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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 522

Mr FALCONER (Casey) - The House is debating the Immigration (Unauthorized Arrivals) Bill 1980. The purpose of the Bill is to provide the Government with a weapon to deal with those who would traffic in human lives, namely, those of refugees. It is directed at such people as owners, masters, crews, agents or charterers of vessels or aircraft carrying refugees to Australia. It must be emphasised that the Bill is not aimed at the refugees themselves - those people who are in a desperate situation and who are seeking a land in which to settle - but it is aimed very much at those who would seek to profit from the tragic circumstances in which those refugees find themselves. I was very pleased to hear the support that the Opposition spokesman has given to this Bill, and that in many respects, I suppose, will shorten the debate. Indeed, the Opposition spokesman went to the extent of making a number of constructive suggestions, I thought, some of which may well be able to be considered by those on this side of the House. We will have to look at them a little more closely as the debate proceeds.

There has been some experience in countries to our north of large numbers of refugees being brought into territorial waters in large boats.

Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines have all had experience in the last year or two with large boats containing 1,500 to 3,000 refugees coming into their territorial waters. Then, of course, an international controversy develops as to who will look after those refugees and who will receive them. Most of those refugees had in fact paid large sums of money to the people who organised their departure from Vietnam in the first instance and who, in some instances, sought to organise rackets for their entry into other countries. I think most of us have heard stories of large sums of money - in some cases several thousand dollars - changing hands with respect to individual refugees who have been able to gain places on those boats.

I think everyone in this Parliament would have sympathy for the refugees in their plight and in their efforts to find somewhere to settle. That is why the Bill is not directed at the refugees. It is certainly the case that a number of refugees, in their efforts to settle elsewhere, make misleading statements and become involved with racketeers who seek to profit from their plight. I had the opportunity in January to visit some refugee camps in South East Asia, notably Bidong in Malaysia and Nong Khai in Thailand, and to examine Australian selection procedures which were implemented at those camps. It was interesting to see the way in which Australian selection officers had to ensure that the details provided by refugees were accurate and that the criteria which had been laid down for the selection of refugees to settle in Australia were observed. There were many stories, of course, of refugees claiming relationships with refugees who had already settled in Australia. I think we can understand why they do that. Of course, that required that documents be checked. Application papers filled in by people presently in camps had to be compared with application papers which had been filled in by the claimed relatives one, two or three years previously when they gained entry to Australia to see whether there were any anomalies about the family structures claimed in those papers. That sort of checking had to be done.

Also, of course, it was common knowledge in the camps that when a refugee successfully gained approval to come to Australia and if that refugee was, say, an electrician, suddenly a rash of applications would come from people in the camp claiming that that was their qualification. Those qualifications had to be checked. In many instances they just did not measure up with the technical knowledge of the trade or profession that the refugee may have claimed. So, these sorts of things have to be checked. I think we can understand why refugees go to those measures to gain resettlement. At the time we have to support the efforts of Australian selection officers in the camps to weed out the frauds in order to ensure that those criteria which have been laid down for the selection of refugees to settle in Australia are observed and that the right people are gaining entry to Australia. That is one aspect. I do not think that in any sense we ought to penalise harshly individual refugees who, in view of their circumstances, take those steps to gain entry to Australia. We must penalise harshly those who would profit from the efforts of refugees to settle in Australia.

The aim of this Bill is not to deal with any sudden emergency with which we find ourselves confronted but to flag to those who might be inclined to indulge in such profiteering activities that Australia is prepared to take strong steps and that it will not be worth their while to seek to carry close to Australia's shores large numbers of refugees in one vessel. I believe that one other step that Australia must take, apart from this legal step to prevent racketeers bringing refugees to Australia, is to ensure that we maintain a humane and rational selection policy in the countries to our north so that refugees settled there temporarily in refugee camps know that they have a reasonable chance of gaining entry to Australia if they meet our criteria. I think that is of great importance to the countries to our north which are bearing the brunt of the refugee problem, particularly countries like Malaysia and Thailand which I have had the opportunity to visit. It certainly is the case that many people in those countries, some of them at government level, would be prepared to facilitate the departure of large numbers of refugees from the camps on their shores if countries like Australia, the United States of America and Canada did not offer a reasonable prospect of making a substantial contribution towards1 solving the refugee problem by enabling the refugees to be resettled elsewhere. I believe that as a complementary step we must maintain an active, positive and humane refugee resettlement program so that people know they have a reasonable chance to make a new life for themselves in Australia and other like-minded countries.

That is the positive side of what we are doing. Indeed, in the last financial year Australia received about 15,000 Indo-Chinese refugees and on a population basis that was the greatest number received by any country. In this financial year we are maintaining a refugee resettlement program of a similar order. I am aware that one of the problems facing the Government was how to distinguish between racketeers and the occupants of small boats that might come to Australia from time to time on a spontaneous basis. I refer to instances of small fishing vessels perhaps containing a dozen or two dozen people which do not really constitute the same sort of threat posed to Australia by large vessels containing up to 3,000 people. For the purpose of finding some sort of dividing line the Government has settled on a figure of five as being the number of persons who may be in a vessel without invoking the provisions of this legislation. It is proposed in this legislation that this number can be increased or decreased by regulation. This means that effectively a couple of people clinging to a life-raft cannot be accused of being involved in a racket. It means also, for example, that the owners of shipping or airline services which operate on a regular basis who perhaps inadvertently allow one or two people to come aboard their vessel or flight to Australia - refugees who do not have specific approval to come to Australia - will not be brought within the provisions of the legislation. In fact such an occurrence could quite likely happen. I think any of us who observe the manner in which people are processed in their hundreds and thousands to go aboard jumbo jets at international airports these days can only wonder at the fact that more illegal travellers do not get onto aircraft. Cheaper fares have meant that more and more people are travelling from country to country. As I said, the figure of five has been determined as the dividing line. This means that the provisions of the legislation will not be invoked in the case of an airline which inadvertently brings one or two people to Australia. I support the Bill. I welcome the support that has been given to it by the Opposition.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

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