The Guardian 13 July, 2005

Howard rewards failure
with prized diplomatic post

Andrew Jackson

It has long been a tradition that the government-of-the-day in Canberra treats Australia's diplomatic service as part of its "old boys club". Plum diplomatic posts are offered to faithful party hacks and business mates as a reward for services rendered.

In other cases the offer of a diplomatic posting has been used to prise MPs who have outlived their usefulness out of blue-ribbon seats (think: Mr Peacock Goes to Washington).

Mr Howard has now taken the rort to an all new low by rewarding the head of the Department of Immigration one of Australia's most difficult and sensitive postings, that of Ambassador to Indonesia.

Bill Farmer resigned in disgrace this week after a string of high-publicity failures by his department caused embarrassment for the government.

Among them have been the wrongful detention and institutional abuse of Australian permanent resident and mentally-ill woman Cornelia Rau, and the mistaken deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez Solon.

Mr Farmer has also overseen the implementation of the federal government's "mandatory detention" refugee policy and the illegal and inhuman razor-wire detention centres throughout Australia and the South Pacific.

So scandalous have been the department's failures and blunders that Mr Farmer was forced to issue a rare mea culpa and public apology.

Mr Farmer also came under fire just last week from the National Audit Office (NAO), who slammed his department over the contracts it made with the private companies that run Australia's detention centres. The NAO said the contracts failed to stipulate the quality of services provided in the centres, and thus ensure "value for money" for the government.

And yet somehow Mr Farmer's position as Prime Minister's Champion has never been in doubt he was awarded one of Australia's highest honours, the Order of Australia, on last month's Queen's Birthday List.

On announcing Mr Farmer's new diplomatic posting last Sunday, Mr Howard continued to lavish praise: "I have a great regard for Mr Bill Farmer. He's been a great foreign affairs officer in the past and he's done a good job in immigration."

The timing of Mr Farmer's departure is impeccable it comes just days before the expected release of the Palmer Report, the outcome of an Inquiry into the illegal detention of Cornelia Rau and over 100 other detainees.

The Report is expected to be damning of Mr Farmer, the Immigration Department, and the current and former Immigration Ministers Amanda Vanstone and Philip Ruddock.

With Mr Farmer soon to be safely ensconced in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, it will certainly put him beyond the reach of any further and possibly very public inquiries held to investigate the human rights abuses committed by the Department of Immigration and detention centre operators on behalf of the Howard Government.

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