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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 854

Senator McKIERNAN (7.29 p.m.) —I want to put on the record tonight the views and opinions of my constituents in Western Australia who do not often get the opportunity to have them recorded. The topic about which they are writing to me is asylum seekers in this country or, as they are more colloquially known, boat people. Very recently I undertook a sample survey of a group of constituents to test the water on the public views I have been expressing on this issue. I knew I had some support for those public views because of telephone calls and letters to my office. But we all know in this job we do that the active, informed people seek to make their opinions and views known to their political representatives, but those in the general population sometimes do not.

  I went out of my way to survey some 200 people in the electorates of Moore and Cowan, Western Australia, and I got some very interesting feedback. I make a particular point of putting their views on the record because, as I said in opening, these people do not get the opportunity all the time to put their views on the record. That is not to say the matter of the boat people in Australia does not get reported on from time to time. My Western Australian colleagues constantly see in the print media and on television, and hear on the airwaves and on television, a representative from the Indo-China Refugee Association, Mr Richard Egan, who consistently and constantly puts forward opinions contrary to the views I hold.

  I have done a little bit of investigation and come up with some interesting information. The Indo-China Refugee Association operates from a post office box in Perth. The telephone number on the letterhead, which I will seek to table in a few minutes, is 321 2822; the facsimile number is 321 1798. Very recently I got a copy of a letter from the National Civic Council, signed by the State Secretary of the National Civic Council, or NCC, Mr Richard Egan—telephone number 321 2822, facsimile number 321 1798. Indeed, after checking the Perth telephone book, we found on page 869 of the White Pages the National Civic Council listed—telephone number 321 2822, facsimile number 321 1798. I seek leave to table those three documents to which I have referred.

  Leave granted.

Senator McKIERNAN —The point I am concerned about is that I am aware of the work the Indo-China Refugee Association does, but I have never heard of it holding a public meeting. I am unaware of its membership. I would hope that Mr Egan and the NCC are not merely using the Indo-China Refugee Association as a front; I would certainly hope that.

  I also want to bring the Senate's attention to an article in today's West Australian newspaper on page 38, headed `Boat people ready for settlement: lawyer'. The article states:

A group of Cambodian boat people suing the Commonwealth for unlawful detention was prepared to negotiate a settlement and save the Federal Government a long and costly High Court action, lawyer Paul Mallam said yesterday.

Admirable; but, if he were really interested in saving money, he would withdraw the very expensive action.

  I quote now, in part, from a letter of today's date, from the Australian Government Solicitor, Dr J.G. Renwick, to Mr Mallam:

The second point you make is that you hold an open mind on a possible settlement of this matter and are disposed to exploring such a possibility. You referred to a comment by Mr Sullivan to the Committee—

that is the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs—

that `if there is a view from the other side that the matter should be settled, an offer should be put for consideration . . . '. Mr Sullivan went on to say `but there has not been an offer put.' The Minister notes that in your letter of 13 July 1994 this matter has been taken no further as you still have not put forward a formal offer. Were the Minister to receive such an offer, which he would welcome, he will give it careful consideration, of course, conscious of his obligations under the law and the provisions of section 54RA of the Migration Act 1958.

As you forwarded a copy of your letter to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I have done likewise.

It seems that two views are being put forward. I am being careful how I speak about this matter because I am aware that there is legislation on the Notice Paper covering this particular matter. When the issue of negotiating settlements comes up, I will be one within the caucus of the parliamentary Labor Party who will be opposing any such form of settlement. The Government Solicitor-General's letter states that the hands of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Senator Bolkus) are tied because compensation is limited to legislation and the laws which are currently on the statute books—that is, $1 per day. I will also be opposing any form of settlement discussed in the caucus immigration and ethnic affairs committee of which I am the deputy chairperson.

  I raised this matter so I could put some of the views of my constituents on the public record. The survey forms are held in my Perth electorate office and they are anonymous so I cannot trace where they came from. There were some interesting comments made. I encouraged people to make individual comments, some of which state:

Turn them around at sea when it becomes obvious they are headed for Australia

Their country should have to pay for the refuelling

Confiscate their boats and make their Government pay for their return and any other costs. Also if we prosecute them it would deter others

Refuse to let them enter Australian waters

Illegal boat people must be made to realise they must apply for entry to this country and not queue jump

Once they know they are refused admission they will stop trying

Let people know in their country that they are not welcome by this method of JUST ARRIVING

I believe we have allowed enough boat people into the country. I feel anyone from these countries can apply for refugee status, there is not enough investigating before they are allowed in the country. If a criminal offence is committed, they should be deported immediately.

If we did not let them in there would be no need to process unauthorised boat people, because they should not be allowed to stay

Our welfare system is already stretched to its limits. We should look after our own people first before any illegal immigrants. We pay our taxes for our benefits, not to feed, house and succumb to other non-resident demands

Refuse to let them land, refuel their boats and send them back. We spend too much of taxpayers money on being kind and humane. Would they do so to us at their expense

The Australian legal system is for Australians

Too often Australians are refused legal aid, I feel outsiders who are here illegally should not be entitled to what some Aussies are denied

There are six pages of comments. I do not have time to read them all into the record, but I will finish with two:

Thank you for the opportunity of expressing my views

I can tell by the way your questions are framed that you are not really interested in the broader picture, why don't you take real notice of the situation. I believe Bruce Ruxton's figures on boat people were more accurate, than the Government's

One of the very interesting results to come out of the survey was that 100 per cent of those surveyed said that they would be in support of legislation to stop people illegally in this country suing for damages for what is termed as `unlawful detention'. The onus is on all politicians to take heed of this and perhaps test the water a bit better.