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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1310

Mr O'NEIL(10.45) —In this enlightened age of ours anyone might be forgiven for thinking that the right of a daughter to go anywhere to look after her elderly and invalid father is one that should be taken for granted. But it would appear that if this means the daughter changing her abode from one country to another the human factor begins to lose its significance in the face of all kinds of regulations and restrictions. Even so, more often than not I think a way can be found if the need is imperative enough. In most countries even bureaucrats have some scope for exercising some normal human feelings, and most rules can be bent a little.

I seem to have come across an exception to this in the case of an elderly citizen of Whyalla, Mr Peter Lacis and his daughter Benita, who lives in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia. Mr Lacis is a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. He is in his early sixties but looks older. He is a man under stress because for years he has been waging a losing battle with Soviet officialdom to get permission for his daughter Benita to leave the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and join him in Whyalla. At one stage the Lacis family thought they had won. Benita had acquired a passport. The Australian immigration authorities had given their blessing. It seemed all over except for one or two formalities. There was a brief setback when both realised they had been so preoccupied with the bureaucratic battle that they were financially unprepared for the sudden turnabout in fortune. The way Peter Lacis solved this gives some idea of the strength of this desire for this family reunion. Somehow he managed to persuade a credit union to lend him $2,000 on the basis of his invalid pension. He bought the plane ticket and sent it to his daughter. She wrote him a very happy letter. She was looking forward, she said, to her own four-year-old daughter spending her next birthday in Australia.

Then, unaccountably, Benita's letters stopped coming. Mr Lacis was frantic with worry, and at this stage he sought my help. Having originally left Latvia hastily after the Russian annexation because he refused to give allegiance to any nation other than his own, he feared for his daughter's safety. In his loneliness his imagination conjured up fears of old scores being settled through the family. I could find out nothing except that there appeared to be nothing left preventing her departure. Then came a very sad letter. Virtually on the eve of completing arrangements to leave, Benita had encountered the final bureaucratic block. Her exit visa had been refused. The reasons given were that her emigration from the USSR to live with her father was neither necessary nor desirable. She had been a baby when he left the country and she had not grown up with him. Therefore, the family tie had become purely a nominal one by this time and did not justify a change of country.

I think anyone in this country would hold the view that the best person to make a judgment like that would be the daughter herself. In the more mechanistic society on the other side of the Iron Curtain it seems that those in authority not only have the divine gift of being able to assess the value of everybody's family and personal relationships, but also have the almighty power to put their judgments into effect. When I approached the Soviet Embassy on behalf of Peter Lacis I was told the Embassy could not intervene and I was advised to write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Latvia. I did so in May and again in July this year. Neither letter has had any acknowledgment.

Meanwhile Mr Lacis continues to live for the letters he gets every few weeks from Benita. The anti-climax of nearly winning and then having the Iron Curtain rung down on him has left its mark. He is prone to tears now at the mere mention of his daughter's name. I wonder whether there is any way of getting through to those with the power to make decisions like this that ordinary people also matter. I raise this personal humane problem in this House tonight and I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) to intervene, with all the resources at his disposal in his Department, in order to help Mr Lacis obtain his goal of family reunion.