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Speeches at the XXIII Congress of the Socialist International, Athens
Global Solidarity: The courage to make a difference

Speech by Maria
Vamvakinou, Federal Member for Calwell, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament, Australian Labor Party, ALP

The draft statement before us calls on the international community and us as members of the socialist international to recognise the importance of migration as a worldwide phenomenon which has an economic and environmental impact on human development. Further it calls on us to form new migration policies that address the demands of our time in a manner which upholds the rights and dignities of our fellow human beings.

Migration has in recent years become a far more contentious and complex issue than it has ever been in the past. Countries around the world are grappling with the enormous challenges that the migration (movement) of people is bringing to bear upon their societies.   For some countries migration, as a receiver country, rather than as a sender country is a new experience – we see this in the southern European countries for example as they move to meet the challenges of migration

Today however I want to speak about my country, Australia, a country that has been on the receiving end of migration for almost all of its modern existence. A country whose citizens come from every corner of the world. Developing migration policies  that provide opportunity and offer sanctuary to millions of people from around the world has been the bedrock of our Australian society’s development and progress.

Since our post world war 2 migration policies were implemented Australia has grown into a strong, highly developed economy with a vibrant and rich multicultural, multilingual and multi-faith society – indeed migration is Australia’s greatest success story which I believe is a model that we here today can learn from as we attempt to craft a migration agenda that meets the challenges of the migration phenomenon.

Indeed we are please that this forum recognises the need for all countries of the world to accept collective responsibility for the formulation of policies that centre around the recognition that migrants are human beings with civil, social, cultural and employment rights.   In doing so we must ensure that migration policies are not captured or driven by xenophobia and racism (as we see). As members of the Socialist International we must reject policies that seek to punish those fellow human beings who for whatever reason are forced to leave their homes and often their families in search of the right to life and to freedoms.

The complexity of migration demands that we deal with it in a manner that is fitting of our humanity. Friends there is only one way to deal with each other – that way is one of compassion, sensitivity to each others predicaments and above all, acceptance of each others diversity and respect for each others human rights. Above all we must craft an immigration agenda that is socially just by recognising that we must share as equitably as possible the resources and wealth of our planet and this at a time when those resources are becoming increasingly scarce.  

We need to resist the punitive and racist policies that have  developed in recent years as a response to the enormous movement of people on a global scale. They serve no purpose other than to harm the dignity and attack the human rights of our fellow human beings. 

Such was the case in Australia under 11 years of John Howard’s government. Let me take some time to tell you what we should never adopt in our migration agenda.

We should never adopt what was known as the Pacific solution (under Howard) and Temporary Protection visas. These were policies that entailed border protection and various migration amendment legislation giving powers to the Australian Defence Force to intercept and prohibit vessels containing potential asylum seekers from accessing Australian territory and further transporting these people to third countries including Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea where they were detained whilst a determination was made on their refugee status.

Temporary protection visas are an unjust regime for asylum seekers set up by Howard – under this regime unauthorised arrivals who were owed protection under Australia’s international obligations were only eligible for TPV is the first instance. It meant that refugees had no travel rights, reduced access to refugee settlement services such as English Language programs, employment and income assistance and could not be reunited with other family members.

As a result of these draconian and inhumane policies Australia’s reputation was significantly impacted, these were policies that were described as the “Western World’s worst practice” because they did not observe international obligations in the protection of refugees. It was a system that arbitrarily detained refugees indefinitely without access to judicial review mechanism in contravention of Article 9 of the International covenant on Civil and Political rights, of which Australia is a signatory. 

These policies of detention were used by the previous Australian government as a policy of deterrence against future unauthorised arrivals – comrades this is not how you treat fellow human beings!

The Pacific solution implemented by Howard cost the Australian taxpayer in excess of $1 billion over 5 years to process less than 1,700 asylum seekers in offshore facilities – almost $500,000 per person – it is estimated that it cost 7 times more to process asylum seekers on Pacific islands than if it was done on the Australian mainland – colleagues it is an enormous amount of money to spend on treating fellow human beings in an unspeakable manner – we must never aspire to such methods in our migration policies.

Such heavy handedness and cruelty from a country who owes it modern development to migration – this was a dark chapter in Australia’s history of migration one that I have raised here today as an example of what never to do –

There is good news however for Australia. In November last year we had our federal elections and the Howard government was kicked out of office – Howard lost his seat.

The new Australian government – the Australian Labor Party government with Kevin Rudd as our Prime Minister moved swiftly to begin dismantling the Pacific solution and restoring compassion and dignity to our immigration polices.

We are committed to the fair treatment of asylum seekers – we are working on developing a fairer rules based process for granting asylum. In our May budget we increased our commitment to refugees, our Humanitarian Program is increasing to 13,500 in 2008 – 09. This includes 6,500 offshore refugee places in the coming financial year to assist people affected by the conflict in Iraq. Africa, the Middle East and Asia will each be allocated a 33 percent intake with the remaining 1 per cent allocated for contingencies.

A further 500 places have been set aside specifically for Iraqi refugees in the coming year with a further 600 places set aside in 2007-08 for Iraqis who worked with Australian forces and their families. 42 million dollars will be spent over 4 years to help these families settle in Australia.

We will investigate strengthing the relationship between the UNHCR and Australia and for Australia to share the knowledge and expertise it has to offer with the UNHCR and through it the international community.

We have scrapped the Temporary Protection visas – from early to 2008 – 09 people found to refugees will receive permanent visas regardless of their mode of arrival.

Australia will invest 50 million over the next 4 years to strengthen measures to help migrants gain the language skills needed to join the Australian workforce. This includes 40 million for the Employment Pathways Program and 9.2 million for Traineeships in English and Work Readiness.


The Australian Labor government recognises the economic benefits for our region of appropriate migration schemes and are currently working through proposals to develop appropriate policy responses. In particular we are looking at the economic and educational opportunities available to young people across the region, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines.

Comrades I know how important migration is and how important it is for countries to have humane and decent migration policies. I represent an electorate that is culturally very diverse, a mirror of the Australian migration success story – I represent the largest Turkism –speaking community in Australia – this year they are marking and celebrating the 40 years since the first Turkish immigrants came to Australia – I represent established migrant communities and new emerging communities, such as the Iraqi Chaldean Christian community, all have moved to Australia for a better life – our society will benefit from their presence

I know this also because I am testimony to this fact. With my family I too left my place of birth here in Greece many years ago, part of the post ww2 migration – in search of a better life – we too were economic refugees on the move from a country and region that was unable to care for all its people – Australia opened its doors to the hundreds and thousands of migrants who came in search of a better life -