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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1583


Senator MISSEN(10.32) —Tonight I desire to raise two matters that concern the Australian Government. They relate to the Government's policy and its administration in respect of the protection of refugees in this country. Both matters have been outstanding for some considerable time. They indicate, in a different way, that I think the Government is acting in a way which is highly inconsiderate of the individuals concerned and in a way which does not comply with its obligations internationally or under its own laws. First I want to deal with the question of the five Irian Jayan refugees-the number has now risen to nine-who were held on Thursday Island. Honourable senators will recall that I spoke on this matter on 18 September 1985 and that I placed on the record certain correspondence which I had with the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Hon. Chris Hurford. There have been developments since that time which I think it is important to mention. However, first I want to say something about the determination that was made when these five young Christian men finally made it to Thursday Island. They were treated by the Government in a shocking way in the remarks made by Mr Hurford and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). On 17 July 1985 Mr Hurford announced that the Federal Cabinet had decided that day to refuse them permanent residence in Australia. He conveyed the decision by saying that the permanent head had said:

You will note that the statement does not purport to be a decision on refugee status. It does convey a decision by the Government not to grant permanent residence status to a certain class of people, which specifically includes your clients.

That letter was written to the solicitor representing these men and it was a clear and unmistakable breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. It made use of the fact that these men were from Iran Jaya. Because the Government was fearful of harming relations with Indonesia it was refusing them this right. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) announced the same decision; that is, that he would not give them permanent residence. Before their case was heard by the Committee on the Determination of Refugee Status, before evidence was obtained and decisions were made, it was announced that they would not succeed. I made this matter the subject of quesions on notice on 8 October this year. I requested the production of the Cabinet minutes. I understand the original description was a clear breach of our obligations under the international charter. It has since been changed. Those questions have not been answered in the Parliament and I do not suppose they ever will be. The Minister, Mr Hurford, wrote a letter which I had incorporated in Hansard in an earlier speech. Among other things he stated to me:

As you are aware, I announced on 17 July 1985 that the Government would not, as a matter of policy, grant permanent resident status to any of the five.

He also stated:

My statements do not in any way predetermine the outcome of the Committee's deliberations: in deciding who is a refugee and who is not, you may be assured that normal procedures will be followed.

That was utter nonsense because that was quite obviously the case. The Committee was determining its attitude in advance. Following that speech I received a reply from the Hon. Chris Hurford. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a letter which sets out his answer to my allegations.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND ETHNIC AFFAIRS

The Hon. Chris HURFORD M.P.

Parliament House, Canberra A.C.T. 2600

24 Oct 1985

Sen. The Hon. A. J. Missen,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Senator Missen

Your speech on refugee policy in the adjournment debate of 18 September needed to be informed by a distinction made by successive Australian Ministers for Immigration. That distinction is between protecting refugees and resettling them.

Australia's adherence to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol forbids our sending people genuinely in fear of persecution back to their country of origin.

The convention and protocol do not regulate where a refugee should settle permanently. That is another question.

For example, your colleague Mr Michael Mackellar, when Immigration Minister in 1977, said: ``The decision to accept refugees (for resettlement) must always remain with Australia . . . It may not be in the interests of some refugees to settle in Australia. Their interests may be better served by resettlement elsewhere. The Australian Government makes an annual contribution to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which is the main body associated with such resettlement.''

Just last July, and in reference to the case of the five Irian Jayans, the Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Mr Ian Macphee, said: ``There is certainly a very arguable case for refugee status. It seems to me whether they then are allowed to stay permanently in Australia is a separate question. They could be granted refugee status with temporary residence in Australia pending negotiations with another country, perhaps another South Pacific country, for them to go permanently to, and I think, myself, that is the preferable option for the Government to pursue.''

This distinction is made by a number of Governments that have earned international respect for protecting refugees. These frontline states (bordering countries from which refugee flee) seek international resettlement of their refugees, whom they give only temporary asylum. Austria is an example.

The policy you attacked is that of your own party in government and opposition, and is an internationally-accepted practice of governments with good records of assisting refugees.

I am curious about your suggestion that the Government is in breach of the convention and the Migration Act.

