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Thursday, 2 September 1993
Page: 861

Senator WEST —My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and relates to bi-cultural counselling for torture and trauma survivors from the Bosnian conflict. I refer the minister to an agreement between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales governments to provide funding for bi-cultural counselling. Are other states also entering these agreements?

Senator BOLKUS —Senator West raises the issue of Australia assuming a responsibility to assist with the human tragedy of what was formerly Yugoslavia. In doing so, by the end of this financial year we will have approved some 8,000 people from former Yugoslavia coming to Australia under a special humanitarian program. We have been able to do that with the support not only of all sides of this parliament but also the broader community, particularly the community that represents the interests of those people from former Yugoslavia.

  We have also recognised that once people are in Australia there is a need for culturally sensitive torture and trauma counselling. We do this not just for people from former Yugoslavia but for refugees from whatever part of the world they come. In this particular instance we can see almost nightly the sorts of devastating experiences that the ongoing conflict in former Yugoslavia is presenting and the particular need of those who come to this country resulting from those experiences.

  As a consequence, at a meeting in June this year with the state and federal ministers for immigration and ethnic affairs, I reached an agreement with the New South Wales minister, Mr Photios, to provide additional funding on a matching grant basis to assist the New South Wales service for the treatment and rehabilitation of torture and trauma survivors, STARTTS. The aim of the offer was to provide bi-cultural counselling for victims of torture and trauma from the Bosnian region in particular.

  The offer was also available to Victoria. The parliamentary secretary to the Premier, Mr Honeywood, indicated at that meeting that Victoria would be interested in taking it up. As a consequence, the offer on the table from the federal government was that both STARTTS and the Victorian equivalent—the Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture Incorporated—should, on receipt of a detailed application, receive a one-year special grant of up to $35,000 each to assist survivors of torture and trauma from the Bosnian region of former Yugoslavia. That comes on top of other funding we make available—some $400,000 to the national torture and trauma network, under grant in aid and migrant access project schemes, as well as some $900,000 to the 19 grants in aid that are provided for community based organisations to assist those who come from former Yugoslavia. We recognise the acute need of those from the Bosnian region; as a consequence that offer was on the table.

  As I said, New South Wales has indicated that it is ready to provide the additional service. However, I am disappointed that some two months after the ministerial meeting, despite the interest of his parliamentary secretary, the Victorian Premier, Mr Kennett, has still to agree to provide a matching grant to this most deserving service. I find it very hard to understand Mr Kennett's difficulty in taking up this particular offer. My officers tell me that, reportedly, he feels that since the states do not decide who is allowed to settle permanently in the states—in this case the state of Victoria—the Victorian government should not be responsible for meeting the settlement costs that follow. I find this quite a stunning response, particularly when we take into account the fact that the amount of money we are talking about is much less than the cost of the reintroduction of silver service in the Victorian parliament.

  I appeal to Mr Kennett to make a decision, to make it quickly and to make it in the interests of those people who have had to suffer much before arriving in Australia.