Monday, 27 October 2014
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) in 2015, 40 years will have passed since the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in Australia at the end of the Vietnam War; and
(b) during this time, the Vietnamese-Australian community has grown from approximately 700 Vietnam-born Australians to approximately 185,000 Vietnam-born Australians, and 220,000 Australians speaking Vietnamese at home;
(2) acknowledges the contribution of Vietnamese-Australians to our society in the past 40 years, with Vietnamese-Australians becoming leading figures in business, politics, the arts, and in our communities;
(4) encourages all Australians to take part in the celebrations to learn more about the culture and heritage of Vietnamese-Australians.
Next year marks the anniversary of an event that dramatically changed my electorate and our country for the better: 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the mass settlement of Vietnamese refugees in Australia.
Only 40 years ago, the Vietnamese community in Australia numbered just 700 people. At this time, Australia had only recently begun peering beyond the insular, bigoted legislative barricades of the White Australia policy to embrace the broader, more diverse world outside. But, with the first major arrivals of Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam War, those barricades began to tumble down, not just in the letter of our law but in the lived experience of Australian multiculturalism. The migration of Vietnamese refugees to Australia 40 years ago changed our nation and changed it for the better. Today, there are around 220,000 Australians who speak Vietnamese in their homes.
I am proud to represent a seat, an electorate, that has been the welcoming mat for the Vietnamese community in Victoria and that gave these refugees and their families the safety, freedom and democracy that the government of Vietnam denied them. It was the hostels of Melbourne's west that provided refuge to the Vietnamese families finding their way in an alien world. The hostels like Wiltona and Midway in my electorate provided them with a bed to sleep on, and the suburbs like Footscray and Sunshine gave them the community in which to rebuild their lives.
This gift of safety and freedom has been repaid to our nation a thousand times over through the contribution of the Vietnamese-Australian community in our society today. They are now the doctors in our hospitals and the lawyers in our courts. They are the comedians and commentators, like Anh Do and Natalie Tran, who help us to laugh at ourselves and examine what it means to be Australian. They are the writers and leaders like Nam Le, Carina Hoang, Khoa Do and Hieu Van Le, telling stories about the evolving nature of what it means to be Australian. Finally, they are our friends and family.
The Vietnamese-Australian community has had an enormous impact on the way that Australians think about themselves and those around them. In fact, the 2013 Scanlon social cohesion survey found that, today, 84 per cent of Australians agree that multiculturalism has been good for Australia, and 60 per cent agree that multiculturalism strengthens the Australian way of life.
As I said in my first speech, Australian multiculturalism is one of our nation's greatest assets, and in many ways we have the Australian-Vietnamese community to thank for embedding it in our community, for among the many things that the Vietnamese-Australian community has shown and taught Australians is what a community of refugees can bring to those who grant them refuge. That is why I also noted in my first speech, with disappointment, the current government's moves to cut our offshore humanitarian intake of asylum seekers to 13,750, down from the quota of 20,000 welcomed under the previous Labor government.
The Vietnamese-Australian community knows the impact of this policy better than most. Even today, we see a crackdown in Vietnam on protesters, unionists and religious groups by the Vietnamese government, leading more Vietnamese asylum seekers to seek refuge in Australia. These ongoing human rights abuses should not be ignored in Australia, and I welcome reports that 50 Vietnamese asylum seekers have been resettled in Perth in recent weeks. I am proud of the previous Labor government's record in increasing our offshore asylum seeker intake to record levels, and I hope that one day future governments will have the vision and compassion to do the same.
The Vietnamese-Australian community is holding a number of exhibitions, events and celebrations to mark their 40th anniversary in Australia, including displays of Vietnamese music and dance and social programs designed to give back to the community. I am pleased to say that many of these events will be in my electorate. We will see the establishment of a local park to honour the Australian soldiers killed in the Vietnam War in defence of the freedom of the Vietnamese people, soup kitchens bringing Vietnamese food to Melbourne's homeless, a major contribution to the Melbourne Royal Children's Hospital through their Good Friday Appeal, and publications on the history and contributions of our Vietnamese-Australians over the past 40 years.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of the committee members of the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia on this agenda for Victoria under the leadership of President Bon Nguyen and to acknowledge their vision and determination in making sure that this important occasion is not neglected. In closing, I would like to give a personal message to the Vietnamese community of Australia. To the Vietnamese community of Australia, I say : [Vietnamese language not transcribed]. I am sure I did not get it right, but I can say that in the modern, multicultural Australia we are a forgiving people. I am immeasurably thankful for the contribution that the Vietnamese community has made in my electorate and in the broader nation.
