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Palmer findings released -

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Palmer findings released

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

MAXINE McKEW: Welcome to the program. According to the author, it's the story of a mentally ill
woman who embarked on a journey, who assumed other identities to escape her illness and the pain it
caused her. But, as Mick Palmer now knows better than most, Cornelia Rau's journey didn't end in an
escape from her own personal hell, just an appalling stretch in another, detained in a Queensland
prison and later Baxter detention centre for a total of 10 months. The former federal police chief
is almost Orwellian in his report when he declares that, in part, Ms Rau was incarcerated for
reasons of "administrative convenience". Mick Palmer identified a serious cultural problem in areas
of the Immigration Department, he found that powerful case workers didn't even know the Act they
were applying and that Baxter is ill-equipped to deliver on government policy. The Prime Minister's
offered an apology, the Immigration Minister has promised change, but anyone looking for a head on
a plate will be disappointed. I'll be speaking with Amanda Vanstone shortly, but first political
editor Michael Brissenden on the political management of a Department's dark episode.

CORNELIA RAU: I was put into prison because I didn't have my passport on me. My diary got stolen,
with my money as well, and my life has been pretty much turned upside down in a year and five
months.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: For months now, the scandal surrounding the detention of Cornelia Rau has been
a festering sore for the Government and for months the Minister has been using the ongoing Palmer
Inquiry to deflect questions and criticisms. Well, the Palmer report is now finally out, but it's
still providing a political bandage.

REPORTER 1: Given the litany of problems under your watch, do you feel at all embarrassed or
responsible for some of what's happened?

SENATOR AMANDA VANSTONE, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: I feel responsible for fixing the problems. I think
that's a Minister's job. I think if you read the whole report we might have a discussion about that
at a later date when you've read the whole report.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: We've all been waiting for this for a long time. The Minister herself says
she's read through the report at least three times, but the media was given 10 minutes to digest
the 200 pages of findings before both she and the Prime Minister appeared to face questions and
there were plenty of them.

AMANDA VANSTONE: When you've had the opportunity to look at the whole report, I think we can have a
discussion at that point.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Trouble is after all of these months there's a lot of pent up demand and some
of the questions that need to be answered are of a fairly general nature. Questions like this:

REPORTER 2: Am I right in understanding that through all of this, everything that's been through
and the stuff that's happened to these two women, actually no-one is to blame?

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Nobody is saying that.

REPORTER 2: Well, then who is it?

JOHN HOWARD: No, it's a question of how. Clearly, if mistakes are made then somebody must have
contributed to those mistakes, of course.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Can I just add to that, because I think when you read the whole report the picture
will become clearer. It's a matter that ran over a number of months, but Mr Palmer clearly
indicates in the report that there isn't one thing that he can say, "If that was done you would
have been able to identify Cornelia Rau earlier."

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Maybe so, but it's not just the media who were looking for somewhere to lay the
blame.

CHRISTINE RAU: You can't just leave someone to languish in a detention centre, or in a prison as
Cornelia was, without continually testing this reasonable suspicion they are illegal. And Palmer is
saying that unless you test this suspicion, the system involved is unlawful, unjustified and
without integrity.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Rau family have broadly welcomed the Palmer report. It's delivered some
important conclusions and recommendations. Cornelia Rau's lawyer has also applauded aspects of Mick
Palmer's findings.

CLAIRE O'CONNOR, CORNELIA RAU'S LAWYER: I'm very pleased that Mr Palmer has made criticisms of the
culture in DIMIA, and also the culture in relation to the treatment in relation to people with
mental illnesses in DIMIA, and the way in which we now know that people's human rights are being
abused by the migration system and the detention system we have.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's a culture, says Mr Palmer, that is overly self-protective and defensive. A
culture largely unwilling to challenge organisational norms or to engage in genuine self-criticism
or analysis. The Opposition, though, says cultural change needs to come from the very top down.

TONY BURKE, OPPOSITION IMMIGRATION SPOKESMAN: The cultural of cover-up started with the Government
and started at the Cabinet table. That needs to be dealt with.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the Government says the shake-up, at least in the Department, is well under
way. The former head of the department, Bill Farmer, has been promoted to ambassador in Jakarta.
His place is being taken by Andrew Metcalfe, a deputy secretary in the Department of Prime Minister
and Cabinet, who also has a background in immigration.

JOHN HOWARD: We have announced major changes in the senior leadership of the department. I can't
think in recent times of such extensive changes in the senior leadership of such a large
department.

REPORTER 3: Is that by way of punishment for failures?

JOHN HOWARD: I'm not here to debate that with you. I'm here to answer your questions.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And one of the questions still being asked is, why wasn't this investigation
given the powers of a royal commission? Certainly the family and Ms Rau's lawyer think the
conclusions and their own input into the inquiry would have been more substantial if that was the
case.

CLAIRE O'CONNOR: There's a very good reason for that. The first is, I had to write my submissions
to Mick Palmer without access to any of the material that he had access to. So I couldn't see her
personal files, I couldn't see the DIMIA files, I couldn't see the Baxter files, so I couldn't then
analyse it. The second is, you need to cross-examine witnesses and we weren't given the opportunity
to cross-examine anyone or analyse evidence ourselves.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Ms O'Connor also says her efforts to seek funding for a independent psychiatric
assessment of her client were rejected and she was dismissive of today's public apology that came
from the Prime Minister and Senator Vanstone.

CLAIRE O'CONNOR: It would very much surprise the Australian community to learn that Cornelia, me as
her lawyer or public advocate who was appointed as her guardian, have not been rung up once by
anyone in DIMIA just to say, "Hi, how is she going, how is she travelling? We are really sorry
about what happened." We are now in July and there is a press release with an apology from the
Minister. Well, that isn't good enough. She should have been apologised to much earlier than this.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, apologies aside, Mick Palmer has if nothing else confirmed that a grave
injustice was done to Cornelia Rau and a hefty compensation claim is on the way. The lawyers have
already been instructed to act and no doubt Mr Palmer's report will be of considerable help in
their case.

MAXINE McKEW: Political editor Michael Brissenden reporting there.