Monday May 16 2005 11:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"The Immigration Minister has been sitting on information about Peter Qasim, and all she is doing is further eroding her credibility, after what can only be interpreted as spreading lies in the media about Vivian Alvarez last week," WA Refugee group Project SafeCom said this morning.
"The Minister once more has alleged that she has information "that advocates for Mr Qasim's release would not like" in an article in today's Age by Michelle Grattan. She keeps building the intrigue, even after - with help of some lateral thinking by Dick Smith - Mr Qasim recognised from photos some associates from the Kashmiri area he came from."
"Investigations by Project SafeCom and others however, with Sydney Morning Herald's reporter Margo Kingston, have found - after Amanda Vanstone's panicking media line last week when she was in a spot of bother - that a worker, who according to the Minister can no longer be found because she is no longer working for the Filipino organisation, the "Overseas Women's Welfare Association" - brings Vanstone out as someone who spreads misinformation and lies to the media," spokesman Jack Smit said.
"Indeed, the Minister is right, and this worker can not be found, because this organisation never existed in the first place. The fact that the organisation has never existed has also been confirmed by Ms Melba Marginson, Chairwoman of the Victorian Immigrant & Refugee Women's Coalition."
"We know exactly what the Minister wants, and it is the same thing she wanted for the Bakhtiari family. Thousands of advocates know that the Bakhtiaris needed to disappear from Australia because their profile was damaging the government, because they were never Pakistanis but Hazara refugees from Afghanistan, something the Minister refused to admit because it was too damaging for her and her department."
"The Bakhtiari family spent just three days in Pakistan after they were dumped there by the Minister and her "cowboy department", and they have been in Afghanistan ever since they crossed the Afghani border within days."
"We know that the Minister would desperately love Mr Qasim to disappear from Australia - because too many ordinary Australians now know Australia's longest held asylum seeker who had his seventh birthday this Saturday in the Baxter detention centre."
"Tell us, Minister, tell Mr Dick Smith, tell the public, and while you're at it, tell us at the same time about the non-existing Filipino organisation you sent Vivian Alvarez to, and tell us about the nationality of the Bakhtiari family, and we'll talk again."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
The Age: New evidence 'casts doubt' on detainee
By Michelle Grattan
Political Correspondent, Canberra
May 16, 2005
The Government believes it has strong evidence that casts doubt on the identity of Australia's longest detained failed asylum seeker, Peter Qasim.
This follows information obtained in India by an investigator contracted by the Immigration Department. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, who is expected to release the fresh information soon, has indicated there has been a development that advocates for Mr Qasim's release would not like.
"The news on Mr Qasim is not what you would hope for at this point," she told The Age.
The investigator is believed to have interviewed witnesses on tape, including those Mr Qasim identified as being known to him or who would know him. It is alleged that the investigator found no corroborating evidence of Mr Qasim's association with the areas he says he came from. Mr Qasim has also recently been re-interviewed.
Entrepreneur Dick Smith has been a vocal advocate of Mr Qasim's case. He said last night: "If the Government is going to tell us he isn't who he claims he is, they have to give Peter Qasim and the public the evidence for that. If he is not Peter Qasim, who is he?"
Mr Smith said the Government had obtained Mr Qasim's permission for him to view a video of an interview Mr Qasim had done in Baxter. Mr Smith is yet to see it.
Even if the Government can successfully throw doubt on Mr Qasim's claimed identity, it is still left with the problem of what to do with him after nearly seven years in detention. India has declined to take back Mr Qasim because it is not convinced of his identity.
Despite the revelations about the wrong deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon, Prime Minister John Howard yesterday said he had full confidence in Senator Vanstone. He told Channel Ten's Meet the Press that he backed the beleaguered Immigration Department. "Until I have evidence of bad administration or systemic failure, I'm not going to do other than support the department."
Mr Howard would not speculate on whether the Government would consider an ex-gratia payment to Ms Alvarez Solon. He said he wanted to wait for the results of the inquiry by former police commissioner Mick Palmer, who is looking at this case as well as that of Cornelia Rau, a mentally ill Australian resident who was held in immigration detention.
Mr Howard said he was "profoundly sympathetic" towards both women. But he indicated he was not attracted to the suggestion from Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou that a royal commission into immigration decision-making should be considered after the Palmer inquiry was completed.
While saying he would not speculate on what might be done after the Palmer inquiry, Mr Howard said royal commissions were appropriate in some circumstances but not in others. The Government has steadfastly resisted calls to turn the Palmer inquiry into a royal commission or set up a royal commission separate from it.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley called for the resignations of Senator Vanstone and Immigration Department head Bill Farmer.
"If John Howard doesn't want a proper inquiry, and you simply go on the information which is publicly available, the information which is publicly available is resignation information," Mr Beazley told Channel Nine's Sunday program.