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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15123


Mrs IRWIN (9:21 PM) —Pedro Cham is a year 12 student and school captain of James Busby high school, in the Sydney suburb of Green Valley. In his studies he excels in English and music, he plays guitar and is popular with other students and well regarded by the teaching staff. His ambition is to go to university to study to become a music teacher. Apart from the usual anxiety about Higher School Certificate exams, Pedro should be confident of achieving his goals and leading a normal life in Australia. But Pedro faces a major barrier, and his future is far from certain—because Pedro came to Australia from East Timor in 1995.

He has received almost all his schooling here and is very much an Aussie kid. Like his younger brothers and sisters, Pedro faces the prospect of being uprooted at this critical time in his life and returned to a country which is only a dim memory for him—a country where he does not speak the official Portuguese language, a country which cannot offer him the opportunity of higher education and a country which cannot offer him employment. Pedro's sister Madalena is in year 11 and wants to be a lawyer. Her prospects are also bleak.

The family arrived in Australia in 1995. Pedro and Madalena stayed with their older brother, who is now a permanent resident. Their parents returned to East Timor to settle the family business affairs and re-entered Australia in 1999, shortly before the outbreak of violence in East Timor that came before the vote for independence. The Cham family's application for a protection visa has been rejected and they now face an uncertain future. Like some 1,600 other East Timorese, they have made a home in Australia. They call Australia home.

In some cases they have had the processing of their claims frozen by governments that have failed to appreciate their special situation. While we are aware that there have been great changes in East Timor, and that those East Timorese in Australia cannot be regarded as refugees in the usual sense of the word, they do deserve our compassion. Many have lived, worked and raised families in Australia. They have become part of our communities, our schools, churches, sporting and social groups. Their children, like Pedro Cham, have completed most of their education in Australia. They would face severe readjustment if they were deported to East Timor.

When new settlers come to Australia, governments provide settlement assistance. New arrivals are assisted in many ways and we acknowledge that it is a long and sometimes difficult process to achieve successful settlement. What can those returning East Timor expect? These children's language is now English and their hopes and expectations are those of children raised in an Australian lifestyle. In these critical years, forced resettlement may affect them for the rest of their lives. The adult's skills are tuned to the needs of the Australian work force, and employment in many of those fields does not exist in East Timor.

To deport these people would be a cruel and heartless move by this government. Much has been said about the special relationship between Australia and the people of East Timor. We have heard of the sacrifice made by East Timorese in the war against the Japanese. But we cannot just think of East Timorese as a faceless group. We also have to think of each as an individual with their own experiences, hopes and ambitions.

When we see the neighbours across the street, or one of the kids at school, we see real people—not just another file or another case to be stamped `application rejected'. These 1,600 people are special. We need to have a special humanitarian class visa, as Labor has proposed, to allow them to plan their future either in Australia or, at some future time, in East Timor if they wish. At the very least, the minister should show some compassion and recognise the special circumstances of East Timorese in any decision on their cases. For Pedro Cham there are two possible outcomes: a happy and successful life in Australia or an uncertain life as an alien in his country of birth.