Thursday, 9 February 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Vanstone, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Can the minister reveal the details of the wrongful and tragic detention of another innocent person with mental illness by her department which she revealed in an interview with the Age newspaper? Why has it taken the minister so long to come clean about this wrongful detention? Can the minister indicate how many days this individual was wrongfully detained by the Howard government? When was this innocent person first detained by the immigration department and when were they finally released?
I thank the senator for the question. It gives me the opportunity to yet again confirm this, not so much for senators because I hope by now they are across this issue; but it is clear to me that some of the media are not across it. Last year when we discovered the case of Cornelia Rau, who was not unlawfully detained but clearly quite improperly kept in the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre for far longer than any of the instructions allow, the appropriate thing to do was not to just try and tough it out or believe that she would necessarily be the only one but to go back and look at all the people who had the computer coding ‘released, later found lawful’. That of course could include people who were properly detained, were later given a visa and were therefore released. Nonetheless, I decided it was appropriate to send all the cases off. I am quite sure that members opposite would not accept a minister or the department making the decisions themselves with respect to these cases—and I think if we were in the opposite position we too would not accept it. So I sent them all off. The department has obviously kept at arm’s length other than when requested by the Ombudsman to provide information in relation to all of these. I am committed to a proper and independent assessment of them.
In an interview with the Age yesterday I was asked the question: was I aware of any others that might fit the equivalent of Cornelia Rau? I said, ‘Yes, I am. There is one case that I think is a very tragic one.’ I obviously do not have the details of that case with me at this point—
I know I could have expected a question, yes. But I do not intend to delve into any of these cases until the Ombudsman puts out his report. I would have thought that it was appropriate to leave the Ombudsman to do his job. I was asked the direct question: were there any other cases? I answered honestly, as I ought to, ‘Yes, I’m sure there are amongst that number.’ I did not give any details of the case, such as I know them from the knowledge that I have, and I do not intend to give much in the way of detail. However, I can say that the person was detained some time ago and was detained on a number of occasions, and is another example of the tremendous difficulty that both the police face with mental health cases and the immigration department face in relation to these cases. For the detail of it, we will wait and see what the Ombudsman has to say. There is no question of not being up-front with these. They were sent off for a proper independent review and they will get proper public reporting.
I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Why did the minister choose to make this case public through the media? Can we now expect the minister to drip-feed the other 16 Ombudsman reports and statements that she has sitting in her in-tray to the media? When will the minister actually front up in the Senate to report on the Ombudsman’s investigation of these cases rather than leaking them to the media in the expectation of a more muted response?
It is not true to say that I chose to make it public, as in it was a decision that I made irrespective of what the Age asked. I was asked a question in relation to the Ombudsman’s matters and I answered the question honestly. I thought that was quite appropriate and I will continue to do so. On the one hand you get complaints that the immigration minister is not open enough, and then on the other hand when you are asked a direct question—
Apparently, in relation to a direct question, without revealing much detail, I am to say, ‘I know nothing.’ Of course that would be untrue. I am not sure which 16 reports the senator is referring to and she might like to make it clear to the Senate afterwards which reports she is referring to. The Ombudsman does not answer to me on any reports that he chooses to make. (Time expired)