Cornelia Rau Redux

Just wanted to emerge quickly from thesisdom to draw people’s attention to three new posts on this tragic issue which is increasingly exposing a lot of very flawed practices in a range of public domains. Saintinastraitjacket has some very interesting thoughts as well as a comprehensive update of media reports at DogFightAtBankstown. Francis Xavier Holden at From a LAN Downunder gets to the moral and ethical heart of the matter beautifully. Andrew Bartlett at AndrewBartlettOnline argues that many important issues have been raised by the Rau case:

The case of Cornelia Rau may turn out to be one of those terrible incidents that provide a wake-up call and a catalyst for positive change. I hope so.

I hope so too. These issues include but are not limited to the culture of DIMIA, better training for the Police, dysfunctionalities of Federal-State relationships, the stonewalling by Ministers and their offices, basic issues of human rights, the detention regime itself, and the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Surely this tragic sequence of events requires an Independent Commission with judicial powers to make some serious and far-reaching recommendations.

UPDATE: Saint is continuing to follow the media coverage, and John Quiggin has now posted on the Rau affair with some pretty vigorous discussion ensuing.

Michelle Grattan in The Age describes Vanstone’s response as “completely inadequate”.

LIBERAL RESPONSE: I withdraw my remarks about small l Liberals. It’s good to hear Messrs Georgiou, Baird and Turnbull speaking out on this issue.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Nic White
2022 years ago

“The case of Cornelia Rau may turn out to be one of those terrible incidents that provide a wake-up call and a catalyst for positive change. I hope so.”

I very much doubt it. An equiry will probably be held but will result in nothing damning enough for the government to actually change their policy or method of operation. Within a few weeks the media and the public will have forgotten all about it and the event will slip into the extensive archive of government screwups that resulted in nothing, just like Tampa, children with sewn lips and Habib.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I think it’s possible to obsess too much about things. I think also this is one of those occasions. You can’t overcome human frailty, on the part of individuals or bureaucracies. People seized on this incident because it provided another stick to beat the government with over refugees. When it turned out to be a bit more complicated than that, it morphed into a multi-logue on denial of rights to the mentally ill, with the same tone from the attendant chorus. The whole thing would never have attracted the media attention it did without the essential, initial political ‘pull’.

You’re setting your sights too high. If there is a wide-ranging enquiry, I’m willing to bet it makes not one whit’s worth of difference. People will still make decisions on the basis of information available to them and sometimes, humans being what they are, they are going to get it wrong. I sympathise with the family and with others in comparable situations but there are no easy answers about how to deal with them.

Geoff Honnor in a companion thread got it right. It’s easy to understand how people get schizophrenics wrong because they are plausible. Often their whole lives are given over to the development of a particular fantasy. Professionals trained to the purpose often can’t read them right. What realistic chance have the police and detention centre guards of doing any better?

I think we have to leave these things to the professionals, whilst acknowledging that they too are going to get it wrong sometimes. But it’s better than giving it over to the lay preachers.

I remember a case my wife was involved in, where the well-meaning friends of a young schizophrenic girl – influenced, I believe, Mark, by Thomas Szasz – persuaded her to throw away her medication on the grounds that she was not really ill; she was just well in a different way. A few days later, she lay on a railway line in front of an approaching train, and both her legs were cut off.

I don’t understand why so many people think that if the government just did ‘the right things’, somehow we would not have to confront these terrible dilemmas. They are built into what we are. We cannot avoid them. We behave like children if we think that somehow we can, and blame the rest of the world when it all goes wrong .

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks for your contribution, Rob (and Nic), unfortunately I won’t have time to respond in depth to comments on this thread because I’ve got to devote the majority of my time to my PhD completion. My real intention was just to draw attention to what others are saying. However, I’d note briefly, as I said on the other thread, the Fitzgerald Enquiry is a good example of what can be achieved if a momentum of reform builds behind a scandalous incident which reveals a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sanguine about the prospects, but every little bit of advocacy helps I think.

Andrew Bartlett
2022 years ago

It is always hard to get the balance right. One of the dangers when an event or issue attains public or political drama is that things can be done with the aim of quietening the clamour rather than addressing any core problem. That’s why I don’t see much point in calling for Ministerial resignations, etc.
It is also important to try to remember human fraility and the impossibility of perfection.
None of that should be used for an excuse to ignore any fundamental, systemic flaws which may have been exposed by this incident.
To use just one example, the comments by the SA Public Advocate, a person appointed under law to help people such as the mentally ill, who has said his efforts to get information and assistance to Cornelia Rau were met by public service stonewalling with an arrogance greater than he has ever encountered (paraphrasing). I’ve actually found a lot of DIMIA officials quite helpful over the years, particularly given that I’ve been publicly scathing of the policies they have to implement. However, the Public Advocate’s comments still ring very true for me.
If that’s the sort of treatment he gets, what can the average Australian expect? That sort of attitude from people who are meant to be serving the public is something that should be addressed, but it won’t be unless there is a willingness to accept that there is something wrong.

