Debates Day 3 - Thursday 19 June 2003
Parliamentary Record 13
Debates for 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES - Thursday 19 June 2003 Ministerial Council for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Mr VATSKALIS (Ethnic Affairs): Madam Speaker, last Friday I attended a meeting of the Ministerial Council for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. This meeting was attended by federal, state and territory ministers from Australia and New Zealand who have responsibility for this portfolio area. Major issues on the agenda included: progress reports on the migration, humanitarian and non-humanitarian programs from the Commonwealth; the report on the Commonwealth/states working party on skilled migration examining the progress and mechanisms to attract skilled migrants to regional Australia; issues in relation to the future of Temporary Protection Visas; and the Settlement Services Review that was released by the Commonwealth. A resolution was passed by the council that states and territories will be involved in the consultation of the implementation process of recommendations from the review. I was also given the opportunity to highlight recent events and programs in the Territory within my portfolio. I was pleased to talk about the development of the Northern Territory population policy that will include a business and skilled migration strategy. I also spoke about the development of the multicultural policy, and the language service policy; the success of Harmony Month activities; our grant program, which is the largest on a per capita basis; the production of cultural and linguistic awards; and the East Timorese. I welcome the long overdue decision of the minister for immigration, the Honourable Philip Ruddock MP, to grant permanent visas to East Timorese residents. However, I believe that the long, arduous process that the East Timorese asylum seekers have been put through to get to this point was totally unnecessary. The stress that this process has placed on families who have had to live with a real fear that their family would be divided, with some members staying in Australia and others having to return to East Timor, should not be underestimated. I have been advised that 48 East Timorese living in the Northern Territory have received letters indicating that the minister is prepared to intervene in their appeal. These East Timorese are now required to undertake health and character tests. Twenty-one people have already been dealt with. They have either been granted a visa, or have departed Australia of their own choosing. This is from a total of 86 East Timorese asylum seekers in the Territory. This positive outcome was, in the end, a result of pressure and persistence from many Territorians from all walks of life with a common desire for justice to be done for these people who have become part of our community. However, not all East Timorese asylum seekers in the Northern Territory have received letters, and I remain concerned about those whose futures are still unclear. I am aware that some of these applications are still being processed by the minister and the Refugee Review Tribunal. The Territory government has assisted East Timorese asylum seekers in a variety of ways to this point. I am extremely grateful for the amazing job done by agencies such as St Vincent de Paul, Red Cross, Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission, DBIRD, as well as my own Office of Ethnic Affairs. I am also pleased to announce that the Territory government has fulfilled its promise to match, dollar for dollar, fundraising efforts for the East Timorese asylum seekers. Over $7000 was raised for the East Timorese and the Territory government has matched this amount. A cheque for equal value will be presented to St Vincent de Paul, which has been administering the funds on behalf of the East Timorese. Unfortunately, East Timorese asylum seekers have not had their Asylum Seeker Assistant Scheme (ASAS) payments reinstated while they continue to await the final outcome of their applications. For many East Timorese, the cancellation of these payments has resulted in them relying on family and friends to survive. At a recent meeting of the Ministerial Council for Immigration Multicultural Affairs, I called upon Mr Ruddock to reinstate the ASAS payments for the East Timorese asylum seekers while they are awaiting the final outcome of their applications, and I hope for a positive outcome. Dr LEM (Greatorex): Madam Speaker, the Northern Territory is in a unique position to contribute to the Ministerial Council on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. We have such a multicultural community that our experience is real life and, through our contribution to the ministerial council, our experience in the Territory can be of great benefit to the rest of Australia. The East Timorese refugees outcome, I believe, is positive, thanks also to the great efforts of our federal members David Tollner and Nigel Scullion, who worked extremely hard with the federal minister to ensure that positive outcomes are produced for our East Timorese - not refugees, but citizens of the Territory. We want them to be part of our community. In fact, when it was debated in this 4369
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