The convention is silent on the question of permanent settlement and the Migration Act does not require that governments grant residence to any person or class of persons.

You mention section 41 of the Act, which says a person in custody under the migration laws should have access to legal advice.

The Irian Jayans are not in custody. They are being cared for on Thursday Island at the expense of Australia's taxpayers; $20,000 so far in meals, accommodation and medical care.

No-one has stopped the five men getting legal counsel. You know they are so represented.

I should add that the case of the five Irian Jayans has attracted advocates uninterested in protecting refugees but preoccupied with the politics of establishing a camp of Melanesian irredentists in northern Australia.

I deplore the way these advocates have fought the five refugee applications in public. The confidences and privacy of these five men have been abused.

Yours sincerely

CHRIS HURFORD


Senator MISSEN —I thank the Senate. Mr Hurford denied in the letter that there had been a breach of the convention relating to the status of refugees. He also took refuge in statements made earlier by Opposition members which indicated that the refugees might be granted only temporary residence until they found another country in which to reside. This suggestion was made but it does not answer the questions which I raised in an earlier speech and the allegations which I have made of a clear breach of the Government's undertakings.

In particular, what has happened since is that no decision has been finally made. The men remain on Thursday Island. We know that the DORS Committee has made a decision because it stated that these men should be granted refugee status. However the matter has been sent back to the DORS Committee and it has been required to consider the matter again. In the Australian of 1 November this year Robin Osborne, who has taken a considerable interest in this matter, stated:

While Canberra seeks a third country in which to resettle the five-a near-impossible task-the Irian Jayans exist in limbo, unable to find proper work or get suitable skills because of their uncertain tenure. They are literally thanking God for the help of the local Catholic Church.

Since July they have been languishing and their status has not been determined. The latest is that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has decided to find out from the Papua New Guinea Government what it wants us to do. A report in today's Age headed `Government to await request on Irian Jayan refugees' stated:

The Government will not decide its policy on the resettlement of Irian Jayan refugees from Indonesia until it receives specific requests from Papua New Guinea.

As though the Government cannot determine of its own volition what is the right and proper thing to do in respect of these men! Presumably, it expects the Papua New Guinea people, who already have 10,000 people over their borders trying to settle, to take back the nine people for the very fear that more people might come to Australia. We are hiding behind the Papua New Guinea Government waiting on its requests. I submit that this is an outrageous situation which should not be tolerated by the Australian people. One of the refugees was recently reported in an interview published in the Catholic Leader newspaper as having said:

If I am sent back to Irian Jaya the army or police will shoot me. I can't go home while they are there.

It is true that there is a great feeling of fear. Probably the reason why the DORS Committee made its decision can also be found in the records which the Amnesty organisation has made available to me concerning what has happened in regard to the 12 people who were deported from Papua New Guinea and delivered into the hands of the Indonesian authorities in Irian Jaya. They were received all right at first. They were given transport, money and so on by the Indonesian Government in an effort to convince them immediately that the security of their lives was guaranteed. However, after a few days these refugees became frightened and insecure because they were continually visited by Indonesian military intelligence personnel at night under conditions of great distrust. A number of refugees who returned voluntarily after staying a few days at Jayapura were arrested during the night by the Indonesian military powers and taken to various prisons. I suggest that it is therefore clear that the fears of these people are very great and very real in terms of the way in which they are treated. I put it to the Senate that the further continuation of this matter is a disgrace so far as the Australian Government is concerned not only because of its breaches of international and local law but also because of the cowardly way in which it is administering this matter by not making a decision and holding people's lives in such a state of uncertainty.

I also want to make reference to another similar case which I think shows the way in which the Government has operated. I refer to the case of Tamil refugees in this country who are claiming to be refugees and who have either received no reply or are being refused refugee status. I am going to deal with only one case in particular, although a number of others have also been referred to me by legal aid people in Victoria. By way of comparison I want first to read to the Senate what was said by Mr David Waddington, a Minister of State at the Home Office, in a letter which he wrote to Lord Avebury, the head of the human rights section in London. There had been a lot of controversy in the European countries which between them have about 50,000 Tamil refugees-not nine or the small number to be found here. In his letter he said:

The United Kingdom is bound as a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention and Protocol on the status of refugees to abide by the provisions of these agreements which have been incorporated under the Immigration Rules. Under their provisions a person may apply for asylum on the ground that if he were required to leave, he would have to go to a country to which he is unwilling to go owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Each applicant is interviewed and cases are considered individually on their own merits.

