Rebecca Gilsenan is a Principal lawyer at Maurice Blackburn and a director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. She first became involved with asylum seeker issues in 2003, when the Badraie family approached Maurice Blackburn to try and get compensation from the government and detention centre operators for their child’s injuries while in detention. The trial was held and settled in 2005. Gilsenan was also involved in Parvis Yousefi’s case, another detainee who suffered sever psychiatric injuries from his time in detention and received compensation from the government without trial. Gilsenan’s profile is available from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
More information on Rebecca Gilsenan
- “Refugee child granted $400,000 in compensation for psychological harm”, Wikinews, 2006, article on the settlement of the Bedraie family’s case, who Gilsenan represented
- Settlement with Parvis Yousefi, Amnesty International, 2008, article about settlement with Parvis Yousefi and compensation paid by the government, another case Gilsenan was involved in.
Transcript of Interview
9 March 2007
Interview conducted by Marie Joyce
MS JOYCE My name is Marie Joyce. I’m about to interview Rebecca Gilsenan. Today is 9 March 2007 and the interview is being conducted in Melbourne, Australia. Are you ready to start?
MS GILSENAN Yep.
MS JOYCE Rebecca, could you tell us your full name to begin the interview, please?
MS GILSENAN Sure. It’s Rebecca Gilsenan, and do you want me to spell that?
MS JOYCE Yes, please.
MS GILSENAN G-i-l-s-e-n-a-n.
MS JOYCE And what’s your date of birth?
MS GILSENAN 3 August 1973.
MS JOYCE And today – and your age is?
MS GILSENAN Thirty-three.
MS JOYCE And the city we’re in?
MS GILSENAN Melbourne.
MS JOYCE Thanks. Well let’s begin the interview perhaps by you explaining how you came to be involved with detainees.
MS GILSENAN Okay. In 2003 my firm was approached by a family by the name of Badraie who had been in detention and the child had become psychiatrically ill in detention. They’d gone through various processes trying to get some redress for what had happened unsuccessfully and then they approached my firm to act for them in a compensation case against the government and the detention centre operators for their child’s injuries. So they approached through some lawyers in Melbourne who had been involved with detainees and advocacy groups for detainees. They approached us and one of my partners down here, because the family were in Sydney by this time, one of my partners down here approached me about working on their case and I was interested in doing that and then went and met with the family at their house in North Parramatta in Sydney. So that’s the first family that I was involved in – involved with, and then the second family that I’ve had some involvement in is by the name of Yousefi (?). They also approached our firm to act for them in a similar case, this time in relation to Parvis Yousefi who was the father of the family who had also suffered some psychiatric injuries during detention. And I should say that although I’ve met the other members of Parvis Yousefi’s family, his wife and his son, I still haven’t met Parvis because each time I’ve been to their house to see them he’s been in bed and hasn’t come out. So I know he exists because I’ve heard his voice and I’ve seen plenty of documents about him but I’ve only met his wife and child so far.
MS JOYCE Perhaps you can tell us more about that a little later in the interview. Shall we go back to the Badraie family and I would like you to tell us the story about your experience with them.
MS GILSENAN All right. Well as I said I first met them when I had been approached about taking on their case, so I went out and saw them in their flat in North Parramatta in Sydney. I went with a woman called Jackie Everett who had been assisting them with their immigration application and she had met them while they were in detention. She had been assisting with their immigration application. She assisted them with a complaint to HREOC. I think they were still in detention at that time. All of these complaints by the way were all about Shayan. So Jackie and I drove out to their flat in North Parramatta and started talking to the parents about possibly taking a compensation case against the government and the detention centre operators for Shayan’s injuries. So on one view what we were talking about was just a straightforward personal injuries case. On another view no one had sued the government yet. I know that refugee advocates had been particularly concentrating on the immigration law aspect of what was happening in detention and trying to make inroads into the system that way, but as far as I knew this was a new way or it hadn’t been done to date, so we – I talked to them about potentially having, bringing one of these claims for Shayan. They were reasonably nervous about it. They were keen to do something to get some redress and some justice for their child, but they were pretty nervous about it because they told me that they were worried that if they took legal action against the government that there would be repercussions for them. I think that given that they had come from a country where they’d experienced some persecution they didn’t entirely trust the government and they were looking to me to give them some sort of reassurance if I could that nothing would happen to them if they brought this sort of case. And then I suppose their real worry was that they were only on a Temporary Protection Visa which was going to last until August 2005 and if – their worry was that if they brought a case for compensation that their temporary protection visa would expire and when they then applied for a permanent protection visa it wouldn’t be granted, so they were quite nervous about that and I hadn’t worked in the refugee immigration law area at all, so it was very hard for me to give them any sort of reassurance that it wouldn’t affect that application and I told them that theoretically in Australia the rule of law prevails and those sorts of things shouldn’t affect your application, but I couldn’t give them any guarantees about that. So we talked about it some more and they came around to the view that this is what they did want to do, notwithstanding that risk, but they remained quite nervous about that. So I went and interviewed them a few more times to get detailed instructions about what had happened in detention. I’d gotten hold of the report that HREOC had produced about the complaint about Shayan so I’d been able to do some background reading, but then had to go and take detailed instructions from them about what had happened, and I’d go and do that in their flat at North Parramatta. When I went there I’d try and go during school time so that Shayan wasn’t home, so he wasn’t – he was still a fairly sick child so I didn’t want to go there after school when he would be around and listening to people he didn’t recognise coming to his house wearing a suit and interviewing his parents about what had happened to him in detention, so I tried to do it during the day. They also had a toddler at the time, but she was too young really to understand what we were talking about.
MS JOYCE So did you meet Shayan at all in that time?
MS GILSENAN Yeah, he would come home from school and I met him, but the parents were actually quite careful about making sure that he wasn’t sitting around during the conversations and that he wasn’t having to revisit the things that had happened in detention that had made him – you know, that had triggered his illness I suppose. So he would come home from school and his parents would explain that I was there and by then I guess they had explained to him what I was doing in I guess child appropriate terms, and then they sent him into his bedroom to do his homework or something like that. So I met him – you know, whenever I went to their house I would often – he’d come home from school, because it would take a really long time to take these instructions. For the parents it was quite traumatic having to go through it yet again in the sort of detail that the lawyer wants you to go through his story in.
