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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 873


Mr RUDDOCK(10.16) —I want to take the opportunity tonight to speak on a report issued by one of our parliamentary colleagues-not a member of this side of the House, but a Government member. It is a report on the tragedy of Kampuchean refugees. Earlier this year the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) visited refugee camps in Kampuchea to investigate the consequences of the closure of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees camp at Khao I Dang. I have read this most worthy document and I hope that other members will take the opportunity to do so. I have had occasion to speak about the prospective closure of Khao I Dang before in the Parliament. I raised it during an adjournment debate last year. It is a matter of considerable concern to me and, I have no doubt, to my colleagues. I know that my colleague the honourable member for Calwell was aware of the representations that I was receiving and that that prompted him to undertake his visit to the Kampuchean refugee camps on the Thai border.

I know the area, having been there on two occasions. The honourable member described it as one of the most tragic visits that he had undertaken. The problems of Kampuchea, compounded by the circumstances of people on the Kampuchean border, made my visit the most emotionally draining experience of my life. I despair very much for the future of the people of Kampuchea, particularly those on the border who are jammed between their own country, which is occupied by Vietnam, and the Thais, who see the Kampuchean people in between them as, I suppose, an element of protection for them against what they see as their traditional enemy-the Vietnamese. If one can imagine that small nation, many of whose people are refugees, jammed between two larger nations each with their armies, that gives some impression of the circumstances in which those people find themselves. They are continually at risk. I wrote to the honourable member for Calwell and told him that, whilst I do not necessarily agree with every conclusion he draws, I find most of the report very persuasive and helpful.

I want to highlight briefly one of the areas of concern to me, because the report gives some factual information about Australia's program for accepting refugees from that region of the world. I hope that honourable members will take the opportunity of looking at the report as to the number of people that Australia has taken under its program. The figures were given to the honourable member by the UNHCR. Honourable members will see that page 17 of the report shows that in 1983-according to the UNHCR-we took 4,399 Kampucheans; in 1984, the number was reduced to 816; in 1985, it was 1,082; and in 1986, it was 736. A small number of Laos were taken, but primarily we are taking Vietnamese people from the Indo-Chinese region. I do not in any way quarrel with the program designed to assist the Vietnamese. But I draw to the attention of the House the extent to which the number of Khmers taken has been significantly reduced over time. The Government does place some weight on the fact that it is increasing the numbers to be brought from Kampuchea by 40 per cent this year. If one looks at the figures to which I have referred, takes 700 and adds 40 per cent to it, the numbers that are likely to be taken next year can only be of the order of 900 to 1,000.

Having regard to the enormity of the problem, I must say I regard that refugee program for Kampucheans as being most inadequate. I hope that the Government will review those figures very compassionately and that it will look at the ways and means in which Australia might be more helpful in that region. I very much agree with the honourable member that there is a need for a peaceful solution. I despair of the prospect of that happening very quickly.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.