Good afternoon and thank you for being here and standing up for the rights of refugees to a just and dignified hearing as they seek a safe home in Australia.
My name is Dee Dicen Hunt. I am a Filipina and one of the coordinators of the Brisbane Branch of the Centre for Philippine Concerns. I also edit “Kasama” the newsletter of the Solidarity Philippines Australia Network. We are part of an alliance of groups and individuals organised to support Vivian’s resettlement in Australia.
May I first take this opportunity to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of this land and acknowledge that today we walked in the footsteps of all the Aboriginal people who for centuries past gathered on the banks of this river to conduct the business of their communities.
We are here to discuss the plight of people who are held in detention because they risked everything, even their lives, to seek refuge in Australia. In preparing what I have to say to you today I could not help but be reminded of a story from the history of this Morton Bay area. 200 hundred years ago in August 1803 the English explorer Matthew Flinders was charting the Queensland coast in two ships when they ran aground off North Stradbroke Island. When some of the crew landed in search of drinking water, they were not ignored or driven away or imprisoned by the local inhabitants. Instead the Aboriginal people showed them the fresh water spring and helped them to fill their barrells. What a different reception Flinders’ crew would meet if they were aboard the MV Tampa in 2001.
But that’s another story and I have been invited here today to give you an update on the case of Vivian Solon. On July 20, 2001, Vivian Solon was deported from Australia to the Philippines, the country of her birth. She was deported because the Department of Immigration would not believe she holds Australian citizenship and is therefore a legal resident.
Vivian’s deportation and the illegitimate detention of 201 others came to light because the treatment in detention of another Australian permanent resident, Cornelia Rau, was exposed in the media by detainees and their advocates.
To get a picture of the political climate in Australia at the time of Vivian’s deportation 4 years ago, place in your mind that it occurred just before a series of events:
On the 7th of May this year, Vivian was located in a hospice for the destitute and dying where she lived for 4 long years with only the charity of religious sisters to keep her alive. And, during those years it mattered not a bit to the Australian government that she might be homeless, penniless, disabled and sick in constant pain from the spinal injury she suffered just over 3 months before she was deported. And, during those 4 years, the Government could have found her - if it had a mind to.
Today, it is now more than 16 weeks since Vivian’s location was revealed by the media. She was moved from the hospice to a serviced apartment in Manila and the cost of the rent, her food, transport and security guards is being paid by the Australian government while her legal team tries to negotiate a resettlement package with the Australian Government Solicitors. But the Government is playing games with this vulnerable woman and should be ashamed of the way they are treating her.
All Vivian wants is a guarantee that she can come back to Australia with dignity and some certainty that she will not be a burden upon her two school aged boys. For almost 4 months now, she has been sitting in her Manila apartment desperate to return to Australia and re-establish a loving relationship with her children. She has not been able to do so because the Commonwealth Governement is failing to deliver upon their fine words. During this time she has heard the Prime Minister of Australia issue a public apology for the treatment by his Government and Minister Vanstone has said publicly, more than once in unqualified terms, that Vivian will be compensated and that there are no mitigating circumstances in her case.
George Newhouse, one of Vivian’s lawyers, has written to a number of parliamentarians. I’d like to read to you some parts of his letter.
“Vivian has not made a claim for compensation at this stage. All she asks is for basic accommodation, an allowance to live on and a sibling to accompany her to Australia and care for her. These are not unreasonable requests given her pathetic circumstances.
“The Prime Minister and Senators Vanstone and Patterson are telling you and the Australian people that their government is making Vivian a very generous offer. This is NOT the case. It is cynical media spin.
“Vivian, her family and her legal advisors know that six months after she returns to Australia the Commonwealth will turn off her accommodation and sibling visa arrangements. When that happens an invalid woman will be forced to fend for herself or rely upon her sons - two Brisbane schoolboys who have not seen their mother in over 4 years.”
The letter concludes:
“Vivian's case is by far the worst example in what is one of the most scandalous episodes in recent Australian history. Examine your consciences and imagine that you or your family had suffered any of the wrongs that have befallen her. Nothing can undo the damage done to her and her family but at least we can ensure that she does not have to come back to Australia in fear and uncertainty.
“You can help Vivian and her two sons by:
- Not allowing this injustice to be swept under the carpet and by ensuring that Vivian's story is kept alive until justice is done;
- Entreating the responsible Ministers and the Prime Minister to show Vivian the compassion she deserves; and
- Joining a parliamentary delegation being organised to visit Vivian in the Philippines.”
Mr Newhouse has asked that we also write to our Federal Government representatives about Vivian’s case encouraging them to pressure for a resolution and to join the delegation to meet with Vivian and various governmental agencies and departments in the Philippines who have an interest in her case.
There will be a clipboard circulating amongst you. If you would like to write a letter, please give an email or postal address and I will send you the relevant information. Or if you’d rather contact us first, take a note of our address.
Thank you so much for allowing us to share this day with you.
or by post to:
Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia (CPCA) Brisbane Branch,
Justice Place, 84 Park Road, Woolloongabba Qld 4102.