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- Start of Business
- EL SALVADOR
- TELEVISING OF PARLIAMENT
- AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR THE REHABILITATION OF THE DISABLED
- DISALLOWED QUESTION
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
NUGAN HAND BANK
(Mr BRADFIELD, Mr NEWMAN)
MOTOR VEHICLE INDUSTRY
(Mr HOLDING, Sir PHILLIP LYNCH)
(Mr BUNGEY, Mr WILSON)
(Mr MILTON, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr GROOM, Mr MACPHEE)
INTEREST RATES: BUILDING SOCIETIES
(Mr KENT, Mr HOWARD)
PLANT VARIETY RIGHTS LEGISLATION
(Mr LLOYD, Mr NIXON)
FRASER GOVERNMENT'S POLICIES
(Mr KEATING, Mr MALCOLM FRASER)
AIR SERVICES TO CANBERRA
(Mr SAINSBURY, Mr HUNT)
TURKEY: MILITARY JUNTA
(Mr UREN, Mr STREET)
WILDLIFE AND WILDLIFE PRODUCTS
(Mr HARRIS, Mr WILSON)
INCOME NEEDS OF THE AGED
(Dr KLUGMAN, Mr HOWARD)
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
(Mr CONNOLLY, Mr HOWARD)
FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN AUSTRALIA
(Mr LIONEL BOWEN, Mr HOWARD)
- DISTINGUISHED VISITOR
BROKEN HILL PTY CO. LTD
(Mr TUCKEY, Mr MOORE)
CAPITAL GAINS TAX
(Mr HAYDEN, Mr HOWARD)
(Mr EWEN CAMERON, Mr NEWMAN)
FIRST HOME BUYERS: STAMP DUTY
(Mr FRY, Mr McVEIGH)
TASMANIAN APPLE INDUSTRY
(Mr GOODLUCK, Mr NIXON)
- NUGAN HAND BANK
- STANDING ORDERS COMMITTEE
- NUGAN HAND BANK
- WILLIAMSTOWN NAVAL DOCKYARD
- ADVISORY COUNCIL FOR INTER-GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
- REMUNERATION TRIBUNAL
- METRIC CONVERSION BOARD
- REFUGEE POLICY
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Sex Discrimination Legislation
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Perth Airport
- Cloverdale North Post Office, Western Australia
- Sheltered Employment Allowance
- Funding of Children's Services
- Plant Variety Rights
- Aboriginal Land Rights
- Pensioner Non-interest Bearing Accounts
- Broadcasting Licences
- Telegram Services
- Tertiary Education
- Pensioner Non-interest Bearing Accounts
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Slaughter of Seal Pups
- National Highway, Queensland
- Slaughter of Seal Pups
- Australian Broadcasting Commission: Melbourne Showband
- Pensions of Italian Immigrants
- Sales Tax Legislation
- Community Youth Support Scheme
- Procedural Text
- AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING COMMISSION
Tuesday, 16 March 1982
Mr MACPHEE (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs) —by leave-I wish to inform the House of decisions on refugee policy and procedures which have been taken by the Government following a review of our refugee and special humanitarian programs. The review was initiated following my overseas visit in June-July 1981, which involved extensive discussions with government leaders and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the composition of the refugee and displaced persons population presently around the world. This was the first comprehensive review of Australia's policies on refugee resettlement since the establishment of Australia's current machinery in May 1977. The review closely examined the nature of the outflows, the motivations of those involved and the continuing appropriateness of Australia's response.
The guiding principles of the review were those embodied in the Government's stated refugee policy of May 1977, in particular that:
Australia fully recognises its humanitarian commitment and responsibility to admit refugees for resettlement;
The decision to accept refugees must always remain with the Australian Government;
Special assistance will often need to be provided for the resettlement of refugees in Australia;
It may not be in the interests of some refugees to settle in Australia. Their interests may be better served by resettlement elsewhere. The Australian Government makes an annual contribution to the UNHCR, which is the main body associated with such resettlement.
The purpose of the review was to ensure that Australia's response to refugee situations was appropriate to the needs of the people caught up in those situations. Another important consideration was the need to reassure the Australian community that people being brought to Australia for resettlement as refugees under generous arrangements are indeed refugees. During my visit last year I reached the conclusion, commonly held by many involved in both the Indo- Chinese and Eastern European refugee situations, that a proportion of people now leaving their homelands were doing so to seek a better way of life rather than to escape from some form of persecution. In other words their motivation is the same as over one million others who apply annually to migrate to Australia. To accept them as refugees would in effect condone queue-jumping as migrants.
