Good afternoon. My name is Dee Dicen Hunt. I am one of the coordinators of the Brisbane Branch of the Centre for Philippine Concerns — an all-Filipino organisation based in Australia. CPCA-Brisbane is part of the SPAN network. SPAN is the acronym for Solidarity Philippines Australia Network which brings together Filipino and non-Filipino individuals and groups in Australia and abroad.
We thank the Refugee Action Collective for the opportunity to speak on this platform today and commend all the refugee advocates and supporters for the work they have done to defend the right of people to seek a safe home in this country. Many of my countryfolk have sought political asylum in Australia.
May I first acknowledge the traditional custodians of this place where we stand today. We particularly thank the Indigenous peoples of Australia for their hospitality and the solidarity they have demonstrated with our community; our ties as Pacific peoples, through trade and family, go a long way back.
Border protection is not a new policy for Australia.
Today we are gathered at a place where in 1855 Aboriginal people were not allowed to be after dusk because of a curfew. That is the historical significance of Brisbane city’s Boundary Streets. A decade later mounted police rode through Brisbane cracking stockwhips to clear Murries out of the central business district.1 And in 1888, following the call of Henry Parkes, who was then the Premier of New South Wales, to end forever the entry of Chinese migrants, Brisbane was the scene of a four-hour race riot across the city, Fortitude Valley, and surrounding suburbs, in which thousands of participants attacked every Chinese business and residence in sight.2 The scenario of that day of racial vilification and violence was the 5th of May 1888 Queensland General Election.
Historian Raymond Evans writing about this shameful xenophobic episode in 19th century Brisbane, draws a parallel with an event that occurred 113 years later in August 2001 when 433 stranded asylum-seekers aboard the MV Tampa were refused disembarkation inside Australian territorial waters. In October of the same year, 356 asylum-seekers drowned when the SIEV X sank — purportedly “outside Australian waters”. The context of these incidents was the lead up to the Federal Election in November 2001 when John Howard said, “We will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances under which they come”.
Immediately preceding these events, on July 20, Vivian Alvarez-Solon, an Australian citizen born in the Philippines, was deported because the Department of Immigration could not take the time to thoroughly check the validity of her claim to residential status and Vivian could not produce proof of identity. The Immigration Department was so keen to apply its policy of deterrence and discouragement of illegal immigrants that, in its haste, Vivian was deported while still confined to a wheelchair, too injured to even sign her name, with a few measly possessions and a doctor’s certificate stating that she was fit to travel despite having just suffered a seizure while in detention.
Today, four years later, prompted by her family’s enquiries, a very determined media investigation and community lobbying, the government has been forced to admit its mistakes and lamely try to explain why the Filipino community’s efforts to delay her deportation in 2001 were ignored and why later in 2003 the Department of Immigration failed to act upon a positive identification of the deported Filipina as being the same Australian woman registered as a missing person.
Vivian Alvarez-Solon is still in Manila awaiting an acceptable offer of compensation from the Australian government. So far, all she has been promised are the things she is entitled to in any case: her return air transport to Australia, housing, medical attention, remedial therapy and a carer because her injuries have left her partially paralysed.
The Filipino community has been mobilising support in preparation for Vivian’s return and we would appreciate any help that you can offer.
We are organising within a coalition of individuals and groups with the Centre for Philippine Concerns acting as a Secretariat and you are very welcome to join in with us. Activities outside Brisbane include a community forum in Melbourne on June 11th and the group in Adelaide will soon announce their plans.
We have formulated these demands: