Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Archival Rescue 41 ~ Aus detention

Wrongfully detained - 201 cases to be investigated (nine detention centres still to close).

Wrongful detention: 200 cases go to enquiry
May 25, 2005 - 11:53am AAP Sydney Morning Herald

More than 200 cases of possible wrongful immigration detention have been uncovered since the Cornelia Rau affair, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says.

Senator Vanstone's admission follows weeks of pressure over the wrongful detention of Ms Rau and the deportation to the Philippines of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon.

Several Liberal backbenchers have mounted a rebellion against the Government's mandatory immigration detention policies, planning to introduce their own legislation to water down the laws.

But Senator Vanstone defended her department, saying it was often difficult to correctly identify someone suspected of having a mental illness.

She said she had made several changes in light of the cases and was considering bringing in experts to fix problems.

"I recognise that it may be appropriate to involve external expertise," she told a Senate estimates hearing.

Senator Vanstone said that, while 201 cases marked "released not unlawful", had been referred to former Australian Federal Police chief Mick Palmer for investigation, not every one would turn out to be a case of wrongful detention.

"Every single case will be looked at separately, every one of them, because the department is determined to recognise what problems it may have and to change," she said.

"And I am not going to ... engage in that work and then have further problems arise later. It must start with a clean slate.

"But even more importantly than that, if there are any cases in that number that have a problem, then [they] have to be dealt with as a right for the person involved.

"We've done the search, we've gone back as far as these records are held and we're referring just over 200 cases."

Senator Vanstone said she had asked her department to look at using biometrics to identify people, and had set up a special national identification unit in the Canberra head office to ensure complex cases were dealt with quickly and consistently.

The unit will help state and territory case officers check identities, while immigration detention review managers will be in place by the end of May in each state and territory where people are detained.

From May 28, a psychiatrist will visit Baxter detention centre every fortnight and, from next week, psychiatric nurses will be on call 24 hours a day.

The changes are not enough to placate moderate Liberal backbenchers, who want children and their parents released from immigration detention immediately, and all detainees released after a year.

Victorian MP Petro Georgiou has drawn up his own legislation. Up to four Government MPs are believed to support his move.

Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out a conscience vote on the issue, angering former Liberal candidate and human rights advocate Greg Barns, who was disendorsed for publicly opposing the Government's treatment of asylum seekers.

"Mr Howard allowed a conscience vote on right-to-die legislation, IVF and abortion - there is no difference between those matters of conscience and the rights of human beings in detention when they have committed no crime," Mr Barns said.


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