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Compo under consideration as minister admits shock at deportation

The World Today - Friday, 15 May , 2009 12:13:00

PETER CAVE: The Immigration Minister Chris Evans says he was shocked by the case of a detainee
whose daughter was deported to Iran without his knowledge.

The man, who's known only as Mr X, was being held in solitary confinement in the Baxter detention
centre in South Australia in 2003 when the incident happened.

The manager of the detention centre asked if he and his wife could take Mr X's four-year-old
daughter shopping. Mr X agreed.

But the Ombudsman has found that this was a ruse, with immigration staff intentionally keeping
their secret plans to deport the daughter. The staff even plotted to use toys to distract the
daughter if necessary.

Mr Evans says the department is talking to Mr X's lawyers about compensation and seeing if it can
help to reunite the family in Australia.

From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: The Ombudsman's report details the sad case of a man known only as Mr X, an Iranian
who's now living in Melbourne under a protection visa.

He and his daughter arrived in Australia by boat in 2001 and were put in detention.

Complicating this case: claims from Mr X's wife, who lives in Tehran, that she had custody of the
couple's daughter.

The man and his daughter were transferred to the Baxter detention centre in South Australia. In
January 2003 allegations were made that Mr X had had sexual contact with his daughter.

Mr X described the claims as fabrications and they were eventually discredited, but not before they
led to aggressive and abusive behaviour by Mr X and a long period in solitary confinement.

During this time, the manager at the Baxter detention centre asked Mr X if his daughter could go
shopping with him and his wife. Mr X agreed, saying "Go and enjoy yourself."

But there were no such plans. Immigration officials deported the daughter back to Iran without Mr
X's knowledge. Staff were even preparing to use toys to distract the girl if necessary.

An Ombudsman's report found immigration officials even defied their own departmental legal advice
which warned the father's consent was needed.

The Ombudsman says the child's removal was intentionally kept secret from Mr X and happened despite
legal advice casting doubt on the wife's custody claims. The whole incident, he says, is
disturbing.

Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans:

CHRIS EVANS: It reads as a very shocking story. I was very disturbed by it. The treatment of the
gentleman concerned and particularly his daughter are just clearly unacceptable and we've got to
make sure we do something to fix it.

SABRA LANE: Can you guarantee this will never happen again?

CHRIS EVANS: Well what we very much sought to do when we announced the Rudd Government's detention
reforms and our new detention values in 2008 was to change that whole way that detention operated.

We've certainly rejected the way the Howard government ran immigration detention and we think under
the new detention values we should not see this sort of thing occur again.

SABRA LANE: The Ombudsman said that immigration officials had breached Australian law and may have
breached principles in the international law on the rights of the child.

CHRIS EVANS: Look this is very much in my view about political leadership. The department were
doing and treating people in the way in which they were told to treat them.

And I think what we've changed is the culture. We've said to people, we have different values now.
This Government has different values and we expect people in detention to be treated in a very
different way.

SABRA LANE: And what about the staff involved?

CHRIS EVANS: Well they'll face an investigation under the code of conduct concerns, and if any of
them are found to have done the wrong thing then they'll be treated under that code of conduct and
disciplinary action taken if that's what the findings require.

SABRA LANE: What about Mr X? A month after his daughter was removed he was found to have
post-traumatic stress; he tried self-harm. The department has since apologised. Is that enough?

CHRIS EVANS: No look, we're trying to work with him to, if you like, give him some prospects for
the future. He is, as I understand it, very damaged and I've instructed the department to engage
with him and provide all the support they can.

And we're also trying to contact his daughter and her mother and see what we can do to rebuild the
family.

So we're going to try and do all we can to support him and as I say I've asked the department to
give me advice as to whether we ought to look at the question of compensation.

SABRA LANE: You say that you'll try and contact his former wife and the daughter. Do you know
what's happened to them? Are they trying to come to Australia?

CHRIS EVANS: No look, there was a suggestion in the Ombudsman's report that they might have been. I
don't have any information about that, other than I've instructed the department to follow that
through.

The parents have separated but obviously if we could organise for the family to have access and for
the daughter to have access to her father, that would be a good result.

SABRA LANE: The Ombudsman also talked about potentially the minister having conflicts of interest,
being the guardian of children in such circumstances. Have you changed the rules within the
department to deal with that?

CHRIS EVANS: Not as yet, but I take the point very seriously. I've actually organised for the
department to do a review of the way we treat children throughout the immigration process and
looking to make changes in that regard.

I think there is a conflict of interest between the role as immigration minister and being the
guardian of a child at the same time and we're looking at legislative responses to try and address
some of those concerns.

There's no doubt the immigration system hasn't dealt with children as well as it should. We haven't
brought the regulations and the principles into the 21st century and that's a major priority for
me.

PETER CAVE: The Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans speaking to Sabra Lane in Canberra.