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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 30

Senator NETTLE (2:36 PM) —My question is addressed to Senator Vanstone, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. The minister will recall the case 18 months ago of a 14-year-old boy, detained at Port Hedland detention centre, who lost sight in his right eye and almost lost his left eye after he was repeatedly denied specialist assessment and treatment. My question relates to a man I visited in Villawood detention centre last week named Masood, who has recently been diagnosed as a diabetic. Is the minister aware that on January 29 Masood collapsed and was taken to Liverpool hospital? He was told by the doctor that he needed to see a specialist in order to get an urgent assessment of his sight. To this day, Masood has not seen an ophthalmologist or a diabetic specialist. Why has the department prevented Masood from seeing an eye specialist for 38 days now, since his collapse?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator Nettle, I am not, at this point, aware of that. You will forgive me for not necessarily taking what you say as being correct. I have had experience in the past, with you specifically, of allegations being put that turned out to be quite baseless. I do not assume for one minute that that is the case here. Where someone’s health is an issue, it should be attended to and attended to promptly by the appropriate people. I will make inquiries as to the allegations you make and I will come back and answer to the Senate for what has or has not happened in relation to the matter.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that her chief of staff was informed about this issue, in writing, by Masood’s lawyer on 13 February? I understand that, in relation to this issue, the Ombudsman has also been contacted and I faxed the minister last week. What action has the minister’s office taken to ensure that Masood gets medical treatment? Isn’t this case, following on from the Cornelia Rau case, yet another indication of widespread and chronic problems with mental and physical health care in our immigration detention centres? Can the minister inform the Senate on what basis—on any basis—her and her department’s handling of this man’s urgent medical condition is not medical negligence?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator Nettle, you may or may not be familiar with the process by which correspondence is handled in most ministers’ offices; that is, it goes to the department for the preparation of a reply. So, generally, I would not be made aware of correspondence until it came back with an appropriate reply. Of course, the tenor of your supplementary question reveals the degree of faith with which you brought your first question to this place. In fact, by the very question you have asked as a supplementary, you have indicated exactly your intent in this matter, which is more political than concern for Mr Masood.

Having said that, Senator, I go back to the answer I originally gave you, which is that, even though I have had experience of your getting things incorrect and putting them out as propositions and finding them to be false, nonetheless I will quite specifically have this matter checked out, because it relates to someone’s health, and then come back to the Senate and answer for what has or has not happened in his case. As for your tying this matter into the Rau matter, that is an exceptional case where someone for eight months has consistently described themselves as an unlawful non-citizen. (Time expired)