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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7454


Senator BROWN (4:15 PM) —I support the previous two speakers and note that it is not without precedent, nor is it common, for us to receive such messages from state or territory administrations or governments. It should be given special credence and supported. I have given notice in writing to convert that motion into one that the Senate can support and I foreshadow that I will be asking Senator Crossin and Senator Bartlett to add their names to that motion when it comes before the Senate on Wednesday.

Senator Bartlett has just referred to the special exemption given in the case of the Tiananmen Square students from China, and there have been other cases. But it is quite extraordinary that the suffering of the East Timorese has been ignored by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and the Prime Minister in the case of those who came to Australia and who have never been given a home here in the sense of security, in the sense of knowing that they could get jobs in the long term or that their kids could go to school here, and in the sense of recognising that Australia was, in effect, their home. Ordinary immigration processes should have allowed them to be granted citizenship long ago. But they have been denied that and they have been held in limbo. Now the minister is saying that they have to pack their bags and go back to East Timor. Just last week we saw the eruption of troubles in East Timor—the death of two people and widespread looting and destruction. As an Australian, I feel partly responsible for that. There is no doubt that underlying the troubles that East Timor has at the moment is insufficient support coming from the Australian government, private enterprise and insufficient backup from the rest of the world. It has fallen far short of what it should be.

Instead, we are seeing the Australian government, in conjunction with a number of big oil and gas companies, trying to defraud the East Timorese people of their greatest potential source of revenue—that is, the Timor Gap oilfields—under the so-called Timor Gap Treaty. This is a total travesty by a big, rich neighbour like Australia on a poor country like East Timor that needs so much to get revenue and income for its future. Talk about good neighbour policy! It is anything but that. If there is one thing that East Timor needs it is foreign investment. One de facto way of getting that investment is from the thousands of East Timorese who are gainfully employed in Australia and who are repatriating money—and that is what they do.

Just last week in parliament, we had a delegation of such folk here under the auspices of the Catholic sisters. In speaking to those East Timorese, they said they want to finish their school here and they want to develop their skills here. We know that if they go home that will stop. What use is that to the future of their country? What use is it if the income earners here who are sending dollars home to their folks in East Timor are suddenly going to be sent home where they will have no income at all? They will become extra mouths to feed and they will have people to support in a country whose economy is in great trouble. What an alien attitude it is for the minister, the Prime Minister and this government to be taking to these poor neighbours of ours who have suffered so much. They have been bypassed or left on the wayside for a quarter of a century. Finally, after gaining their initial freedom, they have a different wayside to deal with— that is, the direct statement, implicit in the processes that Minister Ruddock is going through, that they are foreigners, they are not wanted here and they should get out.

Where is the heart of this great country of ours? It is missing from the pronouncements of the minister for immigration to these East Timorese friends of ours—these lovely people who are in our cities, particularly in Melbourne but in all other cities around the country, including this great community in Darwin. The Territory administration is right: they deserve our support. I ask all members to think about that in converting this motion, which went through the assembly, into one that we can support in the coming days.

Question agreed to.