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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2065

Senator CHANEY —Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware that the administrative committee of his own branch of the Australian Labor Party has passed a resolution which calls for an end to the acceptance by Australia of refugees from Vietnam because of the isolated clashes there have been between Vietnamese living in this country? Did this motion, which is reported to have been carried with the support of the Left and Independent factions, originate from the Victorian President of the Australian Labor Party, Mr George Crawford? Will the Minister advise whether there is any support for this stance in the Government, a stance which appears to me to fly in the face of the bipartisan support for the refugee program?

Senator BUTTON —The Press reports in the Melbourne Sun and the Melbourne Age have been drawn to my attention. They could scarcely escape the attention of any reader of the Melbourne Sun, for example, because it is a front page item in that newspaper. I read those Press reports with a great deal of concern. On behalf of the Government and, if I might say so, on behalf of myself, I totally repudiate the decision made by the Victorian branch administrative committee on Friday night. I must say at the beginning of this answer that, in spite of political differences, over most issues this country has been relatively successful in attaining bipartisan attitudes to migration issues, particularly the question of refugees. It is a sad fact nonetheless that from time to time there surfaces in the councils of political parties of all persuasions displays of prejudice and bigotry directed towards perhaps Aboriginals or particular migrant groups. I very much regret that on this occasion it happened to be the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party which is involved.

The national platform of the Australian Labor Party pledges that Party to be opposed to racial discrimination in any form whatsoever. Further, the section of the platform dealing with refugees commits the Australian Labor Party, in conjunction with other countries and under the direction of or in consultation with the United Nations, to a series of programs in respect of intakes of refugees to this country. Of course, in recent years Vietnamese refugees, for a variety of reasons, have been the largest group involved. But we have a commitment at this stage to an intake of 2,500 refugees this year.

I want to make it clear also that in one minor but significant respect the newspaper report is incorrect. I understand that it was a very poorly attended meeting of the Victorian administrative committee. It is alleged in one newspaper that the proposition, which undoubtedly emanated from Mr Crawford whom Senator Chaney particularly asked me about, was supported by the Left faction-if I can call it that; we have groups in the Australian Labor Party which are sometimes described as factions-and by the Independent faction. For some years now in a number of newspaper reports and so on my name has been loosely or otherwise associated with the Independent faction in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party. I wish to inform the Senate that there was only one member of the Independent faction at the meeting, there being three normally. That person spoke against and voted against the resolution. I have suggested to that person that he ask the newspapers concerned to check their information a little further before they publish reports of this kind. I invite journalists in the gallery associated with those newspapers to see that that sort of thing happens in the future. I regard it as a matter of personal as well as political concern that that report is totally incorrect in that respect.

To come back to the thrust of Senator Chaney's question, the platform of the Australian Labor Party is clear. The position of this Government is clear. We seek to encourage bipartisan views on these very important issues related to migration and refugees. I repeat: It is sad that I have to totally repudiate on behalf of the Government, myself and, I believe, honourable members on this side of the Senate the comments which were made in the course of that discussion and the resolution adopted by the Victorian branch at its administrative committee meeting.