Immigration Detention Inquiry Looking at 200 Cases

The number of cases being investigated by the Palmer Inquiry into Australians wrongly held in immigration detention centres has ballooned to 201, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone revealed to a Senates Estimates Committee.

Ms Vanstone told the committee that all cases where a detainee had been listed as having been ‘released not unlawful,' had been referred to the inquiry. This was not necessarily an indication of wrongful detention, she claimed.

"I am advised by my department that the range of circumstances encompassed by “released not unlawful” is very broad," she said.

The new cases include people who were detained "for a very short period of time" while their identity and legal status were being determined.

They also cover people whose status changed while they were in detention including successful legal appeals and children born on Australian soil, who automatically attain citizenship on their 10th birthday.

"The department has gone back as far as the records will allow. All will receive careful, independent review to establish the facts," Ms Vanstone claimed.

She effectively admitted the Department's culture had failed detainees, saying that it would undergo "cultural change" to improve "customer focus, timeliness, openness to complaints and appropriate mechanisms to identify problem areas."

She outlined a raft of changes to immigration case management, including centralisation of records, "early warning" for cases involving "complex identity issues", more psychiatric care for detainees, and review officers within the Department.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said the revelations exposed a major scandal, repeating an earlier statement by the Prime Minister that he would only need to take serious action if there were a systemic failure.

"Two hundred-plus cases is systemic failure. There just can't be any question about that. Systemic failure demands a major response. And a major response is a Royal Commission and the sacking of the Minister and the Opposition demands it," Mr Beazley said.

He said that the current inquiry, headed by former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer, had inadequate powers.

In related news, three Liberal backbenchers, led by MP Petro Georgiou have reportedly drawn up a Private Members Bill requiring children to be released from detention.

Mr Beazley said Labor would support the measure if it conformed to Labor's own policy on immigration detention.

The Law Council endorsed the bill, with President John North saying that Mr Georgiou's initiatives are consistent with the Council's own views.

He said the Council had already made a submission proposing new laws to the Government.

"We informed the government at that time of our concern that the current operation of immigration detention laws are disproportionately harsh and that the law is now arguably at odds with notions of human rights," Mr North said.



27 May, 2005

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