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Protesters in Adelaide Rally demand a judicial Inquiry into Detention centres

Life after Cornelia Rau:
a People's Inquiry into Detention?

The Howard government announces the Palmer Inquiry, the Senate threatens one, and "the people" announce their own

What was near impossible for a long time, became an opportuun opening in terms of media attention, when we found Australian citizen Cornelia Rau, thanks to the hard work of Pamela Curr, assisted by some others. All the floodlights the media could muster, were focused on how we have the Department of Immigration lock up people 'forever' without any scrutiny by the court system.

Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry!

Under pressure, Howard and Vanstone announced their 'Mickey Mouse' Mick Palmer 'closed' inquiry (1), while the Senate started its own inquiry and condemned the Mick Palmer investigation - a motion carried, see Joe Ludwig's press release (2) - and demanded a judicial inquiry. Dissent within government ranks over immigration detention was never bigger (see Petro Georgiou's speech on this page), and the Heads of Schools of Social Work announced their own inquiry (3).

Adelaide Rally

This page is a snapshot of the various inquiry announcements, and below these announcements are seven spoken and read contributions to the rally demanding a judicial inquiry into Cornelia Rau in front of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone's Adelaide office on Saturday 12 February 2005 - some photo thumbnails accompany the text (click on them to open the large pictures).

Related pages:

30 June 2006: Christine Rau: Dealing with the Aftermath - " mid-afternoon, other outlets had already found enough material on the missing persons' website as to scotch any ideas of anonymity. By Saturday morning, her story - and ironically, her identity - was front page news."

20 November 2005: Chris Rau: Try follow the money trail... - " thing I keep getting back to, and that all of us should emphasise, is the potential for a public outcry if you follow the money trail. Forget human rights; forget the abuses that are still going on ... people simply don't want to know."

25 October 2005: Chris Rau and her sister's 'illness-mongers' - I'm standing here today with deep disillusionment. I had the misapprehension that I was among idealists; among people who cared for the interests of people who don't have a voice, legally or otherwise. I thought you were all slaving away, with rings under your eyes, doing pro-bono work in your spare time...

5 July 2005: Christine Rau: my sister's 309 days - "Cornelia has had a terrible ordeal and is understandably angry about it. She was locked up in isolation, has said she felt treated like a caged animal, for the crime of mental illness which led her to lie about her identity."

26 March 2005: Indefinite detention, Cornelia Rau and the denial of mental illness - Carmen Lawrence MP: We must ensure that our domestic law fully enshrines the principle that imprisonment should occur only after conviction by a court, not by arbitrary action of government.

27 February 2005: Talking about Cornelia: the Baxter detainees Statement - A page about Cornelia Rau, who was "lost" inside Australia as 'Anna', classed as an 'illegal immigrant' without any evidence for this by Department of Immigration staff.

10 February 2005 - The Cornelia Rau Inquiry: an emailed Call to Action - Dear all, the Cornelia Rau Affair and the subsequent government inquiry announced by the Minister for Immigration Amanda Vanstone, should serve all Australians with some very serious food for thought. Sent widely through our contact network.

7 February 2005: Finding Anna: when Immigration gets it really, really wrong - Astounding is the word, but I guess the story is familiar by now. 'Anna', or as we know now, Cornelia, an Australian citizen, went missing, and based on the fact that she was disoriented, spoke some German, and could not be identified, she ends up in Baxter's punishment block, after 'having been assigned' to DIMIA, the Department of Immigration, for being an alleged 'illegal immigrant'.

(1) The Mick Palmer Inquiry Call

25 February 2005
from the Project SafeCom News

Last Saturday the Mick Palmer Inquiry Call for Submissions appeared in The Weekend Australian. While I think this should be called the "Mickey Mouse Inquiry", it may be a useful vehicle for some people to submit material.

Transcript of the advert is below, followed by a press release from Senator Joe Ludwig about the Senate's rejection of Mick Palmer's Inquiry.

All of course, for your information and 'feeling all fuzzy-wuzzy' about Australia's Democracy In Action.


Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.

