Australia's controversial detention centres will be linked via videoconferencing technology, which is expected to speed the processing of applications for the thousands of detainees.
Sydney-based consultancy ServicePoint has been contracted to install the network of videoconferencing facilities urgently in seven Department of Immigration sites, including detention centres.
The network will be connected to and controlled from the departmental headquarters in Canberra and will be used for staff training, visual communications and interpreter services for detainee interviews.
ServicePoint chief Andrew Berriman said phase one of the network, due for completion this month, covers three city sites (Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne) and four detention centres including Curtin, Port Hedland, and Woomera. Berriman would not comment on the total cost of the project, but it is estimated that each of the sites in the first phase will cost between $30,000 and $40,000.
A departmental spokesperson said the equipment will be largely used "in conjunction with, or as an alternative to face-to-face interviews".
"[The network] is in the early stages of development and is expected it will help with visa processing."
The sites will initially be linked via ISDN with a shift to a hybrid IP network through Optus to be completed in phases two and three.
Berriman said the project, expected to extend to 30 sites, should be completed within the next 12 months.
Previously the department and detention centres were linked only by phone and interpreters had to flown in for detainee interviews.
The videoconferencing technology also includes document cameras, which are able to zoom in on the fine print of passports and other documents.
ServicePoint announced last May a three-year $2.25 million agreement with the Department of Defence for secure videoconferencing services.