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Immigration Dept knew of Solon in 2003, inqui -

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Immigration Dept knew of Solon in 2003, inquiry told

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Joining me now from our Canberra bureau is the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda
Vanstone. Now, Amanda Vanstone, one of the Labor senators made the point these are pretty explosive
revelations. We spoke to you about this two weeks ago, but a lot more detail has emerged in these
hearings tonight. How do you explain the department's astonishing failure once it realised, in
August of 2003, that it had wrongly deported Vivian Solon?

AMANDA VANSTONE, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION: Well, I might say, I don't know that what was said
tonight in the context of someone in the department, a number of people, knowing in 2003 was a
revelation. In fact, you and I might have discussed this in that interview. But in any event, that
was, I think, pretty much public knowledge. What wasn't public knowledge, which was revealed
tonight, because the question was asked and where we can answer it, we do, was that the department
had - the officials who had made the connection between different name records had in fact advised
the Queensland Police of that. and in fact on another occasion, had rung up a number from - I think
one of the Channel 9 programs had a missing persons unit and indicated to them what had happened.

TONY JONES: And in fact, they put it all in writing in an email, didn't they, on August 21 of 2003.
They put in writing their knowledge that Vivian Solon had been wrongly deported.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Now, that was what was perplexing to the Labor senators when we told them that
tonight, and it's equally perplexing to me, and has been since I've known that - that there's no
indication by having responded once this information was discovered quite frankly to the Queensland
Police and equally frankly as a consequence of the Channel 9 missing persons program. That's an
indication of an openness and preparedness to recognise what had been done, and that's inconsistent
with the information apparently not having been passed further up the line. Now, that occasioned me
to say, "Well, that's exactly what Mr Palmer is looking at." How could they both be correct? How
could someone recognise this problem, pass it on to the Queensland Police, not hide it, not cover
it up, pass it on, pass it on because of a missing persons program, and yet it not go up the line?
And that's exactly what Mr Palmer's looking at.

TONY JONES: At what level were the officers in the Immigration Department - I can appreciate that
you're sort of spreading the blame here to the Queensland Police, and we have asked Peter Beattie
about this quite recently - but at what level were the officers in your department aware that
there'd been a wrongful deportation back in August of 2003, and what did they do about it? Did they
actually initiate any kind of search at that time? Is that in the records?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, with respect, I'm not seeking to apportion any blame. We were asked a
question, did we answer the query from the Queensland Police? Now, if you...

TONY JONES: Why aren't you trying to apportion blame, minister?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, we were asked a question. We were asked a question. I've known for quite a
while that we told them. If I want to apportion blame, I would've released that information myself.
But you know my view, that it's best that I comment as little as possible on this until Mr Palmer's
got the facts. But faced with a query from a Senate Estimates Committee about knowledge that we
have, we should answer that honestly.

TONY JONES: At what level was...


TONY JONES: At what level in the department...

AMANDA VANSTONE: Sorry, I am determined to make this point. You did lead in with, "You're trying to
spread the blame", then you were astonished when I say "no" and I give you a fair explanation that
we were asked the question, and you don't seem to acknowledge that all we're doing is answering

TONY JONES: I was acknowledging to you that we had also asked these questions recently of Mr
Beattie. There appear to be astonishing failures, both of the Queensland Police and of your
department. At this moment we're talking about you because your department is the one that's made
these failures. I'm asking: what level were the officers at who understood that a wrongful
deportation had happened?

AMANDA VANSTONE: I can happily answer that for you. That question was asked in the estimates
tonight, and the indication given by the officers who have this information to hand is that
officers may have been at the APS, I think, 5 or 6 level and one might have been at an APS 6 or EL
1 at the time - at the time.

TONY JONES: These are officers, at least one of them, in the central office of the department which
deals with issues of movement of people; is that correct?

AMANDA VANSTONE: That's right. There's a section that has, as estimates were told tonight,
something like 30,000 queries a year as to movements of people. Some of them are, for example, from
the child support agency; some are from missing persons, with a view to seeing if that person's
travelled overseas.

