Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 2460 ..

MS DUNDAS (12.09): The ACT Democrats will be supporting the motion moved today by Ms MacDonald. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most of the boat people arriving on our shores came from South Vietnam, where an American war in which Australia participated led to an exodus of almost two million people.

Early on, the Australian government recognised its responsibilities to the people coming here from a country razed by agent orange and carpet bombing, where political chaos reigned following the US and Australian withdrawal from the drawn-out Vietnam War. The US provided funding to the UNHCR to run refugee camps in South East Asia and encouraged Australia to welcome asylum seekers who had fled persecution by the North Vietnamese army. But from 1978 South East Asian countries began to panic about the increasing flow of refugees. Malaysia, in particular, became hostile to these refugees and threatened to send them back if the Australian and US governments did not resettle them.

Unfortunately, Australia, too, started to put up the shutters. From 1981 onwards, successive Australian governments created artificial cut-off points that dramatically altered the fates of these refugees. From 1981 onwards, all the people fleeing Vietnam were reclassified as potential economic migrants, rather than as asylum seekers. The Philippines treated Vietnamese asylum seekers more generously until 1989, when they too decided not to grant refugee status to any more of the displaced Vietnamese people living in their country.

Australia subsequently reached an agreement with the main South East Asian nations harbouring Vietnamese asylum seekers, including the Philippines, to close down the refugee camps and forcibly repatriate the displaced people to Vietnam. Until this time, refugee camps in Asia had open gates and refugees could move freely, but from the late 1980s countries such as Hong Kong established detention centres from which many asylum seekers were deported to suffer possible re-education or execution back in Vietnam.

This model of mandatory detention behind barbed wire was adopted in Australia by the Keating government in 1992, with coalition support. Many people in these detention centres committed suicide, mutilated themselves or went on hunger strikes. The parallel with the crisis recently at Woomera and Curtin is clear.

Approximately 2,000 stateless Vietnamese boat people have been living in the Philippines since 1989. The Philippines government planned to forcibly repatriate them to Vietnam, but human rights activists in the Catholic Church successfully campaigned for them to be allowed to stay. However, they were not granted citizenship, so they cannot make a proper life in the Philippines for themselves or for their children.

In recent years, Australia has taken some of the Vietnamese asylum seekers who were stranded in the Philippines, but there are still, I understand, 641 people with relatives in Australia who should be allowed to settle here permanently. The Vietnamese people who settled here in the 1970s and 1980s have enormously enriched our culture and our economy. These extra few people would be readily integrated into our

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .