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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 26

Senator LUDWIG (2:10 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. I refer the minister to a media statement in which she said that it ‘is a tragic case, but one that has been resolved, giving comfort to the woman’s family’. Can the minister explain to the Senate what comfort the Rau family can obtain from the wrongful detention for 10 months of its seriously ill family member? If the minister really wants to give comfort to the family, will the minister now commit to holding a fully independent, open and public inquiry, as requested by the Rau family?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for the question. In the context of the question you raise about giving comfort to the family, I think that is unquestionable. The fact that Ms Rau was found and was safe, albeit with a pre-existing mental condition, must be of indescribable comfort to the family, who for a significant period of time—some eight months or so—had not known whether their daughter and sister—and I understand that her sister has made some remarks in respect to this matter—was alive and well.

The family have indicated, as I understand it, some regret that Ms Rau was not notified earlier as a missing person. I can understand them feeling that but I can also understand it not happening. If you were responsible for a person with a pre-existing mental condition—who, according to my advice, has in the past left Australia on a German passport without notifying anyone and then returned—and they went missing you would not immediately go to missing persons. I understand that position, but I can understand their feelings as well. My remarks with respect to the family’s relief were to do with the fact that she has been found and is safe.

Senator LUDWIG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has not taken us to the real question of why she is so determined to prevent the inquiry from being fully public, open and transparent. She should ensure that due process in fact occurs. Isn’t it the case that a closed inquiry will be unable to investigate the operation of the minister, the acting minister for immigration, Mr Peter McGauran, and the minister’s own office and staff? Isn’t it the case also that protection from self-incrimination may not be available to the witnesses and they might receive legal advice that they should not cooperate with the inquiry? What processes have you put in place to ensure that that will not happen and that contractors and DIMIA officials will cooperate fully with the inquiry? If none of that is in the terms of the inquiry, what powers does it have?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —With respect, your question does tempt me to express some disappointment in the political and parliamentary process since it does appear—and forgive me for misjudging you if this is not the case—that your primary interest, in what is clearly such a tragic case, is a political one. In contrast, I am determined to get to the bottom of what happened vis-a-vis Ms Rau. I am satisfied that the process we have put in place is an appropriate process. I indicated in my answer to your leader that if at any point Mr Palmer—in whom I presume you have confidence and trust since your previous government appointed him and he is very widely regarded as a man of great integrity—has a concern about the appropriateness of the evidence that he is able to obtain, I invite him to raise it with the government. (Time expired)