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Tuesday, 4 May 1993
Page: 62

(Question No. 2458)


Senator Spindler asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 2 December 1992:

  (1) Were the Chinese nationals who arrived on Christmas Island advised of their rights to seek independent legal advice and to contact the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); if so, did the Chinese freely waive these rights; if not, given that the boat concerned came via the same route and from the same place as a previous boat from which people have been granted refugee status, does this action constitute a breach of internationally agreed practice in relation to the treatment of (potential) asylum seekers.

  (2) Were the Chinese nationals offered independent interpreters; if so, did the Chinese freely waive these rights; if not, given that the boat concerned came via the same route and from the same place as a previous boat from which people have been granted refugee status, does this action constitute a breach of internationally agreed practice in relation to the treatment of (potential) asylum seekers.

  (3) Was there an independent observer present during the interview; if not, why was no effort made to ensure independent monitoring of the process, given that had such monitoring taken place, there could be no question about the events.

  (4) Has the UNHCR been granted access to the information they requested about the event on Christmas Island.

  (5) What happened to the 113 Chinese from Christmas Island and the seven repatriated involuntarily from Port Hedland when they returned to China; if this information is not known, why have there been no attempts made to monitor, either directly or indirectly, the fate of the returnees to see whether the assurances given by the Chinese Government were genuine.


Senator Bolkus —I am advised that the answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) The government fully accepts and implements the principle that persons seeking the protection of the Australian government must be given a proper opportunity to pursue their claim, and in particular to contact the UNHCR. The issues raised in the honourable senator's question are not, however, relevant to the group in question, who gave no indication that they were seeking the protection of the Australian government, and were not asylum seekers.

  (2) The interpreters used to interview the Chinese nationals on Christmas Island were all accredited interpreters under temporary contract to my department for the duration of the exercise. This is normal procedure. To imply that they were not "independent" is to call into question their professionalism and their adherence to professional ethics. I am confident that any suggestions of this kind are completely unfounded.

  (3) It is not usual for an observer to be present during interviews held with unauthorised arrivals at Australia's borders, nor was there one in this case.

  (4) Yes.

  (5) I have no specific information on what has happened to the 113 Chinese nationals since their return to China from Christmas Island. We have, as the honourable senator is aware, received repeated high level assurances that no returnee to China would be persecuted if his or her only action had been illegal departure from China. Information in my department's possession concerning the seven people removed from Port Hedland confirms the assurances given by Chinese authorities.