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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2137


Senator KILGARIFF(10.35) —As Senator Reid has indicated, a group of us left Parliament House at lunch time today to meet people from various parts of Australia, mainly Vietnamese people, who I suppose were demonstrating. Perhaps `demonstrating' is not the right word under the circumstances. They were indicating their sorrow that today it is 12 years since the war in Vietnam finished and Vietnam came under communist rule. I went out there because I have considerable compassion for these people from Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos. Like most honourable senators in this place, I have met these people in various parts of Australia. We have observed how they have settled in the country and have worked hard to make a new home.

In making a new home they have left their families under very difficult circumstances. Many lives were lost in their endeavours to escape the communist regimes in those countries. We heard many times how the boat people did not survive. Many of them perished at sea. They perished either through hunger and lack of water or at the hands of pirates boarding their boats and slaughtering many of them. I guess hundreds of thousands have been lost. Many died in their endeavours to reach the comfort of assisting nations.

At one stage I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Thai border and meet many of the refugees who were coming across the border in those days. Many of those villages and refugee camps have now been overrun and destroyed. The people outside today presented to the Parliament their National Shame Day declarations. They handed it to a group of us who went to see them. I take the opportunity to seek leave to have this National Shame Day declaration incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The declaration read as follows-

VIETNAMESE COMMUNITY IN AUSTRALIA (NEW SOUTH WALES CHAPTER)

National Shame Day Declarations

I. Considerations:

The National Shame Day of the 30th April 1987 marks the 12th anniversary of the fall of Vietnam to Communist tyranny. It also marks an era of darkness and oppression for the entire Indochinese peninsula.

The Communist regime has built a systematic structure of oppression, terrorism and forced labour. Labour camps, jails, re-education camps have sprung up the length and breath of Indochina.

Over a million refugees have defied death in order to flee from tyranny. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have perished at sea. This tragedy has shaken the conscience of the free world during the past 12 years.

The 30th April 1975 has unmasked the ambitions of HA-NOI's leaders who are lackeys of Soviet expansionism, their imperialistic aspirations in Kampuchea and Laos.

In order to salvage their economy due to the management failures of the Hanoi clique:

(1) They have consented to sell Vietnamese slave labour to Russia and Eastern Europe.

(2) They have sold Camranh bay to Russia so that the latter could build a powerful military base. Threatening world peace, especially south-east Asia and Australia.

(3) They are exploiting the sweat and tears of Vietnamese overseas through their financial operations such as illegal transfers of goods, money or visit to Vietnam.

II. Resolutions:

(1) The Vietnamese refugees in Australia in general and in New South Wales in particular solemnly appeal to the conscience of the people of the free world to protest against the violations of human rights in Vietnam.

(2) We call on Hanoi and demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of troops from Kampuchea and Laos.

(3) We call on the Soviet Union and demand the total withdrawal of their war machine from Camranh bay.

(4) We appeal to the Vietnamese overseas with a view to boycotting all of Hanoi's financial operations. The refugees should be aware of and monitor all of Hanoi's illegal financial operations and alert the authorities of their activities.

The 30th April is the day when we lost our homeland and our freedom. We should mark this day with a renewed sense of hope and solidarity in order to fight against tyranny and oppression.

Sydney, 6th April 1987

Chairman of the organizing committee

TRAN THANH PHUC


Senator KILGARIFF —I do not think it is necessary, when one reads this declaration, to say any more than what it says. It is a day of sorrow and remembrance for them-sorrow for what has happened to their nation and sorrow for the families that have been left behind. Despite all the endeavours, I must say, over the last 12 years-and I guess most honourable senators have endeavoured to bring about family reunions-there has not been very much success. I was interested to see in the Catholic Leader newspaper dated 5 April an article written by a Jesuit Father Brennan. He spoke of his visit to the front. The article is entitled `The Forgotten Ones of the Killing Fields'. Once again, this article indicates the present problems of these people, the refugees. We are getting into what we now call `refugee fatigue'. So many people have left Indo-China. They have found their way to many countries throughout the world, and it is to the credit of most of those countries that they have assisted refugees over the years. Because of the continuing outflow, I think it is true to say that a refugee fatigue has now developed-that is, the compassion and the desire to help those people is drying up, which is most unfortunate.

