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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1425

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(6.33) —There are a couple of matters that I wish to raise which concern constituents of mine. The matters are different in nature, and I start by dealing with the very difficult circumstances, and indeed the personal tragedy, of my constituent Mr Van Quang Nguyen. Mr Van Quang Nguyen is a recently naturalised Australian and has been in Australia for about four years. He came to this country from Vietnam. His personal tragedy is that his wife and daughter are still in Vietnam. He has written to me explaining that he has now had 11 years separation from them. He had seven years apart from them in a camp, and has now had a further four years separation since his arrival in Australia.

I understand that this man's family is eligible to come to Australia under the programs of this Government. I am not raising any complaint about the eligibility of his family to join him. Rather I am raising the matter in the hope that the Australian Government, or perhaps more the Vietnamese Government, might be able to do something to bring to an end this very long period of separation about which he has written to me. He writes of the difficulties of his family, of their despair, and indeed his own despair, at the thought that they may never see each other again. Knowing that there would be no one in this Government or, I hope and believe, in the Vietnamese Government who would wish to prolong that sort of personal tragedy, I wish to raise the matter in this forum.

I took up the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, and asked him whether he could tell me what, if anything, could be done by the Government to assist the family. He wrote back to me by letter dated 24 February expressing his sympathy with the plight of the family and expressed regret that there are many similar cases under the Vietnam family migration program. He pointed out that that program was the responsibility of Mr Young, and indicated that there was little Australia could do in this and similar cases to expedite the reunion of divided families. He said that discussions on the Vietnam family migration program are held with the Vietnamese authorities on an ongoing basis in an attempt to facilitate the operation of the program, but Australian immigration officials are unable to interview applicants until they hold exit permits issued by the Vietnamese authorities.

In this parliamentary forum I address my remarks as much to the Government of Vietnam as I do to the Government of Australia. I express the hope that action might be taken by that Government to facilitate those cases of family reunion of which this is one example. I speak with particular concern about my constituent, who has put his case so clearly and in a way which arouses my sympathy and concern for him. It is my request that the Australian Government should do everything that it possibly can to work with the Vietnamese Government to facilitate the processing of this case and the reunion of this family. I express the hope that the Government will show considerable energy and enthusiasm in doing that. At a time when government is difficult because many of the things it wishes to do are beyond its economic capacity, perhaps there is an additional reason for devoting the resources of government to doing things which of themselves are not expensive but which would substantially assist one Australian citizen, and indeed those other Australian citizens who are caught in the same position.

The other matter raised with me, again by a constituent, relates to an approach which was made to both the State and the Federal governments about the Melville Rehabilitation Centre which is being disposed of by the Commonwealth Government. The Head Injured Society of Western Australia wrote to Mr Burke a quite detailed letter dated 19 January 1986-I think that date must be 1987. It was dated 1986, but I suspect it was this year; it was the usual January carry-over. The point made by the Society is that there is a need in Western Australia for a better long term arrangement for the head injured in that State.

Reference has been made to the great pressures on families from the continuous care required by many head injury patients, to the tremendous expenses which are incurred and to the history of the Head Injured Society of Western Australia (Incorporated), which was established in 1980. This society very courageously obtained a bank loan to purchase a headquarters at Alfred Cove and, with the help of the Lotteries Commission, it established a hydrotherapy pool and a hydrotherapy workshop. It also established a day care facility. The society has retained professional assistance, and now it is looking to providing something better than the present option, which is for many head injured people to be put into nursing homes which are substantially designed for the aged and infirm.

Under a proposal put forward by Mr George Margetts, of the Midland Nursing Home, the Head Injured Society was prepared to pay $3m for the Melville Rehabilitation Centre. It was prepared to update and build further accommodation units and make it an A-class hospital for the young disabled. Mr Margetts has had 10 head injured patients in the Midland Nursing Home since 1972. After studying overseas facilities he believes that a quite different approach is required. I am not in a position to assess for the Minister or for the Government whether the Head Injured Society's proposal is the best option for the head injured. But I note that the society was offering to buy a Commonwealth facility which was for sale for the price of $3m. Having made representations on this matter to the Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford) on 18 March, I noted with some concern that subsequently the sale of the rehabilitation centre to the Murdoch University for the price of $2.7m was reported on 24 March.

On the face of it that is worrying. I understand that Mr Hurford may have made some claim on the radio-I did not hear him, but I heard some comment on it-that the offer was made too late. However, it appears that there was a genuine offer of $3m for this facility for a purpose that seems to me to be utterly compatible with the existing purpose of the building. That purpose was aimed at the long term interests of people with severe injuries who are resident in Western Australia. But for some reason the sale has been made at a lower price to another public institution, the Murdoch University. I do not begrudge the university that facility, of course, but I ask the Government to explain why the proposal for the sale at $3m could not have been given further and better consideration. I note that Mr Margetts, the businessman who is involved in this, has indicated today that he wants to talk to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and ask him to reconsider what has been done. I suspect that Mr Hawke might prefer us to deal with it here. I imagine he would think that the matter could be satisfactorily dealt with by his Minister, because I am sure he feels that he has a lot of other things on his plate. I ask the Government to respond to both the matters I have raised on the adjournment tonight.