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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 38

Senator PAYNE (2:50 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister provide the Senate with the details of the government's successful efforts in providing refugee protection to those in most desperate need of resettlement, particularly from the Sudan? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank Senator Payne for the question and for her long-standing interest in this area. The government, as you know, Mr President, is committed to a humanitarian resettlement program that does provide protection to those people who need it most. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognises Australia as one of the top three permanent resettlement countries in the world. Australia follows the United States and Canada in that respect. It is interesting that the top three immigration countries are also the top three in recognising an international obligation to look after those most in need. In 2004-05 our bipartisan humanitarian program will offer a new start in life to about 13,000 people who are now offshore. That includes places for 6,000 refugees, up from 4,000 in 2003-04 or, let me put it another way, a 50 per cent increase in the refugee intake through the front door. Most of those, about 70 per cent, will come from strife-torn regions in Africa.

So far this year just under 4,000 humanitarian visas have been granted, and that makes us on a pro rata basis about 99 per cent on target. It is a program with real and practical outcomes. It makes a difference. It gives hope to people who have never experienced the kind of life that everyone here just takes for granted. For example, 49 Ethiopian refugees will arrive in Australia over the next week. They will come from the Abu Rakman UNHCR refugee camp in southern Sudan. Their arrival will bring to just over 300 the number of refugees Australia has resettled from that particular camp through the UNHCR over the last six months. Tomorrow 24 refugees will arrive in Tasmania and 25 will arrive in Melbourne next Tuesday. Soon they will be calling Australia home. They range in age from infants to people in their 70s; there are small, medium and large families; there are single mums with small children; and there are many kids who have known nothing of a life outside of a refugee camp.

The government has developed a specific resettlement strategy to help these refugees adjust. They will get cultural orientation assistance; links to services such as Centrelink, Medicare and banking; accommodation support; help in establishing their household; and health and psychological services. They will also be immediately eligible for the same services as are available to other members of the Australian community, such as social security payments through Centrelink, health benefits through Medicare, and education and employment services. In conclusion, I point out that the whole-of-government cost of the humanitarian program is estimated at $500 million per year, something that all Australians can be very proud of. I pay tribute to the community groups who are not merely advocates but who actually do some work on the ground with the refugees Australia accepts every year through the front door.