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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 40

Senator LUDWIG (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Senator Vanstone) to questions without notice asked today relating to the detention of Ms Cornelia Rau.

I say at the outset that what the government has in fact outlined today in the answers given by Senator Vanstone is that the immigration detention system does have massive cracks and that Ms Rau seems to have fallen through every single one of them. Rather than go through, one by one, the issues of what happened so that we can understand the systemic failure that the immigration detention system seems to have had in relation to Ms Rau, rather than go through the dates when things happened—how many times DIMIA has in fact tried to establish her identity, when she was detained and on what basis she was detained—what we have had is a general version of broad events and an appeal to the heart from Senator Vanstone. No-one doubts that it is a terrible case, that this woman deserves sympathy and that her friends and family similarly deserve sympathy. But what they also deserve is the truth in relation to this matter, the truth in relation to how it is going to actually play out.

Instead, we find Senator Vanstone went to a press conference today before question time and failed to articulate how this inquiry will get to the bottom of these issues. She failed to identify what powers Mick Palmer will have—whether he will have the ability to compel witnesses and protect witnesses; whether he will even have transcripts of the proceedings; and whether he can ask not only the department but the contractors, subcontractors and anyone else who might have an interest in this matter, who might have evidence and who might be able to shed light on the Rau matter. During the press conference, she did not say what those powers are and what the terms of reference are and provide them for public scrutiny. We do not know. There has been no answer.

Her statement from the press conference seems to be, ‘I’ll go and check on it.’ One would imagine that, if you are going to go to a press conference and announce an inquiry into a matter, you would have those things bedded down, you would know the answers to those issues. I suggest that she did not know the answers because there are no answers. She will not ensure that there is. In fact, it will be a whitewash, a cover-up. That is what it seems to be—no more, no less.

If you were going to have a proper inquiry, you would make it public, you would make it open, you would make it independent, you would have the terms of reference bedded down and you would have the powers of the person who will run the inquiry bedded down. You would ensure that you have transcripts and that you have protection for witnesses. You would ensure that there is also the ability to preserve evidence. You would ensure that, if there is evidence of offences being committed under the Migration Act—or any other criminal law—that evidence is not tainted, that people have the ability to come forward and provide evidence to the inquiry so that they are then not subject to and open to charges themselves. In other words, it should be made clear to them that there is the ability for either self-incrimination not to be available or privileges to be given so that they are not then subject to future defamation cases. Those are safeguards that ensure that these things become open and transparent.

Today we have heard a poor imitation of what could be a proper inquiry. There is no question that Mr Palmer is a good individual. We are not looking at Mr Palmer as an individual. I do not want to hear from the government that Mr Palmer is a well-respected person. There is no doubt about that. We want to hear from the government how they will ensure that they will get all the information on the record, that they will ensure that it is available and that it will be a comprehensive inquiry. We have not heard how they will achieve that.

When you look at all the detail that has been asked for today, you get a blurred statement from Senator Vanstone about how this will happen. You almost expect to hear, ‘Trust me to ensure that we will get to the bottom of this case.’ Minister, we want to trust the system. The system has to be in place to ensure that there is no systemic failure. We do not want to trust anyone; we want to make sure that there is a system in place. Today the minister has been unable to articulate how that will work. It is a sad case. We need to ensure that the minister’s office, her advisers, are able to turn up and provide evidence. (Time expired)