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Thursday, 27 June 1996
Page: 2386

Senator MARGETTS —I ask my question on behalf of Senator Harradine to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. I refer to the deportation of a Sino-Vietnamese couple and their severely disabled 10-month-old baby from the Port Hedland detention centre in the early hours of last Saturday morning, and ask: why was the minister not prepared to exercise his discretionary power to allow the family to stay on humanitarian grounds, considering the opinion provided by Dr Peter McCullagh, a medical expert, that sending the child back to China amounted to a de facto death sentence due to the lack of medical facilities available to him there? Why was Father Walter McNamara denied access to the family on Friday evening, despite the undertaking given to him by the Prime Minister's office that he would be able to see the family prior to their deportation? Will the minister table all documentation about the family's case, including all advice given to him by the department of immigration?

Senator SHORT —So far as the latter part of Senator Margetts' question is concerned, I will refer that to Mr Ruddock to see what information can be provided. So far as the first part of the question was concerned, the family was returned to China on 21 June, along with 54 other Sino-Vietnamese, under the terms of the memorandum of understanding between China and Australia that was signed a year or more ago. They are recognised as refugees by China and have effective protection of the Chinese government. The memorandum of understanding between the Chinese and Australian authorities has received full and public support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose representative in Australia has gone on record as saying—and I quote:

These people have been properly taken care of by the Chinese. The Chinese have lived up to their responsibilities under the convention.

Nearly 800 Vietnamese refugees settled in the PRC have returned to the PRC under the memorandum of understanding and we have no evidence that the PRC has not continued to provide them with effective protection after their return. With regard to medical treatment for Zeng Thomas Kang, there is no specific treatment, I understand, very regrettably, either in China or in Australia.

So far as the situation with Father William McNamara is concerned, my advice is that, unfortunately, in recent months there have been some limitations on space in the centre for religious observances because of renovations being carried out there. This issue has now been resolved by the provision of a new, more permanent area to be used for religious observances, Bible classes and the like. Some access restrictions are also necessary on occasions for security and operational reasons.

The centre's advisory committee has discussed the issue of access to pastoral care and invited Father McNamara to attend its meeting yesterday, 26 June. Father McNamara's concerns, I am advised, were frankly and openly addressed. I am also advised that the minister has asked for a full report from his department on matters relating to Father McNamara's concerns.  I will check the remainder of your question, Senator Margetts, and if there is anything I have missed, I will come back to you on it.

Senator MARGETTS —Just to put it clearly, will the minister be able to ensure that the detainees will have full private and confidential access to their spiritual counsellor in future?

Senator SHORT —I will certainly take that to the minister. I hope the answer to your question is yes.