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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5608

Mr ZAPPIA (9:33 AM) —In recent times there has been considerable public debate on the question of asylum seekers arriving in Australia. The refugee debate has been grossly distorted by those who seek to make political mileage by causing division and fear within Australian communities. I take this brief opportunity to reflect on the considerable contribution to Australia made by the Vietnamese people, many of whom came to Australia as refugees and whom in their early years were also treated with hostility by some sectors of the community.

Many of the Vietnamese arrivals to Adelaide settled in the northern suburbs of Adelaide and subsequently established a significant Catholic church and community centre on land they purchased in my own home suburb of Pooraka. I was a local council representative at the time the church and community centre were being proposed and I recall how difficult the negotiations were because of the opposition by some sectors of the community. I vividly recall some 20 years ago attending a public meeting in the local community hall to discuss the Vietnamese community development proposal and listening to the fears, negativity and dire predictions of some of those attending who were in opposition to the development and to the influx of Vietnamese into the local area. At the subsequent emotionally charged council meeting, the Salisbury Council sensibly and rightly approved the development.

Today, some 20 years later and with the benefit of 35 years of resettlement, we do not have to speculate about what impact the Vietnamese arrivals would have. The facts and the experience speak for themselves. What is now abundantly clear is that the fears raised by many over three decades ago were unfounded. Those preaching doom and gloom were proven wrong, and the Vietnamese contribution to the wellbeing of the Australian community has been immense.

I have spoken previously about the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, who with his wife Lan also fled to Australia as refugees in the late 1970s. Hieu arrived here as a 23-year-old on a leaky boat carrying 42 other people. Whilst he is undoubtedly the most prominent, Hieu Van Le is not the only Vietnamese success story I could refer to for there are so many others.

Today members of the Vietnamese community can be found providing services in most professions, skills and service sectors of community life. In education Vietnamese children have excelled. Many of our graduates in medicine, pharmacy, law, science and computer sciences are from a Vietnamese background. In the building, food and agricultural sectors, the Vietnamese input has been absolutely vital. I cannot think of one aspect of Australian society where the Vietnamese community has not added value to Australian life. Just as significantly, however, the Vietnamese people have integrated into Australian life with little disruption, being very respectful of others and as law-abiding, good citizens of Australia.

Many of those same people would never have been allowed into Australia if we believed the rhetoric of those who seek to demonise refugees, and Australia would not have prospered from their work ethic and contribution to our nation. I live within a highly populated Vietnamese community. I frequently attend their events. I use their services. I count many of them as friends and I see for myself their contribution to the local region. (Time expired)