In all of this, the Government's primary concern is to maintain the humanitarian focus and integrity of Australia's obligations accepted by our commitment to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. In other words, in order to be humane to those most in need we must apply the definition of refugee carefully and arrange priorities accordingly. In that way we are also fair to others who seek to migrate in the appropriate manner.
The grant of refugee status and the special and generous entitlements that flow from it are means of ensuring that people exposed to or who risk persecution may be offered sanctuary and protection. This is a proper and humanitarian response from a nation such as Australia where the values of human dignity and compassion are strongly held. Our record in providing assistance to refugees is an admirable one and all Australians have reason to be proud of that record. The 400,000 refugees who have resettled in Australia since World War II and the $96m which has been contributed since 1978 to provide assistance to refugees around the world are adequate testimony.
Humanitarian though this has been one should acknowledge gratefully that as a nation we have benefited enormously from the acceptance of refugees. They have broadened our attitudes and greatly enriched our way of life. They have achieved an excellent reputation in varied fields of employment. They are playing a significant role in helping to break down prejudices and to make us more receptive to new cultures and new ideas. As a consequence I believe we are now a less parochial people. Moreover, as individuals, they commit themselves totally to this country for, unlike migrants, they know there is no going back to their old home.
The manner in which refugee problems are solved is a complex and difficult process. Importantly, it involves a balance between compassion and realism. The provision of a durable solution, to use the language of international instruments dealing with refugees, involves judgments about the best solution for the situation of the people involved. It does not follow that resettlement in other countries is always the best or the most appropriate solution. For most refugees, the most desirable solution is for an individual to be free to return to his home in safety and with hope. Only when this is not possible does the question of resettlement in other countries arise. It follows that an important task for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is the development of arrangements to repatriate refugees where this is possible. In recent years the High Commissioner has been responsible for a number of successful repatriations in Africa and Asia. At the present there is some prospect of further repatriation arrangements being developed to allow some Indo-Chinese in camps in South East Asia to return to their countries of origin under appropriate conditions.
In a world beset by political turmoil and upheaval, the number of people who have been uprooted from their countries and have become displaced is growing daily. The High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the number of displaced persons as being approximately 10 million. A high proportion of these people are not, however, refugees within the accepted definition of that term set out under the United Nations Convention. That definition is as follows:
A person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.
The phrases 'is outside the country of his nationality' and 'well founded fear of persecution' constitute the key elements of the definition. As may be readily appreciated there are difficulties in defining absolutely the conditions and circumstances which bring about a situation in which a person may be validly judged as being within the terms of the definition. However common sense and humanity usually point to the salient factors. Thus a threat to life or freedom on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership of a particular social group is categorically persecution.
Many, perhaps most, people who become caught up in a mass movement can make only slight claims to having suffered persecution. Many people who voluntarily leave their country to take up residence elsewhere are motivated by a variety of different factors-economic reasons, the desire for change, family considerations or other reasons of a personal nature. In some cases the reasons for leaving may also include a dislike or abhorrence of the political systems or ideology operating in their homeland. In some cases people may face some form of discrimination in their daily lives. Motivations to leave are often complex but, unless these motivating factors are accompanied by a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, refugee status should not apply.
We have a solemn humanitarian obligation to ensure that our limited program places are reserved for the genuine refugees. We must exclude those people whose claims for refugee status are suspect. This is a most difficult task. But it is one that must be carried out if we are to fulfil our undertakings under the United Nations Convention, maintain the Australian community's support for the Government's policies and ensure that persons who should be subject to review under immigration policy are not able to circumvent those policies by being accorded refugee status incorrectly.
Against this background, the Government has decided, after consultation with other governments, both those of first asylum countries and of resettlement countries, major community groups within Australia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that Australia will:
Tighten refugee selection criteria and procedures for all programs with the particular objective of excluding from refugee entry those persons who do not meet the criteria allowed for in the United Nations Convention;
under this revised procedure refugee determination will be made according to the application of these criteria on an individual basis;
despite these changes, persons who cannot meet the refugee criteria may be eligible for entry under special humanitarian programs or migration criteria.
