Senate debates

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Australian Human Rights Commission; Consideration

6:03 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document is the report from the Human Rights Commission from May last year to the former Attorney-General, then Senator George Brandis about nine Vietnamese men in detention. They were interviewed, making protection visa or refugee claims, back in 2013 by then Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials in the presence of Vietnamese officials. Indeed, some interviews with Vietnamese detainees were conducted by Vietnamese officials.

Hopefully, it doesn't need elaborating to this chamber or to the wider public that there are still very significant human rights problems in Vietnam. I won't detail them here, but there are plenty of them on the public record from relevant agencies, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It's a very basic standard that when somebody is fleeing persecution and seeking protection from Australia or from another nation because of what they allege to be serious persecution in the country they fled from that officials from that government they fled from not be part of their identity process or their interviews or claims to be heard. It would seem to be pretty self-evident but is clearly not self-evident to the immigration department.

It is worth noting that this report by Gillian Triggs, no longer in the position of President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, made a number of recommendations, some of them consistent with previous recommendations by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, which also investigated the matter. It's pleasing to see that the department—and the minister, I presume—agreed with at least some of those recommendations, including for compensation to be paid to two of those people, although not for the rest. Nonetheless, it provides yet another example—certainly not a standalone or rare case—of poor process and culture in this department.

I speak of this particularly because in my home town of Brisbane I had the privilege of being able to give a short speech at the Lunar New Year Tet festival of the local Vietnamese community in Inala in the south west. The local member, Milton Dick, gave quite a fine speech—short, as they always are at these events. A short speech is a good speech; I have only two minutes left on this one, which is all I need to make the key point. As the local member said, the Vietnamese community in settling in Australia have been amongst the most successful demonstrations of a community fleeing persecution, war and terror, building new lives and contributing massively to the culture, economy, diversity, stability and deeper strength of our modern multicultural nation. But the minds and hearts of the people and their descendants continues, as it does for all of us for many subsequent generations, to be partly back concerned about what happens in the country where they came from. They continue to be concerned about the serious human rights breaches and problems in the totalitarian regime of Vietnam.

I mention that because it is common at such events for politicians and representatives of all stripes to make nice comments about what a great job the Vietnamese community have done and continue to do. It's a good thing for all of us to be able to acknowledge, but it is also a key example of the benefit that comes from welcoming, accepting and supporting people who are fleeing persecution, rather than forcing them back, pushing them away or, in this case, trying to screen out their claim of refugee status—fleeing serious persecution—from even being considered at all. If we had, back in the mid-1970s, taken the approach of screening out and not even listening to people who claimed to be fleeing serious persecution, we would not have a Vietnamese community here at all and would not be able to make these nice speeches and to acknowledge the contributions they have made. That same principle applies here today: let's go back to welcoming people or at least listening to their claims of persecution (Time expired)