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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 90

Senator BARTLETT (3:38 PM) —Today in question time we had more questions of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone, about what has become known as the Cornelia Rau case. There were a few answers from the minister, and a lot of other words came out of her mouth aimed at filling in the time while she avoided answering some of those questions. But one of the key aspects that has to continue to be challenged through questions of the minister, both in this place and in the public arena, is: will there be a genuine opportunity for the truth to come out?

It is not surprising that people are very cynical and very unsatisfied with the secret inquiry that has been announced to date. It is an old adage—and the reason that the adage is so old and has survived so long is because it is so valid—that justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done. It is a bit hard for justice to be seen to be done if it is being done in a back room behind closed doors, so it is no wonder that people have little faith in the ability of this inquiry to get to the bottom, in a complete way, of everything that has happened.

This is not for the sake of pointing the finger of blame. I think we can point the finger of blame at the entire nation in many ways for our lack of proper understanding about mental illness and for some of the ways that people respond to mental illness when they are confronted with its reality. That is a failing of our whole society. So we do not need to get to the bottom of it all for the purposes of finger pointing or political point scoring. Indeed, if the focus is political point scoring, it will almost inevitably mean that the real questions are not answered and the real opportunities to get some positive gains from this terrible incident will be lost.

But that is not an excuse for having everything done in secret. In fact, it is an extra reason not to have it done in secret, because as soon as things are covered up it provides more opportunities for people to focus on the political aspects. Because nobody knows what the truth really is, you cannot draw the debate down and narrow it down to the truth, the facts, the substance and what needs to be done as a consequence. It is all covered up, so people will just rely on other reports and other statements, and the debate will not be as focused as it needs to be.

So it was good to see the response from the minister today that she has tried to chase up and ensure that video footage from the closed-circuit televisions that are in every single one of the management unit cells in the Baxter facility and other video footage is available. I hope that that video footage does exist—it will be a real problem if it does not—and that it is provided unedited and complete to the inquiry. It still has to be ascertained that that will happen.

The other aspect of Senator Allison’s question, which followed on from mine yesterday, is will the asylum seekers in Baxter who witnessed the way Ms Rau was allegedly treated be able to give evidence. That is a pretty straightforward question. The minister said yesterday, as she keeps saying, that she will do everything possible to get to the bottom of this. When I asked her yesterday, ‘Will the asylum seekers give evidence?’ she said: ‘I will have to give consideration to that. I will take that on notice and get back to you,’ and then repeated her determination to get to the bottom of it.

If the minister and the government are so determined to get to the bottom of it, why do they even need to think about whether or not the only people who have witnessed Ms Rau’s treatment in Baxter will be able to give evidence? They are the only eyewitnesses to her treatment, at least in Baxter, that are available. How could it even need a minute’s thought? Yet, when she was asked again today, she dodged the question and did not answer it again, a day later. She said: ‘The only eyewitnesses? Well, I’ll think about whether they can give evidence and we’ll see if there is any video footage as well.’ It will all be in secret, even if there is any evidence. It is a very, very dubious idea that the truth will be complete and will be outed in this area. No wonder people are very sceptical about whether justice will be done. It sure as hell is not going to be seen to be done. We do not even know if the evidence of the only eyewitnesses to it is going to be able to be fed into the process. It is a key question and it is one the Democrats will continue to push. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.