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Commission Commission – General

14 July 2005


Dr Sev Ozdowski, the Human Rights Commissioner, today welcomed the release
of the findings and recommendations of the Palmer Inquiry.

“Firstly, on a personal level I would like to extend my sympathies
to Ms Cornelia Rau and Ms Vivian Alvarez” Dr Ozdowski said. “This
report documents the terrible failure of the immigration detention system which
has resulted in the most serious of consequences for both these women and their
families. I also welcome the fact that the Prime Minister both personally and
on behalf of the government has apologised; such a step is an important part
of the healing process for all concerned.

“The Palmer Report’s findings have highlighted two major inadequacies
in the way Australian authorities deal with mental illness. Firstly, there
are the serious deficiencies within the immigration detention regime with respect
to treatment of detainees’ mental health issues. Secondly, there is the
broader problem of how medical authorities are dealing with the crisis in delivery
of appropriate mental health services throughout Australia.”

The report of Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into Children in Immigration
Detention,’A last resort? was tabled in Federal
Parliament in May 2004. It highlighted mental health issues as the most serious
breach of Australia’s international obligations under the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. It found that children in detention for long periods
are at high risk of serious mental illness. In particular, the Inquiry found
that the Immigration Department’s failure to implement the repeated recommendations
to release children suffering from mental illness amounts to cruel and inhumane
treatment under article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Dr Ozdowski said, “Mr Palmer’s findings concerning failure to
identify and respond appropriately to Ms Rau’s mental health condition
come as no surprise. Back in 1993 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
released the report of its National Inquiry into the Human Rights of People
with a Mental Illness. The Inquiry found that in general the money saved by
deinstitutionalization of mentally ill people had not been redirected by governments
into mental health and related services in the community. It also found that
people with a mental illness detained by the criminal justice system were frequently
denied effective health care and human rights protection. Procedures for detecting
and treating mental illness and disorder in the Australian criminal justice
system were found inadequate in all jurisdictions. The picture seems disturbingly
similar over a decade later.

“The Mental Health Council of Australia, the Brain and Mind Research
Institute and HREOC have recently provided to Australian governments the outcomes
of Australia-wide community consultations on the state of mental health services.
(The report of these consultations will be publicly released next month.) Time
and again in these consultations we heard that resources provided are simply
inadequate to match the level of unmet needs and ensure access to treatment
and services when they are needed.” 

He said all Australian governments needed to work together to ensure
that we do better.

“I can only endorse Mr Palmer’s observations about the need to
change the organisational culture of DIMIA,” Dr Ozdowski said. While
the Migration Act places certain inflexible obligations upon the Department,
that fact should not give rise to a closed mindset by Departmental officers.
DIMIA needs to remember that its compliance outcomes involve clients, not problems.

“I note that the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and
Cabinet has today released details of the new senior management team at DIMIA
to assist newly appointed Secretary, Andrew Metcalfe. As these announcements
include the creation of a Change Management Taskforce, it would appear there
is genuine recognition of the need for fundamental reform of DIMIA’s
modus operandi. Only time will tell whether the new personnel are up to this
task”, commented Dr Ozdowski.

However, notwithstanding the changing of the guard at DIMIA, HREOC still
believes that Recommendation 4 of A last resort? namely
that Parliament should codify in legislation the minimum standards that should
apply to immigration detention standards with respect to children, should be
widened to cover all immigration detainees and should incorporate every aspect
of departmental interaction with its clients. “This could also include
a review of the perceived shortcomings of the contract between DIMIA and the
detention centres’ service provider. I would of course be prepared to
assist in that process as required”, concluded Dr Ozdowski.

Media Enquiries: Jan Payne 02 92849791 or 0419258597

updated 14 June 2005.