Attempts to blame IT for immigration bungles disintegrate

Attempts by Prime Minister John Howard and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone to blame information technology for the illegal incarceration and deportation of Australian citizens have fallen apart with the release of former Federal Police Commissioner Mick Palmer's report into systemic failures at the Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).

Despite official claims DIMIA's case management system is so heavily siloed it prevents DIMIA officers from cross-checking both the identity and immigration status of persons facing deportation, the so-called Palmer report into immigration bungles has revealed departmental officers accessed crucial files revealing the true immigration status of a mentally ill Australian woman, Ms Vivian Solon, only three days after she was deported to the Philipines on July 20 2001.

"Although an audit of DIMIA systems between April and July 2001 showed that the Vivian Solon/Young records were not accessed, the same audit showed they were accessed twice on July 23 2001 (three days after Ms Alvarez was removed) and once on July 27 2001," the report stated.

Departmental officers told the inquiry that so-called "wildcard" searches on DIMIA's database were discouraged because of the amount of computing power such searches required - and that such exercises had almost "shut down" DIMIA's training system.

According to the report, departmental officers also told the inquiry DIMIA's IT systems are so flawed that they are "not effectively networked" and "do not have any relational database capacity."

Government security sources have denied the claims to Computerworld and stressed a range of relational interrogation capacities exist. The source hastened to add he was referring "purely to data...data assets...not people".

The Palmer report has also resulted in the removal of DIMIA's top brass including Departmental Secretary Bill Farmer and DIMIA's so-called leadership team of at least 10 senior bureaucrats. So far, the department is refusing to comment on whether DIMIA CIO Cheryl Hannah will be impacted.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed DIMIA's top brass have been sent packing, but was unable to give names or specifcs. The spokesman said he was not aware of any local funding cuts.

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