Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald report
that “an immigration official mysteriously did something only the Minister for
Finance has the power to do” and cancelled Vivian Alvarez’s debt for her
custody and deportation isn’t the only strange outstanding matter about the
case.

“The move is so far outside normal practice
it raises questions about whether someone realised the mistake of her
deportation and got rid of the debt so as to avoid embarrassment if Ms Alvarez
tried to return,” Herald journalist Joseph Kerr wrote.

Vanstone’s office declined to comment for
the Herald story. An investigation of the Alvarez matter is still proceeding.
And the details of discussions between Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone’s
chief of staff, John Nation, and Alvarez’s former husband, Robert Young, and
their impact on the case are yet to be explained.

The Palmer Report devoted its final chapter to comments and findings on the Alvarez matter. No one from Minister Amanda Vanstone’s
office or the office of the previous immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, is
on the list of people interviewed by the inquiry on pages 198-205 of the
report. And while three members of Cornelia Rau’s family spoke to Mick Palmer, Young
does not appear among the more than 100 names of individuals who assisted the
inquiry.

A Senate Estimates Committee, however, was
told in detail of contact between Young and Amanda Vanstone’s chief of staff,
John Nation, that seem contrary to normal practice back on May 25. The since-departed DIMIA secretary, Bill
Farmer, and deputy secretary Ed Killesteyn, both spoke about
this contact before the Senate Legal & Constitutional Legislation Committee.
Their evidence
begs the question – did the Minister’s office actually hinder the search for
Vivian Alvarez?

This may be the key sequence – page 129:

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—As I read the record, you initiated these inquiries on 21 April and the
public statement by the minister was made on 30 April. I am not suggesting you
tried to keep it secret but was there thought given to making the issues public
to help in the search for Solon Young?

Mr
Killesteyn—Not at the time because of the request from Mr Young that the whole
matter be kept confidential. He was very concerned about the impact on his
family. We felt an obligation in relation to his request. Therefore, the searches
that were conducted were initiated on the basis of the information that we had
and inquiries through the agencies.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—How did you know Mr Young wanted it kept quiet?

Mr
Killesteyn—That was a matter that was discussed between Dr Nation, the
minister’s chief of staff, and Mr Young at the time.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—But no-one at DIMIA had actually spoken to Mr Young.

Mr
Killesteyn—No. We had a view that this was a serious matter and that we should
treat it as such. As a consequence, we think the matter was appropriately dealt
with by personal contact between Dr Nation and Mr Young to show that we were
treating it seriously and that we were in the process of searching for Ms
Solon.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—Is that Dr Nation?

Mr Killesteyn—Yes.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—Sorry, I do not know him. Was he the one who provided you with the
information about Mr Young’s wishes?

Mr
Killesteyn—That is correct.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—Was DIMIA represented at these meetings with Mr Young or not?

Mr
Killesteyn—They were not face-to-face meetings; they were telephone
conversations, as I understand it.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—So Mr Young spoke to Dr Nation, and Dr Nation informed you that it was Mr
Young’s desire to keep the matter private, and so you went about the search
with the AFP and contacted the Philippine embassy et cetera. Why then was the
decision taken on 30 April that Minister McGauran release that information
publicly?

Mr Killesteyn—He
did not release publicly any of the details. What he indicated in his terms of
reference was the fact that an Australian citizen had been removed and that
that matter was being referred to the Palmer inquiry. The details of Ms Solon’s
identity were not made public by anyone in the federal government. It emerged
as a consequence, I believe, of media inquiries and the subsequent release of
details by the Queensland
government.

This exchange beginning on page 133 is also
notable:

Senator
LUDWIG—Mr Killesteyn, when Dr Nation spoke to you, did you ask him whether or
not Mr Young had next of kin status?

Mr
Killesteyn—No, I did not.

Senator
LUDWIG—Did you just assume that he did?

Mr
Killesteyn—No, I did not make any assumptions at all. As I said before, our
interest was in finding Ms Solon as quickly as possible. We had information on
our files which gave us some confidence that we had substantive and positive
leads, and that is what we pursued.

Senator
LUDWIG—But you took Dr Nation’s advice in the conversation he had with you
about the matter?

Mr Farmer—Yes.
That would be perfectly normal, I would think.

Senator LUDWIG—I
am not saying it is not. I am just confirming what the facts are.

Mr Farmer—But
you seem to have asked the question a couple of times, and I am a bit puzzled
by that.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—Senator Ludwig may be more comforted than I am, but I find it a trifle
strange that DIMIA did not have any direct contact with Mr Young. I must admit
I find that odd.

Mr
Killesteyn—There was an agreement that we wanted to establish contact with Mr
Young and, rather than have multiple people speaking to Mr Young, we ultimately
concluded that Dr Nation could make the original contact and should continue to
make contact and that that was a way of indicating that this matter was being
treated seriously, as it was.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—The weakness is, I gather, that he is not an officer of DIMIA.

Mr Farmer—Mr
Young had originally communicated via the minister’s web site.

