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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2085

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave—I claim to have been misrepresented in question time by Senator Bolkus in his reply to a question from my colleague Senator Short. The misrepresentation was contained in the implication in his answer that I made representations to the immigration minister in 1989 on behalf of a person when, in effect, I should have known that certain aspects of his history may have made him an undesirable immigrant.

  Mr Deputy President, you will recall that this was a diversionary tactic by Senator Bolkus in seeking to avoid the question that had been asked of him. The question related to the circumstances under which the Australian government had given permanent residence to a Mr Miakhel who apparently was very senior in the Najibullah secret police. The question concerned the fact that the government had been advised of these matters as far back as 1989, yet in 1993 the government had given this person permanent residency. Very serious concerns ensue if allegations of such a serious nature are not pursued by the government.

  Instead of facing up to his responsibility as minister, and the department's responsibility to properly advise him, Senator Bolkus sought to divert the debate into a matter concerning a person who had not previously been named in this place. The minister has now tabled correspondence from me and my colleague Senator Alston from 1989 which made representations concerning a Mr Nida. As I recall it, members of Mr Nida's family in Melbourne were seeking his admission to this country. Mr Nida was in New Delhi and he was about to be returned to Afghanistan where, his family believed, he would suffer almost certain execution.

  I am not sure whether the minister was saying that we had not made sufficient investigations; that perhaps Mr Nida might be an undesirable and that we should have known better. The minister said that this was the mystery third party who was being referred to. I have no reason to know whether that is true or false. I did not see the relevant 7.30 Report. As was stated in the letter that was tabled by the minister, in 1989 I made representations to the then minister, Senator Ray, as follows:

I have received urgent representations from Mr Khaliq Fazal of Melbourne regarding his cousin, General Mohammad Nida a senior Afghanistan Army general who is presently being held in New Delhi following his defection from Afghanistan.

General Nida's temporary visa to stay in India expires this Friday.

That was within a couple of days. I raised the issue that I understood Mr Nida was in danger of severe punishment—perhaps execution—if he was deported to Afghanistan. I mentioned that he had close family in Australia. I said that I was surprised that he was denied entry to Australia on the purely technical ground that the majority of his family members were not here. I do not think the minister read that part out during his diversionary tactic in question time. That was the basis on which it was put to me that Mr Nida was being denied access to Australia. I urged the minister to exercise his powers, et cetera. I do not know any more about this particular person.

Senator Bolkus —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Hill claimed to have been misrepresented. In the first part of his contribution he put forward his version of the misrepresentation. For the last few minutes he has been trying to debate the matter. I do not believe that that is within the standing orders.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! In football parlance, as Senator Ray would say, perhaps we ought to make this a bit of a free-flowing game because I suspect that Senator Bolkus will be seeking to make some comments himself. I believe Senator Hill is seeking to address the statements which he believes impugn him.

Senator HILL —Mr Deputy President, I certainly seek to keep within the constraints of the standing orders. I was about to say that I do not recall a reply from Senator Ray to my correspondence, but I am not going to stand here and argue that I did not get a reply and, if the minister has one, he should table it. I suspect that it would have been in terms similar to the reply he gave to Senator Alston, which was dated 12 July 1989 and which Senator Bolkus has brought to my attention in the course of this debate. In that reply Senator Ray raised this issue of the technical grounds on which the visa was being denied. He said:

In Nida's case, the presence of his two daughters in Australia is insufficient to qualify him for entry as he still has children in Afghanistan, as well as his wife and three other children with him in India.

It seems as though the government had told Nida's relatives in Melbourne that he was being denied a visa to enter Australia on the grounds that he had insufficient children in Australia. On that basis, it was more than legitimate to raise with the minister—

Senator Bolkus —Read the whole paragraph; you are distorting it.

Senator HILL —No, I am not distorting anything.

Senator Bolkus —You are indeed!

Senator HILL —Senator Bolkus has tried to distort this whole debate and has failed to live up to his responsibilities. That is what this is all about. It was more than legitimate for me to raise with the minister whether that was a satisfactory basis on which to withhold a visa and therefore put this person's life in jeopardy. Further in his answer, the minister said—

Senator Bolkus —Read the first sentence of paragraph 3 on the first page, if you are game enough, and then apologise to Senator Ray!

Senator HILL —I will in a minute, or the minister will read it anyway. Senator Bolkus should calm down. What have I said to Senator Ray that was wrong?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I suggest that the debate be directed to the Chair.

Senator HILL —I was about to say that, paraphrasing the minister, the matter would be reassessed if the UNHCR in New Delhi found that Nida had a justifiable claim for refugee status. I therefore put it to you, Mr Deputy President, that what I did was reasonable in the circumstances of the information that I was given. In effect, that is confirmed by the explanation given by Senator Ray to Senator Alston, and we interpret that as the reason given to Nida's relatives for not giving him access to Australia. However, we do not know what followed, other than that this person was ultimately given a visa to enter Australia.

  As I understand it, the minister is saying that this person is the third person referred to in the 7.30 Report which said that back in 1989 the government—I am not asserting that Senator Ray knew of this, but officials of this government in Delhi—had information from which it could well conclude that this person was not a fit and proper person to enter Australia.

Senator Short —And recommended accordingly.

Senator HILL —That is so. It might well be the case that for reasons of internal security the government wanted to give Nida's relatives in Melbourne a different explanation. It might well have been reasonable for the government to have so acted. That would explain how Senator Alston and I were sucked into the process but it still does not explain why this person would be given access to Australia if the government had information that he was not a fit and proper person.

  If this is the third person mentioned on the 7.30 Report, the claims being made about him would suggest that it is insufficient for the

government to say that the UNHCR decided that he was eligible for refugee status. The UNHCR would not have had the information that the Australian government had.

  Presuming that Nida is the third person, on the information before the Senate there are very serious questions requiring answers from the minister about why the government apparently disregarded the advice of its own officials in relation to the character assessment of General Nida. The matter presents the government with two issues: firstly, why in relation to Miakhel, it failed to respond to information brought to its attention that he was not a fit and proper person, to put it in the mildest terms; secondly, why it failed to respond to information before it in relation to General Nida that suggested he was not a fit and proper person.

  Perhaps when we get the politics out of the way—the games that the minister tried to introduce in question time today—we will start getting down to the basics of how the Australian government has failed the Australian people in relation to this matter; and the processes it will be putting in place to ensure that it does not occur again.