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN And his mother would often get headaches and, you know, I could see her really struggling to tell me the story of what happened and we’ve have an interpreter there so it was a really slow process. I probably went to their house four or five times and spent all day there to get really detailed instructions from both of the parents. But Shayan, I suppose my observations of Shayan at that time – I’m trying to think how old he was then – he would have been about 8 years old I think, 8 or 9 years old, and he wasn’t, you know, he wasn’t the sort of – he wasn’t like other children. I suppose you could tell that he was sad, that he was frightened and nervous and he wasn’t sort of spontaneous and bouncy and confident like other children. In fact he wasn’t – his little sister who was quite a bit younger than him, she’s five years younger than him, but she is an incredibly outgoing child, and at that time she would climb all over me. She wasn’t nervous because I was someone that she didn’t recognise. She was just a confident strong child and Shayan in contrast was very withdrawn and sad and quiet and nervous. So from the beginning of having contact with this family I could see the difference I suppose and the effect that these experiences had had on Shayan.
MS JOYCE So what were the main features of the story that you heard about Shayan’s experience in detention?
MS GILSENAN Gosh, this – so much of this story I’m trying to think of how to reduce it to something that’s going to fit on this tape. The main – well as I said I’d read the HREOC report on Shayan’s circumstances before I went there so I had some idea of the outline of what had happened. But I also knew that the Commonwealth disputed a lot of that story because they didn’t accept some of HREOC’s findings and they didn’t accept the ultimate recommendations that were made by HREOC. So I had some background, but when I went to see the parents I went through in huge detail of each of these events that have been mentioned in the HREOC report and in huge detail about what they had experienced each day in the detention centre from the day that they got there to the day that they left a couple of years later. When they arrived in Woomera, it was I think March 2000, it was incredibly hot. They arrived, they told me that they arrived late at night and they arrived to I guess an airport in Woomera where someone from the detention centre came and spoke to them. They were also showed a video apparently of crocodiles and snakes and spiders and the type of frightening wildlife that exists in Australia. But anyway – so they arrived at the detention centre, it was summer. Woomera they described as being really crowded and that there was disturbances every day, whether or not that was – I mean they described to me all sorts of disturbances, but fights between detainees, fights between detainees and detention officers, protests, this type of thing. They said that, I think they arrived in March and within a few months there was quite large scale disturbances in the detention centre, protests and responses to those protests. By August 2000 they said that there had been some quite significant riots around the detention centre and they described being in what they called a container. It took me a while to understand what they meant by a container, but this was their living quarters and as I say they described it as a container. When I later saw pictures of Woomera it made sense, it was a metal demountable building, but they called it their container. They described that in these riots that happened in August they were sheltering in their container because there wasn’t anywhere else around that – you know, it was all an open environment, they were trying to protect their children from the events that were going on outside. It was noisy and there was altercations and so on going on and people chanting and, you know, shouting out slogans and things, the detainees who were protesting. But one thing that stuck in my mind is they said that there was a water cannon being used on the protesters at night and that the family’s container was quite close to the fence where the water cannon was being used, so the water cannon was hitting their container and the children were terrified because of the – the container’s walls were really just thin metal and they described the noise as being, you know, incredibly loud and a really frightening experience for the child – children. They said that that’s the time that Shayan’s symptoms really started to become apparent. He was wetting the bed, he was waking up in the night going on and off his food in a way that they hadn’t known him to up until then. They were in Woomera I think they described for about another – from August to – about another eight months and they described more events that seemed to have a particular – particularly strong and lasting affect on Shayan. They described him seeing a man holding a shard of glass to his chest threatening to slash himself and kill himself with a crowd of people around him, including Shayan, and I guess – I asked them about why Shayan was seeing these sorts of events, why he wasn’t being kept away from these types of events, but they explained to me that in the centre it was all open and barren and there wasn’t really anywhere to shelter from things and things would happen spontaneously so you couldn’t necessarily pick the children up, run into shelter when they were happening and sometimes if the children were playing as they do around the place they would even be by themselves noticing these events. But I think the theme was these things were so pervasive that there wasn’t anywhere to go and to get away.
MS JOYCE Can I just check something, there are a number of children – – –
MS GILSENAN Yes.
MS JOYCE – – – in the container?
MS GILSENAN Yes, sorry. There was Shayan and there was his little sister. His little sister was – – –
MS JOYCE She was already born?
MS GILSENAN Yes, she was born before the August riots and after they arrived in March, so she was fairly new born at the time of the riots. Going back to that point actually they – the parents described to me during those riots as well that there was tear gas used on the people outside protesting, but the tear gas had come into their container and the mother described wetting fabric and trying to hold it over the new born baby and Shayan’s mouths so that they didn’t ingest or inhale this tear gas. So, yeah, it was two children at the time. The parents also described to me that Shayan saw a man up a tree who was – had climbed up what they described as the only tree in the place. He’d climbed up there and was threatening to jump out of the tree and kill himself and he was yelling this out for everyone to hear. I think that was part of the point, he wanted people to know what state he was in, and Shayan had been playing and they found him there at the bottom of the tree with a crowd of detention officers, adults and children who were around watching what was going on. The other thing that they mentioned had some affect on Shayan in terms of what he talked about to them and what he drew in his drawings and what he woke up talking about when he was having these nightmares and waking up in the night was seeing a man who’d come, who’d just slashed his throat. When Shayan saw him he had all bandages and blood around his throat, but Shayan apparently would be asking them, “Why did the officers slash Uncle Hussein’s throat.” And the other thing that happened to the family at Woomera was they were placed in a compound called Sierra Compound and that was an area that the detainees generally regarded as a place that people went to be punished. So the family were really unhappy about being moved to Sierra Compound. They were frightened and didn’t know why they were being moved there, and Shayan was asking what they had done to be moved to Sierra Compound. The other thing that became apparent through the trial was that in Sierra Compound there was no other children anywhere near Shayan’s age, so he was separated completely from his peers. One of the psychologists later told me, who gave evidence in the trial, told me that he would come and get Shayan and take him over to the main compound to look at other children so that he could see that there were other children his own age, but it had to be a specially organised excursion. If he was to have any contact, like proper contact such as playing with these other children it would be a bureaucratic process where someone had to get permission and – it happened infrequently, but that psychologist described to me the sadness of taking a child to look at other children playing just to remind them that there were other children his own age. So that was what they described to me as happening at Woomera.
MS JOYCE Yes. What was the experience like for you? You’ve told us that you listened in detail for quite a number of days to their story, what kind of an experience was that for you?
MS GILSENAN Exhausting. It was a long time to sit in a small flat and hear about such – you know, for these people really traumatic experiences, so it was quite exhausting and I felt a bit guilty for putting these people through the story yet again. I had explained to them and I understood why I needed to do that, but I felt guilty about asking them to go through in such detail that experience and I could see the effect that it was having on them, so – and I was shocked. It’s one thing to read about these things in reports and in documents and things, but it’s quite another to hear from the people themselves how they felt and, you know, their emotions about what happened, so it was – it was pretty heavy going, and that was just Woomera.