Senator CHRIS
EVANS—No, he originally communicated by trying to contact you, and when that
proved unsuccessful a year or two later he went to the ministerial web site.
Let us be fair.

Mr Farmer—That
is a fair cop. I am talking, though, about the immediate past.

Senator
LUDWIG—Even looking at the immediate past, then. You took at face value what Dr
Nation had asked you to do. But this is in respect of an Australian citizen you
had deported. I would have thought the responsibility would have been to
establish who the next of kin was and contact them to see whether they could
assist. That is what I would have thought would have been the appropriate
action, rather than to then agree that Dr Nation, who is not in DIMIA, should
be the conduit for the contact to the outside world in respect of this matter.
That is what I would have thought.

Mr Farmer—As we
were in the process of trying to find Ms Alvarez Solon, we were unable to
establish from her who the next of kin was. We had what was an approach from
her ex-husband, who was inquiring about the mother of the child. The child
lived with the ex-husband. So the child certainly had a direct relationship
with Ms Alvarez Solon.

Senator
LUDWIG—But wouldn’t it have been a simple matter to contact Mr Young and say,
‘Who is the next of kin?’ The brother would have probably been pointed out at
that stage. I understand that is hypothetical, but at least you could have then
established the custody issue or the number of children and then established
who the next of kin was to draw them in and advise them of what was going on,
rather than leave it to Dr Nation to determine the outcome.

Mr Killesteyn—We
did make contact with next of kin. As part of the search, we were seeking
details of siblings that could help us in any way with an address or a location
of Ms Solon. We made contact with Ms Solon’s half-brother in Australia.
Through a range of further inquiries we made in the Philippines, we were able to
establish the next-of-kin siblings of Ms Solon, and progressively we started to
make inquiries of those people as to whether they knew of her whereabouts.

Senator
LUDWIG—When was that?

Mr
Killesteyn—That was during the period from the commencement of the search—22
April—through to the time that she was ultimately located on 11 May.

Senator
LUDWIG—Was that through Dr Nation?

Mr Killesteyn—No,
that was through the embassy in Manila making
the contact with siblings in the Philippines. The contact with Mr
Solon in Australia
was through DIMIA.

Senator
LUDWIG—This is a person who was on a missing persons database and a television
show. That is where the idea that you have indicated of worrying about privacy
in this instance escapes me. I do not want to say it but, in terms of the
culture, why would you then raise privacy concerns and worry about them when,
in this instance, it would seem important to find the person?

Mr Farmer—I
think we are just answering the questions factually.

Senator
LUDWIG—Yes. We are going around in a circle on that.

Mr Farmer—That
is what happened.

Senator
LUDWIG—Yes. Thank you.

Mr Farmer—It
seemed important to take account of the wishes of the family. That is just a
statement of how it happened.

Back to Palmer. According to page 183 of
his report, Alvarez came to the attention of the Immigration Department on
April 2 2001 when a social worker in New South Wales advised them that an
injured and apparently destitute Filipina had been found wandering Lismore
street.

The same page states “DIMIA records note
that on 23 April 2001 a social worker at Liverpool Hospital in Sydney advised
that Ms Alvarez had become more lucid and said she came to Australia on a
spouse visa and had been beaten by her husband.”

On May 12 Lateline reported Alvarez was
admitted to Lismore Base Hospital
with a serious spinal injury, which was operated on at Sydney’s
Liverpool Hospital in April before she was sent
back to Lismore.

Betty Graham-Higgs, a former social worker
at Lismore Base Hospital
told the program http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2005/s1367467.htm
Alvarez had not been in a vehicle incident. “She had been brought in by a
passer-by who had found her lying in a sort of gutter. She couldn’t walk and
she never walked when she was in Lismore hospital. Well, the only way that she
could have been injured like that was if she was beaten up.”

The following night, Alvarez herself told
Lateline http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2005/s1368421.htm
“I was in the car accident”.

Palmer makes no findings over the cause of
Alvarez’s injuries, but refers on page 184 to a memo of July 12 2001 from St
Vincents Hospital in Sydney
to Immigration outlining her condition. The same page, however, reports an
interview between DIMIA and Alvarez that day: “During the interview she said
she had married a Philip Smith in Cebu on 29
November 2000… She said she returned to Australian with Mr Smith some 45 days
after her marriage and gave details of abusive treatment by him and having been
‘kicked out’ of their house. This account has not been confirmed.”

What does this mean? No evidence has emerged
that suggests Young committed any violence against his former wife.

However, given what little DIMIA knew about
the situation – particularly if their knowledge only extended to the record quoted
by Palmer above – why did the Department not react more forcedully to Nation’s telephone
calls? Did they offer any other advice? If so, what was it?

On what basis did Nation deal with Young?
Why did he choose to support Young’s desire to keep Alvarez’s deportation
private over the rights of the next of kin – particularly given what was in the
departmental information? Did his actions delay locating here?

Was this the final indignity Alvarez
suffered at the hands of DIMIA and the responsible ministers?

Peter Fray

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