It has been said that these people are no longer refugees in the true sense of the word; that they are political refugees. When one has seen and met those people in the camps across the border, as I, Father Brennan and many other people have done, one cannot call them political refugees. They are fleeing for their lives, with their families, in an endeavour to get away from being overrun by the hoards of Vietnamese soldiers who kill without compunction. It is pitiful to see, in the refugee hospitals on the border, the young people who have been maimed. On the jungle paths there are many booby-traps of different kinds. One sees young people in the hospitals-aged 13, 14, 16 years or whatever-who may have had their two legs or one leg blown off, or an ankle blown off, and so on, who have been maimed for life. Despite that and the dreadful future they face, they appear to be at least cheerful. These people are looking for a continuing compassion from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as I have said, refugee fatigue is developing and it is now felt that these people should be held in camps and returned to Vietnam. There is no future for those people if they are returned to Vietnam. Theirs is a very tough future. Even now, many people still just disappear from the re-education camps. It is most unfortunate that we of the free world persist in saying that they must return to Vietnam.

Only a short while ago I said that the refugee fatigue must be relieved. I said that recent reports concerning the possible closure of Indo-Chinese refugee camps in Thailand should stir Australia to increase its assistance to refugees. Over recent months, the future for refugees from the oppressive Vietnamese regime has begun to look even more bleak as the so-called refugee fatigue syndrome has taken hold. Refugee fatigue, which refers to the stress which has been placed on countries such as Thailand as a result of the influx of thousands of refugees, must be alleviated. It is very much the responsibility of the nations of the free world which have the means to provide support to see that this occurs.

As I have said, a disturbing trend has seen Indo-Chinese refugees regarded as economic and social refugees. While it is true that they have fled economic and social persecution in their homeland, the fact remains that they are primarily political refugees who cannot realistically be expected to return to Vietnam. Australia should, therefore, continue to increase its refugee immigration programs and provide support for the Thai holding camps which house many thousands of homeless Indo-Chinese. One could go on at length. Today, as Senator Margaret Reid has said, is the twelfth anniversary of the communist takeover of Vietnam. This is the national day of shame which many hundreds of Vietnamese and their friends have come to Canberra to impress upon us.

I commend people such as Father Brennan who has been to see for himself the agony in which those people live in the refugee camps, where some of them have been for many years. There is absolutely no future for them. I commend other people as well, such as Father Jefferies Foale, who is the President of the Indo-China Refugee Association. He is giving his life to endeavour to bring about a better life for those refugees.

I wish to refer to another angle to the problems of Vietnam. Only in the last week we had Anzac Day. It is very good to see that at last Australia intends to have a welcome home for Vietnam veterans. It was pleasing to see that the Vietnam veterans led this year's Anzac Day parades in the cities and towns of Australia. They have had to wait for far too long for public recognition of their contribution to the nation. Even though it is very late, it is tremendous that later in the year in Sydney there will be a welcome home for the Vietnam veterans.

The men who served in Vietnam had to fight two battles. They had to fight in the military conflict in Vietnam itself and, when they returned home, they faced another battle-this time against the indifference and, in some case, hostility in some elements of the community towards the Vietnam conflict. Our young Australian men were blamed for it. Their contributions and those of their comrades who had been injured or who had died for their country were largely ignored, as were their needs in trying to resume their civilian lives. The psychological damage to many veterans was just as debilitating as any physical injury, yet it is only in recent years that counselling has been made widely available and some sympathy has been given to them.

It is tremendous that, in spite of the difficulties that some Vietnam veterans have faced, they have been able to take their place as valuable members of the Australian community. Public recognition is certainly their due, if it is not too late. Vietnam and other countries of Indo-China-Laos and Kampuchea-are very sad countries. I believe that it would do all of us well-in Australia we live in considerable comfort-to remember our neighbours, not so far from us, living in extreme conditions.