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Vivian Alvarez Solon faces the media; Immigration Minister suggests changes might need to be made to the Migration Act.

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Friday 20 May 2005

Vivian Alvarez Solon faces the media; Immigration Minister suggests changes might need to be made to the Migration Act


TONY EASTLEY: One week after Vivi an Alvarez Solon was found in the Philippines, the Australian woman has emerged to face the media. 


However, her appearance turned into something of a circus, with the wheelchair-bound woman swamped by photographers and camera crews as she arrived for a scheduled press conference with her Australian lawyer. 


What the quietly-spoken woman, who's spent the last four years in a hospice, made of it all is very hard to say.  


But as AM 's Nick Grimm reports, the public controversy involving Vivian Solon is unlikely to go away any time soon. 


NICK GRIMM: After years spent living in a hospice for the destitute and dying, Vivian Alvarez Solon is learning what life's like when you're the focus of a national scandal and swamped by the media. 


She might have been sporting a sparkling red dress and a new pair of glasses, but Vivian Solon is still reliant on a wheelchair to get around, just as she was four years ago, when she was wrongly deported from Australia. 


And she still answers questions in the same uncertain, faltering fashion that marked her responses a week ago, when those who had known and cared for her since her deportation realised she was Australia's famous misplaced person. 


Asked about her desire to be reunited with her sons in Australia, Vivian Solon said she had already spoken to one of them. 


VIVIAN SOLON: I have spoken to Etian (phonetic). Yes, he is the one who is doing boy scouts, and I hear he's working. 


REPORTER: Has he heard from you? 


VIVIAN SOLON: Yes. They're happy. What they are doing is swimming, boy scouts, what else? 


They're going to school. 


NICK GRIMM: Vivian Solon's eldest son lives with his father, who she divorced several years ago. 


But as for her younger son, who has lived in foster care since she left him at a child care centre in 2001, well, she's uncertain about what the future might hold. 


VIVIAN SOLON: I don't mind seeing them… maybe one hour only.  


HARRY FREEDMAN: Vivian's divorced from her husband, her eldest child has been living with his father for a number of years, well certainly during the period that Vivian's been deported, and the youngest boy hasn't seen her for a number of years, so we have to go through the authorities. He's in foster care in Queensland. 


NICK GRIMM: Vivian Solon's Australian lawyer intervened as journalists asked further questions of his client, explaining that since she was becoming over-excited by the attention, he'd do the talking instead. 


HARRY FREEDMAN: She's a little bit excited, and she's been through medical tests, so I'd prefer the questions to be directed to me. 


Harry Freedman said she had no desire to mount a protracted legal battle with the Australian Government. 


HARRY FREEDMAN: There's no desire on the part of Vivian to initiate any proceedings for compensation, if that's applicable, and if it can be avoided. 


NICK GRIMM: But Harry Freedman also made it clear that a lawsuit will only be avoided if the Government offers adequate support and compensation. 


HARRY FREEDMAN: There's been no formal offer, there's been assistance being offered by the Australian Consulate here and their staff, and they've been tremendous. 


NICK GRIMM: And while Vivian Solon's legal team might want to avoid the courtroom, elsewhere pressure continues on the Federal Government to establish a full judicial inquiry into her case. 


Yesterday the Australian newspaper reported that Queensland Police's Missing Persons Bureau notified Philippines authorities in 2003 that it intended to send an officer to manila to conduct a search for Vivian Solon, but never did so. 


It's also been suggested that the Queensland police officer who escorted Vivian Solon to the Philippines abandoned her at the airport when no one was there to greet her. 


PETER BEATTIE: But all we're saying to Amanda Vanstone is look, your system's stuffed. 


NICK GRIMM: Queensland Premier Peter Beattie told ABC TV's Lateline program that it’s unfair to direct blame at the police officer concerned. 


PETER BEATTIE: You know, what happens of course is, because there are difficulties with the federal system of immigration, whenever Queensland police or our authorities get involved at their direction, we end up wearing some of the blame. Well, so be it. But I think the system needs to be improved. We've now had two major problems, and I would think you'd have to be obviously on another planet not to understand that this needs to be properly and judicially reviewed. 


NICK GRIMM: Meanwhile, on the 7:30 Report last night, Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone acknowledged that it might be time for the culture of her department to change, and she's foreshadowed that it might take amendments to the Migration Act to do so. 


AMANDA VANSTONE: There were certain changes made to the Migration Act, some in 1992, but primarily in 1994, that may well have resulted in a change of culture and less flexibility being available to departmental officers. So I just flag that I'm looking at that, that the structure of the Act itself may need to have amendment to create more flexibility for officers that are there. 


TONY EASTLEY: Federal Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone ending that report from Nick Grimm.