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Minister discusses compensation awarded to Vivian Solon.

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Thursday 30 November 2006

Minister discusses compensation awarded to Vivian Solon


MARK COLVIN: 18 months after she was found in a remote convent in the Philippines, Vivian Solon is finally set to be compensated by the Federal Government. 


The Immigration Department forced her out of Australia five years ago, alleging wrongly that she'd been in this country illegally. 


The case, along with that of Cornelia Rau, created huge upheavals within the department and forced a full inquiry. 


Today's settlement ends a protracted negotiation between the department and Ms Solon's lawyers. 


Today the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone declared an end to the matter. But as with most developments in the Vivian Solon case, the details of the multimillion-dollar compensation claim remain a secret. 


Lisa Millar reports 


LISA MILLAR: It's now more than five years since Vivian Solon was deported to the Philippines; the Immigration Department convinced the Australian citizen had been living here illegally. 


After the media picked up her case, she was discovered in a convent, struggling with ill health. Now, after lengthy talks over compensation, both sides are set to sign off on what is described as a multimillion-dollar package, the details to remain secret. 


AMANDA VANSTONE: You know, it isn't always the case that everything needs to be revealed. In understand the public might be interested, but I'm convinced that this point is not in the public interest. 


LISA MILLAR: Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone though, is relieved it didn't go through the courts. 


AMANDA VANSTONE: I'm very pleased that this has happened this way, that there hasn't been the necessity to resort to lengthy legal process to resolve this. 


And I think that's required goodwill on all sides. But it does mean I'm sure, that Ms Solon will, sooner than she otherwise would have been, be put in a situation as best we can, that she would be in had the events that occurred not occurred. 


And that's what we said at the time. Of course, there would be compensation, and what we would we be seeking to do was put her in the best position possible. I think this does that, and I'm pleased it does that ... and I'm not pleased that any of the events happened and that she's now in the position she's in. 


LISA MILLAR: Vivian Solon is now living in Sydney with her sister. Two nurses provide 24-hour care. 


She left behind two children when she was deported. Her lawyer George Newhouse won't say if they're in regular contact, and he won't reveal just how much the compensation deal is worth. 


GEORGE NEWHOUSE: I can't make any comment about it other than to say it's a substantial amount of money that recognises the damage that the Government did to Vivian and her family. 


LISA MILLAR: Do you still consider this case one of the darker moments of the Immigrant Department's history? 


GEORGE NEWHOUSE: Well, if there's worse than this, I can't possibly imagine it. I think this is one of the darkest cases I've ever read about. 


I think the conduct of the Department of Immigration was absolutely reprehensible, and I think that the ... any amount of money that Vivian receives is not enough to compensate her for what she went through. 


LISA MILLAR: Mr Newhouse says there are still a few minor matters to be agreed to. I asked him this afternoon how much he was going to receive from the package, but he hung up on me. 


Ms Solon's case followed that of Cornelia Rau, a German-born Australian resident, who was held in immigration detention after absconding from a psychiatric hospital and being mistaken for an illegal immigrant.  


AMANDA VANSTONE: It is as a consequence of what happened to her, and Cornelia Rau that the Immigration Department is going through a tremendous reform program, tremendous both in the consequences of it and the size of it. 


We've already announced a significant portion of the money that's being spent. But of course, there's a lot of work to be done. There's a very, very long way between the cabinet table and the announcement and a press release of funding. 


GEORGE NEWHOUSE: We haven't seen a case like it since, but I'm not convinced that changing databases and giving people niceness training and changing their t-shirts and mugs has really changed the underlying attitude of immigration officers. 


I'd like to hope that there has been a cultural change, but I'm yet to see evidence of it. 


MARK COLVIN: Lawyer George Newhouse ending Lisa Millar's report.