Inquiry into the Cornelia Rau Matter

19-20 FEBRUARY 2005, page 36


The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, the Honourable Amanda Vanstone MP, has asked Mr Mick Palmer AO APM to conduct an independent inquiry which will investigate, examine and report on matters relating to the case of Cornelia Rau, including the actions of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) and relevant State agencies during the period March 2004 to February 2005.

In particular the Inquiry will examine and make findings on:

  • the sequence of events that gave rise to her being held in immigration detention;
  • the circumstances, actions and procedures which resulted in her remaining unidentified during the period in question;
  • measures taken to deal with her medical condition and other care needs during that period;
  • the systems and processes of, and co-operation between, relevant State and Commonwealth agencies in relation to identification/location of missing persons of mental health services; and

will recommend any necessary systems/process improvements.

Any persons who wish to provide information to the inquiry should ensure that this information, preferably in the form of a statutory declaration, is received at the following address by COB Monday 7 March 2005:

Inquiry into the Cornelia Rau Matter
GPO Box 3007
Canberra City ACT 2601

(2) Senate rejects Vanstone's flawed inquiry

Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs
Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs
Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate
Labor Senator for Queensland

22 February 2005

Tonight the Senate has voted to reject the Government's call for a private inquiry into the Cornelia Rau affair. Labor's Manager of Opposition Business, Senator Joe Ludwig said "the Senate has rejected Amanda Vanstone's 'closed shop' inquiry'."

"Tonight the Senate has voted instead in favour of a full public inquiry. It's extraordinary that Senator Vanstone talks of a full and frank inquiry yet the inquiry she offers will have its hearings conducted away from public scrutiny."

"Labor believes the inquiry model proposed by Minister Vanstone is flawed because Minister Vanstone was unable to guarantee that the inquiry:

"It's not even clear whether Senator Vanstone's office will be open for investigation, or whether the Senator herself, or her advisers, will be able to be called to testify. Labor was not convinced the Government's model would lead to a fair outcome for Cornelia Rau and her family."

Senator Ludwig moved the motion for Labor ... and it was passed this evening with the assistance of minor parties and independents.

The Motion

That in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency: the need for the Federal Government to:

a) establish a fully transparent and independent public inquiry into the detention of Ms Cornelia Rau.

b) establish an Inspector General of Immigration Detention and an operational secretariat for monitoring conditions of immigration detention and to deal with complaints from detainees and their advocates.

c) guarantee access to immigration detainees by independent external medical and psychiatric personnel.


(3) New Inquiry into detention announced today

Monday 14 February 2005, 8:00am

A broad ranging inquiry into detention is being convened by social work academics as an alternative to the official Immigration inquiry into the tragic mistreatment of Cornelia Rau.

Announcing this decision today, the President of the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work (ACHSSW), Associate Professor Linda Briskman, from RMIT University, said that this measure had been taken as the call for a full inquiry by a range of groups had fallen on deaf ears.

"The time has come to implement an open, transparent and ethical inquiry into immigration detention and to expose the treatment meted out to those who have been incarcerated, sometimes for years," Associate Professor Briskman said today. She said there are questions of deep concern to the ACHSSW:

Associate Professor Linda Briskman said that stories will be amassed as part of the country's history of experience of mandatory detention, stories that need to be fully exposed to the nation.

Linda Briskman explained that the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work included people with expertise in such areas as social policy, children's rights, mental health, ethics, refugee issues and social exclusion.

Support for a broader inquiry has come from around the country. Adelaide researcher, teacher and member of the Refugee Assistance Project, Catherine Forsayeth, said that the inquiry would be a people's inquiry based on thoroughly democratic principles, in stark contrast to the actions and philosophies of the Government. "This is an inquiry that is not aligned to a political party and is open to all those who wish to submit their stories and experiences about detention", she said. "Submissions are welcome from professional bodies, detention staff, detainees, visitors to detention, refugee advocates, political parties and any other groups or individuals who have something to say. For too long these voices have been silenced. The inquiry is premised on the belief that people's concerns about detentions are to be valued and believed."

The professional social work body, the Australian Association of Social Workers, also fully supports the Inquiry, the AASW President Peter Richardson said today. He said that from a social justice perspective, an independent advocate should be engaged any time someone's freedom is taken away in order to allow scrutiny of the situation. This is especially important if the deprivation lasts beyond a couple of days, he added.

