Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (2 April) . . Page.. 1279 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
by extending compassion and the hand of friendship and by providing those that are here with stability and a home. It may be that in time many of the East Timorese that are here will choose to return to East Timor, but they should not be forcibly removed to East Timor. They should be able to do that at the time of their own choosing.
I believe that, in delaying their return, it may even be that they are assisting the authorities in East Timor, who are struggling with the enormous challenges and population that they have. It may ultimately be an enormous boon and of assistance to East Timor if these people are permitted to remain in Australia, returning, if they wish, to East Timor at a time of their choosing.
The government supports the motion. I am more than happy, in the terms of the motion proposed by Mrs Cross, to write to the Prime Minister and to the minister for immigration expressing the concerns and sentiments raised by this motion.
MR PRATT (5.33): I take a strong interest in this motion. This is a sensitive and complex issue. The 1,600 refugees may indeed need to be considered as a special case. The federal government has to be careful in weighing up its refugee management policy and the different circumstances that can arise, and in this case an argument could be put for this particular case to be treated as a one-off.
I would argue with anybody in this country that these refugees are different to other refugees and other entry people who are currently on the books in this country. These people are absolutely genuine refugees. They fled what are well documented to have been atrocious, life threatening conditions and under international law are entitled to cross borders and seek refuge. They certainly fit into that category. They are genuine refugees; they are not economic migrants.
Ms Tucker: Ah!
MR PRATT: We do have in this country, Ms Tucker, people who might be categorised in that way. These people are certainly long-term settled. They have been here a long time, and they have children who have grown into our society and are well established.
This group is the victim of a long process of litigation-litigation between the previous federal Labor government and the Portuguese authorities over their status. These people were a soccer ball being knocked around for a hell of a long time. That is another reason why they should be considered a special case. This vexed issue of litigation goes to the heart of the problem we have in this country regarding refugees from a broad range of backgrounds, and it slows down the wheels of refugee determinations. The people themselves become victims of that, too often being used as a political football in this country by various interest groups. That is unacceptable and needs to be sorted out.
However, there is a danger of precedence-although that would not stop me making a determination in their favour, I must admit-which must be taken into consideration. I am quite sure that the federal minister for immigration is working his way through this particular case.
If the federal government were to determine in their favour, they would need to have mechanisms in place to ensure that precedence is not allowed, which would cause other