The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has rejected the severity of reports about abuse in detention centres.

Officials have respondent to claims made by The Guardian earlier this year, which used thousands of leaked internal documents to paint a picture of widespread abuse at Australia’s regional processing centre on Nauru.

An estimates hearing in Canberra this week has heard the majority of the incidents were minor. One department secretary pointed to a report - which related to a broken microwave – as indicative of the types of complaints.

Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo argued that media outlets had put their own publicity ahead of good journalism.

“It is regrettable that those which saw fit to publish this information … seemed to be more interested in that publicity rather than actually working with independent and impartial officials to try to get to the bottom of each and every case,” he said.

The Immigration Department official said the 2,123 complaints broke down into:

  • 23 classified as critical
  • 281 as major
  • 968 as minor
  • 851 as “information and unclassified reports”

Kingsley Woodford-Smith, Assistant Commissioner of the department’s Detention, Compliance and Removals Division said “immediate and appropriate action was taken in all cases” classified as “critical”.

He said the same for 270 of the cases deemed “major”, claiming some of these ‘actions’ included referral to the Nauruan Police Force.

Australian Federal Police had earlier told the hearing that just 14 of the referred incidents had been investigated by local police.

Mr Woodford-Smith said over 1,800 of the “really were largely minor in nature or what a reasonable person would see as minor in nature.”

His comments do not go as far as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s in August this year, who suggested many of the complaints made by asylum seekers and refuges were “false”, and that some had even set themselves on fire to shortcut Australia’s immigration policies.  

“Some people have even gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia. Certainly some have made false allegations,” he told 2GB Radio.

This week’s estimates hearing also heard an account of the costs of Australia’s offshore immigration centres.

From 2012 to September 30, 2016, the Australian Government spent over $4.3 billion on the Nauru and PNG centres.

A total of $242.23 million has been spent in the three months to September 30.