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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 68

Senator BRANDIS (4:54 PM) —As Senator Ludwig has said, this is a sad case and I would have thought, with respect, that good sense and common decency would dictate that it not be made the subject of an unedifying and discreditable attempt at scoring political points. Senator Ludwig, who, if I may say so, usually takes a very responsible attitude to these affairs did rather disappoint me in his speech by trying to use this sad case, which is about a sick person, a mentally ill person, in respect of whose affairs mistakes were made—and nobody is denying that—as an opportunity for point scoring. I would hope that senators who participate in this debate show a greater interest in getting to the bottom of the facts of the case than in using it as a platform for rhetorical flourish. That is what I want to do—I want to set out in a dispassionate way those facts which do seem to be established.

Can I in a preliminary way make two points. First of all, Senator Vanstone, I think, to any fair-minded person impressed anyone who observed her in responding to questions in question time today with appropriate candour and deliberation and an obvious eagerness to ensure that we did get to the bottom of whatever systemic failures there were in this sad case. Secondly, can I make the obvious point that the government by announcing today an inquiry by a highly suitable individual, the former commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Mr Mick Palmer, has shown that same willingness to get to the bottom of what happened by holding a departmental inquiry and then making the findings public and subject to public scrutiny.

Let us go through the facts so far as we know them, and be aware that there are other undisclosed matters which will no doubt be revealed as the Palmer inquiry takes its course. The lady concerned, who we now know was Ms Cornelia Rau, a permanent resident though not a citizen of Australia, was at the end of March found in Coen, a small community about 660 kilometres north of Cairns, apparently by Aboriginal people, in a state of some distress and she then came to the notice of officers of the Queensland Police Service. When they interviewed her she told them that she was German. She spoke in German or partly in German. She said she was German, that she was a visitor to Australia, that she had no friends or family in Australia and that she had with her a stolen passport. She told the police that her name was Anna Schmidt or, variously, Anna Sue Schmidt or Anna Brotmeyer.

So the starting point of these events was that a person told officers of the Queensland Police Service, to whose attention she had been brought, that she was a nonresident foreign citizen who was in Australia on a stolen passport. The Queensland Police Service got in touch with DIMIA. She was taken into custody, as, on the basis of the information she gave the Queensland Police Service, she should have been. On 31 March she was taken to Cairns and several days later she was taken down to Brisbane, where she was detained in the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre. During the course of this time, the Queensland Police Service apparently had an informal arrangement with DIMIA, the people who had initiated the detention, and she was being held in a Queensland government facility. There is no suggestion that she was other than an unlawful noncitizen and there was no suggestion, or any basis, for anyone to discover her real identity.

In detention in the Queensland women’s correctional centre she exhibited symptoms of a behavioural disorder, so in August she was sent, apparently at the instigation of those who were responsible for her custody, to the Princess Alexandra Hospital. As Senator Ludwig, as a Queensland senator, knows, that is one of the largest and most respected hospital facilities in Queensland and indeed in Australia. It appears she was there for about a week. During that time she was psychiatrically accessed by an eminent and respected psychiatrist, and as a result of that assessment—it was not a matter of a cursory examination; it was a matter of several days, almost a week, of clinical investigation—his professional conclusion was that she did not show the diagnostic symptoms of mental disorder. She was released back to the Queensland women’s correctional centre on the doctor’s professional advice and, in due course, in October, transferred into the custody of DIMIA at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia.

All of this was done in accordance with the procedure which, on the state of their knowledge at the time, the relevant authorities—both the state authorities and the Commonwealth authority—ought to have followed. There was no reason to believe up to that point that she was anything other than what she said she was. She characterised herself as being an unlawful noncitizen. She went to the Baxter detention centre and again concerns became apparent, to those in whose custody she was, about behavioural problems, so she was seen first by a psychologist—as Senator Vanstone said in answers in question time today—and then by a psychiatrist, and in mid-November a process of psychiatric assessment was begun.

Meanwhile, in August, her family in New South Wales listed Cornelia Rau as a missing person. But unbeknownst to them, by listing Cornelia Rau as a missing person with the New South Wales Police, the name Cornelia Rau went onto the New South Wales Police database, but not, evidently, onto a national database. That, no doubt, is something that Mr Palmer will consider when he conducts this inquiry—the extensiveness of the missing persons database. The report that Ms Rau was a missing person in New South Wales did not reach, and had no reason to reach, either the Commonwealth authorities or the state authorities involved in the custody of the person they thought to be an unlawful noncitizen of German nationality going under a different name in either Queensland or South Australia.

In the meantime, the process of psychiatric assessment continued in South Australia. Then last Thursday, 3 February, it appeared, as a result of inquiries—the full nature of which are not yet apparent—that the person in detention was in fact Cornelia Rau. Apparently a photograph of the person in detention was posted by somebody and it was identified by Cornelia Rau’s family. That was the first point at which there was any intersection between the identity of Cornelia Rau and the supposed unlawful noncitizen Anna Schmidt or Anna Brotmeyer. It was the first time that the identity of those two supposed different individuals was established. So that very day, it being established that the person who had been supposed to be the unlawful noncitizen was in fact an Australian permanent resident, there was no power to detain her under the immigration act, she was released first to Port Augusta Hospital and then the following day, Friday, 4 February, to Glenside psychiatric centre, where apparently the lady concerned still is.

Senator Vanstone addressed, without any hint of seeking to conceal anything, all of these matters with the media and in question time today. As well today the government established this inquiry, which is not wanting in transparency, Senator Ludwig, as you will see if you but read the terms of reference.

In closing, let me quote the words of Ms Rau’s sister, Christine Rau, who on the weekend said the most sensible thing that has yet been said about this sad case. She said that there is no point in apportioning blame until an investigation uncovers all of the relevant facts. (Time expired)