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Confusion surrounds detainee's baby -

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Confusion surrounds detainee's baby

Reporter: Narda Gilmore

TONY JONES: The Immigration Minister hasn't waited for the results of the Palmer Inquiry to
announce a shake-up of detention policy. Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra
this morning, the head of Immigration apologised for a string of recent blunders. But that didn't
stop more confusion when the department appeared at odds with the Prime Minister over the future of
a baby born in detention this week. From Canberra, Narda Gilmore reports.

NARDA GILMORE: There are more than 60 children living in Australia's immigration detention centres,
and today it seemed there'd be one more. Michael Tran was born under guard in this Perth hospital
on Monday night. Earlier today, it seemed he and his parents would be sent back to detention on
Christmas Island.

STEVE DAVIS, IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT: Our intention is that the family return to Christmas Island to
be with the rest of the extended family group of which they are part.

NARDA GILMORE: The Minister seemed to support the position.

AMANDA VANSTONE, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: Well, I think the officer indicated to be with the rest of
the extended family.

NARDA GILMORE: That was at lunchtime. Two hours later in the Parliament, the Prime Minister told a
different story.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I have been informed that the young child born in Perth last night
will not in fact go back with her parents - or its parents - to the detention - I think it was an
offshore centre - but, rather, it will live in community accommodation in Australia.

NARDA GILMORE: By 3:30, the Immigration Department still maintained the family would be sent back
to detention.

SENATOR CHRIS EVANS, OPPOSITION SENATE LEADER: Will you do me the favour and ring the Prime
Minister and tell him that? And therefore he can go to the House and correct the record.

NARDA GILMORE: Soon after, the position was clarified.

STEVE DAVIS: There's no immediate plans for the family to return to Christmas Island.

CHRIS EVANS: So the policy is whatever the PM says is the policy.

NARDA GILMORE: Both Amanda Vanstone and the Prime Minister's office deny there was any intervention
from John Howard. In any event, we've solved the problem - it's cleared up.

NARDA GILMORE: It's been a long day before the Senate committee. Amid the confusion, the Department
also offered an apology for a string of other immigration blunders.

BILL FARMER, IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT SECRETARY: We profoundly regret what has happened in some
cases.

NARDA GILMORE: They include the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau, the deportation of Australian
woman Vivian Solon and many other cases now being investigated.

BILL FARMER: It's distressing and unacceptable that our actions have, in respects, fallen so short
of what we would want and what we understand the Australian people expect. We are deeply sorry
about that.

NARDA GILMORE: Amanda Vanstone has announced a departmental shake-up. There'll be a new national
unit to check the identity of detainees, a 28-day limit on the time detainees can be held in a
prison, and increased psychiatric services at the Baxter Detention Centre.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I do want to make it clear that you can make changes to policy, to processes and
legislation, but these will be of little benefit without some cultural change.

NARDA GILMORE: The Opposition says change should extend to the Minister.

KIM BEAZLEY, OPPOSITION LEADER: Will the Prime Minister now face the truth, sack his minister, and
set up a royal commission into this Department of Immigration scandal?

JOHN HOWARD: No.

NARDA GILMORE: There's also continuing pressure from within government ranks, with some
backbenchers pushing for an end to long-term detention. This afternoon, a Government-dominated
committee rejected plans for an extension to the Maribyrnong Detention Centre in Victoria.

JUDI MOYLAN, GOVERNMENT BACKBENCHER: The committee does not believe that a population increase of
the magnitude proposed would enhance amenity to residents or satisfy the department's own stated
intention to provide, and I quote, "humane and non-punitive detention infrastructure".

NARDA GILMORE: This afternoon, one more Government backbencher added to the calls for change.

MAL WASHER, GOVERNMENT BACKBECHER: I think we need to look at those issues in a more sympathetic
manner than perhaps historically we have.

NARDA GILMORE: John Howard says while the policy won't change, MPs are entitled to their view.
Narda Gilmore, Lateline.