ACT News


Court urged to hurry up on Manus Island employee judgment

Lawyers in a legal dispute over the federal government's contentious Manus Island offshore asylum seeker processing centre have asked a Canberra judge to encourage his judicial colleague to hurry up and hand down a decision.

The battle between two rival multinational detention centre operators over an employee brought on board to help get the Papua New Guinea centre up and running is being fought out in the ACT Supreme Court as the island receives its first asylum seekers.

Serco, contracted to run Australia's mainland immigration detention centre network and Christmas Island, has launched legal action against former employee Christopher Manning, who they say broke the terms of a deed of release. The company has alleged Mr Manning, their former managing director, is working for their competitors G4S, which secured the contract to run Manus Island.

Serco's lawyers have argued his work with G4S puts him in breach of restrictive covenants in the deed of release preventing him from working for a competitor in Australia within a year of leaving its employ.

But Mr Manning's legal team say their client has honoured the terms of his contract.

Serco's lawyers took the matter to court in October seeking an urgent interim order restricting Mr Manning's ability to work for G4S.


Barrister Ian Neil, SC, told Master David Harper that the former employee's work with Serco's rivals had the capacity to damage its commercial operations and relationship with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Mr Manning's lawyers reject the claim.

But Master Harper reserved his decision, and five weeks later Serco has sought to speed up the litigation.

On Friday - the same day a second group of asylum seekers arrived on Manus Island - Mr Neil asked Justice John Burns to speak to the master in the hope of delivering the interim ruling.

''You want me to lean on the master,'' Justice Burns suggested.

''Your honour can say that, I can't, but the answer is yes,'' Mr Neil replied.

Serco has also applied for an expedited hearing date - a rare commodity in the notoriously clogged Supreme Court - and lawyers at the opposite end of the bar table did not oppose the move.

Mr Manning's lawyers have, in the meantime, moved to have parts of the case against him struck out.

The case is due back in court on Thursday.

There are 47 asylum seekers housed in the Manus Island centre.

A spokeswoman said the department could not comment on the case other than to say the litigation had no impact on readying Manus Island for the arrival of asylum seekers. Serco also declined to comment.