- a brief historical review
Unlike most other NESB or CALD communities, the Vietnamese came to
Initially without any intra structure of support, Vietnamese Australians learned to adapt themselves to the new social and cultural environment to become a vibrant community with tangible and intangible contributions to
In future growth however, Vietnamese Australians appear to face a challenge as today’s new settlers from
Saigon Welcome Arch 2015, Footscray (Melbourne)
The Commonwealth of Australia came into existence in 1901 as an independent federation consisting of six states which had been British colonies at various stages of white European settlement since 1788, which was marked by the arrival of the First Fleet transporting convicts to this southern land from the
The first important step which eventually led to the end of White Australia as a government policy took place in 1958 when the Migration Act was amended to abolish the infamous Dictation Test, a mechanism used to exclude non-European applicants to migrate to Australia by requiring them to write down a short text of any European language chosen and dictated by an Australian officer.
In 1966, the Migration Act 1958 was further amended by the Holt Coalition Government to allow limited immigration of non-Europeans (i.e. the Chinese) to
The Whitlam Labor Government
Adored by many Australians as a man of vision and as the Leader of the Federal Opposition from 1967, the Hon Edward Gough Whitlam, AC, QC (1916-2014) led the Australian Labor Party (The ALP) into power on 2nd December 1972. In Opposition, he was against the Australian involvement in the Vietnam War. In government, he refused to accept Vietnamese refugees in any large number after the Fall of Saigon on 30th April 1975.
Gough Whitlam was a reformist Prime Minister and although he was in power for only 3 years, he left a lasting legacy of social and cultural changes as
Indeed, as a Labor politician, Whitlam was influenced in my view by two long-term considerations - one was domestic and the other, geopolitical. I served as a diplomat at the Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) in
Domestically, Whitlam saw in the Vietnamese refugees potentially anti-communist Liberal voters in the same way as settlers from the three Baltic countries after the Second World War. Hence he reportedly said he did not want “Asian Balts” in
In his Memoir, the Minister for Labour and Immigration, Mr. Clyde Cameron recorded the discussion on 21st April 1975 between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Don Willesee (1916-2003) and Mr. Whitlam in the latter’s office, with him as an eye witness:
“Finally, Whitlam stuck out his jaw and thundered: “I’m not having hundreds of fucking Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us!” Poor Don looked pleadingly towards me for help but I replied: “No Don, I’m sorry mate, but I agree with Gough on this matter”.
On the second point, not only did he oppose the Vietnam War, Mr Whitlam also considered
The Whitlam government was amongst the first group of western democracies to recognise the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (
This was realpolitik at work and consistent with Whitlam’s vision for
There was an exception though. At the request of the Cardinal of Sydney, Sir James D Freeman, Whitlam agreed for a group of Sisters of Mary Queen in Saigon to come to
Before the Fall of Saigon, Mr. Whitlam reportedly said:
“We believe that political, economic and social changes in
Gough Whitlam 
And in The Age (Melbourne, 14th April, 1975) he was again quoted as saying
At a different time and in a different circumstance after I was posted from
However, when I attempted to mention his policy stand vis-à-vis
But Mr Whitlam was not alone at the time in rejecting and demonising the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ while in power. Some members of his ministry were far worse – such as the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Jim Cairns, Ministers Clyde Cameron and Tom Uren, Senators John Wheeldon and Tony Mulvihill etc…
Senator Don Willesee stood out, though, as a lone ministerial voice arguing for a more sympathetic approach to the South Vietnamese  as did some ALP backbenchers such as Dr Richard E Klugman, Federal MP for Prospect (NSW) whom I personally knew and admired. Dick Klugman (1924-2011) was born in Vienna of Jewish-Italian heritage, fled to
The Fraser Coalition Government
The Whitlam Dismissal of 11th Nov 1975 brought the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Malcolm Fraser, MP (1930-2015) to power and an opportunity to change policy regarding the Indochinese exodus. The Liberal-Country Party Coalition had advocated a more generous acceptance of Vietnamese evacuees at risk before the Fall of Saigon and thereafter, refugees fleeing communist
Fraser’s main focus during this time of caretaker government was to organise a parliamentary election to gain his own legitimacy, which he did with a landslide victory on 13th Dec 1975. After this defeat, Whitlam was again elected Leader of the ALP in Opposition to fight another federal election which Fraser would call a year earlier than required in December 1977.
Even in caretaker position, Fraser reversed Whitlam’s policy on the Vietnamese refugees. Personally, I was then granted permanent resident status when my 6 month temporary permit expired in November. The new government also lifted the entry condition imposed on some former South Vietnamese officials - including the former RVN Foreign Minister and first Vietnamese Ambassador to Australia, Mr. Charles Tran Van Lam (1913-2001) and the last RVN Ambassador to this country, Mr. Doan Ba Cang – that they were not to be involved in politics.
