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Thursday, 10 March 1977
Page: 92

Mr NEIL (St George) -We are dealing with a tragedy of very grave proportions. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) is to be congratulated for the very close attention he has given to this matter in the past year or so. Australia has taken into its care a large number of refugees or quasi-refugees- a number that more than favourably compares with the numbers that have gone to other countries. There are far more people in Cyprus than this country has connection with, and it is proper that persons coming from Cyprus to Lebanon or other places should come on a basis primarily of having some connection with Australia through their relatives. What has happened throughout the world is that the Canadians have in the main taken refugees who already had relatives living in Canada. The same applies to America, the same in Australia and I think the same in France but perhaps some different criteria are also applied there. It was necessary to ensure that applications by persons wishing to come to Australia are processed speedily and that a reasonable width of criteria is applied. I, as a member of Parliament, have never been under any misapprehension as to the guidelines which are laid down. They have always been quite clear. They were extended last year on 23 September to include brothers and sisters. There has never been any doubt on the matter.

The electorate of St George is one in which there have been pre-existing Lebanese who have come to Australia, who have been naturalised or have obtained permanent residence. My office has dealt with probably more than 300 applications on behalf of families and in the order of over 1000 persons have been brought to the area or are en route. There has been a very large influx of Lebanese into the St George area. I have had the maximum co-operation throughout from the Minister, from his Department and from various ministerial staff. I appreciate the problems that were mentioned by the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) but they can be overcome and in many cases in the electorate of St George they have been overcome. I want to pay a public tribute to my own staff members who have worked under probably a 40 per cent or 50 per cent increase m the work load owing to the Lebanese problem. I have been lucky to have a secretary and an assistant who have taken tremendous steps patiently to help process applications. Like most members of Parliament who have Lebanese in their electorates I must have seen hundreds of persons personally.

Mr Innes - Bully for you.

Mr NEIL - Many of them are distressed, as the honourable member for Melbourne ought to know. They are often under emotional strain which requires a considerable degree of care in handling them. In some cases persons are initially abusive but when they see what the Government is doing and what the Government can do for them they have in nearly all cases accepted that the maximum possible assistance is being given to them. This has been mirrored throughout Australia. The Minister has on many occasions seen individual applications that I have brought to him as no doubt other honourable members have also. He has spoken to relatives of these persons. He has received many applications from the Lebanese community or its various groups. He made a special ruling last year that the Lebanese community itself should get together and send special envoys to Lebanon to bring back relatives. A large number of persons were brought back from Lebanon by these envoys. All possible restrictions were waived to enable them to come into this country. The persons who have come into Australia have in many cases had difficultiies in settling in.

I have had no trouble at all with the Minister and the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) in obtaining assistance in getting school staffs increased. Indeed with the co-operation of the New South Wales State member for Rockdale on one occasion following difficulties at a school in Arncliffe additional teachers were provided. I then got a letter back from the State Labor member for Rockdale saying that he was pleased at the co-operation, that the matter was now in hand and there was no further problem. If difficulties are arising in the electorate of Lang I have no doubt that if the honourable member for Lang puts together an appropriate representation the matters will be properly dealt with. Both the State and federal governments can do and have done their best to see that people are properly settled in.

The honourable member for Lang fails to remember that in this House a short time ago I gave notice of a motion regarding the treatment of persons who come into this country. It is true that some delays have resulted in persons having to spend more money than they originally thought they would spend. The Government has instituted food aid programs to assist the Lebanese people. I know that the Minister will consider the widest possible aid to the Lebanese community. The honourable member for Lang also forgot to mention the community youth support scheme which in his own electorate operates with the assistance of the Commonwealth Employment Service. A special project is being established with funds from this Government to provide language training, pre-employment education and a knowledge of the legal systems, industrial relations and the like for Lebanese young people who have recently arrived in Australia. I have every hope that a similar scheme will be operating in the Arncliffe area in the very near future. So I really cannot understand how the honourable member for Lang can claim that there are not proper governmental assistance and competent programs to assist persons who come to Australia

The Minister is to be congratulated for the way in which he has looked at most of the complaints that have arisen. I look at the letter tabled in this House today by the honourable member for Melbourne who is the Opposition spokesman on immigration matters. Look at the points that are raised in that letter. Honourable members will see that these things are being carried out The Minister has pointed out that steps are being taken immediately to have the Embassy in Beirut opened as soon as possible. The applications by large numbers of Lebanese stranded in Nicosia are being dealt with and they are being dealt with as a matter of urgency. There is no basis for the complaint by the honourable member. I notice also that the honourable member did not give any prominence to item (c) in this letter. He gave no prominence to that item which refers to an extension of the categories. Yet he has the hide to criticise the Minister for extending the categories to include brothers and sisters. That was something that the Lebanese communities wanted. It was a reasonable thing to do. It was a sensible thing to do.

The honourable member for Melbourne comes into the House screaming, trying to make political capital and talking about expectations having been dashed. He is illogical. He simply does not know what he is talking about. He might like to know that on a number of occasions I have taken up with the Minister the question of what is to be done about one member of a family who has been knocked back on medical grounds. I know that the Minister will institute a sensible, proper and humanitarian approach to such a matter, consistent with the Government's policy throughout. Reference was made to intermediaries no longer being involved. I agree with that procedure. Mention was made of profiteering. All I can say is that most of the persons in the South Lebanese Association, which has its headquarters primarily in the St George area, are eminently respectable citizens. Apparently they have had some troubles with one or two of their number who, I understand, have now been disowned. Only recently through its activities the Association has brought to light difficulties in individual cases. When those matters have been taken up with the Minister he has done everything possible to see that the individual problems are resolved.

Now, I contrast what this Government has done with what we inherited from the former Government. It left us with no immigration policy properly referrable to refugees. The report of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the Australian refugee problem which was recently published- the Committee included members of the Austraiian Labor Party- said that the former Government deliberately delayed bringing Vietnamese refugees into Australia in order to minimise the number of refugees with which Australia would have to concern itself. This document is a drastic indictment of the former Government. When the Liberal and National Country Parties took over they had to put things into place. The Minister had to start again and draw up criteria for the refugee problems that arise. He has done a magnificent job in the past 12 months.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr MacKellar - Mr Deputy Speaker,I seek leave to make a comment in relation to a point raised by the honourable member for Lang.

Mr Innes - There is a further speaker. Perhaps we could hear him first.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Is leave granted?

Mr Innes - Leave is granted, yes.

Mr MacKELLAR(Warringah-Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs)- The honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) raised the case of the sister of a group of people who was alleged to have been told that she would not be allowed to come to Australia. In fact that case was approved yesterday.

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