Ruddock challenged on immigration policy
By Sarah Stephen
PERTH — Federal minister for immigration Philip Ruddock presented the closing speech to a two-day conference on immigration here on December 1. Speaking at the University of WA, Ruddock addressed the "growing problem of illegal immigration".
Twenty people amongst an audience of 100 attended to grill Ruddock on recent legislative restrictions on refugees and treatment of East Timorese refugees in Australia. Those asking questions included members of the Democratic Socialist Party, Resistance, Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor and the International Socialist Organisation.
Ruddock claimed that Australia has a large, generous immigration program, with a balance between business and skilled migration, and family reunion and refugee intake. "But the growing problem of illegal arrivals threatens to upset the balance we've achieved."
After a 45-minute talk, the audience was allowed 15 minutes to ask questions.
One member of the audience, wearing a T-shirt saying "Since 1788 we've all been illegal immigrants", asked why Australia accepts only 12,000 refugees each year out of an estimated 20 million displaced people worldwide (0.5% of the total).
Ruddock alleged that very few displaced people are really refugees and that the UN High Commission for Refugees identifies only 60,000 people as in urgent need of resettlement.
An open door policy, he claimed, would mean that people smugglers would be in control of Australia's immigration program, and that thousands "languishing in refugee camps" would miss out.
He didn't explain why, if there was genuine concern for the welfare of refugees, Australia couldn't take in refugees arriving by boat as well as those languishing in refugee camps.