Adjourned debate on motion of the Hon. T. T. Ngo:
That this council—
1. Acknowledges the positive contribution to Australian society that former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has made;
2. Acknowledges Malcolm Fraser's policy in promoting multiculturalism and acceptance of refugees that has laid the groundwork for a peaceful and diverse Australia of today; and
3. Notes, in particular, the leadership former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser demonstrated in dealing with the resettlement of about 200,000 Asian and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees, especially more than 50,000 displaced Vietnamese, during and after the Vietnam War.
(Continued from September 9 2015.)
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (22:22:29): It is with deep sadness that I rise to speak to this motion introduced by the Hon. Tung Ngo and to pay contribute to the contribution of former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Mr Fraser was a politician of principle and conviction, a leader of compassion and a voice for human rights and decency.
I have to admit that, as a primary school-aged child, I do not think I would have ever seen myself not only in a parliament but in a parliament saying those particular words, having grown up under prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who was not one of my favourite politicians as a young child. I took particular umbrage to the fact that he was married to a woman called Tammy.
As a Liberal, he was not the brand of politics I aspired to. I have to say that I have lived to see those attitudes change in myself, but unfortunately to have seen the attitudes of Australians change, particularly towards refugees, in that time.
Malcolm Fraser's legacy will remain one which promoted multiculturalism, cultural diversity and compassion and acceptance of refugees who were fleeing war and persecution. Prime minister Fraser adopted a humanitarian policy, which saw an intake of around 200,000 migrants from Asian countries, with nearly 56,000 Vietnamese refugees settling in Australia. They call Australia home, and they have contributed greatly to our nation.
I remember, again as a child, this time in high school, that a friend of mine had come from Timor-Leste. She and I had been very close for some time, and I had never even questioned why she was in Australia, but of course she was a refugee. It was not until a teacher asked her to tell our class how it was that she had come to be in Australia that any of us in that class gave it a second thought.
She told us a story of fleeing gunfire, fleeing violence and, indeed, she told us a story where all of the men in her family had been killed. Until that point, I had never wondered why there were only women in the household when I went to visit. Suddenly, it dawned on me that all of the men had been killed, and that is why they had come to Australia and not only made their home in our country but, of course, she had taken her place in our classroom.
Under Fraser's leadership, the immigration department gained a dedicated refugee branch to help process and resettle Indochinese refugees. A special humanitarian program allowed the department to resettle people who fell outside the strict legal definition of 'refugee' but who were nevertheless in desperate need of protection. Most importantly, Mr Fraser rejected mandatory detention of refugees. Refugees found refuge in Australia and were re-homed.
Evidence from the immigration department released at the time shows that, under Mr Fraser, the department did not detain Vietnamese boat arrivals and would only place them in quarantine for a short period if necessary. A United Nations representative who inspected these facilities in 1979 reported that officers in charge showed 'a high degree of compassion, interest and preparedness to help' those asylum seekers.
Thanks to Mr Fraser's leadership, the immigration department demonstrated what controlled immigration should mean: asylum seekers processed in accordance with international refugee law. This is, of course, in stark contrast to the current regime and approach to dealing with people seeking asylum here in Australia, which has been described in a recent New York Times editorial as 'inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country's tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war'.
In recent years, Australia has been detaining asylum seekers for longer and longer periods, at a cost to the taxpayer of up to $400,000 per person each year. This is according to the National Commission of Audit. It found that the cost of detention and processing has increased from $118 million a year in 2009-10 to $3.3 billion in 2013-14.
Since its election to government in 2013, the federal Coalition government has reduced the annual refugee intake from 20,000 per year in 2013 to the current number of 13,750 per year at a time when the world is facing a global refugee crisis on a scale we have not seen since the Second World War.
I would note that there are some glimmers of hope and I think in recent weeks the response to the global humanitarian tragedy and the crisis unfolding in Syria offers some hope. Many, of course, leave Syria in the middle of the night with nowhere to go. They are trapped between a brutal president who is dropping bombs on his own people and the brutal and militant ISIS forces.
We know that in times of need Australians do not turn their backs. We have seen thousands of Australians across the country come together for the Light the Dark vigils organised by GetUp! to reflect on the plight of refugees from around the world and, in particular, the Syrian people who are fleeing war, drought and persecution. Indeed, we have seen the federal government grant refuge to these refugees.
We are fortunate to live in a country that is strong enough to offer safety to these men, women and children. Malcolm Fraser said life wasn't meant to be easy. I would point out that leadership is also not easy, and true leadership on refugees is probably one of the most difficult parts of our current contemporary political discourse. Yet, that leadership has never been more needed.
It is not just happening in our parliaments but it is also happening in our councils, and I want to note the work of the Adelaide Hills Council which recently passed a motion moved by the mayor, Bill Spragg. It reads:
1. Encourages the Federal Government to temporarily halt the sale of Inverbrackie and re-open the facility to provide accommodation for Syrian Refugees.
2. Authorises the Mayor to write to the Prime Minister of Australia informing him of Council's decision and also that Adelaide Hills Council is a Refugee Welcome Zone. Copies of the letter be sent to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Mr Jamie Briggs, Member of the House of Representatives for Mayo.
I note that that was carried unanimously by the Adelaide Hills Council and I commend them for that. I note other councils in this state have recently declared themselves refugee welcome zones, and I can only hope that that leadership grows. It is a grassroots leadership but it also, I hope, is echoed in the chambers of our parliament. I note that councillor Nathan Daniell, of the Adelaide Hills Council, stated:
This is a great idea and indeed a compassionate one which would allow us as a community to extend a hand to those most in need, Syrian refugees fleeing war and persecution. Earlier this year the Council declared itself as a Refugee Welcome Zone and this motion reflects that commitment in a positive and practical manner.
I know that Australia can become a compassionate and humane nation as it once was when I was growing up and thought that Malcolm Fraser was perhaps not the best prime minister. As I say, on reflection, he was pretty damn good, particularly on refugee issues.
I think Australia is a compassionate and humane nation. We were part of the setting up of the United Nations and we have a proud human rights history. I hope that we can have a proud human rights future. We are strong enough to help those most in need and we are strong enough for those who come to us seeking asylum. We should look to our former leaders such as former prime minister Fraser to take that strength from as we go into the future. With that, I commend the motion.