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Commonwealth Ombudsman Report : Detained Citizen

Commonwealth Ombudsman Report into Detained Australian Citizen

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) publicly apologised today for the detention of an Australian citizen on a number of occasions some years ago, following the release of a Commonwealth Ombudsman report into the case.

DIMA also strongly reaffirmed its commitment to reforms – introduced last year in response to the Palmer and Comrie reports – which address the issues raised by the cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez as well as this most recent report.

‘This is a sad case for all concerned,’ DIMA Secretary Andrew Metcalfe said.

‘It highlights the difficulties the department, law enforcement agencies and others face dealing with people who have a serious mental illness,’ Mr Metcalfe added.

Reforms and improvements already underway address issues raised by the Ombudsman over compliance and identity procedures, training and health care. Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, recently gave a comprehensive update on the department’s progress in implementing these changes. The Government has committed over $230 million to achieve improvements to the department’s operations.

The reforms include:

• Revised and enhanced guidelines for staff on establishing identity. All cases where there is a claim of Australian citizenship must now be referred to the senior compliance officer on-site. The claim must be reviewed within 24 hours and referred to the National Identity and Verification Advice section in Canberra within 48 hours if it is unresolved.

• A case management framework that ensures all vulnerable detainees are thoroughly assessed and a case management plan is put in place to meet their individual needs, including connecting detainees being released with support agencies. This framework is designed to identify people with mental health issues for referral to the relevant professionals.

• A national police training package which focuses on the tests for officers to form a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone is an unlawful non-citizen.

• A 24-hour, seven day a week Immigration Status checking service for police.

• A new college for training all compliance staff.

• Detention review managers who regularly review and monitor whether detention is appropriate and if there is still reasonable suspicion that a person is unlawfully in Australia.

• Cultural awareness training, as a high priority, for detention staff.

• A Detention Health Taskforce to develop a detention health strategy and creation of an improved model for mental health care in detention.

• New mechanisms for promoting communication between our detention services provider GSL and DIMA.

In addition, the department has introduced new procedures for compliance staff to ensure people are interviewed as soon as possible after they are detained.

‘These significant and meaningful changes show the department’s recognition of its responsibilities and its commitment to meeting those responsibilities,’ Mr Metcalfe said.

‘We will continue to make improvements,’ he added.

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