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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 77

Senator HUMPHRIES (5:37 PM) —I have to say I do not believe that today’s urgency debate has exactly added to the lustre of the Senate. Here we have what is clearly a very sad case of a woman who according to the details provided in the media has suffered some quite horrendous circumstances and who needs to be restored to a different state to the one she has found herself in over the last nine months or so. Clearly, some kind of investigation is required to determine what happened in this case and make sure that, if there is any kind of structural problem to do with the housing and treatment of people in detention centres, it is dealt with. But what we have in this debate today is a litany of assumptions and accusations which appear to show no interest in what a considered analysis of the facts actually is.

We have heard that this case shows that there is negligence and incompetence on the part of DIMIA and the detention centre system. It shows systemic failure, according to Senator Kirk, and reflects badly on the government, on the minister and on the system of mandatory detention—the very system, incidentally, which Senator Kirk’s government put in place some years ago. It demonstrates that there are atrocities going on inside Australia’s detention centre system. I think that is an overreaction to the evidence that is presently available of what happened to this particular woman. We need to find out what occurred before the judgments which have been passed in this chamber are put on the table. We need to know what actually happened.

I for one have great faith in Mr Mick Palmer determining what exactly happened in this matter. Mr Palmer served concurrently for some part of the period that he was Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police as the Chief Police Officer of the Australian Capital Territory. As police minister for the Australian Capital Territory during that period, I had occasion to work closely with him. I know him to be a man who is both fair minded and absolutely vigorous in the discharge of his duty. He is not a man who is going to have the wool easily pulled over his eyes. If there are facts to be found, this man will find them. Members of this place have said that they do not have confidence that people will come forward and tell their stories. I have no doubt that Mr Palmer will be more than capable of determining when people do not tell the full story, do not tell what actually happened, and that he will be able, with the intuition which comes from many years of service as a good policeman, to appropriately frame his findings and recommendations in light of that fact if it occurs. There is no evidence, of course, that it is going to occur.

The fact of what has happened today is that Senator Vanstone put on the table a series of pieces of information which ought to cause people who have jumped to conclusions about this matter to reassess their position. She has explained, for example, some information which could quite plausibly lead a person of goodwill, a person of good faith, to conclude that Ms Cornelia Rau was indeed a foreign visitor to these shores and in breach of the conditions under which she was visiting and to take the step of detaining her under the terms of the immigration legislation. That has been put on the table by Senator Vanstone and I think we need to know just how much of what is being said by other parties still stands in light of that evidence. But, of course, we will not know by virtue of what takes place in this debate. The enlightenment we seek will not be added to by what happens in this chamber with this sort of debate.

I must say that there is a considerable irony in hearing members opposite call for an open inquiry on this on the very same day that elsewhere in this city a Labor government is seeking to shut down an open inquiry into the circumstances by which four people lost their lives two years ago during the horrendous January bushfires. That irony does not appear to have drawn itself to the attention of those opposite. The fact is that members of the Australian Labor Party in this place, and other people, are trading on the unfortunate circumstances of this woman for political capital. They would prefer to talk about issues like this and others which are closer to home, closer to the internal circumstances of the Labor Party, and the convenience of this debate is a matter that presents itself very obviously to them.

I for one believe we need to wait and see what this inquiry produces. I for one have no doubt that Mick Palmer is the right man to determine what happened here and to put that evidence squarely before the Australian community. What he will determine, of course, will be determined in a fair-minded way, in a thorough way and in a way which will be evident to Australians, because this report will be public information when it is tabled. It is also important for this to be done fairly expeditiously, and that is the other advantage of the approach that the government has taken. I believe that it is a mistake to assume that merely because government agencies have been involved they must have in some way been at fault. It is possible for a system to be well designed and yet for certain individuals not to be dealt with with appropriate outcomes by that system. No system is perfect, and it may not be the imperfections in the system but the circumstances under which the case came about that explain why this situation arose. I want to see what those circumstances are and I for one believe that that is the appropriate approach for all of us to adopt here—not jumping to conclusions, not assuming that we know better because we have read reports in the media. That does not do the Senate any credit, and it certainly does not do the family of Cornelia Rau any favours as it seeks to get to the bottom of what actually happened in this unfortunate case.

Question agreed to.