1 Aug 2013

No Lessons Learnt From Cornelia

By Christine Rau

Cornelia Rau was wrongfully held in immigration detention in 2004. Recent revelations about DIAC incompetence show serious problems still exist within the department, writes her sister, Chris Rau

Writing this article is anathema to every journalistic instinct I’ve learnt in 30 years. It means working in the dark, without information.

That’s because anyone analysing the Department of Immigration has found it to be so cloaked in secrecy that you can only get information — statistical, financial, medical — if a whistleblower is prepared to break the law. Add to that at least five contracting companies involved in the detention of asylum seekers. Even Senate Estimates can’t keep track of it all.

Writing this means being emotional rather than detached. It also means treading an extremely delicate line between family privacy and a duty to make some information public.

For readers not familiar with the story, my sister, Cornelia Rau, was wrongfully held in detention, first in a Queensland jail and then in Baxter detention centre (now closed), just north of Whyalla in South Australia. She vanished during 2004 and NSW Missing Persons detectives investigated her case.

She had been a missing person for nearly a year before we found out with great relief on 31 January 2005 that she had been identified — even if it was in detention. At first, that didn’t matter. At least she was still alive. Following the Palmer Report, which investigated her detention, she asked for compensation and was awarded around $2.6 million dollars. The sum is confidential and I don’t know the precise figure.

Later it emerged that while her fellow prison and detention inmates could clearly see she was mentally ill, it was of no concern either to Corrections in Queensland or to Immigration Department officials in Baxter. Nobody bothered to look or listen: she was just a “troublesome” category; a “behavior problem”. Is ASIO more scrupulous when assessing individual cases of real refugees currently being held in indefinite detention? We may never know.

Here is the irony regarding Cornelia. Despite the compensation windfall, which looks great on paper, her life is a misery.

Her neurological pathways have been so damaged after 10 months in an untreated psychosis, that she cannot settle in any permanent residence, she can’t sustain relationships beyond fleeting ones, and she is one of the unhappiest people I know.

The money is meaningless: it’s handled by financial administrators employed by the NSW Government; her medical needs are rarely followed up, and we rely on a network of friends and acquaintances to try and make sure she’s safe. It’s a nightmare; but anyone with a family member without insight into a mental illness would tell you that. It’s hardly unusual.

It seems our politicians and many of our other “leaders” aren’t capable of saying “enough is enough”. Some media outlets like to outdo each other in scaring uneducated listeners, viewers, and readers into thinking a couple of leaky boats are the end of the world.

It’s a conundrum. Everyone’s preaching to the converted in the media these days and every outlet will have its rusted-on demographic, including this website. Still, it’s up to outlets like New Matilda, Crikey, The Guardian, public broadcasters like the ABC and their international equivalents, and rallies like the one we saw in Brisbane and Sydney recently to show at least a minority of the electorate has an albeit weary resolve to fight for a just cause.

Cornelia was detained during John Howard’s reign but it was the ALP, not the Liberals, who set up the then-nascent mandatory detention policy under Robert Ray. This was when Paul Keating was PM.

It’s interesting to reflect that so many people still find Keating’s “Redfern” speech so compelling. Contrast that with his resounding silence on human rights and refugees. Where is that wonderfully eloquent voice? Poor old Malcolm Fraser, ill and tired, is stepping up to the mark instead. Where’s Hawke? Where’s ACOSS? Where’s the Council for Civil Liberties? Where’s Toll Holdings?

Where, most pertinently, is Mick Palmer, the former AFP boss who spent five months on a cool $2500 a day investigating the Department of Immigration during the Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon cases, or his successor, former Victorian police chief, Neil Comrie?

I ran a parallel journalistic investigation during 2005, and I have great residual respect for Mick Palmer and the work his team did. They were stymied by a department so mired in a culture of paranoia that I suspect even blowing your nose in public was frowned upon, let alone releasing a document.

Palmer had a tough gig, and wrote an extensive report, but beyond that — not much. It’s not easy to criticise him. I’m loyal and think he’s one of the good guys at heart. But I cannot see how he can reconcile his conscience with what’s going on now, especially given the emphasis on the AFP in their regional role in this whole debate.

The Palmer Report was strong, but it was buried. It was a one-day wonder in July 2005. Only a couple of dedicated journos, lawyers and former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone bothered to read it. It was also deliberately released so broadcasters had only 10 minutes to skim through a tome of over 200 pages before going to air, as the ABC’s Michael Brissenden reported that night.

What is unusual, at least to me, is how little we’ve learnt from what was then a headline story in the media. Maybe in this age of social media and shorter attention spans we will learn even less from history than we have in the past?

We haven’t learnt that outsourcing our dirty work to private corporations — Global Solutions Limited, Serco, G4S, or one of the others — is a recipe for disaster. Firstly, all these companies are a bit like a telco mobile phone plan: obscure and impenetrable to any accountability. Whether that be ownership, tax or human rights.

The ludicrous expense of running an immigration policy just near the Javanese coast — 2000 kilometres away from Australia, like we do on Christmas Island — let alone Manus or Nauru, reeks of cynicism and incompetence. For what? A couple of redneck seats?

My oldest son was 11 when Cornelia was found in Baxter. He was a fledgling guitarist and wrote a very heartfelt song about her, helped with some lyrics by a pro-bono lawyer from the University of Newcastle Legal Centre. That’s how much it affected a then 11-year-old boy.

He even had the guts to perform it live in front of more than 400 people at the Ryde Civic Centre on 2 September 2005. Current Immigration Minister Tony Burke had stood on the same stage earlier that night, railing against the inequities in the Immigration Department and the privatisation of detention.

My daughter, eight years old in 2005, came with me to Adelaide to visit Cornelia after she had been found. Both our pictures were in the press that day, which I wasn’t comfortable with, but was par for the course. Not long afterwards, while the Palmer inquiry was in full swing, we received a letter, covered in human faeces, with a threat to kidnap my daughter. It was delivered personally without a stamp to our mailbox.

To me, that epitomised the level of hatred out there against anyone who tries, even hesitantly, to speak up for human rights and equality. We were pretty scared, but I’ve since discovered this sort of thing is routine for anyone who’s been in the public eye.

I guess the question my young and hopeful kids are puzzled about is: how have we as a society come to this?

My daughter is now 17, and tells stories about her peer group, who say they “hate refugees, because they’re all terrorists”. She often asks, rhetorically: “What is wrong with people?” For her, it’s genuine despair and bewilderment.

My own peers are more jaded. They're only consoled by the potential for a backlash against intolerance and the kind of rigid blindness and stupidity brought about by rampant and unchecked bureaucracies like the Department of Immigration.

Perhaps that backlash will happen in our lifetimes? Meanwhile, there are marginal seats to deliver to the duopoly, taxpayer largesse to go on unconscionable policies, and spin doctors to pay — so don’t hold your breath.

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Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 13:44

(This comment has been deleted)

Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 16:55

Blame the Government of the day, not the government department.  Government department cultures reflect the work the Government of the day expects them to do, whether or not the department thinks the policy is wise/humane/workable.

Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 18:45

That is plain B/S.
The department has a long history of incompetence, cruelty, secrecy, insensitivity, lying and more.
This department needs to be cleaned out with an iron broom.
Where is the respective minister with the guts to carry that out?

Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 21:13

The department is full of Koala's. white, Anglo's who consider themselves more Australian then most.


Transpose that to Australia into a secret society of red neck supremists who still snort that rubbish about WW2 and u can see why Cornelia got it. Many are still German phobic in this Country and Anti Asian. There was a bloke of German background killed in Jail because the low life maggot Jailers hated him, purely because of his name.

We have 200 years of History with this, 1st it was the Irish ver English, then Catholic ver Protestant and that didn't stop till the 1980's. Before WW1 it was even the different States who hated each other. It was NSW ver Vict the fruit fly is still on the border and that was caused by economic competition between the states when it came to export, to England.

Now its Muslims. We do not want to see them because they remind us that we voted for war and killing women and children, when we allowed Howard into power and take us to Iraq, the birth place of Humanity.