TONY JONES: But not many of them, you would assume, would throw up the fact that an Australian
citizen had been wrongly deported.

AMANDA VANSTONE: That's absolutely correct.

TONY JONES: Now, were any supervisors in that department or in that section made aware of what had

AMANDA VANSTONE: We've accessed the paper records, and the paper records do not indicate that
anything was passed up, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't a verbal conversation, and that's
exactly the issue or one of the issues that Mr Palmer will be looking at: how is it that officers
at this level - which is not the most junior level, but it's not the most senior level, either -
recognised what had happened, because they'd been given different names, so they accessed some
different names on the on the database, put two and two together, were open with the Queensland
Police, were open and initiated a call to a missing persons program, which is not indicative of
people wanting to cover something up.

TONY JONES: In fact, Mr Farmer, your head of department, says these people have been quite
diligent. Do you think they've been quite diligent?

AMANDA VANSTONE: You're not being quite fair to Mr Farmer there. If you quote the whole of what Mr
Farmer said, he was in fact making the point that I've made to you earlier in this program, namely,
that they were quite diligent in that aspect of their work, in informing the Queensland Police,
being frank as a consequence and initiating contact as a consequence of a television program, but
that stood in marked contrast to it apparently not having passed up. I invite you to, perhaps at a
later time, correct the record and put all of Mr Farmer's comments in that respect on the record.

TONY JONES: I think if there's record correcting to be done, you've probably just done it. There
was a time in Australian politics when the head of a department which had overseen a failure at
this level might have considered resigning. Has Mr Farmer considered resigning? Has he offered you
his resignation over this?

AMANDA VANSTONE: No, he hasn't, and I haven't sought it, and I've made the point to you in the past
and I've made it to plenty of people: my job when there's a problem is to find out the facts, find
out what actually happened and then set about putting in remedial action to make sure it can't
happen again. There may be a question of blame apportionment, but that's certainly not going to
happen, certainly not going to happen until...

TONY JONES: At this stage, you're backing Bill Farmer to the hilt; is that right?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, what I've said to you - yes, I mean, I have confidence in Bill Farmer.
There's no point in looking around for blame before you've got the facts, and more importantly,
what is the substantive issue here? As far as I'm concerned, it's finding out what went wrong,
getting the facts and then fixing it. That is the first priority. I appreciate from both a
political and a media perspective, people are saying, "Oh well, we'll have to have somebody for
blame for this." Look, blame apportionment is something other people can follow on. My job, as I
say, is to find out what went wrong, get the real facts, and I can't rely on the media for that,
and I could give you a list of things that have been wrong with respect to Alvarez and you're
familiar with some of them.

TONY JONES: How, though, does the doctrine of ministerial responsibility apply in a case like this?
We're now talking about a whole series of blunders over several ministries. Who is responsible at
the ministerial level?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, you're talking about a whole series of blunders. Could I just make the point
with respect to some of your introductory remarks about the further cases that have been referred?
There's no immediate assumption that all of those cases have a problem. Some of them will be people
who were detained for a couple of hours overnight while suggestions as to their identity were
confirmed. There will be some problems, I feel sure of that. It's a fair bet if you refer 200 cases
there will be some problems in there. But let's not make the assumption in the beginning that
there's 200 problems, because that's not my assumption.

TONY JONES: Has Mick Palmer made it clear to you or made it known to you at least that he intends
to leave the Palmer inquiry after he reports on the Cornelia Rau affair?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, look, this question has been canvassed in the estimates today, and what I've
said is this: it's clear that Mr Palmer took on something that was not expected to be this long. We
didn't know about the Alvarez matter when he took it on, and he does have other duties, but Mr
Palmer is not the sort of person to walk away and show no interest in the completion of something.
We've asked him to advise us in his report on Rau and Alvarez to the extent that he want to comment
on that - we don't know how far down the track that will be - to give us advice on how to handle
the remaining parts of the work, because the nature of the inquiry has changed quite substantially

TONY JONES: Has he made it clear to you that after giving that advice he won't in fact be the head
of the Palmer inquiry?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Can I just conclude the answer that I was giving you? Because the nature of the
inquiry has changed from being something that was a specific investigation into one person to now a
specific investigation into another, and the particular nature that's changed is the checking of
some 200 other files to see where there are problems. Now, I've had discussions with Mr Palmer
about how we will conclude that, and I'm happy to wait and seek his advice on what will happen, and
I will look forward to that, and that will become before the end of June.

