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Caring Family Barriers

This week the Palmer Report was released regarding the ‘Inquiry into the Circumstances of Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau’. Ms Rau was reported as a missing person by her family on two occasions, in December 2003 and again in August 2004 and had previously had periods of hospitalisation. She was detained on 31 March 2004 in Queensland following which she was placed in prison in Brisbane for 6 months and then transferred to Baxter Immigration Detention Centre for 4 months until she was identified in February 2005.

The Palmer Report has wider ranging implications for the operation of detention centres and is a reflection on how Australia deals with families and mental health. The last three findings are well worth reading and are reproduced in this news article. If you are a caring family member and a mentally ill family member goes missing, the Privacy Act 1988 and how it is interpreted and used in liability suits, makes it difficult for police and hospitals putting you in touch with a person if the person is not proactive. This is because the privacy laws developed with a priority focus on divorce and harassment rather than a benefit of the doubt that families are caring social networks.

Palmer Report findings 32 to 34:

’32. There is an urgent need for the establishment of a national missing persons database or capacity that will provide a national recording and search capability and enable searches against a range of biometric data -- including the photographic facial recognition, personal description and distinguishing features -- that would aid in personal identification. This is a national priority and calls for a whole of government approach.

33. The links between managing ‘missing patients’ and ‘missing persons’ are not well defined in Australia. They do not consistently allow for the exchange of personal information between medical facilities and police, sufficient to enable police to identify the level of risk and vulnerability of a mental health patient who goes missing.

34. DIMIA’s attitude to the provisions of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 is unduly cautious and has operated to limit the range and effectiveness of inquiries into the status and identity of suspected unlawful non-citizens in a way that is clearly against the public interest and the intent of the Act. Had a photograph of Anna(Cornelia Rau) been released early, her journey might have been a short one.’

You can download the full report at:http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media_releases/media05/palmer-report.pdf

Posted Sunday, 17 July 2005


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