I made representations to Lord Avebury that Tamils in Britain, Holland and other countries should not be sent back. In an accompanying letter sent to me Lord Avebury pointed out:

What he doesn't say however, is that, as a matter of practice, we have not insisted on the demonstration of an individual well-founded fear of persecution, where the victimisation is of a whole community.

Unfortunately here, whereas in the first case I mentioned the DORS Committee made a ruling that has been thrown back at it, it has made rulings but obviously it has not been informed by the Government of information that the Government well knows applies to the situation faced by the Tamil community in Sri Lanka where there is very considerable fear by the whole community and where a considerable number of deaths have occurred.

The particular case that I have had drawn to my attention by Miss Pam O'Connor of the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria is one of Mr Nagamany Puvanendran. He has tried to get to Australia since 1981. He tried to get to Australia from Nigeria at that time. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sri Lanka. He has some nine years experience as a high school teacher in areas of general science and chemistry. He is a single man with no relatives in Australia. After his arrival, he approached Amnesty International and was referred by Amnesty International to the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria for assistance in making a claim for refugee status, which was subsequently completed on 1 May 1984. He sought refugee status on the grounds that as a Sri Lankan Tamil he had a well-founded fear of persecution, both at the hands of the military authorities and at the hands of Sinhalese mobs, having on two occasions been singled out for beatings by Sinhalese mobs because he was a Tamil. Details of that have been given to me. This is a man who, indeed, has been attacked on two occasions when he has been back in Sri Lanka, so he surely fits the category which the DORS Committee, quite mistakenly, thinks is necessary.


Senator Tate —Has he been attacked by the Tamil terrorists who also terrorise other members of the Tamil population?


Senator MISSEN —No; let us keep Senator Tate's prejudices out of this matter. He was attacked by Sinhalese mobs. I am quite happy to deal with other matters, but the honourable senator should try to keep his prejudices out of this and keep to the subject about which I am talking. The details of Mr Puvanendran's application to the Review Branch are contained in a letter dated 14 August 1985. For the sake of brevity, Mr President, I seek leave to incorporate that letter in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

179 Queen Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000

Telephone (03) 607 0234

AUSDOC DX 228

Facsimile (03) 607 0250

LEGAL AID COMMISSION OF VICTORIA

Your ref. LEG/AE:JH 83/24103

Our ref. H84 D45227 PO'C:ja

Phone enquiries 607 0385

14 August 1985

Review Branch

Department of Immigration and

Ethnic Affairs,

P.O. Box 25, Belconnen, A.C.T. 2616

Attention: Mr Lawless

Dear Sir,

We refer to your letter of 18 July and to our letter of 23 July. It is unclear from your letter of 18 July whether a new decision is also to be made concerning our client's application for resident status, or whether only the application for refugee status will be reconsidered. If the latter, we would be pleased to receive your statement of reasons for the decision communicated in the Department's letter of 15 January 1985 refusing Mr Puvanendran's application for resident status as requested in our letter of 24 January 1985.

Without having a statement of reasons for the earlier decision, we are at some disadvantage in addressing you as to matters which you may consider relevant in the further consideration of our client's refugee application. Upon reading the file, it appears that the Committee and Departmental officers attached significance to matters which we would have thought were of little relevance e.g. the Department's view expressed in a minute of 9/11/84 that ``the applicant's brothers were more at risk-however apparently they had not been in any specific danger to date''. There is nothing in Mr Fensling's note of the interview of 21 January 1984, nor in the writer's recollection of what was said at that interview, to indicate that Mr Puvanendran was ever asked about his brothers' experiences. If he had been, he would have advised that at the time prior to the interview his brothers had been living in the Eastern Province which at that time was a relatively quiet area, whereas he had had to live in the Sinhalese-dominated Central Province in order to obtain work.

