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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2115


Senator COONEY(6.37) —Some notoriety has been achieved by a resolution passed by the administrative committee of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party on Friday, 10 May 1985, to the effect that the flow of refugees from Vietnam ought to be stopped until some people in Australia of Vietnamese origin, who have shown a propensity to commit offences or to cause disturbances, become peaceful and law abiding. The resolution did not interdict all migration, but confined it to those people coming from Vietnam to Australia pursuant to an agreement between the governments of those countries. This resolution was passed on a Friday night at the end of what was, no doubt, a hard working week. Amongst those who attended the meeting were some who had experienced threatening conduct by some Vietnamese.


Senator Walsh —It wasn't held at the John Curtin, was it?


Senator COONEY —We never do that down our way. That makes the philosophy inherent in the motion no less horrendous. Much has already been said about the motion, but I want to make two points at this stage. The motion cuts across two principles which most people would espouse with some passion. They are, firstly, that a group as a whole should not bear the sanctions imposed for a fault committed by one or some of its members, and, secondly, that refugee status attracts a right to refuge. I make the following comments on each of those principles: The Book of Deuteronomy written many centuries ago says:

Fathers may not be put to death for their sons, nor sons for fathers. Each is to be put to death for his own sin.

The principle of individual responsibility has become basic to our civilisation and any departure from it derogates from that civilisation. To criticise, to condemn, or to punish a group because of the transgressions of one or some of its members is an attribute of injustice, of oppression and of tyranny. It does not become a free, benign and democratic society.

If we deny refuge to refugees we deny help to the vulnerable, the terrified, and the dispossessed. Again, this is something a free, benign and democratic society should never do. I talk here of people whose status is in reality that of the refugee. Anyone with compassion would take in people of that status-take them in as one should take in people who have suffered cruel violation of their rights and dignity as human beings. The principles about which I have spoken are accepted as correct by all people of good heart and conscience. At times, people of good heart and conscience fail to see in a particular situation that the principles are applicable and things go very wrong. It is appropriate in those circumstances to direct attention to the relevance and importance of those principles.

If there is a group responsibility for the transgression of part only of the group, we are all put at risk. We all become subject to disadvantage and punishment for acts and omissions over which we have no control. If refugees are denied rights of refuge, people from countries which impose injustice, oppression and terror on their citizens are grievously prejudiced. There are too many regimes in the world which tyrannise their citizens. It is a dangerous thing to set a precedent which results in those people being denied reprieve from the oppression of such regimes. The philosophy that the individual, as contrasted with the group, is responsible for the individual's transgressions is embodied deeply in our society and should not be discounted. The approach that refugees have an entitlement to refuge is an approach taken generally in Australia. It would be tragic to see it diminished.