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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 5078

Senator BROWN(3.45 p.m.) —Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Brown moving a motion relating to the conduct of business of the Senate, namely a motion to give precedence to general business notice of motion No. 182.

I move this motion because this matter is urgent. The motion before the Senate seeks to allay the anxiety of 1,500 East Timorese asylum seekers who are in Australia and who want to maintain their protection, their security, their safety and their peace of mind in this country.

My motion calls on the government to create a humanitarian visa for the 1,500 East Timorese asylum seekers in this country. It aims to repeat the special protection given by the government to the many Chinese students in this country at the time of Tiananmen Square, when a special provision was made under the then Labor government for those Chinese students who were in fear for their safety, their wellbeing and their lives if they were at that time forced back to China so that they could have permanent residency in Australia. If those circumstances warranted that, surely the circumstances confronting the people of East Timor who have fled to the safety of this country deserve no less.

This is a very urgent matter. A couple of months ago, many of these people received a letter from the department of immigration which indicated that they were about to be deported on the basis that they were Portuguese. These are people who have never been to Portugal. Most of them do not speak Portuguese. They have no affinity except what they have read in the history books about the previous Portuguese colonial administration in their country.

They are also people who, as citizens of East Timor, have very often stood up to the military occupation of their country. For that, they can live in fear of their lives. For that, they have been forced to leave our nearest neighbour, the country of East Timor. The plight of these people now in Australia with this threat of deportation hanging over their heads is indeed a harrowing and pitiable situation to hear about. At the outset, this government ought to maintain the stand it took in opposition.

Senator Panizza —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Brown is addressing the substantive motion. I want to hear why it is so urgent to be suspending standing orders.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I have been listening to the debate, and it seems to me that Senator Brown was debating the urgency of the matter. To do that, occasionally he has to bring in the substantive issue. I think at this stage Senator Brown is in order.

Senator BROWN —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. The urgency for this matter would not be there had the Minister for Foreign Affairs kept to his statement of 11 October last year, when he said that the claim that the East Timorese asylum seekers are Portuguese is simply absurd and hypocritical. If it was absurd and hypocritical in October last year for Mr Downer, surely it is absurd and hypocritical that they are threatened with deportation as Portuguese citizens in November this year. If there were consistency in the government's policy on this matter and in their commitment to these 1,500 special citizens of Australia, as I would class them, then they would not be living in fear for their safety. They would not be living in anxiety. They would not be living with the axe over their heads with no choice but to go to Portugal, where they do not speak the language and where many of them do not share the culture or religion, or to go back to Indonesia.

Let me give the case of one particular person amongst their number who came here in 1984. I am again pointing out the urgency of the matter for this person. During the occupation of East Timor, he witnessed his brother, aged 11, being killed outside his house. His father was killed. He fled, after being arrested and imprisoned for five months for passing on some notes and pictures to visiting journalists in 1994. Since then, Indonesian soldiers have entered his house and beaten his mother to death. Since then, one of his sisters has been raped. Since then, and just this year, two of his sisters have managed to escape to this country. All three of those people, after having escaped that hell under Indonesian occupation, are suddenly faced with Australia—this country, this land of the free, the land of democracy—deporting them to Portugal. The Senate should support this motion.