MS JOYCE Yes. So there was another phase when they were at Villawood?
MS GILSENAN Yes.
MS JOYCE Do you want to say something about that?
MS GILSENAN What was happening at Woomera is that Shayan’s symptoms were starting to become apparent not just to his family but to detention centre staff and they had – at various times they had a psychologist working there and at other times there was a man who was a counsellor, but both of these people noticed what was going on with Shayan. They both also described to me that they were completely overwhelmed with detainees who had these sorts of problems, but that they were particularly worried about Shayan because he was so young. Anyway people started noticing Shayan’s symptoms and one of the psychologists in January 2001 did a formal assessment of him, and the assessment was that he was displaying all of the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and he thought that it amounted to a diagnosis PTSD, but that in his mind needed to be confirmed by a psychiatrist, but his conclusion was that the family should be moved to another centre where they would be closer to support services, external support services so that these symptoms could start to be treated more effectively. So a few months after those recommendations were made they flew to Villawood Detention Centre and stayed there in Sydney. Villawood from my observations of the film footage that I’d seen and the photographs and listening to what the family said about Villawood it sounded like a more – a less stark and difficult environment than Woomera. It had been there, it had been well established, it was in a major city. They were still in detention but they weren’t living in what they call containers, they were living in some sort of accommodation units and it sounded – it wasn’t in the middle of the desert and it wasn’t overcrowded and under-resourced in the same way that they had described Woomera as being. But by that stage Shayan’s symptoms or his condition had become pretty fragile and within, I think it was about six weeks of arriving at Villawood the parents described that Shayan was out playing with another child and they kept saying to me things like, “The psychologist would tell us to make Shayan go out and play”, because all he wanted to do was lay on his bed and cling to his parents, so they described that they were trying quite hard to get him out of the room and out on the grass and trying to socialise with other children given that he at Woomera had been removed from other children. That was important to them that he had some interaction with children. They described a day that he had gone out with another little child and was playing just in the vicinity of their accommodation unit with this child and they – these two kids walked in, or somehow their play moved into one of the other detainee’s rooms and as they entered that room this man had just slashed his wrists in his room and was bleeding quite profusely from his arm and that Shayan – the parents described Shayan running back to them saying – I can’t remember the name – but so and so is dead, so and so is dead, and instantly that experience came – showed up in a lot of the drawings and things that Shayan did in therapy at the hospital – I’ll come to that – but at the hospital and even years later in Shayan’s drawings there’d be a man standing with his arms out and he’d have a circle on his arm, which I assume was some kind of hole, and there’d be dripping out of the circle, so this was described by Shayan as the man who cut himself. But that event came to be regarded by the doctors treating Shayan as really the event that in lay terms tipped him over the edge, but I suppose the precipitating event for his post-traumatic stress disorder the parents described to me that after seeing this man Shayan, that’s when he stopped speaking.
MS JOYCE Could I just check something, that they had already identified PTSD in Woomera as well and so this was a further experience of exposure to trauma for him?
MS GILSENAN Yes, it was. The psychologist in Woomera had written a report saying that he thinks he fulfils all the criteria and identified the symptoms that meet with the (indistinct) and full criteria, but he explained to me that he didn’t want to make the diagnosis without consulting with a psychiatrist.
MS JOYCE I understand.
MS GILSENAN But when he transferred to Villawood and saw this event the treating team at the Westmead Children’s Hospital came to see that as really the trigger event I guess for the really severe deterioration that followed. As I said his parents described that after that event he really stopped speaking and they described that for three or four days he just sat on the bed and wouldn’t speak or eat or drink or anything, he was just listless and they were getting quite desperate by this stage. I think shortly after that he was admitted to Westmead Children’s Hospital on an emergency basis to be rehydrated and his first admission to the hospital was a relatively short one. The doctors I’ve met, spoken to and read all of the reports that the treating team at Westmead prepared about Shayan over this period, but that short hospitalisation was to be the first of I think maybe six or eight admissions to Westmead on an emergency basis for rehydration and psychological treatment. So after that first week he was sent back to the detention centre, I think the doctors immediately started recommending that he not be sent back and that he be protected from seeing any more, any further traumatic events, but it seemed that it was too late by then. Even a return to the environment without an additional traumatic event on top of that was enough to cause his symptoms, all those really severe symptoms to re-emerge, so I think he was back at the detention centre for less than a week before he was taken back to the hospital and that hospital stay was about two months, the second one, it was really long, and there became a sort of tussle I guess between the treating team at the hospital and on the other hand the Department of Immigration and the minister. The treating team were writing to the management of the detention centre as well as after a while writing directly to the minister saying it is not in this child’s best interests to be returned to the environment of the detention centre, his symptoms will re-emerge. Their recommendations were I suppose in the strongest terms that he shouldn’t be returned to that environment and he was a very sick child. Nevertheless he was after the two month hospitalisation returned to that environment and after that I think there were another five or six hospitalisations for shorter periods of time, but for the same thing. He’d go back to the detention centre, he would shut down, he wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t drink, he wouldn’t interact, lay on his bed until his body would start shutting down and he’d have to be readmitted to the hospital for treatment. At that time the parents described to me just becoming more and more desperate and some of the actions that they had started to take by then indicated how desperate they were. There was – the father described to me there was one incident where he went – he had this floppy listless child and he would describe going to the medical centre several times a day asking them to take his child to hospital and them not being willing to take the child to the hospital and the father was desperate, completely desperate for his child to be treated. He couldn’t be treated on site, but they would apparently say to him, well he’s okay, he’s not – you know, he’s not on the verge of shut down, or I don’t know, death, so we’ll keep him here for a few more days until he will have to be admitted on an emergency basis, but the father described to me at one stage having this incredibly sick child and going over to the visitors area at Villawood and holding the child up above his head and yelling out, “My child is sick. My child is sick. He needs treatment. They won’t take him to the hospital”, just to try and get I suppose the outside world’s attention to what was happening to his child and he was helpless, angry, panicking and desperate, so – incidentally, in the trial that we ran, that came to be one of the matters about which his dad was cross-examined and criticised for, that, “How could you do this to a sick child”, it was suggested to him, you know, “What kind of effect do you think that losing your temper is going to have on your incredibly sick child?”, so that was one of the many, many events in the trial that was upsetting, I suppose, not just for the father who was sitting in the witness box being cross-examined, but for the whole legal team, including me. It was so clear to us that, you know, the desperation – it indicated desperation, rather than lack of care for his child’s well-being. Anyway, this to-ing and fro-ing from hospital at Woomera – sorry, Villawood – and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead went on, and the department was scrambling around trying to find some solutions – all the doctors were recommending that the family and the child be released to some sort of community placement, so that they could start to try and help Shayan to live a normal life and not be returned to the environment where the symptoms just re-emerged. One of their solutions, if you like, that the government came up with was to put Shayan in a foster care placement outside of detention, but to keep his family in detention. The treatment team wrote to the minister about this saying that the last thing that this child could cope with would be to be separated from any of his family, that he was heavily dependant on his parents and very anxious of any separation from them, and that the – those doctors recommended in very strong terms that he not be placed in foster placement, not be put into a foster placement.
