Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 2461 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
community, they would be welcome as part of our community and they already have the support of the Vietnamese community in Australia.
With regard to the amendment moved today by Mr Smyth, my understanding is that we are talking about people who are already in the system, for whom the process is under way, and we want to see visas granted to the stateless Vietnamese so that they can actually come here and not just continue with the process that they have been living under since the war and specifically since 1989.
I gladly extend the support of the ACT Democrats to this motion, in line with the support of my Democrat colleagues in the Senate. I hope that the passage of this motion today will help convince the federal minister for immigration that these stateless people would be welcome in the ACT and that he will also get a clear message from other state and territory parliaments that these currently stateless people would be welcomed in our country wherever they choose to settle. We do have an ongoing humanitarian obligation to support people from around the world who are trying to make their lives good ones and make their lives comfortable for their children and we should always be supportive of that.
MS TUCKER(12.13): I will speak to the substantive motion as well as to the amendment. As members have already explained, in the 1970s over half a million refugees fled Vietnam, and from 1975 to 1989 the people arriving in the Philippines were automatically given refugee status and resettled in various countries.
In 1989, 74 countries signed the UNHCR-sponsored comprehensive plan of action, or the CPA, which was designed to halt the movement of boat people from Vietnam. They were no longer given automatic refugee status and had to go through qualifying procedures under the refugee convention. If they did not qualify, they were supposed to go back. If they did not, the UNHCR provided support for them.
It is well understood that the qualification criteria and processes were flawed and there was corruption. The result of that was that many families were split up. Most of the people in the Philippines now, as I understand it, were deemed not to be refugees in this process. However, I also understand from the briefing I received that when, I think, the United States actually looked at the screening processes for some Vietnamese people that were applying to go there they overturned about 80 per cent of the decisions. When they did their own screening they determined that those people should qualify as refugees. Clearly, there were some issues with the original screening.
In 1996, the refugee camps were closed in the Philippines and most of the Vietnamese people left there are informal traders. They have no legal status. They are ineligible for work permits. They cannot travel or own property. Most do not want to return to Vietnam for fear of persecution.
Ms MacDonald's motion is directed particularly at reuniting those people who have family connections in Australia, who have families or relatives who are prepared to sponsor them, but who were separated by the change in policy and the flawed system of assessment. Some people have been granted visas under the special humanitarian program. I understand that there are about 201 stateless families with sponsoring