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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 38

Senator BARTLETT (2:59 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister guarantee that the asylum seekers in Baxter detention centre who blew the whistle on the treatment of Ms Rau and who are primarily responsible for her being free today will, if they wish, be able to give evidence to the inquiry that has been established? Will the minister also guarantee that if any asylum seekers do give evidence to that inquiry they will not face any retribution as a consequence of evidence that they might give?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator Bartlett, I have already indicated that Ms Rau now being in Glenside and having what we assume is appropriate care is not a function of advocates repeating things that they presumably got from people who were in Baxter—who, incidentally, are not all asylum seekers; some are simply overstayers who are pursuing some legal means of staying in Australia. It was not because they blew the whistle that this matter came to the attention of immigration officials or became their concern. As I have indicated repeatedly, the Queensland police must have had some concerns, because my advice is that while she was in the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre she was sent to the Princess Alexandra Hospital and an assessment was made there by someone whose qualifications I am not in a position to dispute, nor do I know anyone who wants to. When she went to Baxter, she was seen by a psychologist and then—I think at the psychologist’s suggestion but, in any event, not long after—by a psychiatrist, who recommended that a proper assessment be made through the proper processes, and that process was started in November.

As to the asylum seekers giving evidence, I will give consideration to that. I will take that on notice and get back to you. I do repeat, however, our determination to get to the bottom of this. I repeat that if former Commissioner Palmer has the slightest concern—and he would be in a better position than most of us to detect who is telling the truth and who is not, given a lifetime of experience at that—he is invited to raise it with the government. We are determined to find out if there is anything we could have done better and if there is anything we did that we should not have done. I assume that the good faith expressed by the state premiers concerned will be put into practice in terms of cooperation with this inquiry. I do not know anyone who is of bad faith in this matter.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of—

Government senators interjecting—

Senator Lightfoot —Come on, don’t be petulant.

Senator BARTLETT —You should not chide your colleagues like that, Senator. Is the minister aware of any other concerns expressed by health professionals about the mental health of other people in migration detention at Baxter and how those people are treated? In order for the commissioner to assess the adequacy of the care provided to Ms Rau, will the inquiry headed by Mr Palmer be able to investigate allegations of the treatment of other people in Baxter detention centre as part of its inquiry?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I am aware of concerns raised by, as you said, health professionals—and you might include advocates as well. Of course, there is a clear body of people who have very strong political views on this matter. There is also a body of people who have different views. I am aware of a number of papers that have been written on both sides of this issue. I have no doubt that there will be some people who will seek to use the case of Ms Rau as a vehicle to proceed with and push and promote their own political views. For my part, I am determined that we get to the bottom of what happened in Ms Rau’s case. When the report is made public there will be plenty of opportunities for anybody, including senators, advocates and health professionals, to make recommendations about what they think ought to happen. There are those venues now, of course. The inquiry is to be focused on Ms Rau. She is the centre of my focus.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.