Page 5111 - Week 14 - Tuesday, 17 November 2009

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Ms Le Couteur, Ms Porter and Mr Seselja proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, Mr Speaker has determined that the matter proposed by Ms Le Couteur be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The ACT government’s responsibilities with regard to refugees.

MS LE COUTEUR (Molonglo) (3.32): It is timely that we speak today about the needs of refugees and the humanitarian obligations of Australia and the ACT in this regard. As it is such an important and complex issue, I think it is important that we face up to some of the scaremongering which is used in the current political discourse on these matters. In discussing issues around support for refugees in the ACT, it is really important that we understand the difficulties that refugees face simply in arriving in Australia, the very traumatic journeys that most, if not all of them, have undertaken, and the very stressful processes that they then have to go through to try and obtain residency after they have managed to physically reach our country.

The latest crisis with the Oceanic Viking off Indonesia’s Bintan Island has reaffirmed that refugees crossing our borders or entering our waters remains, unfortunately, a very contentious and extremely sensitive topic for many Australians. I must say that I would have expected to see that today as a society we would have moved forward from the Tampa debacle and Mr Howard’s infamous political stance of “We will determine who comes to this country and under what circumstances”. I would have hoped that our political leaders, our federal leaders, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, would have learnt from this experience and the misinformation in the debate. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. We do seem to be seeing the current refugee situation, particularly with the Tamils, again being used for political purposes by both the major parties.

Before considering in more detail the ACT’s responsibilities to refugees, I would like to touch a bit on the process that refugees go through before they come to the ACT. Clearly, given the ACT’s location, we are not the first port of call for the refugees. In early 2008, the Human Rights Commission commended the Australian government for ending the so-called Pacific solution by closing the offshore migration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.

While these changes have been welcomed by many in the community, there remain some ongoing concerns—namely, that asylum seekers who arrive in excised offshore places such as Christmas Island are barred from the refugee status determination system that applies on the mainland under Australian law. The reality is that these people do not have access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and, thus, very limited access to Australian courts. They must rely on a non-compellable and non-reviewable ministerial discretion to be allowed to apply for a protection visa.

It is also the case that asylum seekers, including children, who arrive by boat without a valid visa in an excised offshore place are mandatorily detained on Christmas Island, despite the fact that the Migration Act 1958 does not, in fact, require this. Furthermore, the Migration Act purports to bar them from challenging the lawfulness of their detention in Australian courts.

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