Associate Professor Linda Briskman explained that submissions would be treated with the utmost confidentiality. Public hearings will also be held in March in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Professor Chris Goddard of Monash University, a member of the Executive of the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work and children's rights advocate, has supported the call in an Opinion piece published in today's Age.

"Many people have expressed horror that someone with schizophrenia can so easily be relabelled as a "suspected non-resident" and treated so brutally," Professor Goddard said. "Many people have rightly said that treating someone with mental illness in such a way will have exacerbated her problems. I ask how has it ever been acceptable to hold children in such places - children in a cage on the edge of the desert. This is organized and ritualized abuse of children and must stop."

The ACHSSW has also called for independent psycho-social assessments to be conducted for each man, woman and child in any form of detention.

Contacts - signed

Associate Professor Linda Briskman

School of Social Science and Planning
RMIT University
President of the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work

Professor Chris Goddard

Head, Department of Social Work
Interim Director, National Research Centre for the Prevention of Child Abuse - Monash University.
Member of the Executive of the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work

Catherine Forsayeth, Adelaide

The Adelaide Rally

Move to set up People's Inquiry into the Detention of Cornelia Rau

Chris Hanna MP
11 February, 2005

Adelaide Rally photo 1

Greens MP Kris Hanna is urging people to express their feelings of concern about the Cornelia Rau case by joining a protest rally tomorrow morning outside Senator Vanstone's office.

Mr Hanna will speak at the rally, and has warned that if the Howard Government blocks the Senate inquiry as requested by the Greens, he will help set up a 'People's Inquiry', consisting of a body of experts, to discover the truth behind Ms Rau's unlawful detention.

"It is essential that the Australian public know how Ms Rau came to be detained when she is clearly not a person who ought to be in prison. Several high profile people in the law and public office have come forward to form a committee, which would use the powers of Freedom of Information and voluntary witnesses to independently investigate the matter.

"A People's Inquiry would be more transparent, but also more wide-ranging than the secret inquiry the Government has proposed. I suspect there could be a lot more disturbing evidence about this and other cases waiting to be uncovered.

"The exposure of Ms Rau's case has highlighted the cruel and inhumane treatment the Australian Government is dishing out to those people in its charge. They have a duty of care, and they have clearly failed in their duty.

"It is appalling that our Government holds people in a private prison, in oppressive degrading conditions, without trial, with no time limit, and no access to proper medical help. This simply is not the way any Australian would like to be treated. It's not right that we treat others like this."

Kris Hanna will speak at the protest rally on Saturday 12 February at 11:00am, outside Senator Arnanda Vanstone's office at 81 Flinders Street, Adelaide.

* * * * * *

Statement by the President of the Law Society of South Australia

Adelaide Rally
12 February 2005

The case of Comelia Rau has brought into sharp focus questions about people held in Commonwealth detention who may be suffering from mental illnesses.

Adelaide Rally photo 2

Ms Rau's case generated interest because (let's be honest) nobody thought a person like her would be held in Baxter. We also expect, as a Nation noted for its "fair go" attitude, that anyone held by the Government would receive proper treatment for any problems they might suffer. Are there any more mistakes like hers? Is the problem systemic? We will never know unless there is an independent, transparent and fair inquiry into the treatment of people in detention. If Ms Rau did not receive proper attention in the months she was there, what about the people who have been there for years?

The Law Society of South Australia presses the Federal Government to take the inquiry into Ms Rau's detention further. The current terms of the private enquiry announced by the Prime Minister are too limited.

Ms Rau's case is an alarming one, but it now presents an opportunity for a proper, independent and transparent inquiry. The inquiry must have full powers. We must ensure that anyone held by any Government is entitled to basic human rights, such as dignity, access to medical treatment, and the right to access advocates. These advocates, usually volunteers, will work to ensure basic human rights are protected.

