Australia

Federal government to face court over failure to provide duty of care to deceased Villawood detainee

This article contains references to suicide.

The federal government will face court charged with breaching work health and safety laws after a 26-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker died by suicide inside Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in 2019.

Comcare, the national work health and safety watchdog, has accused the government and healthcare provider International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) of two charges of failing to comply with their duty of care which exposed detainees “to risk of death or serious injury”.

This included failing to provide adequate mental health care at all times, on-call psychiatric consultation, and sufficient staffing levels on weekends, according to court documents.

A hearing for the case is scheduled at Sydney’s Downing Centre local court on Tuesday.

“It is alleged that Home Affairs and IHMS failed to provide and maintain a safe system of work at the facility as part of their health and safety duties that extend to detainees,” a Comcare spokesperson said in a statement last month. 

“It is also alleged that Home Affairs and IHMS failed to provide necessary training, information and supervision to mental health staff in relation to their care for the detainee.”

Data obtained by SBS News revealed self-harm incidents inside several detention facilities have been higher in the first seven months of 2020 than the yearly average between 2016 and 2019. 

“Detention centres, and IHMS in particular, are notorious for the lack of care available inside Australia’s detention regime, onshore and offshore,” Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are looking forward to the details of the negligence alleged by Comcare being publicly exposed in court. For too long the abuses in detention have been hidden behind a wall of secrecy.”

The charges under the Work Health and Safety Act carry a maximum penalty of $1.5 million each. 

The Department of Home Affairs has been contacted for comment.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

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