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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 12434

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (19:32): I thank the member for Chifley for his motion and it gives me an opportunity to respond, and respond I will in terms of some of the issues that he has raised. For example, the premise of his motion is factually incorrect in that people are automatically returned, and I will deal with this later on. The issue arising from his motion that I want to deal with straight away is where he says it is terrible where Sri Lankans are returned to a country that is not a member of the convention. We are saying that Malaysia is not a destination because they are not a member of the convention as well. I will point out to the member opposite the difference is that those coming through Malaysia are not Malaysians; they are Afghans, they are from Iraq and a range of countries. But those coming from Sri Lanka are Sri Lankans, whether they be Tamils or Sinhalese or Muslims. There is a great misunderstanding in this place and I know a little bit about this because I arrived back from Sri Lanka just one month ago, having spent a fair bit of time there. I visited not only those in Colombo as also I went to the north into the war regions and visited people there. I sponsor Tamil families in the north because I am interested in seeing that they get a fair go post civil war.

The member fails to understand that the number of people that are coming here by boat are not just Tamils. Many of them, being a large proportion—and I put the figures to the House the other day—are Sinhalese and a large proportion are Muslims.

Now, before we go any further I must point out, so that there is no misunderstanding, that the coalition has called on the government to intercept illegal boats from Sri Lanka bound for Australia before they enter our territorial waters and come to an arrangement with the Sri Lankan government to send these people back. The government has completely rejected this, and almost 3,000 Sri Lankans have arrived by boat so far this year.

The Sri Lankan government has made significant steps to turn boats around. And, to that end—I would love to be able to table this, but I imagine it would be rejected—here is set of boats that I visited; 27 boats in Trincomalee Harbour, which had been turned around by the Sri Lankan Navy. Here is a boat, down the bottom of the picture, which is listing badly. The Sri Lankan Navy told me that that boat, under any sea conditions, would have sunk within two days because it was so unseaworthy. What is humanitarian about letting people do that massive journey to Australia by boat with a fear of losing their lives?

I will come to the other people I met shortly. But can I say that our policy is quite clear: where boats can be turned back they will be—and the Sri Lankan Navy is turning boats back and actively being encouraged to get to Australia by people-smugglers—because not only are they likely to lose their lives but, in most cases, they will not get a visa.

I will outline just how genuine, or not genuine, many of the people are who are coming to Australia from Sri Lanka. There is no longer the 'push'    factor from Sri Lanka—the civil war is over—it is the 'pull' factor, the sugar coated arrangement that Australia has provided to those coming here. I will give you an example. A document that I have obtained from the Sri Lankan High Commission to the Australian government points out that they have three people here on class XA resident subclass 866 and XB resident subclass 200 visas—or protection visas—who have contacted the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra to obtain travel documents to Sri Lanka. These people are Mr L Ibralebbe, passport No. N1608739; Mrs S Sivaharan, passport No. 885920; and Mrs R Somasundaram, passport No. N0174857. These people came and got humanitarian visas from Australia and, within months of getting these visas, sought travel documents to return to Sri Lanka. What sort of danger are you under if you claim to have humanitarian issues in the country and claim that if you stay there you will be tortured and you couldn't live there any more; and as soon as you get a humanitarian visa in Australia, you seek to return to Sri Lanka for a family wedding or funeral? It is just not credible.

I have also been given documents on voluntary repatriation from Australia. As a sample, there were 57 people here that have been repatriated recently, in the last month—names, addresses and the full details. Not only that; some of them have been rung in the last day or so—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! Is the honourable member going to name further refugees or people—

Mr RANDALL: No, these are people who have returned to Sri Lanka. They have been contacted and this is the response. This gentleman spoke to his sister, who stated that 'he arrived at his home and was living without any problems for his safety.' These are real examples of people who have been either deported or voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka.

Another gentleman said he was a crew member, and therefore he did not get any payment like others, and he said he was living normally. Where is the persecution, the lock-ups and the beatings that are claimed? Another gentleman, Pakeewaran Sanmkan, was contacted and said that he was interrogated on arrival but was released, he is living at his home safely, he bought a motorcycle with the money he received and he is living happily. So much for being returned and being treated so badly.

Further, when I travelled to the north, I made it my point to go and visit the aid agencies like IOM and the UNHCR. From the aid agencies, I met with Mr K Vedharaniyam, the Coordinator North of the International Organisation for Migration, Kilinochchi office and Antoine Waldburger, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and I said to them that there were these allegations that people are being beaten and tortured when they returned to Sri Lanka. They said, 'What rot! We are given the job of resettling them on behalf of the Australian government. We do it because they've sold everything to get to Australia, and we resettle them because they have nothing.' They just said it was a fallacious argument, and this one of the top migration resettlement agencies. So I go down the road and I speak to UNHCR. I spoke to Yoko Matsumoto, the associate field officer, and Viktoriya Talishkhanova, from the UNHCR office in Kilinochchi, as well. They said the same thing to me—no issues with people returning; they just help resettle them.

When I was in Trincomalee—and after having been on the boats that I just showed you—I had been lucky enough the night before to meet some people that had been returned. Thirty-six people had been returned from a boat that had tried to get to Australia. This gentleman here is a Tamil gentleman who luckily enough spoke perfect English, so he interpreted for me, so nobody can say it was misinterpretation. Here, for the member for Chifley's case, is a Sinhalese fisherman with his wife and a five-week-old baby that they were trying to take on that boat and that could have perished at sea. When I asked the Sinhalese fisherman—not a Tamil fisherman—why he was trying to get to Australia, he said it was because they got paid more money. I went through the whole group of people that I have here—I was able to speak to all of them. Not one of them said that they were coming to Australia for any other reason than that could get more money. In other words, they are economic refugees. I asked each one of them whether they had any issues with being returned in terms of escaping or coming to Australia due to human rights. Not one of them said so, but they did say that should they get to Australia they might have to talk to some of their advisers about applying for visas, which is code for, 'We'll have to find an issue for claiming a human rights visa or refugee status.'

Just to demonstrate the hypocrisy of this, in the Australian recently we had the case of the first Tamil asylum seeker deported from Australia since the end of Sri Lanka's civil war, when Dayan Anthony was released. Mr Anthony had claimed that he had been kidnapped and tortured in 2009 and that he had been seized and thrown into the back of one of Sri Lanka's notorious white vans used in many cases of disappearance. He also claimed he had suffered back pain as a result of beatings sustained in Sri Lankan custody and had even given evidence at a hearing by the UN special rapporteur on torture last year. But yesterday, at home from the Sri Lankan people when he returned, he withdrew all his claims of torture and mistreatment, saying he had lied on the advice of a Malaysian Tamil people-smuggling agent in order to secure a refugee visa.

So that is what is going on. Genuine refugees, yes—for genuine humanitarian entrants. But those coming from Sri Lanka are economic refugees claiming to be humanitarian refugees. They are opportunists trying to get into Australia's soft welfare system.