Tiny Tyrant
2022 years ago

“That sort of attitude from people who are meant to be serving the public is something that should be addressed, but it won’t be unless there is a willingness to accept that there is something wrong.”

Re. the supposed attitude of public servants. Could this be a result of their being forced (unless they can and want to find work elsewhere) to facilitate such brutal policies?

Even closer to the top – Ruddock’s developing cadaverous appearance is a good example. Looks like his heart died some time ago. I’m sure Vanstone has a changing picture in an attic, somewhere.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“I think it’s possible to obsess too much about things. I think also this is one of those occasions. You can’t overcome human frailty, on the part of individuals or bureaucracies.”

I’d generally agree with Rob on this. Firstly we have to have a healthy skepticism of ‘conspicuous indignation’ begetting large doses of ‘gratuitous apologies’ with cases like this. However some indignation/concern for the situation of the ‘little man’, or in this case the little woman is healthy in an open democratic state. Indeed I think here it is a sign that we do enjoy such a state.

Personally I don’t want ministers and administrators indulging in gratuitous apologies, every time Murphy’s Law, planets aligning, or a succession of system cracks line up, to allow an individual to fall through like Ms Rau clearly has. No, I want my officials to see to it that any shortcomings are, if at all humanly possible, addressed professionally in order that such incidents are minimised. I don’t want gratuitous apologies becoming an art form, which I think some leaders like Peter Beattie are fast near approaching. In the final analysis we will judge our elected leaders by overall results and not slick platitudes.

Having said that, we don’t want to suffer continual incompetence or negligence, which diligent enquiry may uncover. OTOH we need to be careful that our level of indignation doesn’t lead to a witch hunt and public burnings. This runs the risk of producing a nervous, conservative, hand-balling public sector, which could ultimately produce more such Rau cases, than it is designed to alleviate.

One thing a 2yr stint in the public circus in Canberra taught me: You don’t get as much kudos for all your good decision-making as might await you for one poor decision in the public domain. This can naturally lead to consevatism in decision-making. In the private sector I face no such lumpy constraints, but rather a much smoother continuum of profitability. One poor decision can easily be outweighed by the many good ones, in my bank statement at the end of the month. There is of course, a certain inevitability about endemic, poor decision-making.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

LAN Downunder (impliedly) makes the point that this is not a detention centre issue. Lets be real – if there were no detention centres and the police picked up someone who they thought might not be legally in Australia and who could not prove otherwise, what would happen? They would go to some form of prison (which, indeed, Ms Rau did for a while in QLD). Would that have made any difference? Who knows. But the fact that the govt has set up ‘immigration prisons’ doesnt change what would have happened.

And blaming DIMIA for the fact that a QLD hospital couldnt find anything wrong with her during a week of study (not a 5 minute appt with the governments junior psych) seems a bit harsh. Indeed, it goes to show how hard it is for DIMIA to make proper assessments of people who (for whatever reason) are not telling the truth. Of course you are from Afganistan, you told me you are and I should believe you and here is your visa. However, I shouldnt believe Ms Rau when she tells me she is an unlawful entrant and gives a false name.

Having said that, it seems bizarre that there arent procedures to properly identify people – asking the German embassy, for example, then working from there (when, presumably, the German records dont match the story being given). And why she remained in detention for so long rather than being shipped out like most people within a few weeks is unusual.

I suspect the story will be that DIMIA just could not identify her but were trying without success (given the lack of info) and the psychs were telling DIMIA that Rau did not need hospital treatment (presumably people would have accepted hospital confinement? Are they upset over her detention or only over where she was detained?)

I know many people who work at DIMIA. The detention centre area finds it almost impossible to get people to work there. They are pretty much bribed – work here and you are a good chance to get Paris or HK or London on your next posting kind of thing (all unofficially, of course). There isnt much they (DIMIA people) can do about it, they dont set the policy and they certainly cannot make discretionary decisions. The govt tells them what to do, they have to do it.