These arrangements will be brought into effect as soon as possible. Selection assessments will be made by Australian officials who will be operating under criteria which is quite consistent with the United Nations Convention definition . These new procedures will replace the former practice of relying on mandate status accorded by UNHCR. While in no way derogating from the helpful role played by UNHCR in assisting us with determinations in the past it is entirely appropriate that Australia should now employ its own procedures. The decision to do this brings our practice into line with arrangements provided for under the Convention itself. This arrangement will ensure that determinations of status are made responsibly and with compassion. As in the past, our refugee officials will continue to work closely with the High Commissioner for Refugees whose role will continue to be an integral and important element in the development of the Government's refugee policy.
In this latter context, I would like to say that the Government and indeed the world community is particularly indebted to the office of the High Commissioner for its efforts on behalf of refugees. Honourable members will recall that the office of the High Commissioner was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1981. I would like to take this opportunity to say that the Government will continue its strong support for the High Commissioner's efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to all refugees.
The decision taken by the Government on individual determinations has not been taken in isolation. As I have said elsewhere, the decision was arrived at only after careful consideration of the approach being taken by other governments and UNHCR and, where appropriate, after extensive consultation. Countries of first asylum are continuing to accept a heavy share of the refugee burden. There are many countries in this situation around the world but I have in mind here particularly the countries of South East Asia and Austria which are generously providing temporary refuge for a large number of asylum seekers and, in doing so , continue to demonstrate a humanitarian willingness to provide assistance to those who seek it, pending the development of durable solutions for those people .
Where persons have been classified as refugees, Australia will continue to give priority consideration to those refugees with family in Australia. This again is also in accordance with international practice. The Government has decided to terminate two minor programs-those for White Russians and Christian minority groups in the Middle East. The claims of those of the White Russian group and Middle East Christians will, in future, be assessed against other criteria.
The program for White Russians commenced post-World War II and has accomplished its objective. The program-under which 12,000 people have come to Australia-will wind down with effect from 30 June 1982. This date has been decided upon in order to ensure that any persons who still wish to be considered have adequate time to come forward. Any future claims by such persons will be considered against normal criteria for migration. The program for Christian minorities from the Middle East ceased as a refugee program with effect from 31 December 1981. Persons in this group are eligible for consideration under the provisions of the special humanitarian program along with other Middle East minority groups experiencing similar difficulties, discrimination and hardship. Persons within those groups are assessed on a case by case basis and, on the basis of their present general circumstances, they are more likely to be accepted under the special humanitarian program than as refugees. The record of some individuals may, however, justify their being accorded refugee status, and the appropriate priority and assisted passage, which is not available to persons coming under the special humanitarian program.
The Government has also decided to increase the program for refugee resettlement from South America. There is a growing number of South American nationals who are in need of resettlement. Accordingly, we have, in consultation with the UNHCR, enlarged both numerically and geographically our South American program to cater for persons from South America who can satisfy criteria for refugee status and resettlement in Australia. The situation of refugees in this area and their needs and wishes with regard to resettlement are still being assessed by Australia and the international agencies. At present the numbers seeking resettlement in Australia are quite small. This is because of geographically inspired traditional attitudes-most think automatically of resettlement in North America or Western Europe. Generations of displaced persons from South America have settled in North America and Western Europe. It is natural that the overwhelming majority now displaced will seek to go there also, especially as they often have relatives there. Gradually, however, more will come to Australia and join the small but successfully settled band of South Americans already here.
The Government has also decided that it will no longer announce individual program ceilings for particular refugee groups. This will enable us to have maximum flexibility in responding to different or changing situations without creating undue expectations. The outcome of those decisions will be obvious at the end of each financial year. In line with these moves we have also been looking at other ways of dealing with the problems of displaced people other than those who are refugees. I expect, for example, that the recently announced special humanitarian program will provide new alternatives to refugee resettlement, particularly for those in difficult circumstances or with family ties in Australia who cannot satisfy refugee criteria. Displaced persons who do not qualify for refugee status are now being interviewed in various parts of the world and I would expect the next financial year's intake figures to reflect substantial benefits to individuals and to Australia as a result of this program .
Another matter of concern for South East Asia and Australia has been the continuing outflow of persons from Vietnam. I have had a series of discussions with my counterparts in Malaysia and Thailand about ways in which it might be possible to deter the outflow of persons making extremely hazardous journeys in small boats from Vietnam. The plight of people on those voyages has often been frightful and has aroused pity, horror and anger simultaneously in the hearts of those of us who have seen the results of those experiences. For this reason, we have been negotiating with Vietnam for an orderly departure program from Vietnam to Australia. Without such an arrangement, desperate people will always find a way around the moratorium on illegal departures imposed by Vietnam.
