Former immigration minister Scott Morrison's department was "not justified" when it banished nine charity workers from Nauru and claimed they told asylum seekers to fabricate abuse accounts to embarrass the Abbott government, an official report has found.
Mr Morrison claimed the staff had allegedly coached detainees to invent stories to discredit the government's border policies. But a review commissioned by the federal government from lawyer and immigration expert Christopher Doogan has found there was insufficient evidence to name the nine Save the Children staff.
Mr Doogan found staff from other contractors at Nauru "were being pushed to provide names and information to support what was perceived in Canberra to be [Save the Children] staff providing inappropriate support or assistance to transferees … there was in fact no evidence nor reliable information on which to specifically name nine of the ten … staff."
It is understood that the removal order applied only to nine staff because one worker had already left the island.
Repeated allegations of abuse against detainees at Nauru, including children, has fuelled opposition to the government's offshore detention regime and triggered international condemnation.
Mr Morrison said in October 2014 the government had been given an intelligence report that said it was "probable" that staff were coaching asylum seekers to manufacture situations where evidence could be obtained to pursue a political agenda in Australia. He also claimed the staff organised protests on the island against the government's policies.
He said 10 Save the Children staff members, whose organisation protects child rights, would be taken off Nauru. The staff were given no details, and were accompanied by armed Nauruan police to the airport.
"I have been provided with reports indicating that staff of service providers at the Nauru centre have been allegedly engaged in a broader campaign with external advocates to seek to cast doubt on the government's border protection policies," Mr Morrison said.
Save the Children strongly denied the allegations and said it had not been given the chance to address them.
The workers were cleared by both the federal police and an inquiry by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss. However, the government has not issued an apology to the staff or paid compensation.
Save the Children's contract to provide welfare services to minors at Nauru was not renewed. Broadspectrum, previously known as Transfield Services, has taken over the welfare functions.
Some staff suffered mental illness and spent long periods out of work after being deported and publicly accused (but not named) of committing a crime while doing their job.
The government received the Doogan report in July but released it late on Friday. Large parts of the report had been redacted.
The report said "no consideration was given to seeking legal advice on the consequences" of ordering the staff to leave Nauru.
It found if senior departmental officers formed the view that any of the claims made against Save the Children constituted a breach of contract "then a reasonable course of action would have been to notify [the charity] of the claims and request [it] to investigate whether there was any substance to them".
A removal letter issued on October 2, 2014 "was not justified", the report said.
It recommended that negotiations be entered into to identify losses experienced by Save the Children and affected workers.
The claims relied on for the removal letter should also be put to staff, so "each has an opportunity to answer them", it said.
Save the Children welcomed the report.
The organisation "now looks forward to entering into negotiations with the Australian government which should see appropriate compensation awarded to its former employees, whom were not allowed to return to their important work for vulnerable children and families on Nauru", it said.
Chief executive Paul Ronalds said the charity was proud of its dedicated staff who worked on Nauru with "some of the most vulnerable children in the toughest of circumstances".
"The idea that they would fabricate cases of abuse or encourage children to hurt themselves was always absurd," he said.
"We have said this right from the very beginning. These were some of our most talented and hardest working colleagues, and children and their families on Nauru were the poorer for their absence."
He called on the government to immediately end the practice of "mandatory and prolonged detention of children".
"We know from two years working on Nauru about the shocking impact that prolonged incarceration has on people seeking asylum. It is unquestionably harmful to their mental and physical wellbeing and must end," he said.
In a statement the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it accepted the report's recommendations "and will implement them subject to acting in accordance with other relevant legal obligations".
"The department recognises [Save the Children] staff were providing services to the government of Nauru in difficult and challenging circumstances," it said. "It also recognises departmental staff were seeking to act in the best interests of transferees."
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government's behaviour "has been a disgrace" and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection runs Nauru through "secrecy and intimidation".
"After accusing hard working employees of coaching self-harm and dragging their names through the mud, we now find out that they'd done nothing wrong," she said.
"These employees deserve to be compensated and I call on [Immigration Minister] Peter Dutton to explain exactly how he's going to sort this mess out."