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Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Page: 9190

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (16:09): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I table the explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill sets up a special protection scheme for Afghan employees of Coalition forces, particularly interpreters and translators, and their families to permanently resettle in Australia if their engagement with foreign forces puts them at risk of persecution.

The bill responds to the fact that Afghan interpreters and other employees regularly risk their lives to help Australian personnel who are part of the International Security Assistance Force (Coalition hereafter). The important work of Australian men and women in uniform, and the critical work of organisations subcontracted to Australian government and defence agencies, would be even more perilous if it were not for the dedicated Afghans who work alongside them every day.

These brave men and women face an increased risk of persecution at the hands of the Taliban simply because they have worked to help the international Coalition. As we prepare to draw our forces from Afghanistan, the least we can do is offer protection to those people who have given so much to help our rebuild and stabilize Afghanistan.

This new class of protection visa will provide a safe and accessible pathway for Afghan people who need protection and who currently have limited options to safely apply for protection from Afghanistan.

The bill recognises the special responsibility we owe to persons who work for our forces in Afghanistan, and the fact that family reunion pathways for refugees who are already in Australia are very limited due to great demand. I am aware of a number of cases in which Afghan employees or their families who are stranded in Afghanistan end up journeying by boat to Australia to seek protection, compelled by necessity and desperation to take a path fraught with danger. This bill offers those people, and their families, a safer and better option.

This bill sets up 600 places per annum which would be additional to the current humanitarian program. Eligible persons are those who have worked for at least one year in Afghanistan as interpreters or other specialists, and who were employed by Australian or Coalition troops, the Australian embassy, or organisations supporting the Australian government or Australian defence agencies. Applicants for this visa would also have to meet the protection criteria under the Refugee Convention 1951.

There is Australian precedent for this proposal such as the scheme set up by the Labor government in 2008, which provided 600 humanitarian places for Iraqi employees and their families. Under that scheme 557 Iraqis employees were safely resettled in Australia.

The United States and Canada already have similar systems in place to help bring Afghan interpreters to their countries. Over 800 Afghans settled in Canada thanks to a special program created by the Canadian government. In recent weeks the New Zealand defence minister announced a package of resettlement to New Zealand for Afghan translators of at least 30 interpreters and their families.

Immigration and Afghanistan experts are advising that the flow of refugees out of Afghanistan is likely to increase in years to come, and many will be those who have come to the dangerous attention of the Taliban on the basis of their connection with foreign forces. It is time for Australia to do its fair share.

Australia's actions in offering this special protection scheme will have an effect on the willingness of people to work with our forces in future conflicts. Not only is it the right thing to do but, if we reward the people who help us now, it will work in our favour in the future. If we draw down from Afghanistan and leave these vulnerable people exposed to being targeted by the Taliban, it will reflect very poorly on Australia and damage our reputation in the international community.

A positive relationship between Australia and Afghanistan is essential to maintaining a continued stabilisation in the region. Good will between our two countries only helps to strengthen the relationship between Afghan and Australian troops, which will become more and more important as greater autonomy is handed over to Afghan forces in the coming year.

I have taken action on this issue for many reasons, but I knew it was an imperative imitative when I met a young man in Melbourne. He was 15 when his father was murdered by the Taliban due to his father's work as an interpreter with the Coalition forces. The Taliban left a note on his father's body saying that the teenage son would be targeted next. The young man was bundled out of Afghanistan in a matter of days, forced to leave his mother and siblings behind, before coming to Australia by boat and spending months in immigration detention in Christmas Island.

He was found to be owed protection and he is now working hard at secondary school. He is top of his class in maths and IT and is planning to volunteer over the summer holidays to help other refugees who have come to Australia. He is putting himself through year 11 and year 12 without his family, who are still at great risk in Afghanistan and whose family reunion visas application has not progressed for two years.

This young person is a genuinely great Australian and will be an asset to this country when he fulfils is dream of becoming a civil engineer. He is an inspiring young man who is working very hard to improve his life, but he misses his family terribly. Many people would find it shocking to learn that there is no system in place to help the families of interpreters, who have given so much in support of our troops in Afghanistan.

This bill encapsulates the generosity, pragmatism and compassion of all Australians and their well-known appreciation of those who help our troops in Afghanistan.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.