Written by U Ne Oo on 2002-08-06


Tuesday, 6 August 2002 Legal and Constitutional Committee


OO, Dr U Ne, Secretary, Network for International Protection of


CHAIR -- Welcome. You have registered with the committee your

submission, No. 24. Are there any amendments or alterations that you

would like to make to that submission ?

Dr Oo -- No, I do not have any amendments, but I should like to make an

opening statement.

CHAIR -- I invite you to do so.

Dr Oo -- Before I make my opening statement, I would like to encourage

you to ask questions if you do not understand me very well. I did not

fly here from Adelaide to be misunderstood by this committee.

CHAIR -- We will try and understand you to the best of our capacities.

Dr Oo -- My accent is difficult to understand.

CHAIR -- We have a little bit of time.

Dr Oo -- Could you also please speak a little bit slowly so that I can


CHAIR -- Sure.

Dr Oo -- Firstly, I would like to thank this committee and the Romero

justice community in Adelaide for enabling me to come here and present

my organisation's view. I am U Ne Oo, a Burmese exile and refugee

living in Adelaide. I was sent to Australia in 1988 by the Rangoon

University physics department to do a doctorate under the Australian

government's Colombo Plan Scholarship, and I obtained a PhD in physics

from Adelaide University. I applied for refugee status in Australia in

1992, and the government granted a refugee visa in 1993.

Since then, I have survived as a refugee in Australia and as an exiled

person from Burma. Over the years, from 1992 to date, as a Burmese

exile I have had an extensive involvement with Burmese democracy and

human rights movements. As the committee members may have noted from

one of the attachments to my submission, I began to be seriously

concerned about the refugees in Australia in 1997-98. In response, I

started a South Australian based grassroots refugee advocacy group,

the Network for International Protection of Refugees, and its

objectives are outlined in an appendix to my submission.

Our organisation seeks to address the government's views on the human

rights of refugees and displaced persons at the policy level. In a

personal capacity I am also involved with several other refugee

support groups in South Australia. Our organisation is disturbed by

the Australian government's continuing inhuman treatment of asylum

seekers and refugees. Over the years we have seen the Australian

government carry out misinformation campaigns about asylum seekers and

refugees in this country. Day after day the government ministers

regurgitate untruths about asylum seekers so as to dehumanise asylum

seekers. The children overboard scandal was one such example./

As the senators may understand, refugees in any society are

marginalised and powerless. It is so unfair of the government to

launch misinformation campaign about refugees, because refugees have

no capacity whatsoever to conquer such campaigns. This current

amendment bill, just like many of other government initiatives on the

so-called border protection, is just poking around the refugee issue

whenever the Australian government desires popular attention or wishes

to create political distraction. It is immoral for Australian

government to use refugees and asylum seekers as pawns to further its

political aganda. Our organisation is greatly concerned that the

Australian government is heading towards the old apartheid system of

south African and will be shunned by the rest of the world.

Mr Chairman and committee members, you no doubt find it disturbing

when you hear about the behaviour of human smugglers. You are

disturbed when human smugglers exploit refugees and asylum

seekers. Your are distressed when human smugglers make money out of

these vulnerable people. You feel outraged when humam smugglers show

callous disrespect for the wellbeing of their human cargo. You find

human smugglers despicable because they make a profit out of

vulnerable people, such as refugees. Now, here in this parliament,

your very own government is using refugees and asylum seekers as pawns

in its political agenda. The government exploited refugees and border

protection issues to win the election. The government shows callous

disregard for the lives of asylum seekers by intercepting and turning

away refugee boats on the high seas. And, most importantly, the

government has demonised and given inhuman treatment to refugees in

order to sustain its political power. This is inhuman conduct

committed on a grand scale by the Australian government, and it is

much worse than what any human smugglers have done. I ask: don't you

find that disturbing ? I certainly find the Australian government's

conduct inhuman, despicable and disturbing.