I'm afraid when it comes to human trash in conquered Nations, Lands that have been stolen like America and Australia we will get this sort of thing, it is because of the nature and character of the people who arrived here by what ever means and the bad always out number the good, thats why we humans have killed each other for 12000 years and why we went from throwing rocks to dropping Nuke's, thats progress, when it comes to breeding we have made no progress.

We cannot expect the National Character to improve from the dog eat dog mentality when governments give us Neocon mentalities and play one type, of against the other to force down wages and break unions.

The entire Nation needs a re think, on where we are going with this, what does it really mean to be an Australian in the 21st century.

And lets not forget that there are 1000's of Cornelia's in the indiginous communities who are violated, discriminated against purely because they are different and they still own what we came here to take because our own part of the world was full and we started to kill each other, so some left.     We learned nothing from WW2, why, because we were busy being Bone Heads. 

Breeding is the problem, always was, always will be. Until all of humanity addresses that honestly or we get rid of the Monetary system based on consumerism  its always going to be.

Peoples greed causes hardships and hardship brings out the worst in humans, its what they want, because without it we won't kill, again. Remember WW2, it was meant to happen and it did because we allowed, even wanted it to happen. 15 wars in 143 years and almost all for the old empire, only England beats that record.


So, lets look in the mirror, is that what we want more of. 100+ million people women and children dead between 1915 and 1945, in 30 years.

Aust. only had about 7 million total at the time.

Well. America has 440 thousand avoidable deaths due to Heart disease and they spend 2.6 billion to try & fix the problem.

68 Americans (mostly idiots in silly uniforms) die every year due to terrorism & D Yanks spend 268 billion or so to supposedly fix that, a problem they created.

So who the hell cares, America, that Nation of Drop Kicks who sold their rights to life be accepting the Draft/Conscription for the right to vote in their u beat democracy way back in1917, something that 65% of them can't be bothered with, even if it is only to save their lives.

50 thousnad of those Yank idiots died in Vietnam, because they can't be bothered to vote.

Humans we are a sad bunch. Animals in Fancy stitches, driving around in fancy cars, living at fancy addresses, Male milking cows hanging around with bimbo breeding cow's, thats it. 

Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 21:25

awagner is right MWH, we are a Multicultural society, our Police force became Multi because of the old injustices, its about time the last bastion of Aussieness got cleaned out too.

Posted Saturday, August 3, 2013 - 07:35

Great article Chris Rau.


Wait till these money hungry grubs start Privatising jails to get cheaper labour and what will happen when they run out of inmates as cheap labour.


AMERICA — From Freedom To Fascism



Watch it and learn, fools, thats where we are going. we are following the Yanks down the toilet bowl, because we have been blinded by Hollywoood and Hero Parades.


Posted Sunday, August 4, 2013 - 05:48

Marga should have the right to reply and explain herself.

People say a lot of things at different times of their emotional cycle.

Thats why Marriage Guidance counselors tell couples to have a sleep on it, have a cup of cement & u know what. I find it equaly annoying when I'm supposed to sit in Judgment of a comment when I have not been allowed to read it, instead I'm supposed to now take MWH's word for it, that it was somehow right wing.

Marga has a right to reply, to set the record straight.

The MSM deletes comments that they say are unfit, to protect their vested interests.

Then the right bring out counter claims about something no one was allowed to read.

Marga was big enough to make the comment, let her be big enough to take the criticism.

What some Matilda readers have proven is that they are brave enough not to read comments by people who are known to damage their frail ego's and whats more pathatic then that.

Heaven help us if we should ever damage the ego's and vanity of milking and breeding cows.

Mental Health is an issue that has never been addressed in this country, because of this testesterone fueled football mentality and we know where that has taken us.

And i don't know whats worse being an Air Hostess, Fashion Model or Footballer. A lot of those women are only their for their body shape, their working lives suck, bad diets, long crappy hours. Cornelia's fate should have helped to clean up that Pathetic Industry as well, at least some good might have come of her tragic fate. But the Industry got away with having a terrible record in abusing women for their body shape. 

We talk about OH&S everywhere. But I think their are hundreds of Cornelia's in that Industry, un diagnosed, suffering, taken advantage of because Governments force people into shit jobs, just for the sake of lowering the unemployment figures....


NUFF said.

