In a draft report tabled on Tuesday, former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer found the immigration department breached its own guidelines for dealing with detainees.
He said the duty of care attended to German-born Cornelia Rau, who was wrongly detained for 10 months as an illegal immigrant and suffers from a mental illness, was “demonstrably inadequate.”
Ms Rau, a former Qantas flight attendant who at the time claimed to be a German tourist named Anna, spent six months last year in a Queensland women’s prison because there was no immigration detention centre in the state.
Immigration officials failed to check up on Ms Rau, who displayed confused, but not violent, behaviour while in jail, the inquiry found.
This behaviour “should have triggered a response and action to remove (Ms Rau) from prison detention much earlier,” said the report.
The Palmer inquiry, which was expanded to include other wrongful detentions and a deportation, described 39-year-old Ms Rau as “simply a person who desperately needed help.”
The poor level of care given to Ms Rau continued after she was transferred to the Baxter Immigration Detention Centre in South Australia where she spent four months until her real identity was discovered in March.
“Lacking continuity of care and assertive clinical leadership, the
detainees at Baxter are vulnerable and exposed to aggravated risk of mental illness,” the report said.
Australia’s immigration policy allows for the mandatory and unlimited detention of illegal immigrations including children and has been widely criticised by rights groups.
The government recently softened the laws to release into the community children and long-term detainees who cannot be sent home.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the government would not respond until the final report was completed, which is expected to be late next week.
But federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the wrongful detention of Ms Rau had embarrassed the government and said the right lessons should be learned from the “unhappy episode”.
“As far as the federal government is concerned we will carefully study the (Palmer) report, we will learn the right lessons and we will act upon them,” the minister said.