TONY JONES: Has Mr Palmer told you or your officers, verbally or in writing, that he believes these
matters should go to an investigator with judicial powers like the Commonwealth Ombudsman?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Look, I've had a number of discussions with Mr Palmer as to what should happen,
but I'm happy to leave it to him to report officially to the government.

TONY JONES: We understand that he has done so. Can you confirm that?

AMANDA VANSTONE: As I've said, I've had a number of discussions, and I'm happy to leave it to Mr
Palmer to put in his report, to recommend to the government what he believes should happen.

TONY JONES: Can I put it to you that Mr Palmer has already recommended to you that the inquiry
needs judicial powers?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Mr Palmer's given me an indication of what he believes at this point would be
appropriate, but I'm leaving it to him to finalise whatever conclusion he wants to.

TONY JONES: Has he indicated to you that the inquiry needs judicial powers?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Tony, I've answered your question.

TONY JONES: No, you haven't, with respect.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I have nothing further to add to it. You have asked me a number of times. I've
indicated I've had discussions with Mr Palmer and I've indicated the process by which we'll get to
the point of what to do with concluding this inquiry. I look forward to Mr Palmer's recommendation
in his report.

TONY JONES: If he recommends an inquiry with judicial powers, will you move immediately to have an
inquiry with judicial powers?

AMANDA VANSTONE: I think I have clearly indicated the confidence that the government has in Mr
Palmer. We will move very quickly with respect to his recommendations.

TONY JONES: That would include having an inquiry with judicial powers if he recommends that, would
it? You wouldn't rule out doing that, would you?

AMANDA VANSTONE: No, I certainly wouldn't rule it out, no.

TONY JONES: How do you explain the discrepancies between the statements today of your departmental
officers in the hearings and those of the Prime Minister on the case of the Tran family?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, they've been explained on the record, and that 's available to you, and
anybody who wants to access the Senate Hansard can see that. What the officer said is he was
answering the question with respect to what he thought would happen on the basis of what he thought
would normally happen, and of course the family were never going to be taken from hospital and sent
straight back to Christmas Island. That was never going to happen. They would naturally come out of
hospital - presumably - I mean, I have no advice as to the health of the mother and child, but
assuming all has gone well, given it was a difficult pregnancy, people don't stay in hospital very
long these days - would go back into some sort of community detention, and then they'll have a
choice as to what happened. They have extended family back in Christmas Island. They may choose to
go there. They may choose to stay in Australia.

TONY JONES: Did the Prime Minister tell you before he went into question time what he was about to
say in relation to the Tran family?

AMANDA VANSTONE: I haven't had any discussions with the Prime Minister today at all.

TONY JONES: Is the Prime Minister now running damage control in question time for your department?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, you can make whatever assessment you want about what the Prime Minister's
doing. I wouldn't agree with that, but you can make whatever hypothesis you choose. It's a free

TONY JONES: Did you have a chance to advise your own departmental officers of what your view of the
Tran family's future was, before they went into those hearings and made that evident mistake?

AMANDA VANSTONE: No, I haven't had a discussion with my department with respect to the Tran family.

TONY JONES: Will you now explain to them what the real situation is?

AMANDA VANSTONE: I don't believe there's any further explanation required, and I think the Senate
Hansard record will make that clear.

TONY JONES: Senator Vanstone, we will have to leave it there. We thank you very much for taking the
time, after what must have been quite a gruelling day, to come and talk to us again.

AMANDA VANSTONE: The day is not over yet, Tony.

TONY JONES: I'm certain it's not. Thank you very much.