Monday, 16 May 2005

How not to be an Australian

Listening to:

Schubert, piano sonata in B flat, D.960. Played by Alfred Brendel.


The Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs is going through a bit of a sticky patch at the moment. Earlier this year, it was revealed that an Australian citizen of German extraction had been detained in one of Australia’s desert detention centres for (“bogus”) asylum seekers. The citizen, Cornelia Rau, suffers from schizophrenia and was picked up by some state agency. She, in a confused state of mind, claimed to be German, and not Australian. The authorities (including the federal department, but also a Queensland department) had her locked up in this detention centre for 10 months. Someone then realised that she was mentally ill, tracked down some details and eventually got Rau released.

Within the last fortnight, another disturbing story has come to light. Another Australian citizen, Vivian Young, originally from the Philippines, got disastrously mixed up with the Immigration authorities. She was also mentally unstable, but it’s not clear that she necessarily claimed to be foreign. Indeed at one point, she definitely claimed to be Australian. Nonetheless, having been picked up from a hospital, where she’d been admitted after a fairly serious head-and-spinal injury, she was then deported to the Philippines. This happened in 2001. Later, in 2003, the department realised its mistake, but proved unable to find Young. This despite the fact that Young had spent all of the two intervening years in the same hospice. She was only found last week because another Australian in the Philippines saw something about her on the television.

Something dramatic really has to happen at the Department. The Minister, professionally unsympathetic Amanda Vanstone, could offer her resignation for a start.