[Extracted from Senate Hansard, 16 October 2003]

Immigration: SIEVX
Senator BARTLETT (Queensland-Leader of the Australian Democrats) (7.40 p.m.)-I would like to acknowledge what will be the second anniversary, on Sunday, of the sinking of the vessel that came to be known as the SIEVX. I am pleased to note that the Senate today, I think for the first time, specifically passed a motion expressing regret and sympathy for the loss of so many innocent lives. There have been a number of resolutions passed in this place, moved by me and a number of opposition senators, in relation to the SIEVX and various aspects of the situation surrounding the sinking of that vessel and a lot of unanswered questions. I think Senator Collins, just today, was speaking about that. It is certainly something that many of us, including the Democrats, will continue to follow up.

Tonight I simply want to focus on the tragedy itself and on what I think is the welcome development of the Senate specifically expressing its regret and sympathy for the loss of so many innocent lives-a total of 353.

Whilst I do not in any way wish to compare tragedies, quite appropriately a lot of focus in recent weeks in Australia has been on the first anniversary of the Bali tragedy and on the number of Australians who died there. At the service I attended today in the Great Hall of the Australian Parliament House, the names of the 91 Australian residents and citizens who died in that atrocity were read out. Again, I stress I am not comparing or suggesting numbers make one tragedy greater than another but, if you think of those 91 names that were read out and multiply by four, you would be close to the 353 lives that were lost. Of those 353, 146 were children.

I have spoken a lot in this chamber, as many senators would know, about my strong disagreements with the government's policy in relation to asylum seekers and refugees and the Labor Party's support for much of the legislation that came forward in relation to that. I will not speak on that tonight; I will certainly continue to express my views strongly over the days and months to come. Tonight I simply want to reinforce the weight of the Senate's resolution, noting that tragedy of 353 lives lost - of the 421 who were on that death boat - and noting that many people who lost their lives had and have close family members in Australia who are on temporary protection visas now.

A small number of the survivors of that vessel - there were fewer than 70 survivors - are in Australia now on temporary protection visas. The one who is probably most known to Australians is the mother of those three little girls who were on the front page of Australia's newspapers in the days after the tragedy was discovered-three very beautiful young girls, all under the age of 10, who drowned in that tragedy. The mother survived, having to endure the double tragedy of seeing her children drown beside her in the water over a period of hours without anybody coming to rescue them, then having to endure months being separated from her husband, who was already in Australia on a refugee visa. She was kept in Indonesia. It took months for her to be finally given permission to come to Australia. That couple now have a new baby. I have had the privilege of meeting them and their new child.

The irony is that the father's visa - he was here already on a temporary visa-will expire quite soon, if it has not already. The mother arrived on a five-year visa that expires in about 2005 and the baby that was born last year has a separate visa that expires on another date again. That is the absurdity of the system. The motion specifically asked the new Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs to consider the humanitarian reality of people who, like that family, had family who drowned in that tragedy.

The minister should recognise that situation and to give them a permanent humanitarian visa so they can rebuild their lives.

It will be a day and a date I will always remember, because 19 October 2001, the day that all those children drowned, was the same day that my first and only daughter, Lillith, was born. She is, in my view, the most beautiful girl ever born - I apologise to everybody else who might have children, but that is just the way it is - and to think that, at the same time that she was being born and all the wonder that goes with that, there were 146 children whose lives were about to end as they struggled in the water in such fear and terror. It is indeed a tragedy, and it is one that should be remembered. They were all trying to seek a better life. I do not what to get into the rhetoric about asylum seekers, queue jumpers, illegal immigrants or anything like that.

I have my strong views on that. Suffice to say, they were all people seeking a better life, particularly those parents who were trying to get a better life for their kids, and they paid a terrible price, and it should be acknowledged. All people who seek to come to Australia do so for freedom and for a better life. Many people, including so many children, did not make it and I think the tragedy needs to be acknowledged. I am pleased the Senate has expressed its sympathy for this tragedy, and I do hope the new minister can examine ways to alleviate at least a little of the hurt that continues for so many of those people.

X-URL: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/dailys/ds161003.pdf

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