Save the Children workers seek compensation after false Nauru detention centre claims

Save the Children workers seek compensation after false Nauru detention centre claims

Save the Children workers seek compensation after false Nauru detention centre claims

Updated 22 February 2016, 21:35 AEDT

Welfare workers from Save the Children will lodge compensation claims of almost $1 million after they were wrongly accused of coaching asylum seekers on Nauru to self-harm and fabricate stories of abuse.

Welfare workers from Save the Children have lodged compensation claims of almost $1 million after they were accused of coaching asylum seekers on Nauru to self-harm and fabricate stories of abuse, claims that two independent reports later dismissed.

Documents obtained exclusively by 7.30 show nine staff, who were at the centre of a political storm around the Nauru detention centre, will claim for loss of income, consolation for pain and suffering and hurt and humiliation and damage to reputation on Monday.

They will also request a formal apology from the Government that acknowledges the actions damaged their reputation and caused embarrassment.

In October 2014, six workers were removed from the small Pacific island of Nauru after an internal security report suggested the workers were involved in political activism by coaching asylum seekers to self-harm and fabricated stories of abuse.

Three other workers were on leave.

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On Monday, Labor renewed its pressure on the Government, specifically then-immigration minister Scott Morrison, to apologise to the workers.

"The insidious nature of this misinformation is why the Government needs to issue an official apology, from the responsible minister," Labor MP Andrew Giles told Parliament.

A spokesman for Mr Morrison said the former immigration minister made no conclusions on the allegations:

"The Department of Immigration and Border Protection invoked provisions under the service provider contract to remove the Save the Children staff.

"Further questions should be directed to the [current] Minister for Immigration and Border Protection."

Then-acting chief executive of Save the Children, Mat Tinker, said they were only made aware of the allegations from the front page article of a newspaper.

"The first we read or heard about the allegations was when we read the Daily Telegraph, the next day," he told 7.30.

"There was a front page story, under the headline, 'Truth Overboard'.

"I was contacted by a senior official from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and told that a notice was being issued under the contract demanding that we withdraw these staff."

Removal from Nauru 'still haunts' Save the Children workers

One of the workers, Poppy Browne, now works in Bali and said the removal from Nauru still haunts her.

"For the last 10 years of my life I have dedicated my life to working in the child protection field, in the social work field and to have my name associated with allegations as serious as that, it broke my heart," she said.

Another worker who was removed off the island, Natasha Blucher, said there was an important distinction between advocating for asylum seekers and being a political activist.

"I would never call myself an activist even in my current role and I found that quite insulting because while there is a role for activists in this debate at all times," she said.

"That's not my professional role and that's not why I went to university and did my masters."

Ms Blucher is currently working as the family advocate for Baby Asha, who was released into community detention by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton after staff at Lady Cilento Hospital refused to discharge the one-year-old.

Two independent reviews, the Phillip Moss report released in March last year and the Christopher Doogan report released last month, cleared the workers of any wrongdoing.

The workers' lawyer, David Shaw, said the nine workers would be lodging an overall claim between $750,000 and $900,000.

"You have got to accept that anyone's employment is a very important part of their lives," Mr Shaw said.

"And if your employment is taken away by anyone then that is traumatic enough but if your employment is taken away from you in the dramatic way [of this case], without apparent cause, then plainly you're going to be pretty upset."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said:

"The Department continues to engage with Save the Children Australia and former staff, through their legal representatives, and is aiming to settle their claims as quickly as possible."

In Senate estimates this month, Secretary of the Department Michael Pezzullo said if there was to be an apology he would make it.

"If there is any statement potentially of regret or remorse or indeed an apology, it will be something I give," he said.