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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2058


Senator ROBERT RAY(12.43) —Today I wish to raise a matter which has appeared in the Press. It concerns the Vietnamese community in Australia. The Vietnamese community in Australia will protest to the Federal Government about a resolution of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party calling for the suspension of immigration of Vietnamese refugees until the community is pledged to end violent demonstrations. I point out that this is not the policy of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party. It is possible for the administrative committee, by resolution of an absolute majority of 17 votes, to so carry a resolution which will be Victorian branch policy. That resolution did not receive 17 votes. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as reflecting the views of the branch of the Party of which I happen to be a member. Furthermore, it can have the status only of a resolution to our June conference which will be held on the weekend of 22 and 23 June. I assure everyone here and everyone in the Vietnamese community that, as sure as I stand here and can count numbers, that resolution will be dumped into the rubbish bin of history where it belongs.

I would like to say that the Press release which was put out yesterday by the Victorian branch President, George Crawford, went beyond his powers as branch President. It is not up to him or his ilk to interpret Federal policy. Our Federal rules are clear. I know that they often evoke criticism from those opposite. Under the rules, only the Federal Executive can interpret Federal policy for the Party, or the Federal Labor Caucus in this institution. It is up to those two bodies only to interpret the Federal platform. The Federal Platform, Constitution and Rules costs only $2 for anyone who wants to buy it and read our immigration policy. It is quite clear that what was said yesterday is anathema to that policy.

Those statements by Mr Crawford were divisive. I think they were unintentionally racist. That is about as kind as I can be. I think the racism involved in his remarks was unintentional. The Press release that went out yesterday stated, in part:

Mr Crawford said the present program of Vietnamese immigration into Australia fell into two categories-orderly departure, by arrangement and consent between Australia and the Government of Vietnam, or resettlement of refugees, who are usually boat people, temporarily resident in third party nations, such as Malaysia.

He said the Committee believed that the principal immigration of Vietnamese should be confined to the first category until such time as categorical assurances are received from representatives of the refugee section of the Vietnamese community that they will desist from intimidating other Vietnamese, students, diplomatic representatives and the Australian community from the exercise of their political rights.

Unfortunately, that is one of the worst forms of racism possible. It is true that certain elements of the Vietnamese community have demonstrated recently in support of their political beliefs. It is regrettable and unfortunate that some violent incidents have occurred. Apparently there was a celebration dinner in Port Melbourne to commemorate the fall of Saigon at which some rocks and bottles were thrown. I do not condone that action. I do not believe that violence has any role in politics. I notice that many of the Vietnamese leaders in this country have come out and condemned that sort of behaviour, and rightly so. But to attribute those activities of a minority to a whole community group is something that we do not want to see happen in this country. It is racism of the worst order.

In the 19 years in which I have been in the Labor Party, I have seen a great metamorphosis occur in that Party. I have seen sectarianism almost evaporate. One would have to admit that, following the events of 1955, there was sectarianism in the Labor Party, as there has possibly been in other parties. It is also true to say that 20-odd years ago the Labor Party had essentially racist elements in its platform. But since that time there has been a metamorphosis. There have been changes in which virtually every racist element has been expunged from our platform, and I think that is borne out by our behaviour and the leadership example we have set in the community.

I think the sort of statements that were made yesterday reflect badly on the Labor Party. I am ashamed that they were made. Nevertheless they are not reflective of the membership of the Victorian branch or any other branch of the Labor Party in Australia. I reiterate that we do not condone violence. We have always been consistent in that regard. Some of those who have condemned the violence of Vietnamese demonstrators were happy to sit mute during other violent demonstrations on other occasions. I think we would have to say unanimously that it is up to the Federal Parliamentary Caucus or the Federal executive of the Labor Party to state what is and what is not Federal Labor Party policy. That will continue to be the case in the future. It does not matter what statement any president of a local branch of the Labor Party may have to say on it; that is the constitutional position and that is our position.