I hope the honourable member will be forgiving to me after my speech. Can I just take a moment to say that I do appreciate the member for Gellibrand moving this motion and giving us an opportunity to commend the Vietnamese community for its contribution to Australia. I very much appreciate the importance of the Australian-Vietnamese community, and particularly its association, and I recognise the 40th anniversary.
I thank the honourable member for drawing attention to it, but I hope he will be forgiving of me when I say that I am not sure that he got it quite right. I would encourage him to look at a motion on which I did something that no Labor member can ever do: I crossed the floor on a racism matter in 1988. I did so because I strongly believe in all of the principles that were enunciated here. The first point that was made in the resolution on which I crossed the floor was that the White Australia policy was abolished by Prime Minister Harold Holt. That was the motion moved by Bob Hawke in 1988, and I thank him for doing it. It gave me an opportunity to affirm the principle that I believe in very strongly.
I am disappointed that the member for Gellibrand did not mention the role of the Fraser government. I do not always agree with Malcolm Fraser, and he does not always agree with me, but it was the Fraser government that actually implemented the programs that brought the Vietnamese to Australia. I said some very nice things about a former Prime Minister. I regard him as a great Australian, but he did have some things to say that I would quarrel with. One of them—excuse the expletives—was said in 1975 after the fall of Saigon by Gough Whitlam to Don Willesee:
I'm not having these f..king Vietnamese Balts coming into the country with their religious and political prejudices …
I am glad that we have an approach to multiculturalism which says that people are entitled to their different religious beliefs. They are entitled to their culture. They are entitled to be just as Australian as anybody else. I think the Vietnamese who have settled in Australia have made an enormous contribution to this country.
I well remember the circumstances that led to so many fleeing. I had a dear friend, Duyet Le Van, who was going, under the old Colombo Plan, to Sydney university, studying engineering. I can remember him leaving in my first year at university, going back to Vietnam and telling me he was going back to a tragic situation. I commented on what was happening in Laos and he told me that I should be more concerned about what was happening in Vietnam. I later saw him come back to Australia as a refugee, having returned after the completion of his studies. I saw him become the leader of the Vietnamese community in New South Wales.
I might say a former member for Prospect, Dick Klugman, was asked by Ian Macphee, as minister, to help the settlement process for Vietnamese coming to this country because it was going to be extraordinarily difficult. I think the 200,000 or more who came under the programs initiated by the Fraser government have made an enormous contribution to this country. I acknowledge the South Australian governor. I acknowledge my dear friend Quang Luu, who headed up SBS Radio for a long time. I acknowledge a young lady in my own political party who is ambitious, and I hope we will see her one day in public office—Dai Le. If we look at the enormous contribution that has been made by these people, we should be justly proud.
I thank the member for moving the motion. I am just sorry that it was not a little more balanced to reflect, particularly, the engagement of Malcolm Fraser and his colleagues, who worked so hard against some opposition of the time to put in place the programs that have made this success story possible.
I too would like to thank the member for Gellibrand for bringing this motion forward. My electorate, which is located in Sydney's south-west, contains the most multicultural communities throughout the whole of Australia. We have over 150 nationalities residing in Fowler, and over 20 per cent of my electorate is made up of Vietnamese-speaking Australians.
I have to admit that, when I first came to the seat of Fowler in 2010, I did not know a single Vietnamese person. The Vietnamese community have been very kind to me. Not only did they welcome me, but they allowed me to share in their rich culture and traditions. I have attended many Vietnamese community events over the past four years, including the renowned Tet festival celebrating lunar New Year. Attending these events allowed me not only to learn more but to grow in my respect for Vietnamese cultural values and their unshakable belief in freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.