Fraser’s first year in government, however, was drawn much more towards the issue of Lebanese victims of a civil war in
Fraser Cabinet Papers of 1976, released under 30-year Archival Rule on 1st January 2007, showed that the Australian government agreed in September of that year to relax entry requirements of good health, good character and work qualifications to accept 4 000 Lebanese immigrants the majority of whom were Muslims.
In subsequent years, Fraser, his first Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs from 1975 to 1979, the Hon Michael MacKellar, AM (1938-2015) and his Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Andrew Peacock, AC, CGL shaped the Australian response to the Vietnamese refugee crisis - known as the Boat People, in South East Asia and Hong Kong and to a lesser extent, the Lao and Cambodian land refugees mainly in Thailand.
1977 was particularly testing for the Fraser government, as it had to manage a rather hostile voting public in an election year and the renewed relentless attack by the ALP Opposition led by former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on the perceived threat of Australia being ‘invaded’ by the Vietnamese boat people.
This simple yet very powerful message was used then and indeed has been re-used many times since, in similar words or by coded phrases, by politicians such as Ms Pauline Hanson as the independent MP for Oxley (Qld) in 1996 and as a senator for
Since the Fall of Saigon, the first ever Vietnamese boat reaching northern
The ALP Opposition pushed hard to make these ‘unauthorised arrivals’ as an election issue with some success, when it became widely reported in the media.
The Opposition Shadow Minister for Immigration, Senator Tony Mulvihill “demanded that Vietnamese refugee boats should be turned back by the Navy”. Quite significantly, the ACTU President and future Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke, was featured prominently on the front page of The Australian of 29th Nov 1977: “Hawke - Return Bogus Refugees” .
The Fraser government indeed felt vulnerable politically as the Morgan Gallup poll in Dec 1977 found that 80% of respondents wanted to ‘stop the boats’ or to limit acceptance of Vietnamese refugees.
Cabinet papers of 1977 record Fraser government’s policy on Vietnamese refugees in details with an action plan for resettlement of Indochinese refugees which was seen as generous and well ahead of public opinion at the time. Thirty years after, the former 22nd Prime Minister was reflecting on his government stance when these Papers were officially released:
“I strongly felt that we had been fighting alongside a lot of these people, that `the Americans in particular had given them assurances and we had an obligation to them, rather than just leaving them behind, which had been the original decision of the Whitlam government”.
Malcolm Fraser 
Mr Fraser then added in his interview with The Australian: "But when we made the contrary decision, Gough [Whitlam] did not oppose it” .
From bitter opponents as a result of the event of 11th Nov 1975, Fraser and Whitlam became quite close in their later years in retirement. But his defence of Whitlam on the Vietnamese refugee issue as Leader of the Opposition - is hard to verify. Whitlam and his shadow Cabinet were vehemently opposed to Fraser and remained as critical as ever to Fraser policy on this issue during the Dec 1977 election which the ALP lost and Whitlam was then replaced as Leader by Mr. Bill Hayden.
In subsequent years, the Fraser government found itself navigating between domestic realities risking national unity and
1979 was also important for Minister Michael MacKellar as the First International Conference on the Indochinese Refugees was convened on 21st and 22nd July in
This was a global effort through the United Nations to find a viable solution to the crisis in
The drawn out negotiations for an ODP program between
Ian Macphee was a politician of high humanitarian principles. After politics, he remains keenly interested in social policy affecting the voiceless such as indigenous Australians and refugees/asylum seekers. Among the first things he did as the newly appointed Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs was to join hands with the ALP Opposition to make
Through the arrangement of Dr Tien Nguyen, OAM, a former president of the VCA/NSW and VCA National, the Hon Ian Macphee, AO, and his wife Julie, were the guests of honour at the 2012 Biennial Conference of the VCA in
“I was asked to identify the highlight of my time as Immigration Minister. My immediate answer was: "the settlement of Vietnamese in
Then he continued:
“In 1979, Labor's shadow minister for immigration, the late Mick Young and I agreed that humane treatment would assist refugees to blend into our community. Mick had me confer with a caucus committee and with the Opposition Leader, Bill Hayden. We gained a crucial consensus on processing refugees in UNHCR camps offshore and in
Ian Macphee 
So finally, the bipartisan approach to the Vietnamese refugee issue eventuated, but with the Hon Bill Hayden and the Hon Mick Young. Bill Hayden did not lead the ALP to victory in the March 1983 election, because he was replaced by Mr. Bob Hawke as Leader. In spite of what he had argued in 1977, Prime Minister Bob Hawke, AC, GCL (1983-1991) with Bill Hayden as first Foreign Minister and Mick Young as third Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, did not fundamentally change Fraser policy.
