Vanstone's rethink on detainees Print E-mail
Written by Michelle Grattan and Brendan Nicholson   

By Michelle Grattan and Brendan Nicholson
May 26, 2005
The Age

As more cases of possible wrongful detention come to light, the Immigration Minister admits the need for cultural change.

Embattled Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has declared her department must change to a "user-friendly" culture, and announced new measures aimed at avoiding the errors of the Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon cases.

As the Government came under fire from all sides over its detention policy, Senator Vanstone revealed that another 85 cases of possible wrongful detention had been referred to the Palmer inquiry into the affair, taking the total to 201.

There was also speculation last night that the Government is preparing to launch a wider, judicial inquiry into wrongful detention cases after the existing inquiry head, Mick Palmer, reports on the Rau case next month.

Earlier, Immigration Department Secretary Bill Farmer expressed "profound regret" for the mistakes in the Rau and Alvarez Solon cases.Mr Farmer made the comment as he and Senator Vanstone faced a grilling by a Senate Committee on detention policy.

Senator Vanstone's committee appearance led to an embarrassment in Parliament later when Prime Minister John Howard directly contradicted part of her evidence.

Mr Howard said that Michael Andrew Tran, born in Perth on Monday to an asylum seeker family from Christmas Island, would live in community accommodation on the mainland. The minister had indicated to the committee the family would be sent back to Christmas Island.

In her opening statement to the Senate committee, Senator Vanstone praised the department's handling of the boat people policy. "Nonetheless, the Government now wants the department . . . to be a can-do department in terms of changing its own culture to be one that is user-friendly and has an open culture of continuous improvement," she said.

We profoundly regret what has happened in some cases." Bill Farmer, Immigration Secretary

In his statement to the committee about the department's mistakes, Mr Farmer said: "We profoundly regret what has happened in some cases. It is distressing, and unacceptable, that our actions have in some respects fallen so short of what we would want, and the Australian people expect. We are deeply sorry about that."

Despite their admissions that change was needed, Senator Vanstone and Mr Farmer frustrated committee members by stonewalling on questions. Labor's Senate leader, Chris Evans, told Senator Vanstone: "I think your administration of your department is a disgrace."

Senator Vanstone said changes to policy, processes and legislation would be of little benefit without cultural change. "I envisage this cultural change will include customer focus, timeliness, openness to complaints and appropriate mechanisms to identify problem areas."

The new safeguards against detention errors include a unit to advise on and verify identity, including managing an "early warning" system to identify hard cases, and the appointment of immigration detention review managers in each state and territory.

Psychiatric services for detainees will be increased. A psychiatrist will visit Baxter detention centre in South Australia every fortnight (compared with six weeks at present) and two new psychiatric nurses will be appointed to give Baxter coverage seven days a week.

Access to care outside detention centres will be improved.

Senator Vanstone last night hinted the Government may launch a judicial inquiry into detention errors, after the ABC's Lateline report that Mick Palmer had recommended a broader, more transparent inquiry, with extra resources and the judicial powers to compel witnesses.

Lateline claimed Mr Palmer would step down after completing the Rau investigation. He had said what would now be a caseload of more than 200 should be investigated by the Ombudsman or a similar legal authority.

Senator Vanstone confirmed she had held a number of discussions with Mr Palmer but refused to say what he was recommending. Senator Vanstone said she was "happy to wait and seek his advice". She expected this before the end of June.

Asked whether she would support a judicial inquiry if Mr Palmer recommended it, she said: "I certainly wouldn't rule it out."

In other developments yesterday, rebel Liberal MPs campaigned for their proposed private member's bills to free long-term detainees, while Mr Howard reaffirmed the mandatory detention policy. But the Prime Minister said the search for opportunities to administer it in a more flexible and compassionate way was "not something that is regarded as having been completed".

· The Immigration Department last night revealed that Vivian Alvarez Solon's former husband had contacted the Queensland police in 2004 wanting to talk to the Immigration Department about her deportation. The police emailed the department on September 28, 2004, but there is no record of a response.

The department realised on August 21, 2003, that in 2001 it had mistakenly deported Ms Alvarez Solon. This followed a search of its database after a Queensland police inquiry.


Jarvis Walker     Arlec

You can help NNAAMI by purchasing one of the products below:

© 2001 National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent
Tax Deductable Reg Charity. Inc.Vic. AOO33733N ABN 41 286 047 141

N.B. All items on this site remain the property of NNAAMI. Permission is granted to duplicate and distribute any items on this site for school student purposes only provided you acknowledge the source. However, written permission is required for any reproduction or for reproduction in public forums / conferences presentations.


Contact Us


You can help NNAAMI by giving a dontation.


Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


South East Asia