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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 78

Senator NETTLE (2:51 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Vanstone. The minister will recall that last year UNHCR requested that all Iraqi asylum seekers not found to be refugees should be granted temporary protection visas and be accepted into the community, pending an improvement in the security situation in Iraq. Given the current and deteriorating security situation in Iraq, does the minister still stand by her statement of 2 December this year regarding the 14 Iraqi asylum seekers currently detained on Nauru, whose claims have been rejected by her department, when she said:

Those people who have been confirmed as nonrefugees should accept the outcome and return to their home country as quickly as possible.

Will the minister act on the request from UNHCR and grant these people their visas?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator, the specific request from the UNHCR with respect to the Iraqis being reassessed does not come to mind. I think we may have instigated reassessing the Iraqis simply because we agreed, at the request of the UNHCR, to reassess the Afghanis. It may have put in a request; it may have been a simultaneous arrival at a very good idea. We redid the Iraqi caseload. The facts are that, having redone the caseload in the current conditions, some people have still been assessed not to be refugees.

Senator, as you probably know—but as I very rarely hear you mention—Australia is the third largest taker in the world of people in desperate need of resettlement, following the United States and Canada. A system that decides who are refugees and who are in need must, of course, decide who are not refugees, and the consequence for them is that they go home. So the short answer to your question—if you are asking me whether I still think they should go home—is yes.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that a number of these asylum seekers have attempted to sign `voluntary return forms' requesting their return to Iraq but have been told by the International Organisation for Migration that runs the detention centre in Nauru that they cannot return to Iraq because `the borders are closed'? Does this not make a mockery of the minister's claim—which she has made again today—that they should `go back to where they came from'? Will the minister now apologise for this misleading statement and will she give these asylum seekers a visa and wish them a merry Christmas?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —Senator, perhaps, given my portfolio, I should wish them `compliments of the season' rather than `merry Christmas' because—as you will be aware—Islamic people do not celebrate Christmas; neither do the Jewish community. So `compliments of the season' is usually a better sort of remark. You might like to pick up that little hint. I wish everybody here compliments of the season. I look across the chamber to this ocean of faces and I wish them a very happy and long holiday. They will need it because they are coming back to three more years of our government and three more years of opposition for them.