MS JOYCE Were they allowed to go to the hospital when he was hospitalised, especially fro the long period?
MS GILSENAN Yeah. When he was hospitalised, he would have one parent there most of the time.
MS JOYCE Right.
MS GILSENAN So he wasn’t being separated at the hospital, and the parents would take turns, and the young daughter would be there as well, so the hospital was very accommodating of that, and the detention centre allowed that to happen as well. Mind you, they did send a guard, so a guard lived at the hospital with Shayan along with the parent, whichever parent that was at the time. So, I think I just told you about the foster care.
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN Or the foster care option, if you like. Now, in, must have been by this stage about August 2001, the parents were – positively desperate time – they were shuttling to and from the detention centre and hospital, they couldn’t see a solution, and the department had introduced to them the idea of possibly putting the child in foster care. The parents were absolutely desperate at this stage. Incidentally, they’d also received a deportation order saying that they had come to the end of their – their immigration process, and they’d been unsuccessful and that they were going to be deported any moment back to Iran with this sick child, so the parents, in their desperation, agreed to participate in some kind of filming where somebody had somehow gotten hold of a camera in the detention centre – or smuggled it, I don’t know – and the parents were filmed by another detainee and were telling the story and showing their child, they had – both of the parents were sitting down on the ground and telling the story about what was happening with their child. That footage ended up being displayed on Four Corners, and it’s some footage, I believe, that a lot of people have seen, and those images of Shayan, I think reaching the outside world, actually shifted people’s consciousness about what was happening in detention centres, particularly in relation to children – I think I read the other day on Chillout’s web site that Chillout was formed after a group of parents and concerned other citizens had seen this footage of Shayan and his family in the detention centre at Villawood. Anyway, that footage was filmed and displayed on Four Corners along with footage of other people in detention. Shortly after that went to air, just to give a point in time, the Tampa incident occurred – I think it was about two weeks – – –
MS JOYCE Yeah.
MS GILSENAN – – – after that footage was shown on Four Corners, so I suppose just to give you an idea of what was happening in the wider world at the time.
MS JOYCE That’s good, that’s good.
MS GILSENAN And then two weeks after that the parents, faced with the decision of keeping the child in detention where his symptoms re-emerged and were so bad that he just had to keep being ferried to hospital, or going back to Iran where they said that they would face persecution, or putting their child in foster care, they took, I suppose, the impossible choice of putting the child in foster care. They didn’t know what else to do, but they could see that the detention environment, the effect that it was having, and there was no option for them to care for him in the community, so they took that decision. Initially the department had offered them a Palestinian family, and the parents didn’t want their child to be placed with a Palestinian family because he didn’t speak the same language as them. They had identified an Iranian family who I think they had met once in the visitors section of Villawood Detention Centre, but such was their desperation, they asked the department and Community Services, to get in with touch with this family and assess them as potential carers, so Shayan was shortly after moved into that setting. Once he went to foster care he wasn’t hospitalised again, so there was some improvement, although he was separated from his parents and, by all accounts, everyone found it extremely difficult, including the foster parents who had had – who weren’t trained foster parents, and were trying to look after a child along with their own children, who had incredibly complex needs. I suppose unsurprisingly that placement broke down by, I think within about five months, and then finally the minister exercised his discretion to grant a Bridging Visa to Shayan, his baby sister and his mother to live in the community, while their immigration claim continued. By that stage they’d gotten in some appeal into the Full Federal Court, I think, and so the immigration claim was back in the courts, so the father, I think, stayed in detention for another seven months until they were finally accepted as being entitled to Australia’s protection and given a Temporary Protection Visa, but once – once Shayan was living in the community with his stepmother and his little sister, things, he – you know, there was some improvement in his symptoms. So, then, you know, some years later, I suppose two years later, is when they first approached me and we started the case.
MS JOYCE So that’s been a long lead-in, really, to the case.
MS GILSENAN It has.
MS JOYCE And a huge experience for you in becoming involved in something so different from the rest of your work, so do you want to tell us something about the case and the court experience, is that – – –
MS GILSENAN Sure. We filed the case in late 2003, and it didn’t get to trial till August 2005, so it was almost two years of preparation once we’d started the case in the courts. Through those first two years of preparation, I was surprised to find that the government were being quite reasonable in terms of their approach to the interlocutory stages of the matter, they weren’t challenging everything that we did. We had a discovery process where they had to produce all of the documents that were relevant to the case, and everyone had said to me beforehand, “You will never get these documents” – this was at the beginning of the case, you know – “You can’t imagine what litigating against the government’s going to be like, you’ll never get hold of even the documents that talk about what happened”, and I had to say to these people along the way, “Well, actually, they’re – you know, it seems fairly straightforward so far, and they have produced all the documents” – well, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know, but I couldn’t identify anything that seemed obviously to be missing, and they had produced some fairly damning documents about what had happened that they had produced, that they’d created, so as we went along, I was, I suppose being lulled into a sense that this case, we were really just going to focus on the real legal issues, and the government would approach it in quite a reasonable way. We had a mediation that didn’t result in a settlement, so by August 2000 – 2005, sorry – we were ready to go to trial. The – both parties estimated that the trial would take four weeks, we provided that estimate to the court and so the court had set aside four weeks for us. We actually thought it would be shorter than that but it was four weeks at the outside. Well, we used the first four weeks and got through a tiny amount of our case. When we got to court, things changed, things changed in terms of the government’s approach to the litigation. Along the way, as I said before, I really expected that the focus would be on what I identified as the real legal issues, whether, you know, whether the government had a duty to Shayan, whether they had breached that duty of care, and what damage that Shayan had suffered as a consequence, but when we got to court, the first thing that happened after our opening was that the parents were cross-examined, and I think the cross-examination of the parents lasted for about four weeks, and that is an extremely long time to be cross-examined – admittedly it was through an interpreter, so that takes a longer time – but I mean, these – the matters about which these parents were cross-examined was just extraordinary. To give you some examples, they were cross-examined about whether they were encouraging Shayan not to eat in order to ultimately get a visa, I suppose; they were cross-examined about whether the father was violent towards the birth mother – I don’t think I’ve described this up to date, but the woman who has been Shayan’s mother for most of his life was not in fact his birth mother, his birth mother and his father separated when he was quite a young child – but anyway, cross-examined about whether he had been violent to the birth mother back in Iran. They told him in the witness box that he’d in fact lost custody of Shayan in Iran after he’d left, that the birth mother had gone and gotten some court orders that changed the position; when they left he did have custody of Shayan, as is the practice in Iran as I understand it, that once a male child is two years old, the custody is given to the father, but even before that, the birth mother, when they separated, had agreed that the father would have custody of the child, but in the witness box without any warning, so that we could have told him beforehand, the Commonwealth’s barrister told him, or asked him, did he know that he didn’t have custody of his child any more. That was the only time that the father broke down in the witness box. I mean, he was subjected to the most vigorous questioning, but that was the – that was what really got him, I suppose. He had no idea of this. They also cross-examined the parents about whether they were in fact members of the El-Hak religion, and that was the basis for the family’s immigration claim. I guess what I haven’t mentioned is that, around this time – I can’t remember whether it was right bang in the middle of cross-examination or not – their Temporary Protection Visas expired, so it was during the time that we were in court, and they had expected that there would be a decision on their permanent protection visas by then. There was no decision on their permanent protection visas by then, so they