Nauru assaults and illness covered up by government, lawyers group says

Alleged sex crimes against asylum seekers, worker misconduct and cases of typhoid and tuberculosis were not reported to the nation's workplace safety watchdog.

This is showing the Australian federal government is aiding a "cover-up" of alarming conditions at the Nauru detention camp, a lawyers group says.

Data released under freedom of information laws to the Australian Lawyers Alliance shows serious incidents uncovered by the damning Moss review, and others detailed to a Senate inquiry, were not reported to Comcare, the nation's work safety regulator.

By law, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection must report a death, serious injury, illness or dangerous incident arising from the conduct of a detention centre's operations.

However, the department rejects claims of wrongdoing and says incidents cited by the alliance did not necessarily need to be reported.

The department says it reported 81 Nauru incidents over the past two financial years, but Comcare put the number at 79.

A Senate inquiry into conditions at Nauru heard reports that a nurse treated a baby with typhoid and a child was found to have tuberculosis after initially being misdiagnosed.

These cases were apparently not reported despite the risk of such illnesses spreading to workers and detainees.

Fairfax Media has learnt two people who have worked at the Nauru camp have been diagnosed with tuberculosis, but it is not known if this was a result of their employment.

An independent review of sexual abuse in Australia's detention centre on Nauru by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss found evidence of rape and guards trading marijuana for sexual favours from female detainees.

The alliance says the government failed to report a single sexual assault allegation against detainees, a claim the department did not dispute.

Alleged unreported incidents include a cleaner who touched the genitals of an asylum seeker boy and a child detainee raped by another minor in the shower.

Transfield Services, the company that operates the centre, conceded last month it had received 33 sexual assault and rape claims.

A Comcare spokesman said incidents of sexual assault often did not need to be reported to the agency unless the victim required "immediate treatment" as a hospital in-patient.

A spokeswoman for the department said it had complied with its reporting requirements.

“For an incident to be notifiable there must be a direct causal connection with business operations and must fall within the definition of the act [Work Health and Safety Act 2011],” she said.

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns said the unreported incidents made detention centres less safe work environments and on many occasions were “initiated by staff or contractors of the department”. 

“The position taken by the department is untenable ... it's disturbing that a  government department that is meant to be committed to model employment conditions ought to take such a narrow and black-letter view of its legal obligations,” he said.

“This department has a long track record of cover-up when it comes to physical and mental abuse in detention centres and this is a clear case of that”.

 The Comcare spokesman said inspectors had visited detention centres, including those offshore, and “made a number of recommendations to [the department] to improve their work health and safety practices”, and inspections of the department's workplaces had not uncovered breaches.