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Wednesday, 21 September 1983
Page: 1080


Mr HODGMAN —by leave-I concede across party lines that when I read the report of the Human Rights Commission and the recommendations contained therein on pages 22 to 24 I was emotionally moved and, indeed, shocked. I commend the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) on the way in which he has responded to the problems at the Villawood Detention Centre and on the way he has handled his statement in the House today. I say on behalf of the Opposition that we agree with practically everything the Minister has said in his statement . Again, on behalf of the Opposition, I offer whatever assistance and resources we can provide, if the Minister is prepared to meet us on a bipartisan basis, in relation to such things as the documentation, the pamphlet, and the rules to which he adverted in his statement.

I commend the Minister for the basic non-personification in his statement. He referred, as he was entitled to do, to the previous Government. I appreciate the fact that the Minister did not seek in his statement to pin personal responsibility on previous Ministers. I am sure the Minister would be prepared to let me say something on behalf of the three previous Ministers whom I know. The honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) was not the responsible Minister from 1979 onwards. I have spoken to the former Minister, the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee), and I have shown him the report. I have his authority to tell the House that he, too, is shocked by what this report has brought out. He wishes to make it quite clear that he would neither acquiesce in , nor approve of, such things. Indeed, the honourable member's reputation on human rights issues generally would stand him in good stead because I think he is regarded on both sides of the House as a very sincere and genuine man with a very genuine commitment to human rights. I have not been able to speak to the former member for Petrie. I do know-I think the Minister would be aware of this- that before the change of government the former member for Petrie was aware of the Human Rights Commission inquiry and had started to take some steps.

But with the change of government it must be acknowledged-I would not, in my view, be acting honourably if I did not so acknowledge-that within days of his appointment the present Minister went to Villawood. He immediately made public statements expressing his shock and concern as to what he had observed at Villawood. He immediately directed that certain things be done and those things have been done. I see that the report of the Human Rights Commission went to the then Acting Attorney-General, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Lionel Bowen, on 20 June last. It is clear from the Minister's statement that the Government has not sat on the report, but has moved in the directions recommended by the Human Rights Commission.

In closing, I again commend the Minister. I believe that we as a Parliament will be able to handle matters such as this much better if we adopt the approach which the Minister has adopted; of saying: 'There is the problem; there is what must be done and we will do it'. I assure the House and the people of Australia that the Opposition will support in every respect moves by this Government to improve the human rights situation of people such as those who are awaiting deportation. The Minister has pointed out that the overwhelming majority have not been convicted of anything and are not to be treated as criminals or to be regarded as less than human. It is on that basis and with a spirit of co- operation that I hope I demonstrate to the Minister that there are people on this side of the House who share the concerns he has had in relation to Villawood. We offer him every support on a non-political and totally bipartisan basis to ensure that whatever happened in the past will not happen again.