In all of my dealings with Australians of Vietnamese origin I have stressed the fact that negotiations on an orderly departure program from Vietnam of their relatives might not be possible for some time. I am, however, delighted to announce to the House today that following a negotiating visit by officers of my department to Hanoi last week, an arrangement has been reached in principle with the Vietnamese Government. The arrangement, which comes after some years of negotiations, is based on globally applied migration procedures. The emphasis of the program will be on the reunification of families parted in the tragic circumstances of the last seven years. It is hoped that movement to Australia will begin after procedural arrangements have been finalised over the next couple of months. The successful conclusion of this arrangement is a pleasing and positive development and, I consider, reflects a willingness on the part of the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to resolve a difficult humanitarian problem in a spirit of goodwill and co-operation. In talking of co- operation, perhaps I could observe at this point how important to Australia has been the new aspect of our relationship with South East Asian countries as a result of the refugee program.
The decisions I have announced today will be of significant benefit to genuine refugees who wish to resettle in Australia. It will mean that Australian resettlement opportunities will be available only to those most in need and whose claims are legitimate. Those not satisfying refugee or special humanitarian criteria must compete for migration to Australia with one million other migrant seekers annually. I am particularly pleased to recognise the role of the Parliament itself in a parallel study of these questions and to note that the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in its report on the Indo-Chinese problem commends our management of the problem to date in both its domestic and international aspects and shares my view of the changing nature of the outflow and the need to adjust our approach. In identifying myself with the Committee's report I wish to extend my personal thanks and congratulations to the officers of my Department for the splendid job they have done under extremely difficult circumstances. Australia has reason to be indebted to them and proud of them.
As a result of the present review, I can renew assurances to people in Australia that our generous humanitarian response is directed only to those in genuine need. This is particularly important to people who are seeking to bring their families to Australia under normal migration criteria. These measures do not represent any diminution of Australia's commitment as a major refugee resettlement country. On the contrary, we are extending that humanitarian commitment. The present overall program for refugee and special humanitarian entry is now 24,500, the highest intake ever in this category. My recent announcements of an increased intake of Polish refugees in this current year illustrate that Australia stands ready to respond to new and sudden refugee situations.
Australia's response to the Polish crisis is well known but should be restated briefly here. In conjunction with the UNHCR, Austria and all major resettlement countries, we have processed applications of Poles outside Poland in accordance with their wishes. The majority have not sought resettlement but have preferred to extend their temporary legal status wherever they now are until the situation in Poland becomes clearer and they can seek reunification with their families either in or outside Poland. No Pole outside Poland has been induced to seek resettlement by the actions of other governments and very few have sought to leave those European countries nearest to Poland. The reaction of all interested governments has been most humane and responsible.
This approach has also been advocated by Australians of Polish origin and close consultation is being maintained between them and my Department. As a result, the global figure for refugee and special humanitarian programs announced in the 1981-82 Budget has been increased by a further 2,000 persons to help relieve the congestion in Austria and Germany amongst Poles who are determined not to return to Poland. Special procedures have also been introduced to cope with the unexpected volume of migration applications as distinct from refugees. Of the order of 4,400 Polish refugees and over 1,400 Polish migrants are expected to arrive in Australia this financial year and, in addition to that, there will be approximately another 1,600 East European refugees. This intake is expected to be numerically higher on a per capita basis than that of any other country. We are not, however, endeavouring to outbid other countries but are working with them to meet the best interests of the displaced persons and their families. This situation is under continual review and we will continue to make the appropriate response in terms of changes within Poland and the interests and wishes of the individuals.
I might add that while our global approach to these humanitarian programs gives us great flexibility there is no prospect of our extending other programs at the expense of our principal regional obligations regarding Indo-Chinese refugees. The decision to tighten criteria while increasing our intake is a realistic and fair response to a changing situation and is not a reflection on the integrity of those members of the Australian community who came to Australia as refugees.
I have been dealing primarily with the processing of refugees overseas. The same definition and criteria are used for persons claiming refugee status in Australia and in the application of that policy within Australia similar considerations apply to those I have mentioned. Thus, it should not be easier or harder to be accepted in Australia as a refugee than it is outside Australia and persons who arrive illegally or on visitor's visas ought not to be able to stay permanently in Australia unless they are refugees or otherwise produce the most compelling compassionate reasons. That indeed is the law of Australia agreed upon unanimously by the present Parliament. Just as persons cannot circumvent Australian immigration law and policy outside Australia, they cannot do so inside Australia. People without refugee status or the special humanitarian criteria announced by me in this House on 18 November last cannot gain preference over other applicants for migration. Similarly, persons who come to Australia either illegally or as a temporary entrant cannot stay in preference to others in a similar situation simply because they do not wish to return home. If they were able to do this we would have no control at all over our immigration policy. Indeed, with over a million visitors coming to Australia each year we would have no policy if every tourist, stowaway or deserter were allowed to stay on some pretext, thereby circumventing migration interviews, health checks and security clearances.