In making this request we run the risk of being branded "do-gooders". However, think of this: most of you know of somebody with a mental illness, or even age-related dementia. How would you feel if that person was dragged off and left to fend for their self, in what is essentially a prison? It must have been a nightmare for Ms Rau. But please remember, asylum seekers held in detention are people like us. They have families and hopes and dreamt of a life in Australia. Do they have illnesses requiring treatment? They have been in these centres for years now. Think about them as well.

What harm could an inquiry do?

Alexander Ward

* * * * * *

I get by with a little help from my Circle of Friends

Senator Andrew Bartlett
Spokesman on Immigration
Australian Democrats

Senator Andrew Bartlett, Democrats' Deputy Leader and Immigration Spokesperson urges all Australians to maintain the pressure on all Governments to property investigate and respond to the serious raised by what has happened to Comelia Rau.

Adelaide Rally photo 3

"It is not possible to overstate the importance of the work being done by community-based groups like the Circle of Friends (CoF), Rural Australians for Refugees and ChilOut who have made an incredible amount of difference to refugees attempting to rebuild their lives.

Only by people maintaining their efforts, throughout all sections of the community, to increase understanding and push for action will justice be delivered to those in need of it.

The Democrats called for an independent judicial inquiry into Cornelia Rau's case, which would have had greater powers to call witnesses and seek evidence, and would have been more openly conducted. By holding the inquiry behind closed doors, it is inevitable there will be accusations of a Government cover up.

We owe it not just to Cornelia Rau but to everybody who has been touched by mental illness and by the cruelty of our detention and asylum seeker processes to get to the bottom of this incident and to get some good from what is obviously a terrible situation. There must be greater understanding, greater awareness and greater accountability for how people have been acting to date. You cannot get accountability if you hold a secret inquiry.

The Democrats this week moved for a Senate inquiry into mental health issues including in prisons and detention centres. We are still hopeful that will occur.

The majority of detainees suffer in some way from mental illness. Whilst to a degree this can be managed, the root cause cannot be addressed, as it is the fact of their indefinite imprisonment, which is at the core of their illness. I have flagged this issue many times both inside parliament and outside to little avail. I hope that the case of Ms Rau will lead to an independent inquiry into the treatment of refugees at Baxter detention centre as well as every other detention facility on and off shore."

I urge everyone concerned about these issues to continue to push for action and justice. It is in the interests of everyone in our community that injustice be prevented from flourishing.

* * * * * *

Statement to be read at Rally for Refugees

Saturday 12 February 2005

Senator Penny Wong
Australian Labor Party
Senator for South Australia

Thank you for the invitation to provide a statement for today's rally. I am sorry that I could not be present in person, and my best wishes for your campaign.

Cornelia Rau's case is a tale of immense sadness for her and her family. It raises serious questions about the competence of those involved, and about the system of detention which operates under the Howard Government.

Much of the public debate has focused on the bureaucratic ineptitude which led to Ms Rau's continued mistaken detention, These issues must be investigated - and Labor will continue to press for an independent, judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Ms Rau's detention.

But I hope Ms Rau's case also causes the Australian community ask other important questions.

What sort of system of detention permits such appalling treatment of a woman with a mental illness?

What does it say about the conditions of detention of asylum seekers under the Howard government, that Ms Rau's condition went undiagnosed and untreated?

And what does it say about Minister Vanstone's policies that Ms Rau remained in detention, including for periods of solitary confinement, despite the serious concerns as to her health raised by so many.

We must have an independent judicial inquiry to properly investigate this matter.

If the treatment of Cornelia Rau is indicative of what happens in Australia' s detention centres - it must be uncovered and it must be remedied.

Best wishes

* * * * * *

Statement to Adelaide Rally

Senator Kerry Nettle
Australian Greens
Senator for New South Wales

The Greens congratulate everyone for coming to this important rally today.

It is important to keep the government under pressure to hold a proper public and judicial inquiry in to the Rau case and not let them get away with yet another whitewash.

The Rau case has exposed an immigration detention regime that is systematic in its neglect of detainees and abuses of human rights. Detention itself is the problem.

Adelaide Rally photo 4

We need an inquiry that will examine the conditions of all people in mandatory detention. Everybody, whether they are an Australian citizen, resident, or non-citizen is entitled to competent health care, dignity, human rights and justice.

