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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2088

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (3.52 p.m.) —The assertions that have been made by opposition senators about what I have said are wrong, and they should check the record when it is printed. I have never said that `you should have known' or that `you acted deceitfully' or `you acted deceptively'. I have not thrown this in as a diversionary tactic. What I have said all along in this matter—I said it when answering the first question asked in this place—is that we do have problems with identification and checking in these sorts of circumstances. I was making the point that it is difficult for us in government to ensure comprehensive and totally accurate assessments, just as it is obviously difficult for those opposite to do so. I have not accused those opposite of running a deceitful line to ensure some person got in here wrongly.

  There are problems in terms of identity, allegations and presuming guilt. What the government is not doing in respect of Mr Nida is presuming guilt. Allegations were made on the 7.30 Report. Those allegations were the basis of questions here and in the estimates committee of the supposed third man. Despite the 7.30 Report's informant, both the UNHCR and the opposition thought this person was worthy of support. At the end of the day, the migration officer who was involved in this matter also thought this person was worth supporting to come to Australia. It was on that basis that that person was finally allowed entry here. But the point is that, if one is to make a rush to judgment on the basis of the 7.30 Report or media allegations, one can get oneself into trouble. That is precisely the point I was trying to make in respect of this matter. We are awaiting security advice and we are not going to presume guilt. We will ensure that the allegations are pursued comprehensively.

  In respect of the specific question about Mr Miakhel, I said at the outset of my answer that there had been six contacts with my office between the date of the letter of May 1993 to somewhere in the middle of June 1994 with respect to us asking the department or referring to the department matters for inquiry. They were not done adequately enough; that has already been established. But the record will show that the contacts between my office and different members of my office staff have been made.

  The person we are talking about in terms of the third man is someone—and this record needs to be clarified as well—about whom Senator Alston made strong representations, someone about whom the president of the association also made strong representations and someone who was initially rejected. He was rejected—and this is the sentence in the letter that Senator Hill would not read out when he made his short contribution—by Senator Ray in July 1989 on the following basis:

These applications have all been refused by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (in respect of the asylum request), and by myself in respect of the other applications on the basis that he has not established that he has a well-founded fear of persecution or discrimination were he to return to Afghanistan.

So it was not on a technicality but on the basis at that stage that Foreign Affairs and the relevant officers made an assessment that he did not have a well-founded fear of persecution.

  Senator Ray went on to talk about the possibility of migration through other parts of our migration program and rejected any capacity for this person to come in under the family reunion aspect. But the basic point was that the rejection was made on that fear of persecution basis. Then, as Senator Hill rightly pointed out, the minister said that, if the UNHCR made an assessment or a recommendation as to the person's status as a refugee, we would take that into account. The record shows that the person was rejected in 1989. More representations were made on his behalf. I presume they would have come from a number of people, including the opposition. He was accorded refugee status by the UNHCR in New Delhi in September 1989. Then the principal migration officer overseas—I presume, in New Delhi—referred the matter to the central office with a recommendation for approval. There was no interference by the minister. It was a recommendation for approval by the migration officer at the post. He did so primarily on the basis of UNHCR recognition of refugee status. As a consequence, this person was accepted under the special humanitarian program on 27 October 1989. The point I make is that—

Senator Short —Who is that you are talking about?

Senator BOLKUS —This is Nida, the alleged third man—the person whom we are quite certain is the third man.

Senator Short —Not Miakhel?

Senator BOLKUS —No, but the point is relevant to all. If we look at the Hansard, the questions raised by those opposite here and in the estimates committee go to three high ranking members of the former Najibullah regime in Afghanistan. The point I made in question time today and the point I make now is that one should not rush to judgment; one should not go on the basis of the 7.30 Report. The point I made at question time today is just as relevant now: on the one hand, as the record and press statement show, those opposite, as an opposition, cannot call for this person's urgent approval as they did in 1989 and condemn the minister for not approving within 48 hours and, on the other hand, come into the parliament five years later and condemn us for now allowing in one of three high ranking members of the former Najibullah regime. Also, they cannot present him previously as an acceptable character and now condemn him.

Senator Short —We are not talking about that.

Senator BOLKUS —Those opposite are not talking about that today but they did spend most of last week talking about these three high ranking members. The fact is that in respect of them and in respect of Miakhel there were problems of identity. Those problems were established in the estimates committee last week. Miakhel used a different Christian name and changed his surname. He changed his name and we did have those particular problems.

  In conclusion, let me say that I am not finding Mr Nida guilty. I will not find him guilty of anything on the basis of 7.30 Report assessments, nor will I condemn the opposition for not supporting his case on the basis that the 7.30 Report has now deemed him to be a high ranking member of the former Najibullah regime. All I am saying is that in this matter, as with Miakhel, there needs to be exhaustive inquiry. That inquiry was not comprehensive enough in the Miakhel case. That has already been established. But in this particular case, we have had an example of one of those three members which indicates that in this area there are difficulties—difficulties for the opposition and difficulties for the government. The standards those opposite set for themselves allow for others.