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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5434

Senator McKIERNAN (10.04 p.m.) —I intend to be brief in my contribution to this very important piece of legislation, the Migration Amendment Bill (No. 4) 1992. During my speech, I will refrain from referring to an earlier matter of debate that was raised, but I will address in the future the fact that a committee of this Parliament can bring down reports and incorporate material into it without first giving the individuals concerned an opportunity of responding to distortions in a brief examination. I could prove the distortions, but will refrain from doing so at this juncture because of the pressure of other business. But I will address the matter when this Parliament resumes or when a new Parliament is elected next year.

  I commend the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hand), the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs and other government departments for their very speedy action in moving to protect the taxpayers of Australia. That is who we are talking about here—the taxpayers of Australia. Unfortunately, they should have moved on this matter some time ago and saved the taxpayers of Australia many millions of dollars, some of which has been poured into some sections of the legal fraternity to provide services which were not adequate for the task. I do not say that of every instance of government funds being given to sections of the legal profession to protect the interests of individuals involved in refugee applications.

  I commend the Minister. On behalf of the taxpayers of Australia I record their thanks for the cooperation that the Opposition parties have shown in getting the legislation through the House of Representatives last night or early this morning and, hopefully, getting it through this place some time tonight or early tomorrow morning. Our obligations must lie with the taxpayers; they are the people who elected us to this place to govern and to spend money on their behalf. We would be abrogating our responsibility if we did not very quickly take action and enact legislation to protect the taxpayers' funds.

  Some asylum seekers are seeking damages against the Government in the High Court. The Government has no money; the Government is in charge of taxpayers' funds. We have to protect those funds. I again commend the Minister and all concerned for moving so speedily in order to do so.

  In her contribution, Senator Chamarette asked why the Government is singling out some 500 people.

Senator Chamarette —One hundred and four.

Senator McKIERNAN —I understood her to say 500, but I accept her interjection. The record will show whether it is 500 or 104. The Government is not singling them out. The individuals who came here unauthorised and unasked and who did not apply singled themselves out. In many cases, they got together enough money to bribe boat owners in order to illegally enter this country. We did not bring them in. In some cases, they could have applied through the normal refugee stream and sought refugee status, but they did not do that. Perhaps they came here misguidedly; we are not getting the truth on all applications, possibly because of the legal assistance they are receiving. Maybe the truth will out at some time. I certainly hope that it does.

  The Government and the Parliament has a commendable record on refugees in this country. It is a record that goes back to the early part of this century, and it is a record that all Australians have to be proud of. This Government, the fourth Labor Government, is sticking with that record.

  In the recently announced immigration program for 1992-93, there was considerable debate and consultation with the Australian community—taxpayers, ethnic groups, government departments and State governments—on what the intake for immigration ought to be in this current financial year, 1992-93. It was determined by government that it be 80,000 in total. Twelve and a half per cent of that would be made up of refugees, which is an increase in percentage terms from last year accounted for by the fact that, in the last financial year, the figure was 12,000. It has gone down to 10,000, but the overall program has been reduced from 110,000 to 80,000. The Government has stuck with its principle of looking after refugees.

  Where do we get the refugees from? We get them from all parts of this very troubled earth of ours. I refer honourable senators to the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration Regulations tabled in this place about two months ago to give an indication of where refugees are coming from. A number of those people in the intake for last year actually came from refugee camps. They are true refugees; people who for a whole number of reasons have been displaced in their own country.

  I advocated on a number of occasions in this place that that is where the priority should lie. The people who do not have homes and are living in appalling, subhuman conditions in many parts of world, including our very near neighbours in Asia, are the people we should be looking after first. We should not allow people, simply because they have money and are able to bribe their way into Australia, to take up the places that are allocated in our refugee program.

  As the Minister said last night, it is disgraceful that some of those people are now seeking to sue the taxpayers of Australia. The taxpayers are the people who have kept them here for far too long, in some cases up to three years, and everybody agrees that it is too long. Now they have the gall to sue the taxpayers of Australia. Taxpayers have had enough.

  Some of the interjections I have been getting from my right have talked about the white Australia policy. This is the danger. There are dangers in this argument. The taxpayers—the general public—are getting fed up of the apparent preferential treatment that seems to be given to some people. That is where the racism is coming from. In some cases it is very difficult to argue a contrary point of view, but it can be done if we persist. We have to do it with equity. We cannot just bend over and give it to some of the people who merely have some money in order to bribe their way into Australia.

  It is a very troubled earth. The greatest proportion of my constituency work concerns immigration. I spend a great deal of time explaining to my constituents why their near relatives cannot get into Australia under the normal family reunion programs because of placings and their having to meet the points test. We have to argue that point through because of the limited positions available in our immigration program as determined by the elected government of the day.

  One of the most soul-destroying things I have to do concerns people with relatives who are living in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina where nightly on television we see people getting killed, maimed and mutilated by people who were their former nationals. We cannot fit those people into the refugee program.

  I am pleased to say that we have had some success and have been able to move very speedily. I commend the Embassy in Geneva for handling most of the claims under very trying circumstances. We are able to relieve the suffering for those people there and get them reunited with their relatives in Australia.

  That is the job Australia should be doing. We should maintain control over it, and indeed we have to do so. The public demands that we maintain control, and by putting through this legislation tonight we are showing yet again that the democratically elected Parliament of Australia is determined to maintain that control and protect taxpayers.