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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2355


Senator SHORT (7.47 p.m.) —I wish briefly to bring to the attention of the Senate—and I told the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Senator Bolkus) that I intended to raise this matter tonight—the situation confronting one of the boat people from Cambodia. Mr Mani Taing arrived here four and a half years ago and is the sole remaining member of the first group of asylum seekers to arrive by boat from Cambodia not to have been released. Mr Taing has not accepted the government's offer under its SAP plan of late last year to return to Cambodia with the prospect of coming back to Australia after an appropriate period because he has an extreme fear of returning to Cambodia.

  In recent times Mr Taing's mental health has deteriorated considerably. I am advised that a physician in Port Hedland, where Mr Taing was being detained, has declared him unfit to be in detention. Because of Mr Taing's recent disturbed behaviour as a result of this deterioration in his mental health, the manager of the Port Hedland detention centre has transferred Mr Taing down to the detention centre at Perth domestic airport for what has been described to me as a cooling off period. The result is that he is now even more confined and isolated than ever. That will be apparent to anyone who has been to the Port Hedland and Perth airport detention centres.

  Mr Taing is without medical or social support of any kind other than visits from one or two concerned individuals in the community. There are no other Cambodians at the Perth detention centre now. He is in an extremely depressed state and there are grave concerns about the state of his health, particularly his mental health. I understand that the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs is very well aware of this case.

  I am advised by members of the Cambodian support group in Western Australia—I cannot verify this—that they believe that the department is, in principle, in favour of releasing Mr Taing and allowing him to stay in Australia. According to the group's message to me today, the department has apparently been unable to find a mechanism to allow Mr Taing's release without contravening the department's own regulations. My understanding of the rules of the game is that that latter point is not correct and that there is discretion on the minister's part to make the necessary release, if that were deemed to be appropriate.

  Whilst I have been a very strong supporter of the principle of detention for unauthorised arrivals in Australia, I believe that that has to be tempered with compassion and a humanitarian approach, whenever that is deemed appropriate, without at the same time breaching the integrity of our migration system. It seems to me, on the basis of the evidence available to me, that this is a case where compassion and humanitarianism dictate that Mr Taing ought to be released.

  I raise the matter in the hope that the minister will have a look at this case and will share my view. I can see no possible way in which it could be argued that releasing this man would in any way jeopardise the integrity of our migration program. Therefore, I bring it to the attention of the Senate in the hope that commonsense, compassion and the straight humanitarian nature on which we as a nation ought to, and so rightly do, pride ourselves hold sway in this particular case.