Page 2096 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 21 June 2005

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Today, as we celebrate World Refugee Day, I call on the Howard government to heed the voice of reason and humanity and immediately end the detention of refugees, particularly of women and children. I note, Mr Speaker, the announcements of the Prime Minister in recent times. I also note the comments of Marion Le, and I accept the comments of Marion Le.

The ACT government has consistently expressed its commitment to and support for the protection and wellbeing of refugees. In 2003, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope signified his government’s support to declare Canberra a refugee friendly town. Under the ACT government’s refugee settlement services plan refugees, especially those on temporary protection visas, are provided with free short-term accommodation, free English classes at CIT and free childcare for those attending English classes. The ACT government also provides public education, medical treatment, concessions on government services such as electricity, public transport and dental care, and access to translating and interpreting services.

This is in response to the failure of the Australian government to provide support for the most vulnerable of refugees, legitimate asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees but are granted temporary protection visas. In fact, we have allocated over $104,000 in the 2005-06 budget to fund our settlement and other support services for refugees in the ACT.

In July of last year the ACT government, with the support of the community, welcomed to Canberra eight Afghan families on temporary protection visas after their release from the detention centre in Nauru. Presently, these families are settled in their new homes, some of them have gained employment and their children are attending school while the parents have completed two semesters of English classes.

Another initiative by the ACT government to ensure the protection of the rights of vulnerable sectors of our community is the 2004 Human Rights Act. I am happy to note that we are the first and only jurisdiction in Australia to legislate its commitment to human rights. I also note that in the dissenting report concerning the estimates there is an undertaking by the Liberal Party to abolish human rights legislation, which is a shame.

This year the ACT government has been actively involved in the celebrations of World Refugee Day. In partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Canberra, we have supported the production and flying of flags from 15 to 21 June 2005 on Commonwealth Avenue, the Kings Avenue bridge and the Russell roundabout. These signal a celebration of the courage of all refugees, acknowledging the contribution they make as members of our community.

This month, as the minister responsible for multicultural affairs, I signed the Australian Refugee Council’s charter of refugee rights. I did not need the permission of my party room to sign it. I join the Australian Refugee Council and the rest of the community in promoting this charter. I reiterate our support for refugees and their right to be treated with dignity and the respect they deserve.

Incidentally, Mr Speaker, let me state for the record that when I signed that charter I saw your good self presiding over that particular gathering and I saw Ms Porter,

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