Page 1213 - Week 04 - Thursday, 17 March 2005

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Amir Mesrenijad, who has been in detention for about four years. He has been at Villawood for that period. He came to Australia about 10 years ago, and. he was told that his bid for asylum had failed.

All is not yet lost for him, but at this stage he is going to be returned to a country where he has not lived for more than a decade and where he was hauled before an Islamic court for the crime of selling a Western history textbook at his Tehran university bookshop. He was told that he would be allowed to resume trading on one condition—that his shop wore a three-metre high slogan declaring him to be an enemy of the state. Shades of Nazi Germany in 1935 and Juden Verboten!

He paid people smugglers to come to Australia. His crime is punishable by death in Iran. Unless something occurs, he will be flown back there. At best, he will be detained, interrogated, tortured and jailed. At worst, he could be shot. He has an enviable record at the Villawood detention centre. He is a long-serving detainee. He has a business background and is fluent in Farsi, English and Indonesian. He is a father figure to the others on the inside, helping them prepare documents, arranging legal representation and psychiatric reports and putting them in touch with a network of advocates assisting detainees. He is also a friend of many of the guards and management of Villawood, who rely upon him, on occasions, to defuse hostile situations, most notably the 2003 New Year’s Eve riots, which were not actually led by asylum seekers, but by English and Spanish visa overstayers.

He has completed his eighth exam for the preliminary theological certificate at Moore Theological College. I understand that it is a rigorous course that many on the outside have struggled to pass. He has met Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, and St Paul’s Anglican Church at Carlingford has offered him fully paid ministry work, should he be released. His backers say that he has other skills. In Iran he not only ran a bookshop, but also worked in fisheries management and an import-export business dealing with whitegoods and foods. At a time when Australia agonises over a skill shortage, they reckon it would be madness to let this man leave.

On all the information I have seen, he seems to be just the sort of immigrant we want. He does seem to have a real case in terms of what would happen to him if he went back. Even before he decided to come here, he gave the Australian embassy some information in relation to people smugglers and other Iranian nationals who had criminal links with drug dealers and smugglers. Somehow, according to the article, this has been used against him. I would certainly urge the minister, Amanda Vanstone, who has already been lobbied by Bruce Baird, to use her powers to let what the paper calls—and I would agree—a good man stay. I am happy to write to the minister about this man’s case. In an opinion poll published yesterday in the Daily Telegraph, 83 per cent of people who phoned in, that is, 226 people, said that he should stay and only 17 per cent, 45 people, said no.

I also read in the Daily Telegraph that the Australian navy looks like getting two aircraft carriers by 2010. I think that is a wonderful move. It will significantly enhance our defence capability, and I certainly hope that it will take up the suggestion to acquire 20 fixed-wing aircraft, as mentioned in the article. That would be welcome news for the Australian Defence Force.

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