PM apology over DIMIA bungles

The Palmer report was released in Canberra today, which investigated the circumstances surrounding the wrongful detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who was locked up inside the Baxter immigration detention camp, and the wrongful deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez.

“Both Cornelia Rau and Mrs Alvarez are owed apologies for their treatment, and on behalf of the government I give those apologies to both of those women who were the victims of mistakes by the department,” said Mr Howard.

The prime minister, along with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, released the Palmer report which catalogues a list of failures that led to the bungles.

Senator Vanstone said the pair would receive financial assistance, including health support.

Former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer in his long-awaited report found systematic weaknesses in the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, which led to mistakes made in both the cases.

“The government acknowledges these mistakes and accepts that changes need to be made within the department,” said Senator Vanstone.

“Mr Palmer has identified systemic weaknesses in DIMIA which contributed to the length of Ms Rau’s detention, the failure to establish her identity and meet her mental health needs.

“He finds that the same systemic problems are involved. The government regrets that DIMIA systems have failed in these cases,” she said.

Mr Palmer recommended DIMIA put new case management systems in place and review its contract with the private company that runs detention centres.

He also has recommended that detention staff be better trained.

The government has vowed to strengthen the role of the Commonwealth ombudsman to deal with relevant matters.

The ombudsman will also continue the inquiry into Ms Alvarez’s case and those of 200 other detainees.

Mr Howard announced sweeping changes within DIMIA’s senior ranks, however drew the line at sacking Ms Vanstone, saying her portfolio is a difficult one.

All three DIMIA executive leaders are to move to new positions within the government while a top-level task force will oversee the changes, according to Peter Shergold, the head of Mr Howard’s department.

“The Palmer report has identified serious deficiencies in the administration of detention policy in the department,” he said in a statement.

DIMIA secretary Bill Farmer, who will become Australia’s next ambassador to Indonesia, will be replaced by Dr Shergold’s deputy Andrew Metcalfe.

A change management task force will oversee changes which will begin next Monday.

German-born Australian Cornelia Rau spent 10 months behind bars as an illegal immigrant despite needing psychiatric care.

Vivian Alvarez was wrongly deported to the Philippines four years ago, after a car accident left her with significant injuries.