After all, when does discretion turn into corruption? See NSW Local councils.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

ctd, there’s the option of having a robust identity system and allowing asylum seekers to live in relatively open centres where they can come and go as in New Zealand. admittedly, Ms Rau presented apparently as a visa over-stayer. it seems odd – since as I understand it, most of these people when detected are not detained but just sent back. my suspicion is that the cops had no idea what to do with her, and the whole thing snowballed from there.

at saint’s place there’s a new post with a link to a media report which suggests that she wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for three months after arriving at Baxter:

http://dogfightatbankstown.typepad.com/blog/2005/02/surreality_rau.html

as saint also says, there are contradictory reports which underlines the need for an open enquiry.

part of the problem may be that Baxter is so isolated. presumably if detention centres were in capital cities, it would be much easier for liaison with mental health authorities to occur.

as to DIMIA, I understand that Baxter employees are not DIMIA employees but employees of a private correctional company who have the contract to manage the centre. this also raises issues.

it’s also been pointed out that unlike state prisons, federal detention centres have no institutionalised provision for oversight and investigation – ie a Prison Visitor. I agree with Andrew – if the SA Public Advocate – whom Vanstone said on the 7.30 report that she knows and respects – can’t do anything and has to contemplate federal court action to have himself declared Ms Rau’s guardian, what hope does the average citizen have of getting any action out of DIMIA or the Minister’s Office.

so even if you do agree with the contention that people in Ms Rau’s apparent situation should be incarcerated, it doesn’t follow that there are no procedures that should be instituted at such facilities to try to assist mentally ill people.

and the lack of centralisation of data on missing people seems to have been another big issue.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“it’s also been pointed out that unlike state prisons, federal detention centres have no institutionalised provision for oversight and investigation – ie a Prison Visitor.”

But…..she was in the Queensland Prison system for longer than she was at Baxter – including a week in a psychiatric facility for an evaluation that apparently revealed no major problem. I note also Debbie Kilroy’s comments re accompanying Cornelia to interviews with Brisbane Women’s Correction Unit staff where she allegedly queried why she was in prison.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

Geoff, Beattie’s response on the ABC News on Monday night was to say that she was being held under delegated authority for the Commonwealth and thus they rather than Queensland set the conditions for her detention in Brisbane. This isn’t good enough either.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Geoff, Beattie’s response on the ABC News on Monday night was to say that she was being held under delegated authority for the Commonwealth and thus they rather than Queensland set the conditions for her detention in Brisbane. This isn’t good enough either.”

DIMIA has no detention staff or facilities in Queensland. The delegated authority (i.e. piece of paper) under which she was being held, doesn’t – as you correctly imply yellowvinyl – remove one iota of accountability from the Queesland government who were totally responsible for her whilst she was in their care.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Interesting sidelight from ctd on the difficulties of getting people to work in the detention centres. Imagine what it would do for your social life! Who could you tell? It’s another example of how the over-heated, febrile nature of public debate on this issue is having unfortunate side-effects – not least on the detainees themselves. Probably the company that manages the centres has to make do with people that failed even to get jobs as security guards or prison wardens.

That said, I remember reading a letter in Quadrant (cue hissy chorus) from a couple of people who did work there. They gave a very diferent picture of the facilities, medical treatment etc. in the centres from what refugee advocates routinely allege in the media. They also claimed they (the guards) had to put up with torrents of verbal and physical violence from the detainees. Maybe this couple were put up to it by their management but you’d think they’d pick a forum with a wider readership than Quadrant.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

I do wish people would get away from the silly idea that public servants are there to serve the public.

In a way, it would be better if we used the British term ‘civil’ servant.

“Civil servants” are the civilians who serve the government, as opposed to the other servants of the government – the military.

numbat
numbat
2022 years ago

This Rau affair is a total disgrace and the goverments response is even worse. Like the Siev sinking – 300+ dead – and the children o/board fiasco allowed a howard victory in the polls.What a price for him to pay for power eh?? What is even worse is that my fellow Australians just cannot see the way this ‘lying rodent’ is playing with them and at the same time treating them with distinct disdain and conspicuous contempt. Yet they queue up to kiss this ugly politician’s ugly behind. Then there is useless, vacilating, never answer the question, inane and inept and a total failure as minister, mean spirited, loveless, miserable, lonely vanstone.To cap it off we have a liberal led, in the main, gutless, grovelling, cringing and fawning press.To these so-called journalists real investigational reporting is totaly foreign to them and would/could be dangerous to them as well, as they well know. Regards, numbat

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I don’t think I could usefully add anything to what numbat has just said – useful to numbat, anyway
.
(Sorry, mate.)

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Nothing can help a person as lost in delusion as Numbat.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“mean spirited, loveless, miserable, lonely vanstone.”

I believe she’s happily married numbat. You can rest easy :)

observa
observa
2022 years ago

I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong numbat. It aint the meeja’s fault it’s those bloody English teachers mate!

“NSW English Teachers Association president Wayne Sawyer, of the University of Western Sydney, said teachers had failed to encourage critical thought, which led to the coalition’s election win last year.

