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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11987


Mr CLARE (9:54 PM) —As a young boy at Cabramatta Public School I remember that every week there was a new classmate, a different voice, a different language and different stories about boats, choppy seas and war: boatpeople from Vietnam who fled their home in the hope of a better life. Many of these children are now doctors, lawyers or engineers, making a life that their parents dreamed of and making Australia a better place to live.

Blaxland is one of the most culturally diverse places in Australia. It is home to people from more than 130 different countries. More Vietnamese Australians live here than anywhere else in the country—more than 17,000, many in Cabramatta and Bankstown—infusing the community that I represent with a precious richness and diversity.

The Vietnamese community have made an enormous contribution to Australia. Tonight, I want to recognise this contribution and the work of the men and women who represent them and Vietnamese all around the world. They have helped to create a courageous and cohesive Australia and have returned the kindness shown to them. Earlier this year, the Vietnamese Students Association held a fundraiser for St Vincent de Paul, the organisation that helped many of their parents—providing them with money, clothes and their first meal in Australia; their first friendly face. These students, the children of boat people, were repaying a debt that did not need to be repaid.

The Vietnamese community is now helping other newly arrived Vietnamese Australians, providing practical help with immigration and Centrelink advice and counselling services to help problem gamblers. The Vietnamese community is also helping Vietnamese people in Vietnam, championing their human rights and the cause of democracy; bringing to the attention of the world the persecution of political activists, Buddhist monks and Catholic priests. They are speaking out for freedom in Vietnam and for the basic rights that we enjoy here in Australia, like the right to make this speech, the right to join a political party or the right to vote in free and fair elections.

It is a community committed to helping Vietnamese all around the world: in Australia, in Vietnam and in limbo—Vietnamese without a home, stateless Vietnamese refugees trapped in Cambodia and Thailand without citizenship or rights. There was no hope for change until 1997 when a group of concerned individuals formed VOICE. Through their determination, they have given a voice to the voiceless. They have been able to resettle 2,300 stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. Australia has already accepted 230 stateless Vietnamese. And they are still speaking for the voiceless.

In September, I organised for Phong Nguyen, Cong Le, Trang Nguyen, Reuben Saul Jahnke and Tri Vo—representatives of VOICE and the VCA—to meet with the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to discuss the plight of the 120 stateless Vietnamese in Thailand and Cambodia—the last of the stateless Vietnamese. The minister has asked the department to look into these cases, and I am grateful for that. VOICE will be holding a fundraising dinner this Thursday to raise funds to help the stateless Vietnamese in Cambodia. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend. But I take this opportunity to wish them well and pledge my continued support.

This is a proactive community concerned about Vietnamese people everywhere. Organisations like the VCA, VSA and VOICE are at the heart of it, lead by people like Dr Tien Nguyen, Tri Vo and Phong Nguyen. They are working hard to make things better, whether it is championing human rights in Vietnam, fighting for the rights of stateless Vietnamese to find a permanent home or giving back to the organisation that helped them when they first arrived. Their efforts are worthy of praise in this place.

The promise of Australia is not embodied in a statue in New York Harbour; it is embedded in the second verse of our national anthem:

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To advance Australia fair.

Vietnamese Australia gives proof to this verse and the organisations that represent them advance not just Australia but the rights of all Vietnamese all around the world.