When the presumption of innocence is turned on its head and prisons are kept away from proper scrutiny, we inevitably get abuse of power and human rights. This happened at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. It's happening in Guantanamo Bay. It's happening at Baxter, on Nauru and other detention centres.

On Wednesday The Greens moved a motion in the Senate calling for a frill, open and transparent judicial inquiry, with a broad terms of reference to examine both the Rau scandal and conditions in immigration detention generally. I am happy to report that this motion was passed but the government continues to ignore the Senate's request.

The Greens believe the private inquiry to be conducted by Mick Palmer will be inadequate, and in all probability a whitewash. It does not have the power to compel witnesses to appear, nor the power to compel witnesses to tell the truth if they do appear. We also note that Mick Palmer was Federal Police Commissioner during the same time period as Senator Vanstone was Justice Minister!

If a public judicial inquiry is not set up in the near future, then The Greens will move during the next sitting of parliament to set up a Senate Inquiry. Although a Senate Inquiry has limitations, it may be able to publicly expose some of the horrors happening in detention centres.

Congratulations again to everybody for coming out today and showing solidarity with those who continue to struggle behind the razor wire.

* * * * * *

Mental health Crisis in Detention Centres

by Dr Louise Newman
Royal Australian and New Zealand
College of Psychiatrists;
Health Alliance for Asylum Seekers
UNSW, Sydney NSW

Medical specialists and health professionals are committed to the ending of prolonged mandatory detention and state-sanctioned abuse of asylum seekers and their children.

Professionals should not be silent on this issue. We have a moral obligation to oppose government policies, which violate basic human rights, traumatize infants and children and produce physical and psychological harm. There is no doubt that current practices of immigration detention are toxic to detainees and children. What is remarkable is the persistent refusal of the Minister and the Immigration department to accept the clear scientific evidence and expert medical opinion that the conditions in the detention centres directly contribute to depression, traumatic stress, self- harm and suicide.

How long can this be ignored?

How many children will we allow to be abused in this way with the potential for life-long damage?

Who will pay for the mental health treatment of the disorders that this inhumane system produces?

Who will be accountable and judged in the years to come?

Psychiatrists have pointed our repeatedly that routine detention of children in particular can never be justified. Australia is ignoring our obligations as signatories to the UN Convention on the rights of the child and creating an environment in which parents are struggling to protect their children from daily traumatic exposure. The horrors these children are exposed to will scar them for life. Already many children we have assessed in detention show signs of developmental delay, attachment difficulties, stress and trauma. Children are scared, unable to learn or play and being cared for by depressed and traumatized parents. Pregnant women in detention are facing the prospect of bringing another child into these conditions and considering termination. This situation has major implications for the future health of children and may produce permanent damage. The scientific evidence is clear. The Government has been informed time and time again that child trauma affects the rest of development and that infants and the very young are the most vulnerable.

The Commonwealth Governments own rhetoric acknowledges the early years as a crucial developmental period and sets a policy direction of supporting families and early childhood. Surely this should apply to all children and families or do we once again have a hidden dual policy system of human rights for some and not for others? This is a policy of apartheid and must be resisted by all Australians or we have learned nothing from our past. The enduring shame of this period will be our collective responsibility if we fail to speak out.

As we meet here today, families and children are facing harsh depriving environments and dehumanizing treatment in a penal environment. These are vulnerable and often traumatized individuals struggling to understand a complex and adversarial refugee determination process with little access to information or support. The uncertainty, delays and arbitrary exercise of power produce stress, depression and despair. It is this despair and anger that contributes to the self-harming behaviours that are endemic in detention centres. These are the behaviours of desperate and despairing people who see no other option not as the Government implies the put-on manipulations of a badly behaved few. The tactic of blaming the victim must be refuted. Any of us could react in the same way if put in this situation. All of us would despair as we watched our young children suffer through lack of education, medical care and facilities. One young mother cried as she told me that her infant daughters first word was "guard".

Her son draws only pictures of riots, injury and barbed wire. Is it surprising that she has serious depression and wants to die?