Another example of where the Department has been prepared to draw inferences adverse to our client's case from matters of little relevance appears in Mr Fensling's note dated 5/7/84 of the interview conducted on 21/6/84 where Mr Fensling records that Mr Puvanendran makes no complaint of any harassments by his Sinhalese colleagues during the period of his residence in Sokoto, Nigeria during the July 1983 disturbances. As Mr Puvanendran had never suggested that he considered he was at risk of violence by Sinhalese people in Nigeria, it is hard to see what relevance this information could have. Mr Puvanendran's comments about the attitude of his Sinhalese colleagues in Nigeria were not volunteered by him, but elicited in response to questions posed by Mr Fensling.

It is also apparent from the file that the Department and the members of the D.O.R.S. Committee focused their attention on the likelihood of persecution of Mr Puvanendran by the security forces to the virtual exclusion of considering the risk that he faced from communal violence. It has even been suggested that the violence which he suffered on two occasions at the hands of Sinhalese mobs was ``minor random violence''. (See P.M.C. view in extract of minutes of D.O.R.S. meeting held 19/9/84). The evidence Mr Puvanendran has given is that on both occasions he was selected as the target of violence because he was a Tamil. On the first occasion a mob of local youths came to his home to find him. They knew where the Tamils lived and were going round to look for them. It was only as a result of the intervention of his Sinhalese landlady that he was spared further violence. His evidence as set out in his statement is that on the second occasion a Sinhalese mob approached passengers waiting to take the train to the Tamil-populated Eastern Province, and that they selected their victims by questioning them first to ascertain from their accent whether they were Sinhalese or Tamils. In our submission, this is neither random nor minor. Even though our client was not seriously injured on either occasion, he might well have been, as many other Tamils have been killed at the hands of Sinhalese mobs.

There also seems to be an assumption on the part of all who considered the case that it is not sufficient for Mr Puvanendran to show that he belongs to a group which has been singled out for persecution on the grounds of race etc., but that he must in addition show that he has been individually singled out for persecution above and beyond that suffered by the rest of the group. In our submission, this grossly misconstrues the requirements of the convention. While there is no doubt that an applicant for refugee status must show that he individually fears persecution, there is no requirement that the persecution must be of a kind greater than that suffered by other members of a persecuted group to which he belongs. The agents of persecution need not be the police, military or other agents of Government; as set out in paragraph 65 of the Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status;

``Where serious discriminatory or other offensive acts are committed by the local populace, they can be considered as persecution if they are knowingly tolerated by the authorities, or if the authorities refuse, or prove unable, to offer effective protection''.

As to whether Mr Puvanendran as a Tamil does fit into a persecuted group, we enclose a copy of a statement from Amnesty International dated 24 May 1985 in which Amnesty expresses its view that, if returned to Sri Lanka, Tamils face the risk of;

arbitrary killings by members of the security forces in reprisal for the killing of their own men or of members of the Sinhalese community.

arbitrary arrest and possible long-term incommunicado detention, particularly of young men, their relatives often remaining unaware of their whereabouts for weeks or months after arrest.

ill-treatment and torture after arrest.

In the same document, Amnesty re-affirms its opposition to the involuntary refoulement of members of the Tamil minority to Sri Lanka. The same document mentions that it has received reports of the arrest and detention without trial of Tamils returned against their will to Sri Lanka. In view of such evidence, it is in our submission irresponsible for the Department to take the view apparently adopted in this case that only those Tamils who have been involved in some political activity or can show a greater risk of persecution than other Tamils will be considered for refugee status.

It is interesting that the Department and the D.O.R.S. Committee, although being prepared on preliminary evidence and submissions only to reject our client for both refugee status and resident status, nevertheless considers ``that Mr. Puvanendran should not be returned to Sri Lanka at present. Presumably the Committee would not have made that last finding if it had thought that Mr. Puvanendran would not be at risk on his return to Sri Lanka.

