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Vanstone promises change -

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Vanstone promises change

Reporter: Maxine McKew

MAXINE MCKEW: I'm joined now by the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone. She is in our Parliament
House studio. Minister, good evening to you.


MAXINE McKEW: As you know we live in a performance driven culture. What mark out of 10 would you
give to the compliance and detention sections of DIMIA in the wake of Mick Palmer's report?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, look I don't think I'd give a mark out of 10. I think you can look to the
Palmer report. I know people were critical and some still are that said there should have been an
inquiry of a different nature. But I'm satisfied that anybody who reads the report, and it does
take some time, it is 260 pages, will see it's anything but a whitewash. It's a full-on,
full-frontal boots and all assessment of what the problems are and I think you can look to the
report for that assessment and not me giving it a figure out of 10. But it's not a high figure. If
I were to guess it wouldn't be a high one.

MAXINE McKEW: Below five? Well below five?

AMANDA VANSTONE: What do we achieve with that? We acknowledge it wasn't done anywhere near as good
as it should have been.

MAXINE McKEW: You are right, the report is full-frontal. It's not your finest hour as Minister,
either is it?

AMANDA VANSTONE: No minister likes to be in a position where things haven't gone as they should
have. But in a sense, that's the position of a minister. You get to be there in the good times and
the bad times and you have to take responsibility for fixing them.

MAXINE McKEW: Do you also take responsibility for what Mick Palmer has said today that this
Department is defensive, self-protective, has poorly trained officers with huge powers and no
constraint on those powers?

AMANDA VANSTONE: If you mean by that do I feel personally responsible for that situation arising?
No, that's been the situation for quite some considerable time and by that I mean decades.

MAXINE McKEW: How long have you been aware of that situation?

AMANDA VANSTONE: There were aspects and I've made that clear in various places, in Parliament on
the record, that I've had concerns about the need for a more client-friendly focus in immigration
and that's all on the record. But, the concerns I think he has articulated very, very clearly now
need to be dealt with and we started doing that in February. It was clear when we found someone who
was a permanent resident, not a citizen, but nonetheless had spent that long in immigration
detention. With all of the difficulties Mr Palmer identifies in identifying her that we needed to
make some change. So we announced some of that in February which was pretty soon after ... hang on.
We made further changes in May and now we've accepted the thrust of his recommendations and
committed to implementing them.

MAXINE McKEW: But the point is, Minister, surely the Government is now in hyperactive reform mode
but the impetus was what happened to Cornelia Rau. Absent that, it would be business as usual.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I don't agree with that. I can't say to you...

MAXINE McKEW: Well, we wouldn't have had secretary removed, we wouldn't have had two deputy
secretaries removed.

AMANDA VANSTONE: What I was going to say is, before you jumped in, is I can't say to you that the
changes would have been as dramatic as they are now. But I answered in your earlier question the
point that I'd already focused on, the lack of what I call a user-friendly, client-friendly focus
in immigration. I don't mean that only in the compliance area, and I had been working with the
secretary on what we could do to fix that. Okay, Cornelia Rau - it is the case that that certainly
is the catalyst for these major changes, but I don't agree you can conclude that no change would
have happened otherwise. I don't agree with that.

MAXINE McKEW: In connection with Ms Rau, will you call herself to apologise to her about what
happened? There was Prime Minister's apology today.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Yeah, there was. Look, I'll write to Ms Rau. I'm not sure it is helpful to have a
conversation with her, but I'll certainly write to her.

MAXINE McKEW: Here's another quote from Mick Palmer's report, Minister. He said DIMIA's compliance
officers have a poor understanding of the legislation they're responsible for enforcing. Now this
is pretty basic, isn't it? You've got officers who aren't on top of the detail of the Migration
Act. How can this be?

AMANDA VANSTONE: It's not a satisfactory situation. He does say that. He also says elsewhere in the
report that the Immigration Department gets the majority of the cases that they deal with, they get
it right. Let me clarify or at least put that in perspective. I'm not saying, and he certainly
doesn't say, that's any justification for any of the cases being wrong. I just wanted to make it
clear he's not asserting that, because of what is inadequate training for some of the people
involved, that all of the cases are wrong or the vast majority are wrong. But there's no doubt
about it, there isn't adequate training and that has to be addressed.

MAXINE McKEW: There's been inadequate training while Bill Farmer has been the secretary of the
Department. Now, he has since received, as you know, an AO. He's Australia ambassador designate to
Indonesia. The question has to be asked if this is the prize for failure. What's the prize for
success these days in Canberra?

AMANDA VANSTONE: Look, our relationship with Indonesia is a very important. It is regarded as a
very tough job. I'm not sure it's regarded as a prize. Simply because it's a tough and risky job.

MAXINE McKEW: There's already chatter out of Jakarta, Minister, suggesting they feel they are
getting second best.

AMANDA VANSTONE: I don't comment on chatter. You might amongst friends comment on chatter about
light-hearted matters, but not in relation to serious matters like this. Mr Farmer is one of our
most experienced diplomats, comes out of the class of 69, very, very experienced and over a long
period of time has made a very significant contribution. The AO, for example, was not a function of
what he might have done in the last three or four years. As you know, those awards are given for a
much longer contribution than that and I think that needs to be kept in perspective.

MAXINE McKEW: In terms of the Department now, you agree there's a need for organisational change
and your new secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, he of course is an institutional creature of DIMIA. Most
of his career has been spent in immigration. It is almost unheard of, as you know, for anyone other
than outsider to be able to drive through significant change. So really what chance does he have?

AMANDA VANSTONE: I think he's got a very good chance. I've had a lengthy meeting with him recently.
Having had some experience with immigration is actually a good thing, rather than a bad thing. He's
had experience subsequent to that, much broader experience, working as a deputy secretary and Prime
Minister in Cabinet. He's young and very keen to undertake the mission he's been given and I'm
satisfied he can do that. We've got lots of very good people in immigration and when you look at
the reports you'll see that Mr Palmer acknowledges there are people, well motivated and trying to
do their best and doing it with integrity. I don't say that as an excuse. There's no walking away
from the fact that there are problems that need to be fixed, but I'm satisfied that Andrew Metcalfe
and the new appointments are committed to making the change that needs to be made. I made this
clear at the estimates a few weeks ago, that I thought there needs to be cultural change. I can
assure you there were people who were critical of that privately, saying that's not the sort of
thing you can acknowledge. When you can see something as a Minister, my view is you should say so.

MAXINE McKEW: Alright. Minister, thank you for your time tonight.