The Hawke Labor Government
The Hon Mick Young (1936-1996), a former shearer, was considered as one of the best political brains who moved from the ranks of trade unions to become a national secretary of the ALP. In this capacity, he brilliantly conducted the “It’s Time” campaign leading to Gough Whitlam’s victory in December 1972.
I first met Mr. Mick Young in late 1972 when he invited foreign diplomats to his electoral briefing at the Canberra Rex Hotel on the policies of a future ALP government. I met him again quite a few times after his election to the House of Representatives as Federal Member for Port Adelaide, SA in 1974. He once served as Shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs when the ALP was in the Opposition.
After March 1983, Mick Young was promoted to the Hawke Ministry. Among his ministerial portfolios, he took charge again of the Immigration, Local Government and Ethic Affairs, when I was the Department’s State Director for NSW.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke reshuffled his government 4 times before he was replaced by Mr. Paul Keating in 1991. Through these ministerial changes, five ministers came and went: Mr. Stuart West, MP, Mr. Chris Hurford, MP, Mr. Mick Young, MP, Mr. Clyde Holding, MP and Senator Robert Ray within the immigration portfolio.
Some major developments in social policy during this period included the creation of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) in 1987 with Dr. Peter Shergold, AC, as the founding Director and the launch of the Hawke Government’s National Agenda for a Multicultural Society in 1989. Otherwise, the Hawke government policy in relation to Vietnamese refugees was broadly similar to that of Fraser.
Naturally, each minister brought to their portfolio their own focus and formulated their annual intake program in accordance with government priorities on a broader political and economic outlook. The Vietnamese component of the intake varied from year to year, but overall the numbers remained broadly constant, as a result of
The most significant change took place in June 1989 not only in
In 1983, the Hawke Government had already endorsed the 3 steps towards a durable solution to the outflows of refugees – with the first being ‘voluntary’ repatriation, the second, local integration in countries of first asylum and the third, resettlement in other countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia . This was not a new policy. In fact, it was - and remains until today - a long standing approach preferred by the UNHCR but the difficulties lied in its application. If the root causes of the exodus remained in place in communist
The CPA ended on 6 March 1996 when all UNHCR-sponsored camps for the Indochinese were officially closed. Four days earlier, the Hon John Howard became
Apart from sporadic attempts over the last two decades, the Vietnamese did not figure prominently among the 21st century waves of boast people seeking asylum in
In fact, the Vietnamese component of the annual intake started to decline significantly under the Keating government (1991-1996). With the CPA,
By 1991, the Vietnamese already became the 6th largest NESB community of
In a parliamentary democracy like
Mick Young as a backbencher made every effort out of his busy time to set up contacts with the Vietnamese community through voluntary workers like the late Mr Chu Van Hop and myself. Chu Van Hop was the founder of the first Vietnamese language newspaper, The Bell of Saigon, in
As it happened, the Vietnamese followed the same footsteps of many previous waves of settlers. They tended to live in less well-off suburbs surrounding migrant hostels, their first point of contact in
Mick Young as Minister lost none of his keen interest in culturally diverse communities. When he was in
Senator Robert Ray has a great mind and an excellent memory. Before
I remember one occasion in
On the other side of politics but with a long-standing interest in CALD communities, the Hon Philip Ruddock, MP, had also been very active in this multicultural field, before he finally became Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in 1996.
Ruddock was the Federal Member for Parramatta (NSW) from 1973 to 1993 where he did have NESB voters, but since 1993 until his retirement from Parliament before the 2nd July 2016 election as the Father of The House, he represented his constituents of Berowra (NSW), a true blue safe Liberal seat. As a backbencher during the Fraser government, he was involved in the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees through Minister Ian Macphee-initiated Community Refugee Settlement Scheme (the CRSS).
Philip Ruddock had a very successful career as a Federal Member of Parliament and as a Minister, even though at times he became somewhat controversial. He enjoyed a close association with Asian and Arabic speaking Australians, particularly the Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Lebanese. He developed a good friendship with quite a few religious leaders in the Buddhist and Islamic Faiths.
Shorty after his retirement from politics, the Hon Philip Ruddock received a rare inter-community tribute on 29 July 2016 at
Honour the trees that give shelter
I was saddened by the untimely passing of the Hon Mick Young in 1996. The Vietnamese Australian community can never say thanks adequately to
Be that as it may however, politics is a tough game and politicians at times have to talk tough as a matter of politics to pursue a good policy. It cannot be denied that the Fraser and Hawke ministries at times expressed strong views against the Vietnamese boat people largely for domestic purposes, but when the outcome of their respective policies is taken into account, they were far more humanitarian in policy and practice than the preceding government in 1975 and all of the succeeding ones since 1996.
