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Coincidence, visas, ATSIC and Mabo day

  • 26 June 2006

Coffee and coincidence

Restaurant strips are shrines to the Goddess of Coincidence. A Jesuit was recently part of a group choosing arbitrarily among the hundreds of nearby cafés for their cup of coffee. The waitress, who turned out to be from Indonesia, asked him if he knew John Dijkstra. To which he could only reply, ‘I did not know him, but when I was visiting Indonesia recently, I attended his funeral.’ It was a significant funeral. John Dijkstra was a Dutch Jesuit who spent his working life in Indonesia. He had a gift for encouragement, and through his friendships he influenced Catholic work for social justice throughout south-east Asia, helping to broaden its focus beyond its earlier narrowly anti-communist preoccupation. This expanded vision could be dangerous in Suharto’s Indonesia, where opposition to communism allowed corruption and structural injustice to be concealed. The waitress had met Dijkstra through her work with street kids, through a group that Dijkstra had begun and animated.


How much applause should we give the Immigration Minister’s decision to give residence to almost all the East Timorese who have so far applied to him? For the East Timorese nothing less than a standing ovation will do. For the government, only polite clapping.

The process discourages an enthusiastic response. A vulnerable group has suffered great and needless anxiety—forced to apply for refugee status, inevitably refused first by immigration officers and then by the Refugee Review Tribunal, then having to appeal to the minister’s discretion. The process has also been financially and spiritually costly for Australians.

A better way was always available. Groups with unique needs and claims can be given a visa available only to them. When the East Timorese arrived in Australia they were refugees beyond any doubt; they failed to be accepted as refugees only because of Australian fears of the Indonesian government reaction. Furthermore, they were traumatised by their experiences in East Timor, have since developed close links with Australia, and it is clear that the new East Timorese nation can only with difficulty afford to settle them if they are repatriated. To make them apply for refugee status on the grounds that they would fear persecution on returning to East Timor now is a cruel charade.

So the audience will applaud the denouement but not the plot. But the play continues, and the audience must demand an encore. The risk with relying on unreviewable ministerial discretion is that hidden