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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 35

Senator NETTLE (2:56 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. Can the minister explain to the Senate what the government’s policy is with regard to the deportation of Christian Iranians to Iran? I am sure the minister is aware that in Iran conversion to Christianity is a crime that is punishable by death.

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for the question. The policy with respect to the deportation of anybody from Australia is that it is done on a case-by-case basis, looking at the circumstances of each case and looking at the circumstances not necessarily of the country as a whole but further than that at the particular area the person might be being returned to. It is not my advice that it is unsafe for one to be a Christian in Iran, but conversion raises another issue. I have had discussions with the Uniting Church in Australia in relation to their preparedness to certify as to whether people have genuinely converted or not. I am sure you would be aware of the risk of people who understandably want to stay in Australia choosing to take that path in a less than genuine sense. But of course there are people who do take it in a genuine sense. So the short answer is: very carefully on a case-by-case basis.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question because, when I asked a similar question in December of last year, the minister gave an answer that related to an individual case in which the RRT had made a decision that the conversion was not genuine. I wondered if the minister could explain the criteria for whether somebody has made a genuine conversion to Christianity. I note that you mentioned the Uniting Church. Could you explain what the criteria is for determining genuine conversions to Christianity?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I will come back if my memory mistakes me, but I think the case you refer to is the one that I was thinking of the other day when I said I have had situations from you before where you have made allegations in this chamber that have turned out not be correct. I think the one you are referring to is the one where you alleged that the person was given no opportunity to take anything out of their bags that might have indicated an interest in Christianity, which allegation was false. I think that is the case to which you are referring. There is not, as I understand, a set guide for deciding these things. They are undertaken by the Refugee Review Tribunal obviously on the basis of what they are told and what responses people can give to answers. I do not think that it is easy to codify that, certainly not to give you an answer in this short period of time. As I said, once they have been through the RRT they can nonetheless come to me. (Time expired)