People are killing themselves in detention. The rates of suicide in detention centres are around 10 times greater than those in the general community. Self-harm and suicide attempts are daily events. Children are witnessing suicidal behaviours, despair and loss of control. Their parents are often depressed and unable to comfort or protect them. Some of these children become suicidal themselves. Children as young as 6 and 7 years of age have talked about death as an escape from detention and ongoing trauma and some have made suicide attempts. There is absolutely no justification for maintaining a system, which produces such harm.

There can never be a need to imprison infants and children. Children and their primary carers must be immediately released into the community where they can receive appropriate health and mental health treatment. This cannot be provided in the detention context as it is this environment, which is toxic and harming detainees mental health. The long-term implications of this policy are huge. We now have a group of young children born in detention. These children's whole experience of life is of being imprisoned behind barbed wire surrounded by human misery and despair. They are showing clear signs of psychological and emotional harm and these are likely to last and create long term mental health problems These children will be able to ask questions of the Australian Government as to why they were allowed to suffer in this way, who will provide mental health treatment and what compensation they will receive for the damage done to them. Again we have a Child Protection system in Australia. We have child protection legislation and mandatory reporting of children thought to be at risk of harm. So whose children are we protecting? Psychiatrists have notified all the children we have seen in detention to the relevant authorities as at risk of harm by definition. Detention is harming children. It is not possible to care and protect children in this environment.

It is imperative that State government and child protection bodies give up the head in the sand approach and admit that services and support for asylum seekers and those released into the community must be provided. The current needs of these people are too serious to expect them to wait for significant federal policy change of agreements with the Department about service provision. We have situations now where seriously traumatised families are in the community without access to health or mental health treatment other than in emergencies. These are people who need ongoing support and care if they are to recover from their experiences. The silence from State services on this issue speaks for itself. We will not back away from raising our concerns and will repeat the call for the repeal of mandatory detention and provision of health care for asylum seekers as is provided for the rest of the community.

Detention centres are not in any way suitable environments for the treatment of mental health problems. The environment itself contributes in a significant way to the development of mental disorders. Staff are not trained in the assessment and management of mental problems. The culture of the camp works against humane treatment of the mentally ill and even against the recognition of suffering.

I could tell many stories. The story of Cornelia Rau is one clear litany of failure of duty of care across several jurisdictions and bears witness to a deeply dysfunctional detention culture. There are others with severe mental disturbance with inadequate treatment in detention as well.

And all these stories are happening here on our doorstep and in our suburbs and towns. There have been other times in history when communities have not seen and not wanted to see the signs of crimes against humanity in their own country. To go to the Sydney suburbs and come across a virtual concentration camp reminds us that keeping silent is no answer. The stories must be told and repeated so we cannot choose to ignore the human misery before our eyes.

Dr Louise Newman

* * * * * *

Lost and suffering asylum seekers in a nightmare system

Senator Stott Despoja
Senator for South Australia
Australian Democrats

Senator Stott Despoja sends her solidarity & support for today's rally.

She is appalled by the bungling & heartlessness that occurred in the Cornelia Rau case and she will - as her colleagues have done this week in the Senate continue to call for an independent, public and transparent inquiry into this case.

She is also conscious of the fact that everyday asylum seekers and those in detention are subject to the same brutal and inhumane treatment.

Every day there are tragedies in detention centres. To go there is to suffer; to visit them is to be ashamed. People are driven mad; try to harm themselves; lose hope; become physically ill; experience the disintegration of their personalities; fear that they never again will know freedom or normal lives. They are subject to the will of the guards; they lose their rights.

Comelia Rau's case is just one more horrendous example of our careless inhumanity that has come with the Howard government and the Ruddock and Vanstone detention policies.

The system is set up for tragedies. To change that we must dismantle the system and acknowledge once and for all that the detention system is incompatible with human rights. If we want to hold our head up in the nations of the world, we must do this.

We should tell Vanstone and the Howard government once and for all that their detention policies are incompatible with civilized national behaviour and regard for human rights.

For the sake of our good name and the future of our children, we must stand for human rights and decent behaviour. History will condemn us and them otherwise.

For the sake of lost and suffering asylum seekers in a nightmare system, we must act.