Our new pal Sandi Logan, DIMIA’s spin doctor, is in for a busy time. Russell Skelton reports in The Sunday Age:

Up to 60 Australian residents, many suffering severe mental
problems, may have been mistakenly incarcerated in detention centres by
overzealous Immigration Department officials.

Andrew Metcalfe, the new secretary of the Immigration Department, has
confirmed that the plight of mentally ill residents was being
investigated by the Ombudsman as part of an inquiry into 221 cases of
suspected maladministration.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Age, Mr Metcalfe
predicted that his department would have to deal with more bad
publicity before the reforms he was introducing took hold…

Poor Sandi. My sympathies. I know what it’s like when the mobile goes into meltdown after one of Amanda’s stuff-ups.

Of course, people who understand that public administration is about more than screensavers with slogans know Sandi and Metcalfe really shouldn’t be wearing the heat.

There’s this concept called responsible government. The Penguin Macquarie Dictionary of Australian Politics describes it as:

A system of government in which all levels of authority are
theoretically answerable to the people. The key to responsible
government in Australia is the Westminster System principle that the
government must have the support of a majority of the lower house of
parliament. Thus the government is held to be collectively responsible
to the people’s representatives and hence indirectly to the people.
Similarly public servants answer to individual ministers, who are
responsible for the actions of their departments, answering to the
parliament and hence indirectly to the people. Such conventions are
perhaps best seen as standards sought but imperfectly attained.

“Sought but imperfectly attained.” So poor Sandi and Metcalfe have to
deal with the mess – a mess that has prompted this letter to Crikey
from a practising immigration lawyer:

I’m glad to see you are not swallowing the reform crap from
DIMIA. I did a short stint in the Department 20 years ago and it is
surprising how many of the names on the top structure chart I still
recognise from back then. It has always been known in the public
service as an empire unto itself, so institutional change is going to
be very hard to achieve.

Now I’m on the other side of the fence as an immigration lawyer and
from this position I have a very different perspective on what sorts of
reforms are needed. Sure, the Rau and Solon fiascos were first-rate
cock ups, but they can always be explained away as isolated incidents
and can even be used to justify the type of “we do things differently
now” spin that you have been criticising.

Many people think Australia is pretty tough on asylum seekers, locking
them up in desert camps for years, etc. But that’s only what we do to
the genuine ones, who really are fleeing awful circumstances that
threaten their lives and their families’ lives. Actually we have a
remarkably generous system for dealing with people whose intention is
to exploit the refugee determination process in order to get a few
years of legal residence in this country during which time they can
send home enough money to put the kids through school, pay off the
family debt or set up a business. Not that I have any objection to
people doing these things by the sweat of their brows. On purely
anecdotal evidence I believe the economy would be the worse for it if
they, and the outright illegals, were not here. I just object to the
situation where the only means available for doing these things is to
abuse the legal system and make it significantly harder for genuine
refugees to get a proper hearing.

Gosh. Sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Poor Sandi.