Posted Monday, August 5, 2013 - 10:54


Seeing that you ask for it, and provided the NM monitor publishes these comments, here is my answer:  In short - I got it from the medial.

All those years ago when the bizarre behaviour of Cornelia first appeared in the print media, they also elaborated on her troubled personal relationship(s).  At least one outlet alleged that the family had distanced themselves from her - thus my comment.   (It's so long ago, the media may have used a stronger word than 'distanced').

Needless to say that neither I, nor my social circle stretching right to Cornelia's hometown Hamburg, were impressed by her manners.  The last time I saw her name in the media for all the wrong reasons was a few years back, post award payment and post psychiatric care.

I am not fussed by the criticism.  We need good strong robust debates.

That's the end of that.

In general - I agree with  your paragraph on footballers, air hostesses, models, and one could add countless other occupations to that.  I also agree that authorities stuff up a lot.

However, we also expect too much from authorities.   In the last few decades we have totally forgotten that the Enlightenment gave us individualism, freedoms, human rights - but also responsibilities.    Too many people now socialize/collectivize responsibilities and costs whilst they more and more privatize/individualize rights and benefits.

Posted Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - 20:29


Surely u didn't,  u believed that shit.      "Cornelia first appeared in the print media" Ur not a silly bent Jewish Girl are u. Nobody wanted the Jewish people, nobody, thats why we ended up with the Refugee Convention, History repeats.

The Print Media has a problem with being German Phobic.

Look what the Media or how the Media vilified the poor woman who went before the commission into Pedophilia and said quite rightly that we had abused children for 80 years in this country of Hero's. When the truth came out, did they say sorry. NO.

So come on. Australians need  nasty German boogey men so that we can keep banging on about being Hero's, heavan help us all if Germans turn out to be humans. Their goes our history, more bull.

The old Murdoch did a number on Monash that great Australian WW1 hero, who was, guess what. About as German and Aussie as Cornelia. Cornelia as I understand it was an Air Hostess and had a home in Germany for the same reason Germaine Greer now lives in England.

The problem with Cornelia is/was she was far too pretty and far too German looking for her own good. The damage to her mind was done a long time ago, probably abused in school, raped, who knows, only she knows. She does not deserve criticism. We as a Nation made Germaine Greer into what she became because her father was violated as a child war orphan. Isn't it nice to know how England treated the children of its finnest, war heros.



A lot of German Girls had trouble with blokes, after dating blokes they would find out that those blokes despite the Hero worshiping were as big a scum bucket as the German blokes were accused of being. Men being Men. so snap out of it. Its tough being a woman, its tougher being pretty and even tougher being pretty and German. Thats life, now its the Muslims turn. Mental health is a nasty thing and the leading western Nations. America,Australia, England have more mental health problems, incarceration rates and inequality then the rest. I have posted links right here to sites with the info.


I'll find it, repost, stay tuned. I wouldn't wipe my bum on anything out of the Print Media, especial that toe rag of a paper, The Daily Telegraph, Fish and Chip wraper, not.


Thanks, for ur enlightenment. As usual taken out of Context. Stay away from papers.

MWH ought to be ashamed of himself for a cheap and free right wing head kick.

It was a sad case and Mental Health was a joke here for many years.

Posted Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - 20:37

Marga Posted Monday, August 5, 2013 - 10:54 - See more at: http://www.newmatilda.com/2013/08/01/no-lessons-learnt-cornelia#comment-54843




However, we also expect too much from authorities.   In the last few decades we have totally forgotten that the Enlightenment gave us individualism, freedoms, human rights - but also responsibilities.    Too many people now socialize/collectivize responsibilities and costs whilst they more and more privatize/individualize rights and benefits.


LOL what did u expect from humans. Saints or Sinners.

Posted Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 08:56


very disappointing feedback.  You clearly could not read between the lines.

End of story

Posted Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 20:24

feedback, who's interested in feedback, robust debate. I made a few comments to step on a few ego's, but ego maniacs ain't brave enough to read anything that damages their little needles.

So, 12000 years of history, untold wars and untold breeding and untold wars, more breeding..


feedback, mmmhhh. care factor 0


Posted Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 20:26


Truth Darling, Truth, not interested in lines or Bull. Games are for wankers.