In a journal editorial late last year Professor Sawyer, the former chair of the NSW Board of Studies English curriculum committee, questioned whether the teaching of English in public schools had not only failed to create critical generations, but also humane ones.”

Compliments of an article here at http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=3166

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I think the politicisation of education issue is worth another thread. What about it, Troppo?

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Perhaps Cornelia sought sanctuary at Glenside to get away from ‘Wayne’s World’? I wonder who the smart one really is. Me, I’m sticking to private enterprise.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Good suggestion, Rob. I’ve obliged.

doris
doris
2022 years ago

I have read this group’s comments relating to the Rau case with interest. Sounds as though most of you are coming from a point of academic interest only. Has anyone read Julian Burnside’s views on the matter. I think numbat comes closest. My husband and I have just spent a year assisting a Burmese asylum seeker who was illegally detained and tortured in 1988 after participating in a prodemocracy rally at the age of 17. His family had been targets of the regime since he was a baby, because his uncle was in the underground communist party. They were raided 2-3 times per week at night by the military as long as he can remember. He doesn’t sleep at night – it’s become a habit to be vigilant. First his father was the target, then he became the target after his detention. He has been in Australia for nearly 10 years – not detained, because he came on a student visa with an illegally obtained passport. But he applied for protection when his visa was up because it was too dangerous for him to go back. DIMIA rejected his application, without interviewing him – the officer in question decided not to believe that he was ever imprisoned. It has taken 8 years to get through the appeal process and get a proper hearing before the RRT – all this time he has been unable to work, had no access to health care and has depended on charitable Australians (thank God there are still some). Now at 35 he has gained his freedom. Perhaps some of you who speak so glibly about other people’s troubles should have a go and get your hands dirty for a change.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Doris

Your passion and compassion are admirable, but your patronising attitude isn’t. Nor are your assumptions correct, in my case at least (can’t speak for others). I would suspect I’ve represented far more asylum seekers than either Julian Burnside or yourself over the years. And I know Andrew Bartlett, who commented on this thread, has had a long and active interest in asylum seekers as Australian Democrats leader and now deputy leader. So don’t assume you have a mortgage on compassion or understanding of the situation. And don’t assert falsely that compassion precludes rational discussion and analysis of government actions and policy alternatives. If you think that then you probably should stick to Indymedia and similar juvenile sites.

Moreover, I didn’t read anyone on this thread as agreeing that the treatment of Ms Rau was in any sense acceptable. Geoff Honnor simply suggested that there didn’t appear to be any way government authorities could have known she was an Australian citizen rather than an illegal entrant. It was a perfectly reasonable point to make, although recent evidence (on Four Corners?) tends to cast doubt on it.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Doris, for the sake of completeness, there was a Four Corners program on the Cornelia Rau case. The transcript is at:

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2005/s1338239.htm

My immediate reaction was posted at Lavartus Prodeo:

http://larvatusprodeo.redrag.net/2005/04/04/cornelia-rau-on-four-corners/

I repeat them here with one small change:

“Very briefly, it’s worth a look and adds new detail. The point of view of the Rau family, which was criticised in the press, comes through well and is quite understandable.

Also it is clear that Cornelia knew her name all along, perhaps not when she became really ill. She didn’t trust the authorities and apparently thought that if she gave her real name she would be deported to Germany.

The 6-day stay at the Princess Alexander Hospital for observation and diagnosis is still perplexing as to how she got the all clear. I do recall a nurse on the radio saying that the place was badly designed for patient observation.

Everywhere she was the common folk around saw clearly that she was ill, tried to help in their own way and reported to the authorities, who, with the possible exception of the cops in NQ, stuffed up completely.

DIMIA comes through as worse than bad, and Minister Vanstone completely unconvincing. Some-one should put the cleaners through the place!”

Doris, there is too much trouble in the world for every-one to plunge in and devote their efforts to everything. We have to choose, and are wise to do so within or skills and capacities, and the strengths and weaknesses of our own personalities. Without making a judgement on the comments or commenters above, we do need academics.

Meanwhile Julian Burnside is indeed a remarkable man.

trackback
2022 years ago

Filed under “R”

Andrew Bartlett is hoping against the odds when he says:

“The case of Cornelia Rau may turn out to be one of those terrible incidents that provide a wake-up call and a catalyst for positive change. I hope so.”

Mark at Troppo has quoted the abov…

trackback
2022 years ago

surreality rau

Have a busy couple of days coming up and yes I will change the topic or throw you some old links to ponder.

trackback
2022 years ago

strangers in our midst

Otherness is treated suspiciously by the national security state.It is becoming increasingly preoccupied with ensuring sameness in the form of…