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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1428


Senator TATE (Special Minister of State)(6.59) —As duty Minister I do not have any particular expertise in any of the matters that have been raised by honourable senators who have spoken on the adjournment tonight. As a matter of courtesy, may I deal with the matters briefly. Senator Chaney raised the question of the forced separation of families. This is always a tragedy. I think there is a special sense of frustration when part of a family is in Australia and another part is back in the family's former homeland of Vietnam. In some cases. many years have elapsed since family members have come to Australia. Of course, the sense of dislocation and anguish between the various members of families is very real. I know of these problems from representations that have been made to my office in Tasmania. Indeed, I have visited the Vietnamese Embassy in the company of a Vietnamese woman and her Australian husband to make a plea on behalf of members of her family who are still in Vietnam.

Senator Chaney, in a very restrained way, made a similar plea for a particular constituent tonight. I must say that that particular restrained plea that he made should, I believe, fall on fertile ground because we have found, over the last several months even, that the relationship between the Vietnamese authorities in Vietnam and the Australian authorities in relation to the exit from Vietnam of those with families in Australia, has improved and new arrangements are in place.

For example, for many years Australia was able to interview only persons holding exit permits issued by the Vietnamese authorities. Now I believe we are able to interview persons appearing on a Vietnamese list of what they term `Eligible Proposed Departees'. These are persons eligible, in principle, to leave Vietnam but to whom the Vietnamese authorities will not issue exit permits until such time as a formal approval to migrate is obtained from the Australian Government. I believe this innovation will help break many of the deadlocks which have prevented this bringing together of families which is causing such heartache. It should be noted that already in the period of the latter part of last year-July to December-some 1,447 persons were visaed. The program is quite large and I hope that the Vietnamese authorities will take into account Senator Chaney's special plea on behalf of a particular family which of course wants to come together as a family here in Australia.

I turn to the disability services in Western Australia, particularly for those who suffer a severe disability by reason of brain injury or stroke, and the way in which their needs might be addressed. The fact is that there are discussions proceeding between the Western Australian Government and Commonwealth Ministers, particularly with Mr Chris Hurford, the Minister for Community Services, in order to achieve a network of rehabilitation units which will serve the purposes of a wide range of clients and reinforce the social and vocational focus of the Commonwealth's rehabilitation program in Western Australia. I think those discussions are essential.

I have no particular brief on the Melville Rehabilitation Centre and its sale. But I do believe that `the actual location of the facilities needed to deal with the sorts of persons who are the special concern of the Head Injured Society of Western Australia (Inc.) is something which needs to be addressed by both governments and community organisations. Whether the particular proposal to purchase the Melville Rehabilitation Centre by the Head Injured Society of Western Australia was of the attractive type which Senator Chaney relayed to the Senate, is a matter on which I am sure the Minister will be able to give more detail.

Senator Michael Baume raised the question, I think in the end, of the very necessity for the existence of the Australian Industry Development Corporation. He did so by pointing to an example where the AIDC invested in Figgins Diorama. He pointed to the fact that that particular business enterprise engaged in a form of business-indeed, he included the very building itself from which it continued its business-which had elements predominantly from overseas. As I say, both the construction of the building and the type of merchandise that was on sale included elements predominantly from overseas.

I think he has raised a very fair question of the possible disparity between that particular enterprise and the objectives of the AIDC. He also raised the simple question of the surveillance of that investment by the AIDC, insofar as he suggested that it was even taken by surprise when that particular enterprise collapsed. The details of the AIDC's investment, how much was advanced and how much is at risk I will have to seek from the Minister.

Senator Lewis raised the prospect of the support by all Australians of the Welcome Home Parade '87 to be accorded to those Australians who served in Vietnam as a result of the decision of an elected Australian government. May I say on my own behalf that of course I support whole-heartedly-and I am sure Senator Gietzelt, as the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, would also give his whole-hearted support-that particular welcome home parade. The fact is that, as a senator for Tasmania, I have very close links with the Vietnam veterans. Every year I attend a very pleasant dinner in Launceston organised by the Vietnam veterans of northern Tasmania. Indeed, we conduct that dinner in a highly convivial atmosphere.

I have noticed, particularly over the last couple of years, a sense of pride and acceptance by the rest of the Australian community amongst those young men and their spouses-because their spouses always attend-which was not present in previous years. This has no doubt been due largely to the psychological factors which greeted them on their return home. But as I say, we conduct those dinners in a very bipartisan spirit. Mr Kevin Newman always attends, as patron of that particular organisation. I am sorry that Senator Lewis for a moment strayed from that good principle to give a serve to the Whitlam Government, which of course did bring to an end that particular engagement in which Australians served.

For my part, I have seen school mates and contemporaries killed and injured in that conflict. Having returned from England to lecture in the law faculty at the University of Tasmania, I also found my students similarly being conscripted. I was thus very pleased that the Whit- lam Government brought our involvement in Vietnam to an end. But I do not think it is entirely fair to say that the Whitlam Government was responsible for the lack of the patriotic fervour, as was exhibited on the return of troops from the First or Second World Wars, when the Vietnam soldiers came home. I believe there was a general dislocation and questioning in Australian society which was mirrored, if one recalls, in American society, where a completely different political regime governed that country. The Vietnam veterans in the United States of America suffered a similar humiliating sense of not being cared for by their society upon their return.


Senator Lewis —We are in agreement on that, that is for sure.


Senator TATE —Yes. I believe it is not quite right to point a finger at a particular government or administration. The fact is that both the United States and Australia suffered terrible traumas during the conduct of that war and could not find the psychological resources to greet these soldiers as they returned, although we certainly should have, and to give them the support which they required. As a society we have matured since then. Time has passed. It has been a great healing process. Only two years ago I played a very large role in getting bronze lettering put on the Hobart cenotaph acknowledging the fact that the Vietnam War actually occurred. That in itself was a very important symbol for Vietnam veterans in Tasmania.

In short, I certainly support the Welcome Home Parade concept. I hope it will be as successful and as helpful to those Vietnam veterans as Senator Lewis would wish it to be. I am sure the Australian Government wishes the organisers every success on that particular day.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 7.09 p.m.