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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wrongful detention details revealed

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The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, has to-day released a report into the wrongful detention of more than 200 citizens or permanent residents by that people friendly organization, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA). The report is available here. Today's report focuses on the case of an individual identified only as Mr T.

Originally from Vietnam, Mr T is an Australian citizen who suffers from severe mental illness. Officers of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs detained him as a suspected unlawful non-citizen on three occasions between 1999 and 2003. On one of those occasions he was detained for a period of eight months.

The Ombudsman found that evidence gathered during this investigation has revealed many of the systemic failures in the Department previously identified in the reports of the Rau and Alvarez matters. These systemic failures include:

  • a negative organisational culture
  • a poor understanding of the requirements and implications of the Migration Act 1958
  • a rigid application of policies and procedures that do not adequately accommodate the special needs of persons suffering from mental illness
  • poor training of DIMA officers, including the management of mental health, language, cultural and ethnic issues
  • an abrogation of duty of care responsibilities
  • poor instructions, procedures and practices relating to the identification of detainees, including the failure to use fingerprints as a means of identification
  • information systems and database shortcomings
  • poor case management, including no effective review process, a failure to follow up on information and poor record keeping
  • a lack of appropriate arrangements to facilitate the gathering of important information that may assist in the identification of a detainee from Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) service providers.

The Ombudsdman found that, while some departmental officers failed to perform their duties adequately, in his opinion these failures were a direct consequence of systemic departmental failures. Therefore he has not, in his report, singled out individual officers for specific criticism. Again we have, as with Palmer and Comrie, systemic problems including department culture fingered. Yet again, Miss Eagle expects, no ministerial responsibility will be admitted when it is clear that responsibililty for such fundamental malfeasance must go not only to the department head - rewarded and departed to Indonesia - but to the minister at the time of the maltreatment.

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