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Immigration Minister accuses ALP of running a smear campaign against Mick Palmer and Neil Comrie, in charge of the inquiry into wrongful immigration detention.

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Friday 27 May 2005

Immigration Minister accuses ALP of running a smear campaign against Mick Palmer and Neil Comrie, in charge of the inquiry into wrongful immigration dete ntion


TONY EASTLEY: The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, says the Opposition has tried to smear the reputation of the two former police commissioners running the inquiry into wrongful immigration detention. 


The Former Police Commissioner, Mick Palm
er, chose a former Victorian police commissioner, Neil Comrie to assist with the caseload. 


The Labor Senator John Faulkner says the two men have a business relationship which they don't appear to have disclosed. 


Labor argues the Palmer Inquiry should be scrapped and replaced with a royal commission. 


As Louise Yaxley reports, the Minister says she has absolute confidence in the two men. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Palmer was chosen to investigate the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau. Now, his inquiry has grown to 200 cases and the Senate Estimates was told last night Mick Palmer asked for Neil Comrie to work with him on that. 


Senator Faulkner raised questions of a potential conflict of interest. He said both men had been directors of a company called Global Village Survival Proprietary Limited. 


JOHN FAULKNER: When Mr Palmer recommended Mr Comrie to undertake the balance of these important duties, did Mr Palmer indicate either a current or previous business association with Mr Comrie? 


AMANDA VANSTONE: Not to me verbally, but I'd have to check any documentation. I'll take the question on notice. I think I'd recall that if…that's what I said, is that I don't have a recollection of that being disclosed and I think I would, but if Mr Palmer has said we've worked together, he may have said, well we've worked together over a number of years and I would in fact be thinking anything of that because they have, in capacities with which I'm familiar. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Faulkner said such a relationship should have been disclosed. 


But the Minister Senator Vanstone says there was no conflict of interest and no need for a declaration of interests. She says the company began in 2001 with five directors, including Mr Palmer and Mr Comrie, who each contributed less than $2,000 in start up capital. 


She says both men have given an assurance there is no connection between the company and their migration inquiry, and she's furious with Senator Faulkner. 


AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, look, Senator Faulkner in my view is engaging in nothing more that pretty grubby politics. I think this is a pathetic attempt to smear and tarnish the reputation of two of this country's finest former police commissioners. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: They retain your full confidence? 


AMANDA VANSTONE: They do retain my full confidence. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Labor insists there should be a royal commission into the immigration system. 


It is also pressuring the Government over the cost of the Palmer Inquiry. The Secretary of the Department, Bill Farmer, says so far the inquiry's cost nearly half a million dollars, mostly on the contracts for the two men. 


BILL FARMER: Mr Palmer's contract is based on a per diem rate of $2,750 including GST and the per diem rate for Mr Comrie is $2,500 per day including GST. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Labor says it's a potential waste of money when there's still a chance the Prime Minister could call a judicial inquiry and duplicate that work.  


Mr Howard says he will decide on whether to have another inquiry after he sees Mr Palmer's preliminary report in a month. He's ruled out Labor's demands he should sack his Immigration Minister. 


But Labor's keeping the pressure on Senator Vanstone on every level. Last night, Labor asked why a woman was refused permission to give a birthday cake to a girl in detention on Christmas Island.  


The Department's Steve Davis explained the policy, but the Minister stepped in to promise a cake. 


STEVE DAVIS: Generally speaking, there is an issue with food that does arise from time to time in facilities because if detainees do take food back to their rooms and you know, it can go mouldy or whatever and there are issues about hygiene. 


AMANDA VANSTONE: There are very good reasons for wanting to control the quality of the food that's there. Having said that, common sense, which is of course a misnomer, it's not that common, should apply, and the kid should have a birthday cake.  


Even if someone has to stand and watch people eat it to make sure there isn't a file in it. Well, look, I'll have to pay for it myself. Senator, it is a missed opportunity if she wasn't allowed to have the birthday cake on her birthday but here's another opportunity, she can have a birthday cake by way of sorry - or a cake, okay, a sorry cake if you like. 


TONY EASTLEY: Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, ending that report from Louise Yaxley.