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Oz Mum calls on PM to "Get Real" on detention

Media Release
Sunday 12 June 2005

Australian Mum calls on PM to "Get Real" on detention

Australian Mum, Mrs Kaye Bernard has today called on the Prime Minister to "get real" in relation to the remaining 13 Vietnamese Asylum Seekers held on Christmas Island since 2003.

The Immigration Department are preparing to fly the 21 of the 27 Vietnamese Asylum Seekers who were recently deemed refugees by the Refugee Review Tribunal via a charter jet. This charter flight is thought to be taking off as early as tommorrow, Monday 13 June 2005.

"There is absolutely no need for the Prime Minister to waste anymore money by being obstinate and the entire group of Vietnamese who have been in detention on Christmas Island since 2003, should be taken off the Island on the Government's charter flight," said refugee advocate Kaye Bernard and added "the Christmas Island camp could be closed tommorrow."

"The Government can hold my passport as surety and I would stake my own Australian citizenship on the success of the community care of the remaining 13 Vietnamese Asylum Seekers, pending the outcome of renewed RRT hearings if these hearings were allowed by the Immigration Minister", said Mrs Bernard and added, "the PM needs to get real on detention sooner rather than later."

In 2003 the boat Hao Kiet arrived at Port Healand with a group of 53 Vietnamese Asylum Seekers. The Government immedialty recommissioned the Christmas Island immigration processing facility amid controversy at the cost of removing the group aboard the HMAS Canberra instead of detaining them at the then operation Curtain facility in Port Headland.

The $14 million plus annual cost of detaining the group on Christmas Island has largely been played down by the Government and the Prime Minister went on record sayinging in 2003;

"If we didn't we would send a message of encouragement for other people to try the same thing. It is perfectly justified, and I'm sure will be supported by the Australian people."

Mrs Bernard endorses the proposed Bill by Liberal backbencher, Petro Gieorgiou who recently spoke directly in Parliament about the Hao Kiet group and the need for orderly processing and the end to the PM's mainland and offshore detention costly construct. (see below)

National General Secretary of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, Mr Trung Doan says the remaining 13 cannot return to Vietnam as they are pro democracy supporters.

(end)

Contact: Kaye Bernard 0400 119 109

WA Vietnamese Community in Australia President Simon Nguyen: 0422 128 888

REFERENCES:

$4m spent on boat trip could have been $100

Buddhist push for detainees

By CATHERINE MADDEN 12jun05

PERTH's Buddhist community has offered to take in every asylum-seeker on Christmas Island - at no cost to taxpayers.

Members of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association have rallied behind the 10 adults and three children still in detention.

They have offered to accommodate, feed and supervise them while their applications for refugee status are processed.

Forty of the original 53 asylum-seekers - including 28 people in the past 10 days - have been granted the right to live in Australia.

They have been held on the island since July 2003 at a daily cost of $725 each. The total bill for their detention tops $14 million annually.

Vietnamese Buddhist leader Le Tan Kiet said: "We are offering this from the heart, whether there are 13 people or 113. We are offering the Government a way out of this, with no cost to the taxpayer.

"We do not care about the money. The money we can always raise through donations. We will find accommodation for everyone through the Vietnamese people. The temple has room for eight people and we will find homes for the rest."

Earlier this year, the temple had a community-care agreement with the Immigration Department for grandmother Thi Tu Nguyen, who was controversially detained while seriously ill.

In an Australian first, the Immigration Department agreed to release Mrs Nguyen into the care of the temple until her status was decided.

Vietnamese community leader Simon Nguyen said: "Now there are only 13 left in detention out of the original 53. Family groups are being split."

Newlyweds Ngoc Ung Phan, 22, and Minh Tam Ho, 22, who married at the Christmas Island detention centre on Thursday, will spend their early married life apart.

Mr Ho has been granted a temporary protection visa, but his bride was refused.

The Immigration Department confirmed that minister Amanda Vanstone had received the Buddhist community's offer.

A spokesman said: "It is being given due consideration . . . alternative immigration-detention arrangements are considered on a case-by-case basis."

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS, Vietnamese Refugees

Mr GEORGIOU (Kooyong) (12.55 p.m.)--I wish to commend the member for Mitchell (Alan Cadman, Lib NSW) on moving this motion. All too often we forget significant events in our history and it is a tribute to him that he has remembered on this occasion.

This is the 30th anniversary of Australia taking in Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. It is the 30th year since the first Vietnamese boat people arrived in Darwin.

The Fraser government, of which the member for Mitchell was a member, was barely six months old when, after two months at sea, five young Vietnamese men landed in Darwin in a small wooden boat. I was an adviser to Prime Minister Fraser then, and I well remember the discussions sparked by the arrival of those people and by the arrival over the next five years of more than 50 other boats carrying more than 2,000 Vietnamese people.

I recall the then Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in that period proposing the establishment of a minimal facility detention centre in northern Australia. That proposal was rejected. It took almost 15 years and a new government before Australia adopted a policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

Although the new arrivals were, to use today's parlance, 'unlawful arrivals', public opinion was generally sympathetic. A June 1979 poll found that just over 50 per cent of respondents said that the government should accept refugees coming by boat from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. At the same time, it needs to be said that 28 per cent believed that they should be put back to sea. A key factor in the public support of asylum seekers was the Fraser government's commitment to honouring our obligations to the refugees from a conflict in which Australia had been a party. I think Nancy Viviani is right in giving a wider credit to the Fraser government by saying:

For Australians, Vietnamese refugee entry was the first real test of the disestablishment of the White Australia policy and a test successfully passed.

The Vietnamese refugees and the families who followed them faced formidable linguistic, educational and other challenges in this country. But despite the disadvantages they experienced, the settlement of Vietnamese people of refugee and other backgrounds has been a success story for them and for the Australian community at large. The Prime Minister has praised the contribution of Australians of Vietnamese background in community service, education, business and cultural sectors of Australia's multicultural policy. I strongly endorse his sentiments.

It is fitting that we mark the achievements of the Vietnamese born and their children in Australia and the compassion of the Australian community in accepting them. But we now need to also reflect on the scores of asylum seekers who are still in long-term detention. Amongst them are 35 Vietnamese people, eight of whom are children, who are presently seeking asylum in this country. They came by boat, the Hao Kiet. They were intercepted by the Navy and taken to Christmas Island, where they have been in detention ever since that time in July 2003.

I do not know whether the Vietnamese detained on Christmas Island have a sound claim for refugee status--that needs to be determined by a fair process and on the evidence. But I do ask: do we need to keep these 35 women, children and men locked up for an extended period in a remote place while that occurs? There is a legitimate role for detention for specific purposes, such as to ascertain identity, to protect public health and safety and to prevent people from absconding.

However, under the current mandatory detention system there are no such explicit public interest grounds for deciding whether it is necessary to detain asylum seekers in high security detention. In the current international, regional and domestic circumstances, I believe there are compelling arguments for the system to be reformed. I intend to pursue that cause vigorously. I commend the motion to the House.

ENDS

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