Mr. Puvanendran therefore finds himself in the extraordinary situation that although he is thought to merit protection from Australia ``at present'', he will not be allowed to settle here nor is he even offered a temporary entry permit that will ensure his right to stay for some certain future period. In the meantime, he is not allowed to work and his status remains that of a prohibited non-citizen, whose very presence in the country exposes him to the possibility of prosecution for an offence punishable by six months imprisonment or $1,000 fine (Migration Act Section 27 (1)).

If a further decision is to be made concerning Mr. Puvanendran's application for refugee status, we would ask that a proper interview be conducted, transcribed and the transcript made available to Mr. Puvanendran for correction. There have been a number of developments since the preliminary interview on 21/6/84 which are highly relevant to his application, and which he would like the opportunity to put before the Committee. In April, 1985, Muslems together with Sinhalese Commandos went on a rampage through the Eastern Province destroying Tamil villages and killing Tamils. Mr. Puvanendran's parents, grandmother and brothers, who were living in the village of Valaichenai had their homes destroyed and had to seek refuge in refugee camps until after the Commandos had left the area. Since then, they have had to live with relatives in overcrowded conditions. Mr Puvanendran has letters from his father and brothers written immediately prior to, during and after these events which present a dramatic record of the suffering and distress inflicted upon the Tamil population of the Eastern Province. Our client has presented us with a number of letters in English and in Tamil from his relatives, together with newspaper reports, and a map showing the progress of the Commandos through the Eastern Province. He would like to present all of this evidence to the Committee, and seeks an interview in order to submit that material.

We also enclose an application for a temporary entry permit, and would be glad if you would forward it to the relevant section of the Department to enable him to legalize his status during the period that these further enquiries are being conducted. He also asks again that he be given permission to work, and we would be glad if you, or some other section within the Department, could advise of the prospects of obtaining a work permit.

Yours faithfully,

P. O'CONNER

for: Director of Legal Aid

Encl.


Senator MISSEN —The fact is that Mr Puvanendran has been now for some considerable time in Australia. He had originally not received any word about this but ultimately was told that his application had been refused by the DORS Committee. It was only by use of the Freedom of Information Act that he found that he was not being required to leave immediately, because the Committee felt that it was not altogether safe to send him back. I do not know how it could come to that conclusion and not give him the information that it was not safe to go back. At present the Government is relying on the hope-it is a very slim hope-that there may be a settlement, a cease-fire, and some conclusion drawn and, therefore, some peace restored, and therefore it is not making decisions. It is holding people in mid-air during this period. The result of this was that on 31 October 1985 Mr Puvanendran had a letter from the Regional Director in Victoria of the Department, in which he said:

I again refer to your application for the grant of permanent resident status in Australia, based on your claim for recognition as a refugee, and also on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

As you were informed on 15 January 1985 your applications had been rejected, but your temporary stay in Australia was extended pending an examination by this Department of policy relating to Sri Lanka.

Your applications have been reconsidered in the light of the present situation in Sri Lanka. I regret that I must inform you that it has been decided by the Delegate of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs that your claim for recognition as a refugee cannot be approved.

For several months Mr Puvanendran was trying to get the details of that, and then, instead of getting details of it, he was told that it was reconsidered and decided that his claim had not been established. When honourable senators read the letter in Hansard they will realise what this man has had to suffer, and they will appreciate that here, indeed, was a clear case where he had the very worry, personally, about attacks that he had suffered twice in Sri Lanka in the period that he was there.

On that same day, 31 August, I wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) speaking of the position in Sri Lanka. I had a reply from the Prime Minister to a letter which I had written on 2 September 1985 on general matters, and I sought to find out from him whether the matter of Sri Lanka was raised at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting-and I shall be asking questions in the Parliament about that. But in the reply which the Acting Prime Minister, Mr Lionel Bowen, sent to me-this was the earlier letter, dated 18 October 1985; it was rather late arriving because of the strike-he pointed out general matters. I seek leave, Mr President, for this letter to be incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Acting Prime Minister

Canberra

Senator A. Missen

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Senator Missen

Thank you for your letter of 2 September 1985 to the Prime Minister concerning the situation in Sri Lanka.

