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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 76

Senator NETTLE (5:34 PM) —The story of Cornelia Rau is an incredible case of negligence and incompetence by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs; Global Solutions Ltd, the company contracted to run the detention centres; and the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. It is incredible that behaviour that Aborigines in Cape York and asylum seekers in Baxter detention centre were able to clearly identify as being related to a mental illness could be construed by the department of immigration as ‘normal’. It is even more incredible that the department and authorities at Baxter detention centre deemed that it was appropriate to lock up Ms Rau in the isolation unit. The minister cannot claim ignorance, and the department cannot say it acted responsibly. The minister must apologise immediately, as should the Prime Minister. Appropriate compensation should be arranged for Ms Rau and her family.

Unfortunately, Ms Rau’s case is not an isolated incident. It is a snapshot of the cruelty that occurs behind the razor wire of our immigration detention centres. The treatment that Cornelia suffered is the same treatment that asylum seekers suffer every day. I have visited the detainees in Baxter detention centre. I have heard their stories, and I have seen the depression in their faces. Every day I receive correspondence from ordinary Australians who have befriended asylum seekers and who are horrified by the treatment their new friends receive. Two separate studies into mental illness and immigration detention concluded that almost all long-term detainees suffered at least one mental illness. Dr Louise Newman has called Baxter a de facto psychiatric hospital. If Cornelia Rau’s case is an example of the level of care it provides then this is a facility that should be closed. The Rau case has exposed an immigration detention regime that is systematic in its neglect of detainees, that results in human rights abuses and that strips asylum seekers of their dignity and their mental health. Detention itself is the problem.

The Greens called for a royal commission into conditions in detention in May 2003 after Four Corners aired allegations of brutality and abuse in our detention centres. We repeat the call this week. An inquiry must not be restricted to Cornelia Rau’s case; it must look at the conditions of all people in mandatory detention. Everyone, whether they are an Australian citizen, resident or noncitizen, is entitled to quality health care, dignity, human rights and justice. The inquiry must be transparent, independent and public. We believe that a royal commission, with broad terms of reference and an ability to take evidence from a wide variety of sources, is the best form of inquiry. This type of inquiry will reveal the full extent of the inhumanity of mandatory detention and why it must be abolished.