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Minister discusses East Timorese refugees.

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Transcripts East Timorese Refugees

ABC Top End, 5 December 2002

Interviewer: Julia Christensen

Compere: Philip Ruddock is the Immigration Minister. His Department of course is responsible for telling these people - and many like them around Australia - that they do have to go back to East Timor. Philip Ruddock good afternoon.

Philip Ruddock: Afternoon.

Compere: Has this week's violence in Dili changed your mind about deporting these people?

Philip Ruddock: Well first of all I'd like to deal with the nature of the reporting in relation to these people's circumstances. I mean the way in which it's reported and the way in which you've dealt with the information that's just been put before your listeners and viewers now is that, is that these people are the subject of an immediate direction to return home.

Compere: They were given 28 days …

Philip Ruddock: No.

Compere: … to appeal the decision.

Philip Ruddock: Well that's right, and that's not what you've just told your listeners. I mean the fact is that people lodge an application for protection. Those applications are being considered now. They've been found not to be refugees, and they are told that they are not refugees. They can …

Compere: But they're not illegal immigrants are they? They were welcomed here when they first came on Indonesian passports.

Philip Ruddock: Look, I hope your listeners appreciate that you're taking a very strong advocacy position. That's not the issue. The issue is they have received advice that they are not refugees, and they are given the opportunity to appeal that decision, if they do, or the alternative, to make arrangements to leave.

Now if they believe that there are other factors that need to be considered, they know that after any further appeal which is dealt with - assuming that it's unsuccessful - they have an opportunity to put those matters on a case by case matter basis to me.

Now I am not going to make decisions in relation to a whole cohort of people - some of whom may be able to return home, and others for whom there may be reasonable arguments - in-globo [phonetic].

I will make decisions at an appropriate time on the basis of the information that is put properly, and in the same way that any other person who has come to Australia without lawful authority or come as a visitor and deceived us in relation to their intentions.

Compere: Are you saying that that's what these people have done?

Philip Ruddock: Oh I'm saying that these people came on the basis that they were genuine visitors to Australia with the intention of making asylum claims when they arrived here.

Compere: Which they did, and then the Federal Government said well no they were more properly citizens of Portugal which is why it took such a long time.

Philip Ruddock: The Australian Government - and a former government - took that decision, and in terms of law, it is right.

I mean if you are dealing with a proper refugee determination system, if people have a protection entitlement elsewhere, they should avail themselves of it. And so if people who were born in Timor when it was a Portuguese colony, were entitled to go to Portugal where they would be safe, that is their obligation rather than taking a valuable refugee place.

Compere: Philip Ruddock would you want your family to live in Dili right now?

Philip Ruddock: Well again, the issue in relation to East Timor is that you have hundreds of thousands - possibly a million or more - people who are living in that circumstance, which is a difficult circumstance. But not everybody has had the money to be able to get on a plane and come to Australia and remain in Australia over a long period of time and having the advantages that those people have had. Not everybody has had that, and the only …

Compere: But let's look at the current situation. We're seeing terrible scenes in Dili. We're seeing the UN evacuating UN families and Australian ex-pats. Would you want your family to live in Dili now?

Philip Ruddock: Well that's not the question.

Compere: Well it's the question I'm putting to you.

Philip Ruddock: You're not going to get an answer to that question. You'll get an answer to this question - do the Australian

Government - in relation to circumstances that are properly put to us on a case by cases basis - allow people who might otherwise return at a time which is, where there is an immediate danger, have the opportunity to delay their departure? Of course they do, if those matters are properly put to us.

But those matters are not being put to me. They're being put on the media, and I'm simply saying I don't know whether there is anybody whose time has run out. Whether there is anybody who is required to go at this time. Whether or not they haven't lodged appeals.

And the fact is you don't know whether there is anybody who may have been electing to go back tomorrow or next week or in the next fortnight, who would be wanting now to postpone that because of these particular circumstances.

Compere: But there is an immediate danger there which shows just the potential for danger in East Timor, doesn't there? Doesn't it sort of strengthen the case of these people that that is not a place they should be going back to?

Philip Ruddock: Are you a broadcaster inquiring into these matters or an advocate? Let me just say that the situation is quite clear. If people are at the point where they might otherwise be required to return home and wish to delay their departure, they can put those claims properly at our office where they will be considered. They're not being put to our office - they're being put through you.

And I am informing you, and through you, those who may wish to consider these matters - that if they are intending to go back and have not lodged appeals and want to have an extension of their temporary stay until they see that situation has clarified itself, they should approach our office properly and put their application before

us so it can be considered on its merits.

Compere: So what's happened in the last couple of days is not going to change anything?

Philip Ruddock: Well no, and that's not what I've said is it? What I've said is, if there are people who are ready to leave and would have been ready to leave, who have not lodged appeals which would entitle them to remain here, and were contemplating going home and they need extra time to enable the situation to be clarified, they can do just that. And they can approach us properly in the appropriate way and an informed way, and know that those matters will be properly considered on their merits.

But we won't be changing our policy in relation to a group of people who have been well advantaged over a long period of time in being

able to remain here, when their fellow countrymen and women were subjected to far greater difficulties than this group of people have ever experienced.

Compere: So how much extra time are you prepared to give them?

Philip Ruddock: Well they'll be considered on a case by case basis. I don't know whether there is anybody who has not lodged an appeal. Can you tell me?

Compere: Well we're about to find out. Philip Ruddock thanks for your time.

Philip Ruddock: Thank you.

Compere: Philip Ruddock the Immigration Minister.