarded building and project management contracts for Australia’s detention facilities on Nauru that have cost the taxpayer more than $600 million since 2012.

The company’s expanded role in Nauru will not be the first time it has been caught up in controversy.

In 2010, Canstruct and its subsidiary Force 10 were part of a consortium known as Earth Connect Alliance that was axed from a $672 million public housing initiative aimed at easing overcrowding in the Northern Territory’s Indigenous communities.

That initiative, called the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP), was a joint Commonwealth-NT venture instituted by the Rudd government in 2008 that was meant to bring lasting solutions to remote housing problems in the NT following the Intervention.

Earth Connect Alliance was to build and refurbish houses in communities on Groote Eylandt and at Gunbalanya in Arnhem Land.

At the time, Canstruct’s founder, Robin Murphy said that the alliance was being used as a scapegoat for “poorly thought-out policy made on the run”.

“We don’t build shoddy houses,” Mr Murphy told News Corp. “Somebody had to take the blame for or be blamed for the fact that there were so few houses built.”

The company declined to comment on its latest contract, instead referring questions to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

A spokesperson for the department said: The Government of Australia will continue to assist the Government of Nauru to provide services to transferees at the Nauru RPC.

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