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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 75

Senator EGGLESTON (5:26 PM) —Senator Kirk, both in her speech this afternoon and in the debate on the motion to take note of answers after question time, has sought to make the case that there has been a systemic failure in the management of Ms Rau’s case. By contrast, I think that the reverse is in fact true; I think that this lady has been managed very sensitively and that her interests have been carefully looked after at every stage of the process that has led to where we are now.

This is a very sad and complex case. I think it is important that we deal with the substance of the issue and the facts before us, not the politics of the general issue of the government’s policy of detaining illegal immigrants. Ms Rau has a history of psychotic illness. She is schizophrenic. She was in a psychiatric institution in Sydney, from which she absconded. She very clearly wanted to conceal her identity after absconding. She had a stolen Norwegian passport as her identity document. She did not in any way admit to being who she was. She then claimed to be of German origin, coming from Munich, and, again, quite clearly, did not want anybody to know who she was; she concealed her identity.

If somebody wants to conceal their identity and mislead people about who they really are, unless there is some other compelling piece of evidence about their identity, it is very easy for them to conceal it and pretend to be someone else. This lady obviously did not like being in a psychiatric institution, so she left. She did not want to go back there. After some time, when she was interviewed by the police in Queensland, because of this confusion about whether she was Norwegian or German, or who she really was, the suspicion arose that she might have been an illegal entrant.

So far one can hardly say that is a history of systemic failure or poor treatment. This lady had a confused story about her identity. The issue arose as to whether she was an illegal migrant or an overstayer. Accordingly, she was placed in custody until her identity was established. I think it is important to understand that the diagnosis of psychiatric problems, and psychotic problems in particular, depends on the cooperation of the patient and their giving truthful answers to questions. People with psychotic illnesses are different from people who have psoriasis or dermatitis or a pain in their abdomen or something. They do not walk around with some identifiable sign on them that says, ‘Hey, I’m a schizophrenic,’ ‘I’m a manic depressive,’ or ‘I’ve got an obsessive compulsive disorder.’ There is no way of telling, unless they manifest some sign of that illness in their behaviour. Unless they do that, it is impossible to know that they have a mental illness.

On the ABC AM program on 7 February, Minister Vanstone said that, while Ms Rau was in a Brisbane correction centre, suspicions were raised about her behaviour and she was sent to Brisbane Hospital for assessment. The assessment was that, while her behaviour was odd, she was not exhibiting any diagnostic symptoms of psychotic or mental illness. I think that, given that the assessment was made at such an early stage of the proceedings, again one must say that this is not an example of systemic failure; instead it is an example of sensitive treatment of a person who was behaving in a rather odd way but who was obviously well enough in control of herself not to be exhibiting overtly psychotic behaviour—and who was very careful about how she answered questions, I would suspect.

Consequently, according to the minister, investigations were carried out to determine her identity. She said she was German, and the German diplomatic service in Australia was contacted to see if they could locate her relatives in Munich, where she claimed to be from. She claimed to have a boyfriend in Germany. In addition, the police around Australia were contacted regarding whether she was a missing person. There were questions asked of Centrelink and other government agencies dealing with social security, births, deaths and marriages to determine whether or not her identity could be established. Again, that is an example of the system working to identify who this lady was.

When she was in Baxter, she was seen in the first week by a GP and a psychologist, who referred her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist recommended further assessment. As Senator Johnston said, in the debate on the motion to take note today, it takes time to establish the diagnosis that somebody is a schizophrenic as it is a thought and behaviour disorder. Schizophrenics do not really have split personalities, as people imagine; they are not Jekyll and Hyde. They are people with a strange thought disorder and shallow affect. They often have hallucinations of persecution; they hear voices talking to them. They think there are special messages for them on TV and so on. It takes time to build up that picture.

This lady was eventually sent off to a psychiatrist at the Baxter detention centre. Again, that is not an example of systemic failure but an example of this person being treated very sensitively. I would say, as a general comment, that this is a sad case involving a woman who sought to conceal her identity because she had absconded from a psychiatric institution in Sydney. The Queensland police authorities and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in fact took a great deal of care with her in order to establish who she was. Because of her odd behaviour, there were medical interventions quite early in the piece. So I repeat: this is no example of systemic failure; this is an example of sensitive treatment of a woman who sought to conceal her identity and the fact that she had a psychotic illness. In no way at all do I believe that any of the authorities involved warrant any kind of criticism; in fact, they deserve to be praised for treating this woman so well. (Time expired)