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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (2 April) . . Page.. 1286 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

fact that I have some family interests in Darwin and get up there from time to time. A very compelling factor in supporting this motion is that it is very clear to me on the visits I make to Darwin that the Darwin community is very strongly in support of keeping those people, their guests, in Darwin.

I think that says it all. Here is a large community, close to East Timor, who are very much aware of the issues but, more than that, very familiar with the people who are now in their midst. And they are saying, "Hey, we want these people. We like them; they are valuable; we need them; let's have them."That is the message that should be got out more broadly.

MRS CROSS (6.08), in reply: First, I would like to thank members who have supported the motion and those who have expressed their support of the sentiment of the motion. There are a few things I need to clarify. I made it very clear, in what I said and what I did not say, that there was no intention at all to criticise the federal government in the motion. I do not believe that, in trying to achieve positive things, getting into the blame game is productive, and I am not going to touch on other issues.

Ms Tucker said that, even though she supported the motion, she would have liked it to have been more encompassing of other issues. I say this to members: if you have other issues you would like to bring to the floor, put the motion on whatever your issue is on the notice paper, whether it relates to people in the Baltic area or anywhere else. I decided to put this motion on just the East Timorese because I felt it was an issue that should be handled separately. It is a unique situation.

Mr Cornwell, I take your point, but there are occasions when countries and governments make mistakes and, in this instance, I should tell you that most of the people who arrived in Australia about a decade ago from East Timor arrived on tourist visas due to lax arrangements in our visa system-that is, the Australian visa system in Dili. Then they lodged refugee claims. They could not do anything other than that because of the incompetence of Australia's system at the time.

I am not going to blame any particular government. It was a system in place and, all right, it was incompetent. We wouldn't even be here debating this motion today if our system was more effective. These people would already be Australian citizens. Let us understand that. Whether they have gained skills or not over the 10 years, I am certainly not going to impose this group on a poor country that is in the middle of trying to rebuild. I am not going to say to them, "You've had 10 years here, but I'd like to send you back there to pass on the skills you've learnt in Australia. We think you've had enough time in Australia, so I'd like you to go back."

I am sorry, but that's not the way things work. That is unrealistic. Frankly, you cannot treat people like they are appendages of us. They are not. They are an integral part of this society. They have spent 10 years here. They work, they earn money, they pay taxes, their children go to school, they are educated and they speak our language. In fact, they come from a Christian society, which lets them integrate quite well with us. I am not saying that they are better or worse than others; I am not going to make a moral judgement. I am simply saying that it is our stuff-up that primarily caused the majority of these people to be in this situation. We have a moral obligation to address this problem.

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