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Immigration secretary denies departmental cover-up of asylum health stats

Immigration secretary Martin Bowles has rejected the notion of any cover up by the department relating to children in detention centres. AAP/Joel Carrett

Immigration department secretary Martin Bowles has said his department was seeking advice about new data on the mental health problems of children in detention, not trying to cover it up.

Bowles was responding to an allegation from psychiatrist Peter Young, former director of mental health services for the private provider International Health and Medical Services that has the immigration detention centre contract.

Young on Thursday told the Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in immigration detention that the department, presented with figures showing the significant mental health problems among child detainees, “reacted with alarm” and asked for the figures to be withdrawn from the reporting.

Bowles, in a reply to questions from The Conversation, said that Young in his evidence had referred to specific new data that had not previously been reported on.

“This was new data that had recently been reported to the department, and that the department was in the process of seeking advice from the department’s Chief Medical Officer and the Independent Health Adviser about.

"This is consistent with normal procedures and entirely appropriate when new data is to be reported on.”

Bowles said he completely rejected the characterising of Young’s evidence “as being indicative of some sort of cover-up by the department”.

The assertion that Immigration had asked its health service provider to not provide reporting on mental health was completely false, he said. The provider regularly reported on a range of health-related matters including mental health matters.

Bowles said it was timely to test the facts on a number of matters raised in the inquiry on Thursday, and he had asked the department to report urgently to him.

The inquiry heard evidence from other doctors who said that the arrangements at Christmas Island were inadequate for dealing with children and that people had their medications taken from them when they arrived, including a three-year-old child with epilepsy who then had fits.

When he received the information he would brief Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, “who is equally determined to ensure any ambiguity around these issues is clarified as soon as possible”.

“Certainly, if there are any incidents of wrongdoing by staff or evidence of systemic issues, those issues will be addressed appropriately.”

The department had been and would continue to be open and transparent in its dealings with the Human Rights Commission throughout its inquiry, he said.

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