I would like to complete my statement by highlighting our

organisation's recommendations. Our organisation, the Network for

International Protection of Refugees, calls on the Australian

government and the Prime Minister to:

-- Apologise to the refugees who were being wrongly accused of

throwing their children overboard

-- conduct an independent inquiry into the death of two women asylum

seekers in November 2001

-- Carry out speedy processing and resettlement of asylum-seekers who

are held in off-shore detention centers

-- Cease the interception of refugee boats on the high seas and put a

halt to the Pacific Solution

-- Repeal Temporary Protection Visa legislation of October 1999

-- Remove existing excision bill of September 2001 and withdraw

current amendments.

CHAIR -- Dr Oo, you have given us a press statement from December 1998

in which you mention office-holders: patron, Sister Janet Mead, and

chairperson, Reverend Martin Chittleborough and so on. Are they still

your office-holders ?

Dr Oo -- Yes. The only change is in the executive committee

members. This is the original document that was out out in 1998.

CHAIR -- On page 2 of your submission you say that an analysis of

unauthorised arrivals shows an increase in the percentage of women and

children since the introduction of the temporary protection visa

legislation in October 1999. Could you provide us with the sources of

information that you relied on for that statement ?

Dr Oo -- I cannot give you out of hand which source I got that from,

but I have been interested in these issues over the years, so I

sourced this fact from somewhere. If the committee wants it, I will

provide it to you.

Would you take that question away with you to find the source of the

information and give it to the committee ?

Dr Oo -- Yes.

You also state that the policies are not well thought out in a legal

and constitutional sense. Are you saying that there are some

constitutional problems with the legislation ?

Dr Oo -- I am not a lawyer. That certainly does not help my capacity

to fully comprehend all those legal and constitutional

implications. But, as graduate activists and a refugee advocacy group,

we take data from reliable sources like Amnesty International, Human

Rights Watch and human rights committees.

CHAIR --If you could take that question away and find the source of

that constitutional concern, you could come back to us with it.

Senator STEPHENS -- Regarding your organisation's experience, perhaps

you would comment on the impact of the restriction that refugees

currently in Australia on temporary protection visas granted after 27

September 2001, who spent more than seven days in a safe country en

route to Australia, will not be eligible for a permanent protection

visa. This means that although the person may be recognised as refugee,

they will not be able to bring their family out to Australia, they

will not be able to leave the country without their TPV being

cancelled and, if they try to re-enter Australia, they will be deemend

an illegal arrival. Has that been the experience of your organisation


Dr Oo -- Our organisation has more of an advocacy role, and I do not

have a direct involvement with refugees and resettlement issues. I

only look at the policy and policy implications of those refugees.

Senator PAYNE -- There are number rof statements you have made with

which not every member of the committee would agree. I am probably

going to indicate that there are number of statements that I do not

agree with, but I am interested in a number of points that you make in

your submission. In considering that document and some of the aspects

that you have raised today, what is your organisation's view of people

who, some might say, in their role as people smugglers extort from,

but most certainly exploit, vulnerable individuals and make them pay

extortionate amounts of money to transport them around the world and

bring them to places like Australia in pretty average circumstances --

of transport at least ? What do you think about people smugglers at

your organisation ?

Dr Oo -- The people smugglers do break the laws and they are not good

people, but, as an organisation and human rights activist, we are more

concerned about the government implicating the refugees in association

with the human smugglers.

Senator PAYNE -- I understand that that is your concern. Do you think

governments, of any colour, who are in a position to do so, should

make any efforts to deter people smugglers from doing what they try to

do ?

Dr Oo -- I did not quite hear you. What did you say ?

Senator PAYNE -- I was wondering whether youthought governments in any

context should take steps to deter people smugglers from doing what

they do. Should we just let it go on all around us with little regard

for the consequences either for the individuals being smuggled or for

the people smugglers or the recipient countries ?

Dr Oo--If governments try to make refugees less exploitable, that

would be a welcome initiative. But to my knowledge, Australia's human

smuggling law and penalties are so tough already that if Oscar

Schindler were still alive, even he would not be able to smuggle into


CHAIR --Thank you, Doctor. I think we can leave it there. The

committee looks forward to receiving the information we have sought

from you. Thank you and your organisation for your submission.

Proceeding suspended from 3.11 pm to 3:30pm.

Submission to Australian Senate by NetIPR