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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2156

Senator SHORT (11.17 a.m.) —I think I am correct in saying that the Chinese student factor was not given as one of the reasons for the government's decision back in 1989 or thereabouts to make them temporary. I use as the basis for that statement the joint standing committee's report of August 1992, to which the government has not yet responded. On page 83 of that report the committee in its conclusions said:

The Committee accepts the need to move away from the old system in which on-shore refugees were automatically given permanent residence.

In other words, it was supporting the decision made in 1989. It goes on to say, although I have not heard that this is factually incorrect:

This change was forced upon the Government by the unprecedented rise in on-shore claims and the continuing unpredictability of on-shore refugee numbers Australia has on-going commitments to resettle off-shore refugee applicants—

there seems to be a typographical error there—

In June 1989, for example, Australia agreed to resettle 11,000 Indo-Chinese refugees over three years under the Comprehensive Plan of Action. If such commitments are to be honoured, and if the Government is to retain control over refugee program numbers it necessitates placing on-shore refugees in a residents queue.

The report goes on in that vein. There is no specific mention in the committee's report of the Chinese students or the Chinese nationals being a factor in that 1989 decision. I just make that point.

Senator Bolkus —I have not said anything contrary to that. What I have said is that the response to the time in respect of both was a temporary state. I have not connected them any further than that. I have connected them in time but not in a policy sense.

Senator SHORT —So the two were fortuitous again.

Senator Bolkus —Yes, I have connected them in time. The reasons given then were the reasons that were driving the government all the time.

Senator SHORT —So it was just fortuitous that in 1989, and again in 1993, decisions were taken in relation to these people. In the first instance, the decisions made permanent visas temporary and now they are making temporary visas permanent. It was just fortuitous they happened to coincide with fundamental decisions being taken, firstly, on the arrival of the Chinese nationals and, secondly, three months ago, the government's decision on it. It sounds an unusual set of coincidences.