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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10371


Mr FORREST (9:34 PM) —I do not think it is appropriate for the House to adjourn until a senior minister of the government comes down to this chamber and explains on the public record, to my constituents and to a whole host of other Australians who have been in touch with me, the appalling decision made by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship with regard to the physician in Horsham Dr Bernhard Moeller. It is an appalling decision, and I have not met anybody yet in Australia or overseas—given all the phone calls I have received—who does not agree with that sentiment about how appalling it is. Dr Moeller came to Australia in March 2006 with his wife, Isabella, and his three children, Sarah, Felix and Lukas. Young Lukas is a delightful little fellow of 13, but the Department of Immigration and Citizenship have deemed that, because he has Down syndrome, this precludes Dr Moeller and his family taking up residency as citizens of our country. It just beggars belief that, whilst it is not lawful for any of us as Australians to discriminate on the basis of disability, apparently it is for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. It staggers me that as a result of the incredible amount of media coverage that this issue has attracted right around the world—some of which I have with me—it also affects the decisions of nurses, teachers, engineers and other people we desperately need, particularly in rural Australia.

With regard to Dr Moeller, we have good strategies out there in my part of the world. We so value these professional people that we gather around them and give them immense support. I said over the phone to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, that of all the communities in Australia to pick on Horsham is well supported with disability support services. They actually celebrate disability with a week-long festival called the Awakenings Festival. It is a celebration of disability and a performing arts festival. All of the performing artists are people with disability, many of them with Down syndrome.

So I am challenging the government to come down here to this chamber. Maybe Mr Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, could come down. Maybe the Minister for Health and Ageing could come down here herself and explain why there is not a whole-of-government approach to addressing the challenge that we have of attracting good physicians, good medical doctors like Dr Moeller. Perhaps Laurie Ferguson, the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, could come down here—or maybe the Attorney-General himself. Somebody needs to come down here and explain how the Department of Immigration and Citizenship are able to make an appalling decision such as this.

When the Moellers made the decision to come to Australia, supported by the Wimmera Health Care Group on a section 457 visa, they explained to me that they were leaving Germany because of the lack of support for young Lukas because of his debility. They are now alarmed to find that, because of this law that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship can hide behind, Australians are not the fair-minded, decent people that he thought they were. My deep fear is that a well regarded and highly qualified physician like Dr Moeller—who has made the decision to come to Australia and commit to Horsham because of the enormous support that he and his family received from the community—might decide to leave in order to find some future security for his profession and his family. It is not good enough for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to explain to me that he and his whole family have residency in accordance with his 457 visa until 2010. This professional person needs certainty about his professional future and certainty with regard to the raising of his children.

As I have said, young Lukas is a delightful little fella. He goes to Horsham West Primary School. Yes, he has a teacher’s aide and, yes, he needs resources. But I believe the Australian community think that is okay. Any person with a disability has a right, I think, to achieve their potential. Certainly across the Wimmera, there are many support services available, and that particular region of Australia has indicated it is willing to support. There are wonderful support services: the Wool Factory, Karkana, Cooinda, Woodbine and Murdoch House. I want someone from the government to come down and explain this terrible decision. (Time expired)