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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 37


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:53 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Minister, it is still not clear to me when you first became aware of Ms Rau’s case as the result of a number of questions that have been asked of you. Could you clarify for the Senate when your office became aware of Ms Rau’s case and the concerns about her health, be it under her proper name or the name she was using? When did your office inform you of concerns about her and her potential treatment et cetera? On what date did you become aware that the detainee was Ms Rau and that in fact she was not an illegal immigrant but a permanent resident of this country? What form did that communication to you come in? What action did you take as a result of being informed that Ms Rau was in fact a permanent resident of Australia and should not have been detained? Were you at any time concerned, or were concerns raised with you, about any aspect of the treatment of Ms Rau during her time in the custody of DIMIA?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I indicated in the answer to Senator Brown, and in any event I will repeat it, that I was advised today that at some point in December, towards Christmas—I do not know the exact date, but I will get it for you—a letter was sent by Ms Brotmeyer seeking what I believe was a 417 intervention, which of course was completely inappropriate, given her circumstances, and that she had written some other correspondence to someone else in relation to Australian citizenship. I will get you the date of that, but that was not in relation to the detention and health issues; it was simply in relation to a view she was clearly expressing that, presumably—I have not seen the letter yet—she wanted a 417 intervention. That letter had not come to my attention until today, which is not surprising as lots of people seek ministerial intervention. The process is that, when the letters come to the office, they go straight to the department for the department to gather the information, make a decision about what needs to happen and then prepare the appropriate files.

As to the date that I was notified, I have indicated that I was notified either the day or the next day. Frankly, when it happened, I did not say to myself: ‘Quick, I better note the date. Someone will ask me if it is Thursday or Friday.’ I felt a tremendous sense of relief—but I imagine it was nothing like the relief that her family felt—that this matter had been resolved, that someone who had been missing had now been found.

The last matter that you raised was about a permanent resident who you say should not have been detained because they were a permanent resident. I ask you to consider the relevant act, which refers to having a belief that someone is an unlawful noncitizen, and in fact Ms Rau presented herself as a person from Germany who was visiting and who wanted to go back to Germany. She did not present as a permanent resident of Australia. Efforts were made through both the German consul and consul general and a range of authorities—and I have already indicated my willingness to give the details of the authorities that were contacted and when—to ascertain if Ms Rau’s story was in fact incorrect and if she was either an Australian citizen or an Australian permanent resident. I have already answered that aspect.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Maybe I am not getting my point across, but I was not really interested in whether it was a Thursday or a Friday that the minister notified; I was after the date. Given the public controversy, I thought it was a reasonable question to know when the minister found out about Ms Rau’s case, whether or not she had concerns raised with her at any stage about the medical treatment or the condition of Ms Rau and whether she had any concerns about that. Clearly, we would appreciate the minister answering when she or her office became informed that Ms Rau was—as the government now admits—inappropriately detained. I do not think there is any argument that she was inappropriately detained. I accept that it was an argument about not knowing her identity, but I am not clear, Minister, despite all the questions asked of you today, when you as the minister were informed that Ms Rau was in fact a permanent resident and should not have been detained, and what action you took.


Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—


Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am still not clear on the date; maybe I missed it. I will check the Hansard. Senator Ian Macdonald, you constantly interrupted about the Queensland police et cetera, but I just want to know when the minister was informed and what action she took.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator, ignore the interjections and address your remarks through the chair.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —I would also like to know whether she had any concerns about the health condition of Ms Rau.


The PRESIDENT —There have been some extremely long questions today.


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator Evans, you made the point by assertion in your first question that Ms Rau had been inappropriately detained, and I sought to remind you of the act, which refers to when someone has a belief that someone is an unlawful noncitizen. I indicated to you why that belief was held—namely, she maintained, in effect, that that is what she was. It is quite clear now that she was not an unlawful noncitizen. It is not clear now that that was not a reasonably held belief at the time. That is certainly not clear. Quite the opposite: to my mind, it is very clear that at the time that was a reasonable belief to hold. If you wish to purport otherwise—


Senator Chris Evans interjecting—


Senator VANSTONE —I am very happy to listen to propositions that you might want to put. In relation to when I first found out, I have indicated that I do not have the date in my head, but I believe that it was either on the day that the identification was made or on the day after. (Time expired)