Congratulations to the government on another great exercise in media management with the Palmer report, pulling off a masterful cover up while the angry headlines seem to indicate the very opposite.

Christine Rau, sister of Cornelia, twigs to it in her SMH feature this morning (here), but most of the pack have predictably torn into the rabbit that has been presented to them.

I’m not referring here to the minor spin tricks of the nation’s biggest PR machine, not the careful leaking to reduce the initial sting or the national ID card story that at least took the Australian’s front page lead, but the much bigger cover-up. (The only surprise really is that the report wasn’t released last Friday.)

The Palmer report is hot in what it says about the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs – the ex-cop is straight – but what the government kept out of the report is the absolutely outrageous bit: any investigation into the extent of the rogue department’s criminal behaviour.

Vivian Alvarez and Cornelia Rau are relatively lucky. They are Australian citizens and thus, eventually, received a hollow apology and their lawyers will in time extract some dollars from taxpayers. The cases of thousands of non-Australian citizens abused and maltreated by DIMIA have been kept under the carpet.

Palmer was excluded from examining the much bigger and no-doubt uglier picture, leaving Howard and Vanstone to pretend these were two unfortunate mistakes instead of being the natural outcome of government policy.

The message sent by Howard and Vanstone is that it’s not a rogue department at all, that the good servants of DIMIA have been doing just what their political masters have wanted. Under the policy of deterrence, Australia is to be a fearsome place for non-citizens. DIMIA thuggery is not only tolerated, it is encouraged by the government’s words and actions. No-one is sacked when such behaviour unfortunately comes to light. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

That’s what Howard and Vanstone have got away with under cover of the Palmer report and Ruddock, as architect of the present system, needs to be included as well. The concept of ministerial responsibility is extinct and we have the DIMIA our elected leaders want.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey