June 6, 2005
Hung Chau was 21 when he fled Saigon on a 10-metre boat in late 1977.
He had heard on radio of the Fraser government’s policies to welcome boat people and others, and read newspapers about Australia in Pulau Tengah camp in Malaysia.
While the other 27 on the boat sought permission to go to America, he had surprised them by insisting on coming to Australia.
An official later asked if he knew anyone in Australia. “I said, ‘Yes. Mr Fraser’,” Mr Chau said yesterday at the launch of an exhibition at the Immigration Museum marking the Vietnamese community’s 30 years in Australia.
Mr Chau, an accountant and president of the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, said he had spent two months in the camp before being sent to Australia. Others had remained far longer.
“It must have been the name of Mr Fraser,” he said. “Without him, there would not be a Vietnamese community as we see it today in Australia.”
Hundreds from Melbourne’s 75,000-strong Vietnamese community gave Mr Fraser a standing ovation.
Phong Nguyen, president of the Ethnic Community Council of Victoria, said Vietnamese Australians regarded the former prime minister and minister for the army during the Vietnam War as a saviour.
“Without you I don’t think I could be here,” Sang Nguyen, the state MP for Melbourne West, said.
Mr Fraser said he was flattered but many others had contributed.
“I think we took some decisions that were very important for Australia because it was the first major non-caucasian immigration . . . after the burial of the White Australia policy,” he said.
But Mr Fraser said the attitude towards refugees now was “not quite the same as it was”.
He called for a full and open judicial inquiry into the wrongful deportation of Australians and the detention of Cornelia Rau and others.
He said Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou’s private member’s bills “most certainly shouldn’t be stopped”.
Mr Fraser condemned Australia’s acceptance of torture to gain evidence and called for the protection of basic principles to ensure freedoms “in the so-called age of terror”.
He said Australia was the only Western democratic country that had legislation allowing detention and interrogation of people who were not suspects.