Additional Comments - Senator Andrew Bartlett
The extensive publicity given to a
wide range of problematic cases involving the Department of Immigration &
Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) has led to the Minister, Senator Vanstone,
conceding that the culture of the Department is a problem that needs to be
I believe the evidence presented to this inquiry shows that
the problems regarding the culture of DIMIA are clearly also present in the
Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT). The blithe overnight
rejection of Mr Chen's request for political asylum, followed by the excessive
pressure applied by DFAT officials to encourage Mr Chen to return to China, was
completely inappropriate and clearly put political priorities above the basic
principles of assisting a family in significant distress that clearly were
making a genuine request for protection.
It is no coincidence that this Inquiry also produced further
evidence of severe, methodical persecution being carried out by the Chinese
Government. The willingness at the highest levels of the Australian Government
to downplay and turn a blind eye to such major human rights abuses will
inevitably impact on the culture and attitudes of officials in DFAT and DIMIA.
There are sound political, social, security and economic
reasons for Australia
to have as good a relationship as possible with the People's Republic of China.
However, this should not occur at the expense of human rights, whether on the
macro scale or in the case of individual families seeking protection.
The Chen incident generated a lot of
criticism of the actions of a DIMIA officer in contacting the Chinese Consulate
seeking details about Mr Chen.
There is no doubt in hindsight that this action was a mistake and a
misjudgement. However, from the evidence
provided, the rarity of the situation, the junior rank of the officer involved
and all the other surrounding circumstances, I do not think it is reasonable to
be overly harsh about that specific action. However, the incident does
reinforce the need for DIMIA to act on the recommendation the Committee has
made in this report, for DIMIA officers to be made aware of their obligations
in this area so the situation does not occur again.
Of far greater concern to me are the many failures that
occurred after the detail and seriousness of Mr
Chen's request had become clear. It is also
clear that this case was overseen at very high levels of DFAT and DIMIA in Canberra.
It seems to me that the problems of culture are present at those levels, and
that problem will never be adequately addressed until there is a clear change
in the attitude and policy of the Government itself.
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