Written by U Ne Oo on 2002-08-06
AUSTRALIAN SENATE Hansard
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
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
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
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