The Vietnamese community have come a long way since first arriving in Australia following the fall of Saigon. When Vietnamese refugees arrived in Australia, they had very little knowledge of Australian language and our culture, and they struggled to find employment. They faced great challenges, not the least being the effect of post-traumatic stress as a product of years of conflict and upheaval in their homeland. Almost 40 years on, Vietnamese people can stand proud, as they are one of the most successful communities ever to establish a new life here in Australian society. They have successfully established Vietnamese community services, religious organisations, education facilities and various social and supporting groups to underpin the settlement of their community. I would like to acknowledge the invaluable work of the Vietnamese Community in Australia—the VCA—and particularly the contribution of my friend Tri Vo, the national president, and Dr Thang Ha, of the New South Wales chapter. These people play an extraordinary role in our Vietnamese-Australian community.
The Vietnamese community have promoted their vibrant culture and traditions to Australian society and have done much to contribute in all areas of community life. When you look around at this country, you will find that the Vietnamese are well represented in all of our professions including medicine, law, finance and engineering. Their achievements are not by accident. Their achievements are indicative of the diligent and hardworking nature they have.
Another quality which I strongly admire in the Vietnamese is their strong sense of fellowship and desire to help others in times of need. Earlier this year the Vietnamese community raised funds in support of the Blue Mountains bushfires. They did the same in respect of the victims of the Queensland floods and other calamities faced by fellow Australians. The Vietnamese community also raised funds to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Aside from this, the Vietnamese community have also been involved in a number of initiatives that have led to life-changing experiences for many disadvantaged people both within Australia and abroad. Projects like Vietnam Vision, problem-gambling counselling and the Senhoa project have positively impacted on the lives of thousands of people, giving them not only hope but a chance of life. The Vietnamese community's charitable and compassionate work is definitely second to none.
I have always wondered why the Vietnamese have been so committed when it comes to helping others, not just within the Vietnamese community. A good friend of mine once told me of an old Vietnamese saying that goes something like, 'When you eat the fruit of the tree, have regard to those who planted the seed.' He explained to me that the Vietnamese community has always felt a great sense of gratitude for Australia welcoming Vietnamese refugees when they fled their country in search of peace and freedom. Because Australia gave Vietnamese refugees a chance for a new start in life, the Vietnamese community will never forget.
Today there are more than 200,000 Vietnamese in Australia. They are the fifth largest ethnic group to migrate here. I would like to commend the Vietnamese community for all that they have done in helping shape the modern face of Australia.
With the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon just around the corner, I would like to join the Vietnamese community in Australia in commemorating the fallen and those who continue to fight for freedom, human rights and democracy in Vietnam.
I thank the member for Gellibrand for bringing this motion forward because it gives me the opportunity to speak about the organisation Vietnamese Community in WA, which was established in 1987. It is a very active, not-for-profit, cultural, social and welfare community organisation. It is also the peak organisation, with over 20 sub-organisations. Its membership encompasses the entire Vietnamese community in Western Australia. From its offices in Brisbane Street in Perth, the organisation's main role is helping people of Vietnamese heritage in their settlement. It also provides social work services.
From what I see of its work, it also works very hard to preserve Vietnamese language and culture through educational activities—which I will explain later—and to showcase the Vietnamese culture to a wider Western Australian community. The community's main annual events are the lunar new year, or Tet festival, which is held at the Wanneroo showgrounds in February, and the Moon Festival, which falls around August, and this great event takes place at Girrawheen Senior High School. Both venues are within the electorate of Cowan. An interesting point about Tet in 2015 is that the community has decided that the event will be free to those who wear traditional Vietnamese dress. I am sure this will further expand the standing of the Vietnamese in Perth and will prove to be a highly colourful event.
Next year, it will be 40 years since the Vietnamese people first began to come to Australia in certain numbers. Although 1975 is credited as being the first time Vietnamese people started coming to Australia, it was only after the Fraser government came to power that the way was really open for them. As we have already heard from the Chief Government Whip, it was Prime Minister Whitlam who was against Vietnamese immigration. There are two unchallenged quotes that he made about the Vietnamese at the time of the fall of Vietnam. He said to his foreign affairs minister:
I'm not having these—
Vietnamese Balts coming into the country with their religious and political prejudices against us.
And, after his celebration of the victory of the communists, he said:
Vietnamese sob stories don't wring my withers.
Given that attitude of Prime Minister Whitlam, it is obvious that it was only from 1976 that significant numbers of Vietnamese were allowed to resettle in Australia.
It was in April 1976 that the first boat arrived in Darwin carrying Vietnamese asylum seekers. In the next five years, 56 additional boats with just over 2,000 asylum seekers on board arrived. While escape from persecution was predominantly by boat, the numbers of those who came to directly to Australia by boat was insignificant compared to those who escaped by boat and went to nearby Asian countries where they were assessed and resettled in third countries, including Australia. So, while Australia had relatively few boats arrive directly from Vietnam, almost all of those that came in 1976 and the following years had escaped by boat.
It is for that reason that the Vietnamese Community in WA, under the outstanding leadership of Dr Anh Nguyen, created the Vietnamese Boat People Monument of Gratitude in a small park in Highgate, Perth. This memorial commemorates those who escaped by boat and lost their lives at sea and also thanks Australia for accepting them. This is an outstanding memorial, and I was pleased to attend the opening ceremony. Dr Anh Nguyen told me that on Friday last week that the town of Vincent has just renamed the park Tu Do—or Liberty Park. This is a magnificent achievement for the Vietnamese Community in WA, and I congratulate them and their committee for their work.
I would also like to mention the other great achievements of the community. The Vietnamese language and cultural school has, for several years, conducted classes in a primary school near the city However, Dr Anh Nguyen has just reached an agreement for the 200 students to move to classes at Girrawheen Senior High School, being in the centre of where Vietnamese people live in Perth.
There are many people of Vietnamese origin in the Cowan electorate. Around 4,000 voters are of Vietnamese descent. In Cowan, we also have the Fo Guang pagoda, a Vietnamese Buddhist temple, and just south of Cowan there is the Vietnamese Catholic Church.
In all aspects of society and life in Australia, and particularly in the Cowan electorate, Vietnamese Australians are positive. Their drive to succeed, their outstanding work and academic ethic and their positive attitude are combined with living in a land of opportunity. Under such circumstances, they are successful and will continue to be so. I congratulate Dr Anh Nguyen and the committee that includes two lawyers, two pharmacists, and two engineers for their successes and their great efforts for the community. I am very glad that Australia has benefited so much from the positive impact of Vietnamese migration.
I also commend the member for Gellibrand for taking the initiative on this motion regarding the anniversary of the arrival of Vietnamese refugees. The term 'boat people' entered the Australian language in the 1970s with the arrival of the first wave of boats carrying people seeking asylum from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Over half the Vietnamese population was displaced in these years and, while most fled to neighbouring Asian countries, some embarked on that dangerous journey by boat to Australia.
The conflict in Vietnam engulfed the neighbouring countries of Cambodia and Laos. I have been to Laos twice, just a few months ago and early in 1989 when it had opened up to tourists, and I have seen the legacy still affecting people in that country today from that war. In 1975, communist forces prevailed in all three countries causing millions to try and flee the new regimes. This was the beginning of a great migration and we will recognise its 40-year anniversary next year.
After the Vietnam War, enormous refugee camps were set up along the Thai border as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and citizens from other countries fled the brutality and horror. The camps were overcrowded and sometimes violent, and people lived in them for years and years waiting for the chance of resettlement. It is estimated that approximately two million people sought to escape from South Vietnam after the communist victory.
In April 1976, the first boat arrived in Australia carrying refugees who had bypassed formal migration procedures. Desperate to find a new home, they were accepted as migrants on humanitarian grounds. It is interesting to see through the lens of this chamber today and our society today the spirit of bipartisanship that existed back then. It was not the case that everyone was accepting, but it would be nice to have a government and an opposition that were able to make decisions in the national interest about offering people a helping hand when we can, realistically, rather than the political point-scoring that sometimes is associated with people who are refugees arriving in Australia. Remember: we are, as a nation, a country that has ratified the UN convention on refugees.