As you may be aware, the Government has on numerous occasions made known to the Government of Sri Lanka its concern over the continuing communal violence in that country and has actively encouraged the Sri Lankan Government to seek a political compromise acceptable to all parties in the dispute. Mr Hayden, during his visit in May, held discussions with President Jayewardene, representatives of the Sri Lanka Tamil communities and the Buddhist clergy on the issues.

You will be aware of India's role, particularly since June, in bringing the Sri Lankan Government and Tamil representatives to the negotiating table in an effort to find a political solution to the inter-communal problem. The Government fully supports India's present efforts and welcomes indications that some positive developments may eventuate from these discussions.

The Commonwealth as a whole has not been active on the Sri Lanka problem because the Sri Lankans regard it as being a domestic issue and there have been no indications that either Sri Lanka or India would be prepared to accept a Commonwealth role.

Australia would of course be willing to assist in any appropriate way should India or Sri Lanka seek our (or Commonwealth) assistance to help resolve the conflict.

Yours sincerely

LIONEL BOWEN


Senator MISSEN —It is clear from that letter that the Government is hoping, though it is not doing much about it, that a settlement will come to the problems that have caused Sri Lanka to be at fever pitch. I was there in July and have reported to this Parliament on that visit. I know that on both sides there are extremely difficult problems for people, and particularly for the minority in Sri Lanka. Of course, the police and the army are now very much out of control. The fact is that this person has been rejected and he is now apparently required to leave the country. He cannot go back to Sri Lanka, and will not do so unless he is completely crazy.

As I have said, other applications have been referred to me. One concerns a man who since 1983 has been endeavouring to get a determination of the issue so that he can make his life plans and decide what he is going to do. I submit that it is very unfortunate indeed that this matter has not been attended to by the Government, that it puts it off hoping that a solution will somehow crop up. I further wrote to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on 22 October 1985 and to complete this matter I ask that that letter also be incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

22 October 1985

The Hon. Chris Hurford, M.P.

Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

Parliament House

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Minister,

Re: Mr Nagamany Puvanendran-Application for Refugee Status and/or Resident Status

I have been consulted by the above-named in respect to his application which has for some considerable time been before the DORS Committee and before the Government, and which I suggest has taken a most unsatisfactory course of action. I also saw Miss Pat O'Connor of the Victorian Legal Aid Commission about this matter.

I enclose, for convenience, copy of a letter dated the 14th August 1985 from the Legal Aid Commission to me, together with the various enclosures. I refer in particular to their letter of the 14 August 1985 to the Review Branch of your Department in the ACT in respect to this matter. To bring this further up to date; I enclose a copy of a memorandum dated the 16th October 1985, headed ``Sri Lanka: Allegations of Extrajudical Executions and `Disappearances' in May 1985'', to which is annexed copies of letters from Amnesty International to the President of Sri Lanka dated the 7th June 1985, and to the Minister for National Security; the Hon. Lalith Athulathmudali, dated the 10th July 1985.

These letters give ample evidence of the extreme danger being suffered by members of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka at the present time. As you are well aware, I followed your journey to Sri Lanka and saw a number of people and have reported to parliament in respect to this matter. I believe that the problems, particularly in the Eastern Zone, are very intense, and worsening, and that it would be an act of complete folly for a person such as Mr Puvanendran to return to Sri Lanka at the present time.

My complaint is not only on his behalf but I am aware of another few cases which are in the hands of Miss Pat O'Connor where there have been considerable delays and where the situation is similarly unsatisfactory from the point of view of the person claiming resident status. They relate to Tamils in a similar situation to Mr Puvanendran.

I want to make the following specific points to you and to the Foreign Minister, who is aware of my interest in this matter and who I am sure can advise you further:

1. There was apparently a practice of giving temporary entry permits by your Department until October 1984. It was then stopped without reason and so Mr Puvandendran has had to make his application accordingly. There is considerable concern that there is assumption by the DORS Committee that inter-communal violence can be disregarded and only some element taken into account where a person has a particular concern over and above that of the Tamil community in general, ignoring the fact that in the case of Mr Puvanendran there are two reasons why he has been singled out and has already suffered two assaults. It is put to you that the remarks by the DORS Committee show a concentration on irrelevancies which are not mainly to the point.

2. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the effect of the International Convention on International Status in that refugees have to show a well-founded fear of persecution but there is no requirement that the particular applicant has specialist claims in this regard.

3. It is clear from further information which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that while the DORS Committee rejected Mr Puvandendran's original application, it did not suggest that he should return at the present time-as well it should not. However, this is an entirely inconsistent attitude and seems designed to avoid telling the applicants information which is of importance to them.

4. I have no doubt that the Government has in mind the risk of some flood of applicants occuring but this is no satisfactory reason for adopting this policy of delay and prevarication. In fact, in Mr Puvanendran's case, he sought for six months to obtain reasons for the decision and then, on the 18th July 1985, was told that the application was being reconsidered so it was unnecessary to give reasons. There is no indication as to whether that application has been reconsidered. The result is that in his case, and similar cases, a very unsatisafactory situation arises where people cannot plan their future lives, cannot make arrangements and where in addition to the worries which they have for their families and friends in Sri Lanka, they have the completely uncertain situation of their own lives, lasting over a period of years.

I suggest that this course of conduct is inhumane and disgraceful from the point of view of the Australian people. The Foreign Minister has taken a very strong stand-at least he did until recently-and has endeavoured to persuade the foolish members of the Sri Lankan Government to take some action to control their undisciplined forces and to stop the constant repetition of human rights violations, deaths and destruction, which is destroying the country of Sri Lanka. I suggest the least this Government can do is to deal compassionately with those people who seek refugee or resident status under the Migration Act, and that this has not been done in this case. I urge that you bring this matter to finality. Unless I get some indication that this will be done, the matter must be raised in the Parliament.

Your sincerely,

ALAN MISSEN

Senator for Victoria


Senator MISSEN —I pointed out in that letter that until October 1985 the Department had the habit of giving temporary permits. The practice was then stopped; I do not know why. There is also misunderstanding as to the effect of the international convention, and a well-founded fear of persecution is what is required.


Senator Tate —Persecution by whom? By the Government.


Senator MISSEN —By people, by mobs, by groups.


Senator Tate —You are accusing the Sri Lankan Government of persecuting Tamils.


Senator MISSEN —I am saying that the Sri Lankan Government does not have control of the situation. I am giving it the benefit of that doubt. I am saying that many people, particularly in the eastern and northern zones, are being persecuted, robbed, raped and killed. We should not be completely one-sided; there are extremists on the other side who are also taking advantage of the situation. I also pointed out in the letter that the Government apparently fears the risk of a flood of applicants. There is no flood of applicants, as one can see; there are many people in other countries, but not here. If the Government were minded to consider the compassionate and humanitarian circumstances and allow a change of status to permanent residents, the Department would surely take into account the matters which are in its own instructions from Mr A. Robertson, the Acting First Assistant Secretary of the Operations and International Division of the Department, who says that, amongst other things, these are the points to consider:

8. War or political turbulance in home country subsequent to visitor's departure which would make return home unsafe.

9. Gross and discriminatory denial of fundamental freedoms and basic human rights on return to the person(s) country of nationality or former habitual residence provided residence elsewhere is not more appropriate.

Those matters should have been well within the compass of the DORS Committee and it should have granted the application. If the Committee has not been given this information by the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, who know well the situation in that country, that is remarkable.

I feel that these two issues show Australia and our Government in a very bad light. It is deferring and putting off to the disadvantage of individuals because it is hoping that something will crop up that will save it from making a decision. I believe that both matters are an indication that we are ignoring our international obligations and that we are not using our knowledge of the situation in these two countries. I urge again-I know that our poor, weak and timid Press, who have all gone to bed, will not notice this--


Senator Gareth Evans —Hey!


Senator MISSEN —Not all; there is one member here. It is a shame that this country is not more aware of the situation. We are concerned about human rights, and tonight Senator Tate put down a report showing our concern in regard to this matter. We should be concerned with human rights in other countries, too, and I think that our action in these countries does not match what we have said on previous occasions. This is a matter of shame for the Australian Government.