Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (2 April) . . Page.. 1281 ..
MRS DUNNE (continuing):
in their dealings with issues in relation to East Timor. When East Timor was invaded by Indonesia, the response of the then Labor government was fairly appalling; it turned its back on the people of East Timor. The extensive litigation under previous Labor governments to attempt to determine that East Timorese in Australia, who had fled in fear of their lives at various stages, were in fact Portuguese citizens and the responsibility of the Portuguese authority was a means of fobbing them off to somebody else.
The federal coalition government has a proud record on East Timor, through the referendum and the transition to independence. Although what is being asked for today would cause, in terms of pure public policy, some problems for the government, I am very heartened by the minister saying, on many occasions, that he would exercise his discretion under section 421 of the Immigration Act on a case-by-case basis.
At the moment, these people are applying for temporary protection visas because until now they had been on bridging visas, mainly as a result of the attempted litigation to prove that they were Portugal's responsibility and not ours. Unfortunately, their requests for temporary protection visas are not being acceded to; they are being rejected.
After that they have the possibility of applying to the Refugee Review Tribunal. Most, if not all, of those cases are currently there at the moment. If they get a negative answer there, they can apply to the minister to exercise his discretion under the Immigration Act. I was informed by the minister's office earlier this week that, so far, very few people have done so. But on a number of occasions the minister has said he will be looking at individual cases. I quote from a press release of 25 September:
Applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and the outcome of future decisions will depend on the circumstances of individual cases.
As recently as this morning in an article in today's Australian about the fate of the East Timorese in Australia and the application made by Xanana Gusmao in regard to this problem, the author, Paul Kelly, is quoted as follows:
But when interviewed by this paper yesterday, Ruddock offered a distinct concession: he said the use of his own ministerial discretion on a case-by-case basis "may see a higher proportion staying than many people expect".
I think that is a positive sign from the federal government that they are beginning to look at this in a compassionate way, and I hope it will continue. I would caution against using this as an opportunity to generally beat the federal government around the head on immigration issues. Rather, we should call on them to hold their heads high-as their record on East Timor is a proud record-and keep their proud record intact.
MS DUNDAS (5.47): The ACT Democrats will be supporting this motion. There is considerable opposition in the community, particularly in the northern city of Darwin, to the deportation of between 1,600 and 1,800 East Timorese who fled Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the East Timorese have lived in Australia for over 13 years, found jobs, undertaken studies and begun to raise families, earning the respect and affection of other people in our towns.
Yet successive federal governments, both Labor and Liberal, have kept them in legal limbo for more than a decade, refusing to finalise their claims for asylum. Back in 1999,