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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15741

Mr GEORGIOU (2:14 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Would the minister advise the House about those East Timorese who have not met protection visa requirements?

The SPEAKER —If the member for Rankin wishes, I will require him to leave the House. Is he aware that, if I were to name him, the consequences would be quite—

Mr Rudd —Catastrophic.

The SPEAKER —catastrophic from his point of view. I ask him to exercise precisely the same restraint as every other member is expected to exercise.

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Kooyong for his question and I acknowledge, because he has raised these issues with me before, his interest in the circumstances of East Timorese rejected asylum seekers. I also acknowledge that there have been a number of members who have also expressed interest in this particular matter. Some of them have seen me and others have spoken on these matters, some in the short statements made by members and others for, I think, Sunday television. The point that was being made—

Mr RUDDOCK —The member for Prospect and the member for Sydney, I acknowledge. Bearing in mind that some people have endeavoured to draw implications about the processing of East Timorese and other matters, I felt it appropriate to indicate to the House that I have been considering for some time the circumstances of those who have made applications under section 417. While I ordinarily would not put into the public arena the nature of the outcome of that processing, I think in this case I should.

The first point I would make is that the government determined some time ago that it was not an appropriate course to follow that a special class of visa be introduced for all East Timorese. The reason for that was that the circumstances may vary from case to case. The government took the view that I should continue to process these matters individually and to take into account the circumstances that were raised.

My department has been handing down primary decisions on protection visa applications for the East Timorese since 25 September last year. As at 27 May, some 1,617 applications had been refused; another 203 applicants had been granted another type of visa, had departed from Australia or had withdrawn from the process; and 80 East Timorese were still awaiting a primary decision. All applications are being assessed in accordance with the standard protection visa criteria, and the East Timorese have had an opportunity to provide further information in the light of current country information. As at 27 May, 1,000 East Timorese have been before the Refugee Review Tribunal or are within the review application window. Some 590 have received decisions affirming the primary decision.

I do not know where all the representations I have had have come from in relation to these matters, but I have to say that, save for the interest of a small number of my colleagues from Victoria and the Northern Territory, the preponderance of representations have been by members of the opposition. I acknowledge that. I do not impugn your motives; I do not question them; I do not ask whether anybody has made any donations or whether—

Mr RUDDOCK —Yes, I know you do, because you are about impugning people's motives.

Mr Crean —No, we're about asking questions.

Mr RUDDOCK —You are about impugning motives.

The SPEAKER —The minister will be heard in silence, and the minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr RUDDOCK —To reaffirm what I have said, I have received representations, and predominantly from members of the other side of the House. To date I have received submissions involving well over 500 East Timorese. In relation to the representations that they have been receiving, members should have received letters from me with respect to some particular matters, but generally on behalf of some 379 people I have stated a preparedness, subject to character and health issues being resolved satisfactorily, to intervene.

Mr RUDDOCK —Some 379. I have at this stage determined not to intervene in relation to two. I have asked further questions in relation to another three and there are some 200 who are still being considered. I simply make the point that the sorts of factors that people have suggested that I took into account in other matters have been very much to the fore in my consideration of these matters—and well before any issues were raised in the House.