were, I suppose, on some kind of Bridging Visa because they didn’t have a Temporary Protection Visa or a Permanent Protection Visa, so their status in the country was quite uncertain to them, they didn’t know decision was going to happen, and then part of the way into the cross-examination the Commonwealth’s barrister started cross-examining them to the effect that they weren’t members of the El-Hak religion, so in the setting that that was the basis of their refugee claim, that their TPVs had expired, and they hadn’t yet received a decision about their permanent protection visas, their worst fears were coming to life. I think I said at the beginning, that the real thing that they were uneasy about bringing the case, or the thing that made them nervous about bringing this case, was that somehow it would impact on their ability to stay in Australia and at a time when they were under huge pressure, because they were in the witness box, the father was in the witness box getting cross-examined, these worst fears started coming to life that in fact the Commonwealth was going to somehow not allow them to stay in Australia because of this case. So, at around that time the Commonwealth also sought permission from the court to amend their defence to the case, and the amendments were to the effect that the parents were responsible for Shayan’s injuries because they entered Australia as unlawful non-citizens and therefore he was put in detention; secondly, once he became ill, they failed to go back to Iran, and therefore they were responsible for his injuries; and thirdly, they tried to add a defence in answer to the whole claim, that the claim would be defeated because they had obtained their visa fraudulently. The judge – there was a couple of other things that they sought to add as well, that the parents had contributed to the injuries by encouraging him not to eat and a couple of things like that – but – – –
MS JOYCE By saying they’ve obtained their visas fraudulently, do you mean the temporary protection visas?
MS GILSENAN Yeah.
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN The thrust of that part of the defence – – –
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN Was that they weren’t of that religion that they claimed to be and therefore they’d obtained the visas fraudulently, therefore Shayan could not bring this claim. The judge said, in relation to the claim that they were responsible for the injuries because they entered Australia as unlawful non-citizens and that they failed to leave Australia once their child became sick, the judge refused those amendments, said that they didn’t give rise to an arguable defence to this proceeding, and therefore he wouldn’t give them permission to add that to their defence. The judge’s response to the third thing, that in answer to the whole claim they obtained their visas fraudulently, the judge said well, it would be futile, and therefore he wouldn’t give them permission to do that, because whatever basis Shayan was brought into this country on, he was a child, he didn’t bring himself here, and it didn’t matter whether he was here rightly or wrongly. Whether – even if he was here wrongly, he was in detention under the government’s care and whatever the basis of their refugee claim, so long as they were in detention the government had a duty to – duty of care to Shayan, so the judge refused that amendment. The rest of the trial so, after the first four weeks, the court had only set aside four weeks, I think – no, the parents cross-examination hadn’t finished in that first four weeks, it continued over to the next sitting, so I can’t remember how long the break was. We had about four weeks off because the court hadn’t allocated any more time than we’d estimated that it would take, and we were still really only at the beginning of our case by the time the four weeks had been up, so we came back, you know, some time later. I think the case was done in three different sittings, because, you know, when we came back I think it was for three weeks. Again, we thought we might have finished in three weeks, but we were nowhere near finishing, and then we came back in early 2006 for another set of sittings, and the parents cross-examination by this stage had finished, and a number of the other witnesses had come to give evidence. Once the parents cross-examination had finished, the case became less stressful for the parents, because they weren’t in the witness box being cross-examined, and they didn’t have to come to court every day and be subjected and answer allegations about them not looking after their child, and not feeding their child and so on, and I guess for me the case became a bit less stressful because I didn’t have to – I knew that they were in a better position than they were when they were coming to court. During that period that I talked about before when the government had brought up the issues of visas, we were – I mean, that is the only time that I got really frightened. I started to worry, but I was naïve to think that the rule of law prevailed in Australia, and that I’d gotten these parents, in my naïve way I’d gotten them into a case where they might lose their visa and they might be sent back to Iran, and that was, I think I came back from court one day and rang one of my partners saying, “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I can’t”, you know, “I’m so naïve to think that this wouldn’t happen and I might be partly responsible for this family being sent back to Iran where they’re going to get persecuted and possibly killed, and I don’t know what to do. Please, reassure me, reassure me that this is the right thing to do, tell me it will be okay”, and the parents similarly were coming to me and saying, “Do you think that we can stop this case now, do you think that we can get out of it”, you know, “our security in Australia is more important than any justice or money or anything. Can we get out of this now”, and their support, Jackie Everett who I talked about earlier, was also part of this, and we spent a few agonising days over a weekend, I think, working out what to do and whether we should go on and what’s – you know, how we’d manage. We pulled ourselves back together and – and went on, but, you know, that was really the low point, I suppose, or the – the most fearful time in that case. So, we got back on track and some more of our witnesses were cross-examined; the psychologists who’d treated Shayan at Woomera; the head of the treatment team at Westmead Hospital, Dr David Dossiter who is the head of Psychological Medicine at Westmead Children’s Hospital; a detention officer or the head of operations, I think he was, which was sort of uniform and security matters at Woomera Detention Centre, he came and gave evidence about what had been going on at the detention centre and how under-resourced it was and how difficult they found threats to security because of the lack of resources, and the overcrowding – they just, according to his evidence, didn’t have the amount of uniformed officers or understand-uniformed people providing programs to the detainees to keep them entertained. Who else did we have give evidence? I think – I think that was about it. We had the parents, the treating psychologists and the head of psychology from the hospital, and then we commenced on the Commonwealth’s witnesses, cross-examining them, then Philippa Bodwin who was one of the, I think the third most senior department at the time, we had – we were to have one of the detention officers who’d written a report that the parents, that – it was one of the detention officers who was going to hospital with the parents each day and guarding them at the hospital, at some point had written a report saying that she thought that the mother was encouraging child – the child – encouraging Shayan not to eat, so we were about to get to cross-examine that detention officer, and I was really looking forward to that, but at that time, in fact I think the day before that officer was to give evidence, we actually reached a settlement with the Commonwealth; they had made an offer to pay Shayan, or a trust for Shayan, $400,000 to conclude the case, so by that stage, it was the 63rd day of the trial, and Shayan’s family gave us instructions to accept that offer. It was a relief. We had a long way to go in the trail yet. The judge was quite cranky that the trial was taking up so much of the court’s resources – whilst there was no suggestion that it wasn’t a proper matter to be brought before the court, we had estimated that it would take four weeks and by that stage we were in the 12th week and we had a long way yet to go – so we got together with the parents, we adjourned the court proceedings for a while, we went down to the barristers chambers and talked through this offer that the Commonwealth had made, and they decided to accept it, so we went back to the judge on the same day and told the judge that we’d reached a settlement, and that – we asked the judge if he would refer it off to another judge, because the case was being brought on behalf of a minor, the court has to approve any settlement that we had come to, but we had to go to another judge because if that other judge didn’t approve of the settlement, we had to go back before our judge and plough on with the trial, and our judge would then know what the settlement was and what we thought about it and what we thought the weaknesses and strengths were, so we had to go before another judge. The other judge approved the settlement immediately, I think a day later. What was really interesting though, was, I think within 15 minutes, 20 minutes of the parents communicating or us communicating to the Commonwealth that they had accepted this settlement, their permanent protection visas were rung through to their immigration lawyer, so, you know, it was a striking coincidence, but the family were elated; they had gotten their Permanent Protection Visa and settled this case all in the same day, and so it was an extraordinarily happy day that was full of relief for them.
