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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2218


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(12.12) —I certainly will ensure that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) has brought to his attention Senator Martin's views, which, incidentally, by and large I share. A visit to any refugee camp in the world, particularly one in Thailand, I dare say, although I have not been there, points up the terribly vulnerable condition of women refugees, but particularly women with children. As Senator Martin says, women with children, particularly those from some of the societies that make up the refugees, are in an even more vulnerable position because of the absence of men to protect them and the absence of capacities and skills to get out of the refugee camp, or even to advance very far within the camp. I do not have any breakdown of the figures of Khmer men and women brought to Australia, but I certainly will find that out. I think it will be interesting to look at the figures for all our refugees to see how many women and children from broken families have arrived here and to make sure, as much as we can, that the program does not involve just tokenism.

While Senator Martin was talking I did get some information from a brief that I got about the Khmer minor program and about unattached minors which I think is of interest to the honourable senator and the Department.

There have been claims, as Senator Martin said, that the Department was implementing a policy that is discriminatory as regards both the age and sex of minors accepted for resettlement under the Khmer minor program. The Minister has given me information as of 25 May that it was decided early last year that priority should be given to minors under 15 years of age who are believed to be in the greatest need. It was felt that our primary concern should be the younger children. This was as a result of a report that, as Senator Martin said, was commissioned by the Department the previous year. It recommended that children under 15 years of age were perceived as being in the greatest need, and discussions were held with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about this preference. This did not mean, however, that older children were not considered at all. Thirty-seven Khmer minors had already arrived in Australia at that time. Further cases referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were under consideration. Priority was also given to special groups in the older age brackets, such as elder siblings and females. Since it has become clear that there are very few minors who fall into these high priority categories, we have indicated that we will also consider male minors aged 15 and over for resettlement in Australia.

The Department reached agreement generally with the State welfare authorities on the resettlement of up to 100 minors in Australia. That ceiling of 100 still stood on 25 May. The program remains open to allow acceptance of suitable candidates. The criteria for acceptance were that the minors have no traceable relatives and that resettlement in Australia is determined as being in the minors' best interests. United Nations High Commission for Refugees figures show that very few such minors are identified as needing resettlement offers from third countries. I recall that in October last year I allocated two grants, one to New South Wales and one to South Australia, to provide welfare workers for Khmer minors. Three grants-in-aid were also allocated to provide for workers for these and other Indo-Chinese minors. They were to Care Force and Burnside Homes for children in New South Wales and the Indo-China Refugee Association in South Australia.

As I said, 37 unattached Khmer minors had been settled in Australia up till 25 May, and a further 10 were accepted in late May. They were eligible for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs maintenance allowance on the same basis as other unattached minors and a once only grant of $170 was available if sponsorship was arranged under the community refugee settlement scheme. The intake of Khmer unattached minors is subject to referral by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees of minors without traceable relatives, with the previous proviso that their best interests would be served in Australia. Since then we have granted further grants-in-aid to Indo-Chinese organisations, and these grants-in-aid will be available to those who work with refugee youths. However, I will get further and more up to date details for the honourable senator.