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Former DIMIA Secretary Bill Farmer is appointed Ambassador to Indonesia; Palmer Inquiry examines mistakes made by the Immigration Department.

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Monday 11 July 2005

Former DIMIA Secretary Bill Farmer is appointed Ambassador to Indonesia; Palmer Inquiry examines mistakes made by the Immigration Department


TONY EASTL EY: The man who headed the Department of Immigration, which wrongfully detained Australian resident Cornelia Rau, and wrongfully deported Australian citizen Vivian Solon, has been appointed to one of Australia's most important diplomatic positions.  


The Prime Minister John Howard has announced that Mr Bill Farmer, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, has been offered the position of Australian Ambassador to Indonesia later this year. 


This week Federal Cabinet is due to discuss the outcomes of the Palmer Inquiry, which has been examining mistakes made by the Immigration Department.  


Critics argue the timing of the move is cynical, but the Prime Minister says it's in line with a suggestion from Mr Farmer himself that a new person take over the department. 


David Mark reports. 


DAVID MARK: Bill Farmer has been in charge of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs during a tumultuous period for the department. There's been Tampa, Children Overboard and constant criticism over the management of Australia's detention centres. 


Recently, Mr Farmer admitted to making mistakes in relation to the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau, and the wrongful deportation of Vivan Solon. Those two cases have been investigated by the former Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Palmer. 


A draft of Mr Palmer's report revealed he was critical of the way DIMIA handled the case of the mentally ill Cornelia Rau, who was held in a Brisbane prison and the Baxter Detention centre for 10 months until earlier this year  


Mr Palmer's report is due to be discussed by the Federal Cabinet as early as tomorrow, but Bill Farmer won't be in the job to implement any of the recommendations the report may contain. 


And that's at his suggestion. The Prime Minister John Howard says Mr Farmer believes a new person should lead a vigorous organisational review and major cultural change of the Immigration Department. 


Mr Farmer will leave DIMIA today for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Prime Minister will recommend he become Australia's next ambassador to Indonesia. 


But George Newhouse, the solicitor for Vivian Solon and solicitor assisting Cornelia Rau's legal team, says that's a cynical move. 


GEORGE NEWHOUSE: You've got the Palmer report coming out next week, which is going to absolutely condemn the way the Department of Immigration handles itself, and it's most opportune that the Prime Minister has kicked Mr Farmer upstairs to a posting in Indonesia in the very same week that this damning report is going to come out. 


DAVID MARK: Cornelia Rau's sister, Chris Rau, says if Mr Palmer does recommend major reform, then that's precisely why she believes a new person should be in the job.  


CHRIS RAU: He was in charge of the cultural atmosphere in the department which led to this callous disregard of people's rights, and punishing him personally is less important than having these changes occur. This sort of change will need fresh eyes, a fresh vision. So you're going to need both a philosophical and a practical change. 


DAVID MARK: Labor's immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, has welcomed Mr Farmer's departure from DIMIA, but says his replacement by Andrew Metcalfe - the current Deputy Secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet - won't lead to cultural change. 


TONY BURKE: The Department of Immigration is absolutely out of control. There's no exaggerating how bad the problems are there. When things get that bad you need to have a full inquiry with all the powers of the Royal Commission, and you need major personnel changes at the most senior levels. But the Government's still baulking at changing the minister, and that's got to be part of the package. 


DAVID MARK: AM asked a spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, whether Mr Farmer's removal from DIMIA before Cabinet had discussed the Palmer inquiry was coincidental. But the spokesman said it was a matter for the Prime Minister, John Howard. 


A spokesman for Mr Howard referred to the PM's statement, adding Mr Farmer was a permanent public servant who'd been moved to Foreign Affairs. 


TONY EASTLEY: David Mark reporting.