Friday July 9, 2010 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"The refugee processing centre as proposed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard is one of a suite of many hardline policy proposals first brought to the Fraser government's Cabinet table in 1979, but not accepted by him," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.
"Close scrutiny of the now released but formerly secret 1979 Cabinet documents presented by Fraser's Immigration Minister Michael MacKellar to the January 23 Cabinet meeting shows how in documentation the immigration department proposes the establishment of an "international reception centre" before hastily adding that Australia should:
"...under no circumstances [...] provide such a centre on its territory because as an affluent, lightly populated, migrant receiving country, Australia could not expect assistance in resettling persons whom it might accept for first refuge". (January submission, page 4)
"In his Political Memoirs, published earlier this year with his biographer Margaret Simons, Malcolm Fraser paints sections of the immigration department as being "hardline" and "arch-conservative" and having a "strong racist streak", and he claims to have pushed back many hardline policy proposals "time and again".
"On all accounts, the 1979 documents show that the immigration department pushed to avoid at all costs for Australia to become a country of first refuge, but it was happy to put this burden on other ASEAN countries.
"In the Memoirs, Fraser and Simons also seek to make the immigration department the place where the vilifying term "queue jumpers" first originated in May 1978 (page 417), but they fail to report that it was the Fraser government that broadcast government announcements via Radio Australia to countries in the Asia-Pacific, using the term "queue jumpers" in "strong deterrent language", hoping to stop boats from arriving on Australian shores, while Michael MacKellar tried to implement a "boat-holding" policy in the ASEAN region, with the only agenda that they should at all costs be prevented from arriving in Australia - even to the point where immigration officers sank boats in Malaysia in order to stop them sailing to Australia.
"It was Malcolm Fraser, his Immigration Minister Michael MacKellar and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs that set the direction and tone for the creation of the myth that it is "illegal" for boats to arrive in Australia with refugees seeking asylum. The notion of "anywhere else but here" was a governing principle for boat arrivals as well as the refugee processing centre, first proposed when boats started arriving from 1976 onwards."
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]