MS JOYCE Yeah.
MS GILSENAN So – – –
MS JOYCE And for you probably, too.
MS GILSENAN It was. It was. As a lawyer, I think I would have, purely from the legal perspective, I would have loved to have seen what the court said about this case.
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN I would have loved for this case to establish a precedent that talked more about what the government ought to do in order to fulfil their duty of care to people in immigration detention, and in particular to children, but you know, that was the wider point; my main focus was on those human beings that I was dealing with, and I was so glad for them that they didn’t have to go through any more of this. I mean, even if they had won this case through the court system, it could have been appealed for years yet, so, I mean, we went into this case with a wider point – this isn’t the kind of work that my firm usually does, but we cared a lot about what was happening in detention and saw this as one way that we could do some small thing about what was happening, and so we went in with a wider perspective hoping that it would do something about detention conditions generally, and so purely from a legal perspective and from the perspective of wanting it to have some effect on what happens more widely, it would have been lovely to see a decision and see what the courts had to say, but for the sake of these individuals – – –
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN The settlement was the best outcome, and, yeah, it was a huge relief, and a huge relief to see them get their visa on the same day. So that was Shayan Badraie’s case. Subsequent to that they had – the first thing that they did with the compensation, they applied to the trustee to use some of the money to go to Syria, to take Shayan, his little sister who was now quite a big sister, I think she’s about six now, they’d applied to take the family off to Syria and to meet up with their extended family who travelled from Iran to Syria to see them. The other thing that happened in Syria, that I didn’t know was going to happen which was probably a very good thing, was that Shayan met his birth mother again, and subsequent to that they’ve – they, in agreement with the trustee – have bought a house in Sydney for them to live in, in Shayan’s name, so that’s, you know, the postscript to that case, I believe that Shayan is showing some improvements, I think the fact that this case is over and the fact that they have a visa and he’s now got a stable situation in Australia, has meant that he’s been able to, you know, get on with life to some degree, so that’s Shayan’s Badraie’s case.
MS JOYCE Thank you, Rebecca. Does this seem like a good moment for you to move on to the second case of Parvis Yousefi?
MS GILSENAN Sure. I’m trying to think how we came into contact with that family. Jackie Everett, who I have talked about before as being the person who supported and assisted the Badraie family, is also a lawyer, and she came and did some work with our firm. She was really looking for, or talking to former detainees about these types of cases and whether or not they could bring these cases, and I think through Jackie’s efforts, the Yousefi family got in touch with us. At the time, they were living in Adelaide, so we had – I talked to them over the phone and corresponded with – it was Parvis’ wife, Manish, who is the person who I really have contact with and did have contact with from the beginning. I had seen their story in the paper, probably six months or something before we got in contact with them, but their story was, what I read in the paper, was this man who used to have quite a decent job in Iran, working in oil drilling and they lived a fairly comfortable life in Iran. The father had a good job and his wife and child were with him there, but they had moved to Australia and they had such a difficult experience in detention centres, that this person who used to hold down a very good job, was vegetative, in their home in Adelaide, and the mother and child also weren’t particularly well, so I’d read about it, I had some idea of what this case was about and had also looked – had something on their case in one of the HREOC reports about detention – there was a little excerpt on them – but then they got in contact with us and we talked to them about starting a case. Shortly after we made first contact with them or they made contact with us, they moved to Sydney and so I went again to their temporary accommodation in western Sydney and talked to Mehrnoosh about commencing a claim for Parvis.
MS JOYCE When was this, Rebecca?
MS GILSENAN I thought you’d ask me that. About two years ago, so
MS JOYCE So it overlapped with the other case?
MS GILSENAN It did, it did. We hadn’t finished Shayan’s case by the time this other family got in contact with me. But we were waiting to see what would happen in Shayan’s case, to make a decision about whether we would progress with this other case. I went to their house, I interviewed them. I interviewed the first time, the mother and the child. I didn’t interview the child, but their child was present, he’s a teenager. I interviewed them.
MS JOYCE What is his name?
MS GILSENAN Manoochehr.
MS JOYCE That is the mother’s name.
MS GILSENAN No, Mehrnoosh is the mother.
MS JOYCE Manoochehr?
MS GILSENAN Mehrnoosh is the mother.
MS JOYCE Mother
MS GILSENAN And Manoochehr is the son.
MS JOYCE Thank you.
MS GILSENAN That’s all right. When I went to see them in their house, Parvis was home, but he wouldn’t come out and see me, he was in his bedroom, and as I said at the beginning of the tape, I’ve been there a number of times since and I still haven’t seen Parvis. He’s not been willing to come out of his bedroom and see me.
MS JOYCE What did you understand was the reason why he wouldn’t come out? Or couldn’t come out?
