Crikey has obtained an email exchange between two former immigration department staffers discussing former Philip Ruddock chief of staff Ann Duffield. Duffield now works in the office of Shadow Immigration Minister Sharman Stone.

In the 2001 exchange, one staffer is so outraged by Duffield’s dismissive stance towards asylum seeker Shayan Badraie that they pledge if they ever met her they’d have to restrain themselves from “knocking her out”.

First as an advisor to Ruddock, then his chief of staff, Duffield presided over Ruddock’s office over the period that former child detention detainee Shayan Badraie resided at Woomera and Villawood between 2000 and 2002. In 2006 the Iranian boy was awarded a $400,000 federal government compensation payout after his family sued the immigration department on the grounds he was psychologically harmed while living at the detention centres.

During his time in detention Badraie, who was five-years-old when he first entered detention, developed post-traumatic stress disorder, which resulted in numerous hospitalisations when he refused to eat, drink or talk. He also witnessed traumatic events such as suicide attempts, self harm and abuse.

The following email exchange between two Immigration department staffers expresses concern that doctors’ advice concerning Shayan was being ignored and that the minister’s office seemed to be responsible for overruling the advice. They mention Duffield by name.

The first email, written by a staffer, asks whether the Minister’s department has seen the doctor’s reports detailing Shayan’s symptoms:

The colleague confirms that the Minister’s office had seen the reports. The colleague then refers to Ann Duffield’s professional opinion of Shayan’s case:

So has the tone of today’s Shadow Immigration portfolio shifted since Duffield’s appointment? Does Duffield’s opinion “hold a lot of sway” with her new Minister?

Last week an anonymous tipster suggested to Crikey, “media releases from Shadow Immigration Minister Sharman Stone may well owe their extra grunt and bite to the arrival of ex-Ruddock adviser, Ms Ann Duffield onto the team. Dr Stones missives are now littered with the language of ‘floods’, ‘surges’ and ‘queues’.”

At the same time, reports emerged that growing rifts in the Coalition’s stance on border protection were exposed in a parliamentary committee’s report into immigration detention. The Sydney Morning Herald reported last Tuesday, “The Opposition’s spokeswoman on immigration, Sharman Stone, broke away from the committee’s majority, saying that its recommendations sent the wrong message to people smugglers.”

And in a press release dated the 26th May the word ‘queue’ reappeared:

“Continued softening of government policy results in more good news messages for the people smugglers as their queues of customers continues to climb. The Opposition calls upon the Government to immediately launch an independent inquiry into the relationship between the Rudd Government’s softened stance on border protection and the surge in people smuggling into Australia,” Dr Stone said.

Contact: Ann Duffield

Crikey understands that Duffield was the brains behind the “snakes and sharks” video that the Howard government released in 2000 to deter would-be asylum seekers. As The 7.30 Report reported in June 2000 :

KERRY O’BRIEN: The Howard Government has unveiled its latest weapon in the battle to dissuade illegal immigrants from embarking on the long and hazardous trip to Australia. They’ve produced several videotapes highlighting sharks, crocodiles and snakes to scare off would-be boat people…

Crikey also understands that Duffield was behind the infamous “Bucklie’s” (sic) note scrawled at the bottom of correspondence about the Badraie family.

The comment “Bucklies” (sic) was scrawled at the bottom of a departmental minute in which the director of child psychology at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital “assessed that the ideal situation would be for the family to be together outside the detention environment.” At the foot of the minute was a note that the Minister wanted to be kept informed “before any changes are proposed to these arrangements”.

Insiders have told Crikey that although Ruddock, through lack of denial, took the blame for the unfortunate comment, it’s well known among immigration department circles that Duffield penned the line.

The comment, which came to light after Ruddock’s tenure, came to be widely associated with the Howard’s governments unsympathetic approach towards asylum seekers.

So is this the kind of stance that Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is seeking to revive?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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