Random settlement by persons not going through immigration procedures overseas could cause enormous dislocation to our labour market and to our internal stability and security. The whole point of our immigration policy is to meet Australia's requirements. For this reason the Government established a Determination of Refugee Status Committee to examine all claims in Australia for refugee status. That Committee contains senior officials from all relevant departments and has an observer from the UNHCR. It is swamped with applications, mostly from persons who have only very slim claims to refugee status. That Committee makes recommendations to me and such is its professionalism that I can recall rejecting its advice on only rare occasions.
All of that will seem logical and fair to almost all Australians and would generally not require a statement at such length. I do so simply because a vocal minority of Australians of East European origin refuse to accept the appropriateness of that policy. Such persons desire us to accept anyone who arrives in Australia from a Soviet bloc country in Europe regardless of whether that person had any record of political or other activity which might have brought him or her within the definition of refugee referred to earlier. That simply has never been the policy of this or any other Australian Government so far as I have been able to ascertain. Some cases might have given that impression, especially before we had so many applications and the formal machinery for ensuring consistency. But we do now have that machinery and when the confidential records of cases are compared, consistency is achieved. Because cases must be treated confidentially by the Determination of Refugee Status Committee-the DORS Committee-neither it nor the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs feels really free to comment on cases lest the interests of individuals be harmed. This is often so even when other people make aspects of the case public.
An example of that situation is the recent highly publicised case of the Romanian soccer player, Mr Gheorge Viscreanu, who sought but was not accorded refugee status. His application, as with every other claimant, was examined and determined in full accord with principles and procedures as set out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Honourable members will recall that the Determination of Refugee Status Committee concluded unanimously that on the basis of the information obtained from the detailed interview with Mr Viscreanu he had no well-founded fear of persecution. A representative of the UNHCR as an observer of that Committee participated fully in its deliberations. It was on this basis that refugee status was refused. Neither in his ill-advised media comments not in his interviews did Mr Viscreanu ever say anything critical of his Government, country or his life at home. On the contrary, he acknowledged that he and his family were well treated. Consequently, when assurances were received by the Australian Government from the Romanian Government that Mr Viscreanu would not suffer any reprisals following his return home there was no reasonable ground for his staying. We need to bear in mind that literally hundreds of thousands of other people who visit Australia on visas similar to that of Mr Viscreanu are refused the right to change of status when their reasons for wanting to stay are never less than his and sometimes-because of family connections here-are greater.
Thus it will be clear that for Mr Viscreanu to have been allowed to stay thousands of others would have had an injustice done to them. The fact is that he was induced to stay by someone more intent on publicly embarrassing the Romanian Government than on considering Mr Viscreanu's wellbeing. Others in the soccer team who received similar approaches declined to leave the team. I have no doubt that once the glamorous aspects of Australian life lost their novelty and he realised that at the age of 20 he would never see his family again he would have undergone the same change of heart as Miss Gasinskaya about whom I have spoken in the Parliament before. People who induce others to seek to stay in Australia and who try to get media attention in the process often lose sight of the interests of the individuals and disrupt their lives for many years to come. In the case of Mr Viscreanu certain media interests paid Mr Viscreanu's Australian sponsor for exclusive story rights. Exclusive stories from secret hiding places might have provided sensational scoops but were not relevant to the functioning of the DORS Committee or my consideration of its recommendation. Nor was the publicity of any benefit to Mr Viscreanu.
Our policy is a most humane one and it is administered most fairly. We can only deal with refugee applications individually and we cannot accept people merely because they come from totalitarian countries. To do so when they are not refugees and have no other special compassionate reasons would only prejudice persons from democratic countries whose claims to remain in Australia are as strong or stronger. Our immigration policy is non-discriminatory on the grounds of race; our refugee policy is likewise. The refugee criteria are universally applied in order to ensure that the concept of refugee status is not diluted to the ultimate detriment of genuine refugees. I present the following paper:
Refugee Policy-Government Decisions-Ministerial Statement, 16 March 1982.
Motion (by Mr Wilson) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.