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Missing persons database to be set up -

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Missing persons database to be set up

Reporter: Mick Bunworth

KERRY O'BRIEN: The case of Cornelia Rau, the mentally ill Australian woman who fell between the
cracks and wound up in an outback immigration detention centre, continued to create headlines
today. While politicians argued about whether an inquiry into the incident should be public or
private, judicial or otherwise, the question of why Australia still does not have a national
database of missing persons was also being pursued. The Federal Government says such a database is
on the way, but there are concerns that any new system may not learn enough from the Rau case. In a
moment, I'll be talking with Queensland Premier Peter Beattie about Queensland's role in the
inquiry. But first, Mick Bunworth reports on the missing, the families they've left behind and the
ongoing search for answers.

CHAIA STEIN: There'll always be hope. The phone rings and I still think it's him. There's a knock
at the door and I still think it's him. I'll never get over that, I don't think. I was told by a
friend, "Just imagine he's dead, and then if he comes back, it will be a bonus." You can't imagine
your child is dead. It's just too heart wrenching.

MICK BUNWORTH: It's been two and a half years since Chaia Stein's son Daved went missing in the
Sydney suburb of Dover Heights.

CHAIA STEIN: Daved changed my life forever, and the police rang to tell me that he'd been seen last
at Dover Heights, at Rodney Reserve, and they thought that he'd been rock climbing on that
particular day and been washed into the Tasman Sea and washed away. They painted various scenarios,
all of which were horrific.

MICK BUNWORTH: Since he was a young boy, Daved Finkelstein had suffered from attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder.

CHAIA STEIN: He couldn't do up his buttons, he couldn't do up his shoelaces, he couldn't hold a pen
and write, yet he had this amazing mind, and later in life, he had no sense of time, and he was
hopeless with money.

MICK BUNWORTH: The ADHD had made 27?year?old Daved Finkelstein itinerant. When he first
disappeared, his mother believed he would show up interstate.

CHAIA STEIN: I believed it. For years, I believed it, because he told me he was going up north into
northern Queensland with Israeli backpackers to look for work.

MICK BUNWORTH: A New South Wales coroner has found that Daved Finkelstein is dead, but the
uncertainty around his disappearance continues to haunt his mother. Chaia Stein says if there's a
slim chance her son is alive, a national database of missing persons would give her comfort and
perhaps some hope that others are looking too.

CHAIA STEIN: I was told he was in Kalgoorlie, so I got in my car and I camped, it took me 10 days
to drive across the desert to Kalgoorlie, camping in the desert every night cause I couldn't afford
to stay anywhere. I've gone everywhere. If there was a register, perhaps I wouldn't have had to go
through that.

MICK BUNWORTH: So why can't Australia's law enforcement agencies cooperate when it comes to people
who are missing?

SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON (JUSTICE MINISTER): That is the issue that we've had to deal with with so
many aspects of national law enforcement, be it a national child sex offender register, DNA,
automated fingerprint system. That is the hurdle that we come up against all the time.

MICK BUNWORTH: 30,000 Australians are reported missing each year, half of them under the age of 18.
While 99.5 per cent are located, most within a day, it's the fate of the remainder, the missing
forgotten few, that has captured the public imagination this week in the wake of the Cornelia Rau
case. At present, missing persons fall under the jurisdiction of the police forces from each of
Australia's states and territories.

SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON: We have nine different jurisdictions, federal, state and territory and, of
course, they've got nine different systems, which also include different IT systems.

MICK BUNWORTH: But people who go missing, particularly those with a mental illness, can drift
across borders and become lost to a system incapable of tracking them.

delusions or false ideas, hallucinations or false perceptions and disordered thinking, which can
have them grossly distort reality. So they may feel persecuted by their environment or, indeed, by
their family, and that can be a powerful driver to wish to escape, disappear, all that kind of

MICK BUNWORTH: The Federal Government plans a trial for a national missing persons database using
the CrimTrac agency, which provides DNA, fingerprints and other evidentiary support to all of
Australia's police forces. But mental health professionals are worried, particularly in light of
the Cornelia Rau case.

PROFESSOR NICHOLAS KEKS: Look, I have a basic sense of dis-ease in linking missing persons to
criminal activity. I'm not an expert on police methods or police databases. I think the case for a
national database for missing persons is absolutely overwhelming. I'd prefer it not be criminalised
in that kind of way. People with serious mental illness are not criminals. It's a complete travesty
to have them in jail for reason of their mental illness, or indeed elsewhere. They need specific
help for their illness.

SENATOR CHRIS ELLISON: Look, I totally reject the fact that CrimTrac, in handling the missing
persons database, would criminalise missing persons or those with a mental illness. Look, CrimTrac
did great work with disaster victim identification in Bali and now with the tsunami. We've got a
vehicle here which can be used for other aspects, not just criminal aspects. Why not use it? Why go
and create another bureaucracy? We set this up. It cost us $50 million. It's got the expertise.
Lets use it.

MICK BUNWORTH: The Federal Government says it wants the national database of missing persons up and
running by the end of the year. For Chaia Stein, that can't come soon enough.

CHAIA STEIN: If you ask the families of missing persons to come and sign a register to say, "Do you
think this is a good idea," they'd be running to do it. Of course it's a good idea.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Mick Bunworth.