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Monday, 23 May 2005
Page: 4

Mr CADMAN (12:45 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to move:

That this House:

(1)   recognises the 30th anniversary of the arrival in Australia in May 1975 of Vietnamese refugees, the beginning of the flow of refugee families;

(2)   pays tribute to the courage, determination and commitment to freedom and democracy of those escaping the takeover of South Vietnam by the forces of the North;

(3)   expresses its appreciation to all those who came from Vietnam, men, women and children, for their contribution to Australia, the economy, our culture and our values; and

(4)   further pays tribute to the compassion and hospitality of the Australian people who so readily accepted the new arrivals.

It does not seem 30 years since the arrival by boat of the first 400-odd people who came into Australia commencing in 1975. It took us some years to realise that this was the beginning of a major flow of refugees from Indochina. It was not until 1977, with a change of government, that the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Hon. Michael Mackellar, on 24 May 1977, announced the basic principles of a comprehensive policy and enunciated the strategy and practical initiatives to implement it. My colleague Petro Georgiou, who is sitting with me here in the chamber, will remember those days as clearly as I do.

The four principles that have become the basis of Australia’s refugee policy were set out by Michael Mackellar on 24 May 1977. He gathered together the legal, cultural, international and compassionate elements of Australia’s attitude towards refugees. There had been major flows of refugees before, but we did not approach them in the comprehensive way in which we approached the flow of refugees from Vietnam. Michael Mackellar announced that Australia fully recognises its humanitarian commitment and responsibility to admit refugees for resettlement; that the decision to accept refugees must always remain with the government of Australia; and that special assistance would often need to be provided for the movement of refugees in designated situations or for their resettlement in Australia. He also said that it might not be in the interests of some refugees to settle in Australia but that their interests might be better served by resettlement elsewhere, noting that the Australian Government makes an annual contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the main body associated with such resettlement. Those four principles have been the basis of our refugee policy since that day—a bipartisan policy, a policy expressed for the first time by Michael Mackellar.

The policy resulted in a great flow of wonderful people from Indochina—freedom loving people with their families. It has not always been an easy road for them. They were quite different from other refugees who arrived in Australia, but Australians took the Vietnamese refugees to their hearts with the community resettlement and support program that opened up communities across the country. During that period, it was my wonderful experience to meet many of them.

The process of settlement in Australia went on despite difficulties in finding employment. Many refugees had to find self-employment—to invent a job for themselves—to make a living for themselves and their families. At the time there were changes in the economy as we moved to a more intense industrial economy, where knowledge and information became very significant. There are reports in newspapers of the time about people who were university graduates in Vietnam—their careers were stopped short by the war in that country—coming to Australia and finding difficulty in re-establishing in their profession in Australia.

In this year, I am proud to say that the Young Australian of the Year is a person whose family came by boat. I am proud to have met this man, 26-year-old Khoa Do, in Cabramatta. I found him an articulate, supportive Australian. He grew up in the Prime Minister’s own early childhood area of Earlwood. He accepts the values of Australia and promotes Australia. I want to congratulate the new settlers and thank them for coming. (Time expired)

Mr Georgiou —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.