SECTION: Nationwide General News; Federal Parliament
LENGTH: 561 words
HEADLINE: Fed: ACM subject to rigorous probity checks: Ruddock
By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA, Dec 6 AAP - Allegations Chinese illegal immigrants were repeatedly molested during a deportation flight by private prison officers would be fully investigated, the federal government promised today.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has come under renewed pressure over the record of Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), a division of the giant US Wackenhut Corporation.
Opposition immigration spokesman Con Sciacca demanded Mr Ruddock look into allegations a ACM officer at the Port Hedland facility in Western Australia repeatedly molested Chinese women in his care during a deportation flight in September last year.
Newspaper reports accused ACM management of brushing over the allegations without serious investigation.
Mr Ruddock said immigration department officers had demanded a full report into the claims
"If the incident did occur, I would, as my adviser indicated, regard it as completely unacceptable," he told parliament.
"However until such time as I have additional information, I don't think it's appropriate that I should come to a concluded view in relation to the matter."
Mr Ruddock said the claims had so far been unsubstantiated and he presented parliament with a statement from Immigration Assistant Secretary Peter Vardos, who witnessed none of the alleged incidents despite being present on the flight.
The minister also defended the contracting of ACM to run immigration holding centres.
Labor justice spokesman Duncan Kerr said Wackenhut, which runs private prisons in America, Canada and Melbourne, had been sued by the US Justice Department over claims officers sexually abused youths in detention.
The head of the corporation, George Wackenhut, had also praised ACM's record in Australia, saying: "They're really starting to punish people the way they should have done all along," Mr Kerr said.
But Mr Ruddock said ACM and its senior managers had passed rigorous probity checks as part of the government's contract process.
"The tender process and the negotiations enabled the department to articulate a clear statement of requirements and standards to be met, and reporting requirements in the area of delivery of detention services," he said.
"Such arrangements had not existed before."
Mr Ruddock said the contract had also won approval from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said the government must act on the reported allegations of sexual abuse with a full judicial inquiry, rather than the limited investigation into an abuse claim at the Woomera centre in South Australia.
"Our international reputation is being affected," he said.
"The government is counting on the view that people don't care about illegal migrants therefore abuse will have a low political saliency."
But Prime Minister John Howard said the sexual assault allegations against the Port Hedland ACM staff were a matter for state police.
"If that happened well that's obviously a very concerning thing, a very distressing thing," Mr Howard told Perth radio 6PR.
"If it has happened that is a breach of the criminal law. That is a matter for the Western Australian police."