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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13385


Mr KERR (9:00 PM) —Tonight I want to raise some issues regarding Australia's treatment of refugees. It is timely I do so because tonight I attended the Alan Missen memorial lecture. Mr Speaker, you will recall that Alan Missen was a distinguished parliamentarian, a member of your own party, at a perhaps more gentle time in Australia's affairs, when there were large numbers of members of this parliament who stood very firmly for human rights and operated in a framework with less regard for the rigidities of party discipline that appear to now constrain some on the other side.

The speaker tonight was Mr Colin McPhedran, the child of a British father and a Burmese mother. He suffered terribly when the Japanese invaded Burma. At the age of 12 he was separated from his mother and made his way, ultimately, to Australia, where he found refuge and protection. He tells a story that would bring tears to your eyes, about the last words that his mother said to him. When he asked, `How will I find you again? What can I do if I don't?' he was told, `You will find good people to look after you.' Sadly for him, he never found his mother again, but he did find good people who looked after him. Those good people he found in Australia, where he has made his home. But, more recently, what of the people who have fled places like Iraq and Iran from tyrannical regimes, who have suffered seeing their parents wrenched from them? Some children have reached these shores alone and some have reached these shores with their parents. Did they find good people waiting for them? No; they found Minister Ruddock, John Howard's Pacific solution and the kind of bitterness of spirit represented by Marian Wilkinson's and David Marr's classic book Dark Victory.

The other night I attended a speech given by Julian Burnside QC. It was, again, a heart-wrenching experience. There were some instances of simple bloody-mindedness. For example, in one instance a refugee had claimed that he had been informed on by a member of the detention centre who had accepted voluntary repatriation but who had been essentially a spy for the regime in Iraq. His story was not accepted, and the tribunal found that such a person did not exist. But no inquiry was made of departmental files. When the matter got to court for review, the department resisted producing those files. On three different occasions, using three different devices, it sought and successfully refused to produce those materials. Ultimately, they were produced, and they showed that the person he said had informed on him had in fact departed voluntarily, was back in Iraq and was cooperating with the authorities.

Why would a department with any humanity take such a course? We have a system now where the RRT can make decisions that no reasonable person could make, and yet that is not a ground for review. There are still 113 Iraqi nationals trapped like animals in a contrived hell in Nauru, for an expenditure of $226,000 each week, as a result of these practices. We are now sending soldiers into Iraq to destroy the regime that those same people fled from. We still have children locked up. We still have higher than normal rates of mental illness not only amongst the detainees—and suicides of children and adults—but also amongst the ACM guards who are placed in that intolerable position that we have created in those hells. I cannot do more than simply draw attention to the need for us to get back to the spirit that Alan Missen represented. (Time expired)