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Children’s charity ‘made a scapegoat’

Saturday 31 October 2015 | Published in Regional


YAREN – The head of Save The Children Australia has defended the organisation’s controversial tenure at Australia’s offshore processing centre on Nauru.

In an exclusive interview with the ABC’s Lateline, chief executive Paul Ronalds said Save The Children had been treated as a “scapegoat” and “easy target” by both Australian and Nauruan governments.

The charity’s contract to provide welfare services at the processing centre on Nauru expires this weekend.

Ronalds also said the charity was seeking compensation over the treatment of Save The Children workers who were accused but later cleared by the Moss inquiry of facilitating protests on the island.

“I think Save the Children and Save the Children staff were made a scapegoat in that situation,” he said.

“Clearly the Government’s policy was under pressure from a range of quarters and they needed to find a circuit breaker.”

Ronalds said the saga had taken a significant toll on both Save The Children and the nine staff involved.

“Many of them had never had quite so much as a parking ticket, so it came as an enormous shock to them and as time went on, their level of frustration grew and of course they lost the ability to be employed in an environment that they were passionate about,” he said.

“It’s cost the organisation a significant amount of money. So we’re continuing to talk to the government about how those costs might be recovered.”

The Moss inquiry was set up in October last year to investigate claims of sexual and physical abuse at the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru and allegations that Save the Children staff employed at the centre encouraged asylum seekers to self-harm.

While announcing the inquiry, then-immigration minister Scott Morrison said: “If people want to be political activists, that’s their choice but they don’t get to do it on the taxpayers’ dollar and working in a sensitive place like Nauru.”

The Moss inquiry found no specific evidence that Save The Children staff had encouraged asylum seekers to self-harm.

Ronalds also told Lateline he was confident Save The Children staff had done nothing to justify recent raids on the organisation’s office by Nauruan police.

The charity says police were seeking a document that was leaked to The Guardian regarding media access to Nauru.

“We’ve conducted an internal investigation and there is absolutely no evidence that any staff member leaked that document,” he said.

“I remain very confident that once again our staff will be cleared of this allegation.”

Ronalds said Save The Children was an easy group to target on Nauru.

“The other organisations are Transfield, which are much larger, multinational, or Nauruans. So we’re the easy target, as we’ve been before,” he said.

He said Save The Children’s public position of opposing the mandatory detention of children also led to ongoing tension with the Federal Government.

“The government undoubtedly didn’t like us giving evidence to the human rights inquiry, but that was something that we felt was a really critical opportunity for the Australian public to know what was going on with taxpayer-funded facilities on Nauru,” he said.

“But it absolutely created further tension with the Government.”

Ronald said he was proud of the changes Save The Children made on Nauru, particularly when it came to education within the processing centre.

But he said an independent body needed to be urgently set up to monitor the situation on Nauru.

Lateline contacted Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office for comment but he was not available. - ABC