By 1979, there was a continued outflow of refugees from Vietnam, including boats reaching Australia's northern coast. I actually remember that footage on TV. After assessment by Australian officials, airlifts to Australia from crowded refugee camps in South-East Asia were arranged for refugees. The Australian Refugee Advisory Council was established to recommend improvements in the way Australia handled this increasing number of refugees. By 1981, 56 boats with 2,100 people had reached Australia and, in fact, a total of 55,000 Vietnamese had arrived in Australia.
This is a story that we as a nation can be proud of and should remember and should tell. It is good to see that new waves of literature are coming out where people tell the story, their family story, that Australian story with a Vietnamese flavour. Obviously, the story of Australia has always been a story of migration, apart from the original Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who arrived here more than 40,000 years ago. Since then there has been a 226-year-long migration program, with the United Kingdom being the major source of migrants for all but two of those years. In these last couple of years we have turned towards Asia for our No. 1 source of migrants.
Thirty-nine years ago, the first Vietnamese refugees arrived on our shores, and we as a nation are all the richer for their arrival, as noted by speakers on both sides of the chamber. Many took that dangerous journey by boat. They came to Australia with nothing but innovation, determination and a willingness to work hard. They raised families, started businesses, studied hard, built homes, formed community organisations and weaved themselves into the fabric of Australian community, and they particularly do well in terms of looking after new members of the community who arrive from Vietnam. So many of them in Queensland settled on the south side of Brisbane in my electorate of Moreton and also the electorate of Oxley.
Many of the Vietnamese who travelled to Australia went through extremely traumatising ordeals, and I am glad that there will perhaps be more movies and documentaries telling that tale. A population-based study on the long-term effect of psychological trauma on the mental health of Vietnamese refugees and their families resettled in Australia gave a background to the harmful effects of mass trauma on their wellbeing. It happens in any war. The reality is that the fall of Saigon was a very sad moment for all Vietnamese people, especially for those who believe in liberty, freedom and democracy, and many of them still gather every year to acknowledge that event. There are 500 Australians who died there and served there, and there are more stories to be told.
I commend the member for this motion. In rising to speak, I want to say that it is good to see that we are able to form bipartisan agreement on motions such as this, recognising, of course, the mistakes of the past—indeed, when our various political parties might have supported things like communism, a great evil in the world, or racism, or promoted policies that we now find to be completely abhorrent. Both racism and communism are abhorrent to modern Australians and modern Australians of Vietnamese background. The reason it is can be told in so many of the stories that arise from the migrants who have come here from Vietnam.
In particular, I want to tell the story of a person who I know personally, whose story, I think, is emblematic of what an experience had been in that time. Dai Le was a seven-year-old child when Saigon fell to the invading communist army from North Vietnam. As the tanks rolled into the city, fleeing soldiers called out to Dai's mother, Anh, to grab her three daughters and run towards boats that were putting out to sea without any idea of a destination. Dai and her younger sister were swept up in a solder's arms and carried to the boat. They were told that their father, a Vietnamese lawyer working with the American Embassy, would join them. He did not make it in time to board the boat. It was pushed from its berth and they have never seen him since.
Their boat made it to the Philippines and for the next three years they languished in a refugee camp without somebody to give them a home. Dai's mother then made the courageous decision to escape from the Philippines, went to Hong Kong and then, of course, they were offered a new home in Australia by Prime Minister Fraser. It is unfortunate that we have not acknowledged properly in this motion the role of Prime Minister Fraser, who was primarily responsible for the orderly departure program and the huge increase in migrants from Vietnam to Australia at this time.
In the meantime, Dai's family relocated to Cabramatta where they have lived ever since. Dai has gone on to university, a cadetship with the Fairfield City Champion, the ABC radio network and ABC television. She has been a councillor, she ran for state parliament for the Liberal Party and, of course, she recorded the second biggest swing in the state's history in a very difficult Labor seat. This is emblematic of the story of so many people.
It was, of course, a shameful episode when we consider the context of Whitlam of making the quote, which so many members have repeated here today, about the Vietnamese fleeing Saigon. Of course, his foreign minister, Don Willesee, wanted to bring some of the people to Australia at the fall of Saigon that had helped Australian forces and personnel in Vietnam. This is like us saying to Afghanistani interpreters in the modern day concept who had risked their lives and helped our forces, 'No, we won't take you.' It is like saying to the Iraqi people who had helped our forces, 'No, we won't take you.' Unfortunately, Prime Minister Whitlam had a very cold-hearted view towards these very impressive people who did so much for our forces and diplomats in Vietnam. It is to his great regret and our great regret that that never happened.
Of course, Prime Minister Fraser had a different view and he was right about it. He was well ahead of his time. Fraser embraced the Vietnamese refugees, praising their courage and hard work. Sydney resettled most of the Vietnamese population in Australia and continues to do so in areas like Cabramatta, Canley Vale, Canley Heights, Fairfield, Bankstown and Liverpool. This migration has been one of the most successful waves of migration and is really a flag bearer, a standard bearer, for migration from Asian countries to Australia. The Vietnamese community really led the way in the modern Australian context as pioneering, hardworking, successful, small business owners and strong families in Sydney—people who work for better education for their children, with extremely impressive and above-national-average results in all sectors of education and business ownership, as well as just sheer enterprise and endeavour.
It is a great privilege to rise and praise this community. Now we think of them, just as second nature, as ordinary Australians who have done so well in our biggest city. But it is important to reflect that these views were not common throughout our history and that this was controversial. Today I thank the member for Gellibrand for this motion. I say to those Australians from Vietnamese background: you are welcome, and you have done so much for our country. Thank you. We recognise the persecution that you fled. As a parliament, I think we can all commit to promise to learn from the mistakes of the past, whether that be supporting communist regimes or adopting attitudes of racism which are completely unwelcome in a modern, contemporary Australian society.
It is a privilege to be able to rise and speak today on the motion put forward by the member for Gellibrand. I would like to congratulate the member for Gellibrand for bringing to the attention of this House this motion today. The member for Gellibrand and I share a border; the western border of Calwell borders the member for Gellibrand and, although he is fortunate enough to have a larger number of Vietnamese-Australians living in his electorate of Gellibrand, I can indeed boast that, of the 220,000 Australians who speak Vietnamese at home today, I have about 1,200 living in the federal seat of Calwell. I have on occasions in this place spoken about them.
But I would like to go to the motion of the member for Gellibrand and take this opportunity to mark the 40th anniversary of the Vietnamese community's presence in Australia. I have listened to other contributions that have been made and will not necessarily linger on the more negative aspects of Vietnamese settlement in Australia; I just want to say that, as far as my local Vietnamese community is concerned, I have never come across a gentler or more caring community, and I have a very diverse community in the federal seat of Calwell. I have become very friendly with the Vietnamese Senior Citizens Group, which operates out of Meadow Heights in my electorate. It is an organisation that was formed some 10 years ago as a response to the growing need for assistance with the Vietnamese community—especially the elderly community—to come out of their isolation.
I would imagine that that first generation when coming to Australia came here under enormously difficult circumstances not only in terms of what they fled in Vietnam butt he manner in which they came here and also the climate in which they were received in Australia, which often was not very positive, as has been noted by other speakers I think this probably would have influenced the manner in which they integrated into our community. That is why I would say the first generation tend to be a bit more insular. Maybe they did not have the benefits of becoming as involved in the border community as other ethnic communities may have at that time. They are now into their second and possibly third generation, and there was a time when the children of Vietnamese refugees were the focal point of concern in terms of how they were integrating as young people in our community, but when you look to incredible success stories—in particular the Vietnamese refugee who has recently become the Governor of South Australia. There is no greater honour or symbol of success for a community than one of their members attaining such high office. I think we can all agree that this community has now, after 40 years of living in this country, become well and truly a part of the Australian community.
I go back to my senior citizens in Meadow Heights. I look forward to sharing Vietnamese New Year with them each year, and each year their attendance grows. What is interesting is that it is an elderly citizens group but they manage to have with them their grandchildren in particular. I started by saying this was a wonderful community. Its family values and the value it places on respect for the aged have never ceased to amaze me. I think the care for their elderly and the respect that the grandchildren have are things we can actually learn from.
I look forward to seeing Tran and his committee again to celebrate the next Vietnamese New Year. I congratulate the member for Gellibrand for this wonderful motion. It gives us an opportunity to speak about the Vietnamese community in Australia, to speak about its successes. Yes, as the previous member said, they are now very much part of the Australian story as I am and everybody else is. So congratulations to the member for Gellibrand and, to my local Vietnamese community: great work, and thank you for your involvement in our community.
I too thank the member for Gellibrand for putting this motion forward. It is important to recognise the 40-year anniversary of the arrival of the first Vietnamese refugees in Australia in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In doing so, we should not sugar coat the events of history. The facts are that the previous Labor government's initial reaction to those events and initial reaction to getting those Vietnamese refugees in Australia is one of the dark stains of our history.
There was a 1976 report by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, entitled Australia and the refugee problem. This committee had members from both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. It concluded unanimously that, during the final invasion of Saigon in 1975, the Whitlam government had knowingly abandoned South Vietnamese people who were known to be in danger because of their previous association with Australian forces or for other reasons. The standing committee in fact found that during the final communist offensive, the Whitlam government had told the Australian embassy in Saigon to help only a token number of those South Vietnamese whose lives might be endangered. It put such obstacles in the way of the embassy that such evacuations, in many ways, were almost impossible.
It was a disappointing part of our history. Clyde Cameron, in his memoir China, Communism and Coca-Cola, threw a light on the previous government attitude. He noted in that publication:
Whitlam put out an injunction of the processing of all applications from Vietnam. He had no constitutional right to assume the powers which had been commissioned to me by the Governor-General. … on April 21, Don Willesee came to see me with a request that I accompany him to Whitlam's office before Whitlam left … for Jamaica … He wanted Whitlam to recognise the realities of war and ease the restrictions applicable to other migrants [from South Vietnam]. Whitlam refused and I supported him, saying I saw no reason why we should risk opening our doors to war criminals. But Willesee argued that this was not the proposition he was putting and stubbornly refused to budge in his fight for what he regarded as a humane approach. Finally, Whitlam stuck out his jaw and thundered: "I'm not having hundreds of … Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us!" Poor Don looked pleadingly towards me for help but I replied: "No Don, I'm sorry mate, but I agree with Gough on this matter." Indeed, not only did I agree with him, but I could have hugged him for putting my own view so well.
Following the publication of that joint committee report, there was an editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald on 28 April 1975. I will quote that editorial:
Very many Australians must be deeply angry and ashamed about the callousness of our government's scuttle from Saigon and its abandonment—betrayal is not too strong—of hundreds of Vietnamese entitled to expect our assistance to flee the fate awaiting the marked-down enemies of Hanoi.
The committee concluded that the government's failure to rescue more Vietnamese had not been caused by incompetence but had been deliberate:
"We believe that by being in Vietnam Australia incurred a residual responsibility, not to mention a moral responsibility, to assist in the evacuation from Vietnam of those who had assisted our forces there and whose lives were believed to be in danger because of that assistance … in view of the Committee's belief that the Australian Government had been informed of the gravity and magnitude of the situation in South Vietnam some three weeks before the evacuation of the Australian Embassy, we are unable to come to any conclusion other than one of deliberate delay in order to minimise the number of refugees."
Thankfully for this country, Malcolm Fraser had the foresight to go in the other direction and to welcome those Vietnamese refugees to our country. What a valuable contribution they have made. I see that in my area and I see that in the areas of Liverpool and Cabramatta and throughout south-west Sydney.
The Vietnamese community have been so successful for a few reasons. Firstly, they are an entrepreneurial community. They believe in small business, hard work, getting in and having a go. Secondly, they believe in family. All of those in the Vietnamese community I know have strong family ties and a strong family as a support unit. Thirdly, there is education. The Vietnamese community have made a great contribution to our society. We should welcome them and admit our mistakes of the past.
Sitting suspended from 13:35 to 16:01