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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3015

Senator WEST —Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs been drawn to comments by the New South Wales Minister for Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Photios, criticising the government's policy on the Cambodian boat people and describing the conditions at the Villawood detention facility as appalling? Is it true, as Mr Photios claims, that the Cambodians are denied or provided with limited medical care, education, torture and rape counselling and, particularly, women's health services? Furthermore, do Mr Photios's criticisms of the recently announced Cambodian special assistance category accurately reflect the government's attempts to find a solution to this complex problem?

Senator BOLKUS —Immigration and ethnic affairs is an area of great sensitivity and complexity. I believe that it needs to be addressed responsibly and with care and thoughtfulness. Unfortunately, in the last 24 hours in the New South Wales parliament we have had an example of the completely opposite approach to a very sensitive issue. That occurred in an outburst from the New South Wales Minister for Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Photios.

  Mr Photios was addressing the question of the boat people. I believe that his comments can be most generously described as inaccurate, indulgent and irresponsible. Fundamentally, Mr Photios's comments were peppered with outrageous inaccuracies. He claimed that the conditions in the Villawood detention centre could best be described as appalling. The government has been more than forthcoming in respect of the conditions in detention facilities. Our submission to the joint standing committee inquiry into detention demonstrates this.

  It is a pity that Mr Photios did not bother to address the issue accurately. If he had done so, perhaps he would not have stated that only limited health services, and virtually no women's health care, were available at Villawood. The fact is that a centre nurse is on duty six days a week and a doctor visits the centre twice a day. Basic dental and optical care are provided.

  Had the New South Wales minister even checked with his colleagues, he would have discovered that the New South Wales Department of Health's child-care service visits Villawood regularly to provide antenatal services to mothers. Since July this year a gender specific medical program has been operating—a program which now formalises a previously informal arrangement.

  Further, and contrary to Mr Photios's claims, the centre provides educational facilities, including English language classes, to all detainees—children and adults. It is grossly untrue to suggest that the children have been denied education. It is also grossly untrue to suggest that detainees' access to religious services is limited. Religious workers from the major Christian denominations attend the centre on a daily basis and Buddhist monks usually attend the centre on culturally significant days.

  Probably the most outrageous part of Mr Photios's statement yesterday was that counselling for victims of torture and rape is virtually non-existent. This is not only grossly wrong but also it illustrates Mr Photios's preparedness to exploit the most vulnerable of these people for his own political ends. A full range of torture and trauma counselling and treatment is available to the detainees. That range includes the admirable work of a group of psychiatrists led by Dr Maria Bashir and the service for the treatment and rehabilitation of torture and trauma survivors.

  Mr Photios did not stop at just spreading inaccuracies. In his typically opportunistic fashion, he accused the Labor Party of being anti-migrant. This comes from a member of a party which says that probably all immigrant applicants, including boat people, should be removed from the jurisdiction of the ADJR. As a consequence, the access to the courts—which the constitution guarantees them—would be denied to them. Mr Photios's confusion went even further in a pretty broad statement that he made in the parliament.

  His statements are irresponsible. They do not add to the constructive nature of the debate as is necessary in this area. They undermine the special program announced last fortnight for Cambodians, not only those in detention but also those with families in Australia. It is irresponsible behaviour and I believe that it is divisive not only to the New South Wales community and to the ethnic communities within that, but also to the broader Australian community. He is acting as a parasite on the Australian public—

Senator Bishop —Mr President, I raise a point of order.

I ask that the minister withdraw that improper imputation on the reputation of Mr Photios immediately.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Yes. It is clearly unparliamentary and I ask Senator Bolkus to withdraw it. I also remind opposition senators that it is unparliamentary to make the comment that was made earlier today that the minister lied.

Senator BOLKUS —I withdraw, Mr President. In the interests of Australia, I believe this state minister should desist from this divisive political game. He should not be allowed to continue in this way, feeding off the problems of Australian communities—ethnic and otherwise.