MS GILSENAN Yes, well, I knew about his psychiatric state to some degree, because I’d read by that stage, reports about him. Mehrnoosh, before they moved to Sydney, had sent me a lot of documents about the case and psychiatrists reports and so on and I knew that in detention Parvis was not coming out of his donga, as they call it. These families call it a donga – the Badraies called it a container – but Parvis was staying in his donga all the time and he wouldn’t come out and interact. So I had a good understanding of his psychiatric state. So Mehrnoosh, just, when I said that I would like to talk to Parvis about his case, she went and talked to him, and he wasn’t willing to come out and I wasn’t going to go and force myself into the room to talk about him – talk to him, sorry – so it was because of his psychiatric condition.
MS JOYCE Is there a name for that psychiatric condition, that you know?
MS GILSENAN Yes. When he was in detention, the diagnosis that kept being made was Major Depressive Disorder and subsequently there’s been a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
MS JOYCE Thank you.
MS GILSENAN So, in a similar process I interviewed his wife with an interpreter on a number of occasions, and we were hanging back a bit to see what happened in the Badraie case. The Badraie case ended up as I’ve described, taking such a long time in court, that I think we must have filed the Yousefi case before it finished. So that case, you know, we’ve been through the same process, the long interviews with the family, although these interviews were a bit different, because it was with Mehrnoosh, who is Parvis wife, and my observations of Mehrnoosh is that she is, you know, she’s not – I don’t think that she’s got a psychiatric illness but she’s under huge amounts of pressure; she’s trying to care for an incredibly sick husband and a child, whose also still self-harming and has all sorts of issue of his own on top of being a teenage boy. So, Mehrnoosh, you know, it was a different style of interviewing. With the Badraies I was interviewing two parents who had had extraordinarily difficult experiences but had come out of those experiences, and for Shayan, he had these two parents who remained relatively strong and well, although desperate, through their experiences. In Parvis’ case, what I’d read in the reports and what seemed to me to be the case when I went to see them, the whole family had broken down. Mehrnoosh, the wife, was the most well, but even then she was struggling, I suppose, even after they’d been released from detention and I was interviewing them. So we read all their documents, we interviewed them and we made a decision with Mehrnoosh to commence the claim. So that claim was filed in the New South Wales Supreme Court and it’s being prepared at the moment for trial. I think that we’ll get to a trial in that case, towards the end of this year.
MS JOYCE This might be a moment to stop the tape.
MS GILSENAN Okay.
” (Short adjournment.) ”
MS JOYCE Rebecca, you were talking about the filing of a case for the Yousefi family. Would you like to tell us some more about that case?
MS GILSENAN And your of their experience, I suppose.
MS JOYCE Sure.
MS GILSENAN The Yousefis arrived at Woomera, I think it was late 2000. So they arrived at Woomera around the same time as Shayan’s family were close to leaving Woomera. It might have been about August 2000, and when they arrived, they stayed together, the three of them were living together in accommodation within the detention centre. I think I described to you before, what I understand was happening in the detention centre at that time. That is was overcrowded but it was under resourced, in terms of security staff, as well as non-security staff who were there to provide support and programs for the detainees. There were frequent unrests, and that was going on when the Yousefis were there. Some time into their detention, it was before the end of 2000, Mehrnoosh and Manoochehr, so, Mr Yousefi’s wife and son, went to live in the Woomera Residential Housing Project, which, as I understand, is accommodation off-site from the detention centre which is more community-like and was for women and children, so the family together made a decision that they would move to – the mother and son would move to that accommodation. I’ve been reading the records just this week, actually, because the discovered documents have just arrived from the Commonwealth. What was happening in that period, was that Mehrnoosh and Manoochehr seemed to be getting more and more stressed and unwell. It was manifesting in Mehrnoosh in terms of physical problems that she was having, you know, some quite significant health problems at the time, but it was also manifesting as requests to see psychologists. Manoochehr might have made some threats to self-harm himself, to self-harm, by that time and so what I’m seeing in the documents is a series of referrals for psychological or counselling help – I haven’t yet seen the notes of any counsellor, but I’m seeing those referrals. Let me go back a step and say with Parvis Yousefi, what I’d seen from the psychiatric reports that I’d read before discover documents arrived, was that no one seemed to, in the detention centre, have seen what was going on with this guy or he was, you know, he wasn’t one of the detainees who was manifesting problems particularly, but suddenly he hung himself, and I was – couldn’t understand how you could go from not being noticed, to hanging yourself, and quite a genuine hanging attempt, not quite a completely genuine hanging attempt, that happened early in the morning at a time that he had planned because that was a time that he didn’t think that he would get found, and he would be successful in his effort, so I was, I couldn’t understand how you could go from not being noticed to hanging yourself, and so I’ve just started going through the documents trying to understand what was going on with Parvis during this time, and I also can’t get really the instructions from him because he’s so unwell now that I don’t think that I’m really qualified, or he’s able to give solid instructions about what happened. He’s – I mean, I get something from the psychiatrists who I’ve sent him off to see as part of the case – they go through some of these events with him but even so, I’m still perplexed as to how this can happen. But, going through the documents that I see, insofar it does seem to be the case that he was quietly withdrawing, becoming more unwell – other detainees were saying to Mehrnoosh “Your husband’s becoming more withdrawn, he used to be more outgoing, he used to be somebody who was strong and was, you know, a person that other detainees would go to, and he’s withdrawing”, and so while Mehrnoosh and Manoochehr’s problems were starting to manifest in public ways, if you like, Parvis was quietly living by himself over at the detention centre separate from them, an apparently becoming so unwell that around April he made this attempt to hang himself. After that attempt, the attention of the authorities had been drawn to what was happening with him, and so the things that followed were much more documented in the documents that I’m looking at so far, but from that first hanging attempt in April, the deterioration was extreme – he made repeated serious attempts to hang himself over the coming months, I think possibly up to six or eight times; he did other self-harm activities, he ingested fly spray – I can’t think of any other different types of things beside the hanging and the fly spray, but it was extreme – and what’s so striking about his case is the response, what response was there to this man who was so distressed that he was making serious hanging attempts repeatedly, like one week apart. He would be put into an isolation room and watched, he would – you know, the treatment was he would be on observations every one minute or every five minutes or every ten minutes, and in an isolation room. The detainees, or Mehrnoosh calls this room “the silly room” – I’m sure that’s not what it was known as by detention officers, it was probably called a “management room” or something like that, but he would be put into this room and watched. Everything that really has struck me as the absence of – you know, he would see a psychologist but I haven’t seen the notes yet, so I’m not sure what that psychologist was doing with him, but the management it seems to me, at this stage, was much more focussed on management rather than treatment.
MS JOYCE Can you just go back a little bit to this “silly room”. Do you know what the conditions were like in the silly room?
