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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11786

Mr MURPHY (4:15 PM) —This afternoon I rise to speak about the plight of the Tamil people who are fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka. As we are all aware, this year was the bloodiest in the history of the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka with more than 20,000 innocent people killed by the Sri Lankan Security Forces amidst repeated warnings from the United Nations and other leaders. Madam Deputy Speaker, these killings occurred during the first five months of this year. The Sri Lankan government declared in May, as you know, that the Tamil rebellion had been completely wiped out.

I acknowledge the recent visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Stephen Smith, to Sri Lanka and thank our government for its appointment of our special representative, Mr John McCarthy. Mr McCarthy is currently in Sri Lanka to deal with the problem of people smuggling and to stem the flow of boat people from Sri Lanka. He is having direct discussions with his Sri Lankan counterpart and President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Last week I met representatives from the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations who gave me a copy of their recent submission made to our Prime Minister. In that letter they requested that the Prime Minister use the opportunity of being with other like-minded leaders in the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting forum in the Caribbean to initiate a discussion on these matters with the aim of finding a permanent political solution in Sri Lanka. They also told me they have conveyed the same message to the British Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, through his special envoy to Sri Lanka, the Hon. Des Browne MP, whom they have met recently in Canberra. They also advised me that they have suggested to our Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, the reintroduction of the 215 Sri Lankan special assistance class BF visa that was first introduced during the time of the Keating government.

AFTA argues that by reintroducing this visa at this stage the people smugglers could effectively be starved of potential boat people, and the offshore processing would be much cheaper than the expense involved in granting the same number of people permanent residency visas by taking them through the Christmas Island detention facility. Further, AFTA notes that during the peace talks between 2001 and 2008 there were no Tamils arriving on Australian shores by boat. This, they suggest, is evidence that the Tamil people fleeing Sri Lanka today are not economic refugees but genuine refugees fleeing from an oppressive regime in Sri Lanka. While we must maintain a strong policy on border protection and punish the people smugglers, we must not punish the genuine refugees. I see merit in what AFTA has submitted to our government for its consideration for action on two fronts: one being an interim solution to stem the flow of boat people from Sri Lanka, and the other being the permanent one that is good for the political stability of Sri Lanka. (Time expired)