MS GILSENAN From what I understand from what Mehrnoosh has told me, I believe it was just a sparse room where there weren’t any equipments or places that people could hurt themselves further.
MS JOYCE Did he have his clothes or
MS GILSENAN I don’t know.
MS JOYCE Okay.
MS GILSENAN I don’t know if he was wearing his clothes.
MS JOYCE Okay.
MS GILSENAN I don’t know. All I know is that it was a safe room, if you like, in that there wasn’t anything that he could harm himself further on, but you know, it wasn’t a place where you’d see psychiatrists, for example, and be treated; it was for the purpose of observation, to make sure you didn’t do it again, rather than for the purpose of treatment to make sure that you didn’t do it again. Anyway, with this family, you know, in the months that followed, there were repeated self-harm attempts by Parvis, and this came to be mirrored in his child’s behaviour, so the child started slashing his wrists, you know, making public, sort of, public displays of desperation, if you like “Why won’t you get my father a doctor, my father needs a doctor and I’m going to slash my wrists unless you get him a doctor”, this type of thing. Eventually Parvis was hospitalised at a psychiatric unit in Adelaide and, you know, at that time a more – qualified, I guess – group of practitioners started being involved in his case, and those practitioners unsurprisingly recommended that he not be separated from his wife and child any further, and that he be transferred out of the detention centre environment in order that he could get some proper treatment and attempt to recover from what had then been diagnosed as major depressive disorder. The family weren’t, on the basis of, I mean, you know, I can’t count how many recommendations there were, there were many, from different psychiatrists, different psychologists, psychologists that were employed by the department, employed by the detention centre operators, independent, independent experts appointed by the department; they all recommended that he not be returned to the detention centre environment, but repeatedly he was returned. Some time after that admission to Glenside Hospital in Adelaide he, he and his family, were transferred to Baxter Detention Centre. I don’t understand that that transfer was for therapeutic reasons, I understand that it was for management reasons, and my instructions from Parvis wife is that that transfer was incredibly traumatic for the family. Instructions from her are that the family was in their accommodation area and that 30 guards in riot gear came to collect them out of their accommodation area and move them to the transport to Baxter. Parvis has described to one of the psychologists who’s assessed him for these proceedings, that has been one of the three or four most traumatic events that he’s ever been part of. The instructions are that the guards beat him around the stomach and around the arms with batons, and that they cuffed his hands and cuffed his feet for this transfer. Now, I just want to take you back and remind you that this was a man who had made perhaps by then, six serious hanging attempts and was severely, severely sick. So that was the transfer to Baxter, and I believe that there’s some independent corroboration of him having injuries from the restraints on his wrists and ankles and some lacerations to his stomach, but, you know, we’re only part of the way through our preparations, so I don’t know yet, but that’s the instructions that I’ve been given, and that – the history that Parvis has told to a psychologist who’s assessed him for us for these proceedings. The family remained in Baxter for, I think altogether the family were in detention for over two years, two or three years, so right towards the end of the detention at Baxter the department I think offered them to have a Bridging Visa, but for some reason, and my understanding of this is a bit sketchy, they had – Mehrnoosh refused the offer of a Bridging Visa, she wanted the proper Temporary Protection Visa. She thought that somehow accepting a Bridging Visa would prejudice or make her ability to be in Australia less secure than if she’d gotten a Temporary Protection Visa, and shortly after that the Temporary Protection Visa was in fact granted to them, but I suppose the thing too, that’s striking about the Yousefi case is just how unwell this whole family became, and the fact that there weren’t any – the recommendations, and this is similar to Shayan’s case, the recommendations that were being made by all sorts of doctors were just not being followed, and these people became progressively more and more unwell. Parvis was so unwell that he would be found wandering around the compound at night nude wearing a beanie. He became unkempt, he wasn’t washing any more, he wouldn’t even see a psychiatrist when the psychiatrist came to see him. They weren’t letting people into their donga, they weren’t coming out, it was just – the disintegration of these people who previously were well functioning adults and, you know, and a young man, was just extreme.
MS JOYCE So where is this case up to at this point?
MS GILSENAN It’s up to the point where I think we’ll go to trial later this year if it doesn’t settle in between, so we’re – yeah, we’re still part the way through.
MS JOYCE And are you currently seeing the family or is
MS GILSENAN I am. I’m
MS JOYCE In an ongoing way, yeah.
MS GILSENAN Yeah, I’m seeing them quite a lot at the moment, and when I say “them” I mean Mehrnoosh primarily. I for the first time heard Parvis speak the other day. He never answers the phone when I calls their house, it’s either Mehrnoosh or her son Manoochehr, but I rang to ask them some questions because I was trying to prepare something for their case, and I could hear Parvis in the background, I could hear Mehrnoosh translating what I was saying to her in English, into Farsi, and the information that I was trying to get coming back to me, because they were questions – the questions that I had were only questions that Parvis would know the answer to because it was during the period that Mehrnoosh and Manoochehr were living separately to him, so I heard his voice which was a breakthrough, I suppose.
MS JOYCE Yes.
MS GILSENAN But, yeah, I’m seeing a lot of Mehrnoosh at the moment, trying to prepare their case and work out details of what really happened.
MS JOYCE So this is very much an ongoing story for you and for them.
MS GILSENAN It is, it is.
MS JOYCE Do you want to just close the interview with a little bit of – a reflection on how this might have changed your life or influenced you personally, or impacted on you?
MS GILSENAN I think the thing – there’s two things that have really struck me about these cases. The first thing is the absolute bloody-mindedness of the response to these people’s plight. I just can’t understand how sick people, people who become sick in this system, encounter the responses that they did, the bloody-mindedness of – later today I’m giving a talk about Shayan Badraie’s case and I have a document that we discovered in the course of the trial where a minute had been prepared for the minister setting out all the things that all these doctors that I’ve talked about earlier had said about Shayan and how unwell he was and that how important it was that he be released from that environment so that he could hope to recover, and the response to that recommendation was written on the document and it says, “Buckley’s”, “Buckley’s” chance. And the second thing I wanted to say is I just can’t believe that that happens in our country in Australia, I just – it was done a long way away from people who care about these things and who notice them. It was done out in the desert in South Australia and for a long time none of us really knew what was going on, and seeing what was going on through these cases that I’ve worked on, I’m horrified that this happened in my country.
MS JOYCE Well, I’d like to thank you very much for your interview, Rebecca, and for sharing your knowledge and experience for the detentioning and the project. We appreciate that very much.
MS GILSENAN It’s my pleasure, thank you for interviewing me.
MS JOYCE And we wish you well.
MS GILSENAN Thanks.
MS JOYCE For the continuing case.
MS GILSENAN Thank you.
MS JOYCE Thank you.
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