Even within the Whitlam government, the Foreign Minister, Senator the Hon Don Willesee was on record sympathetic to the plight of the South Vietnamese and similarly but not necessarily well-known on record because he was not in the relevant policy area, the Hon Kim E Beazley, AC (1917-2007) was indeed also supportive of the South Vietnamese. As Minister for Education, Kim Beazley Senior quietly set up a lesser known but very effective scholarship scheme for children of Vietnamese and Cambodians living in financial hardship at the time in
Shortly after my return to
In 2005, when the Vietnamese Australian community celebrated their 30th Anniversary of settlement in Australia, the Hon Kim C Beazley, AC - also known as Kim Beazley Junior - former Deputy Prime Minister and in his capacity then as Leader of the ALP in Opposition, asked all members of his Shadow Cabinet to be upstanding to applaud the success of their fellow Australians of Vietnamese heritage. That celebration in the Great Hall of the Commonwealth Parliament in
For the Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser, the Vietnamese Australian community was the living evidence of his humanitarian legacy. In retirement, Fraser changed his view of the world but not his stance on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. Once a strong supporter of the
Fraser was generous with his time for the Vietnamese Australians, specially the leadership of the VCA / Victoria. Vivienne Nguyen told me that her team often sought Fraser’s views as a mentor and at the same time during their frequent dialogues, they tried to persuade the octogenarian former prime minister that, in their view,
In 2005, Fraser was honoured by the VCA/Vic to mark the 30th anniversary of the Vietnamese settlement. He was quite amused when his host, Hung Chau, recalled an assessment interview at a refugee camp in
The next time I met Fraser was at the Vietnamese Tet (Lunar New Year) Festival on 5th February 2011 in
The last time I met Fraser was on 17th August 2012 at
And of course, the Vietnamese Australian community around
When Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister in November 1975, there were less than 2 000 Vietnamese in
Part 2 - the Vietnamese community: Development, Contribution and Challenge
* This article is an updated version of the author’s one hour long presentation on the same subject at the Whitlam Library on Saturday 8th Oct 2016, as part of the
NSW City of ’s Heritage Program of the year. Fairfield
 Parliament of
Australia, and the Refugee Problem Australia
 Parliament of
 Denis Warner, Not With Guns Alone: How
 Viviani, N., The Long Journey: Vietnamese Migration and Settlement in
 Tran, M-V, Holton R J & Office of Multicultural Affairs, 1991, Sadness of Losing Our Country, Happiness is Knowing Peace: Vietnamese Social Mobility in Australia 1975-1990, Canberra, Office of Multicultural Affairs
 Thomas, T., Balnaves, M., New Land, Last Home: The Vietnamese elderly and the family migration program, Bureau of Immigration and Population Research, Melbourne
 Viviani, N., The Indochinese in
 Gerard Henderson, How Whitlam closed the door on refugees, Sydney Morning Herald, 18.04.2006
 Hal G P Colebatch, The Left Rewrites Its History on Refugees, Quadrant, Oct 2010 (Volume LIV, Number 10)
 Hal G P Colebatch, The Whitlam Government and the Betrayal of the South Vietnamese, Quadrant, June 01, 2014
 The Age Melbourne, Vietnamese community mourns the passing of Malcolm Fraser, 22.03.2015
 Greg Sheridan, Malcolm Fraser was no saint for Vietnamese Refugees, The Australian, 26.03.2015
 Peter Edwards,
 Clyde Cameron’s Memoir, quoted by Colabatch 2014
 Denis Warner 1977
 Whitlam’s Labor delegation to
 Tuong Quang Luu, Ky Niem 40 Nam Bang Giao Canberra-Hanoi: Nhin lai nhung net chinh trong quan he Vietnam-Australia tu 1950, Tap san Dong Nai & Cuu Long So 7 nam 2013
 Parliament of
Denis Warner 1977: Whitlam took control of all aspects of the
 Quoted by Colabatch 2014
 Quoted by Colabatch 2014
 Peter Edwards 2016
 Ky Yeu Cong Dong Nguoi Viet tai Nam Uc / Vietnamese community in
 Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks, Boat Arrivals in
 Quoted by Colabatch 2010
 Mike Steketee, Howard in war refugee snub: Fraser, The Australian, 01.01.2008
 See 
 Mike Steketee, Risk of ‘pariah status’ over
 The Hon Ian Macphee, AO, Opening Remarks,
 See 
 See 
 Greg Sheridan, 26.03.2015
 The Age 22.03.2015 & AFP / APP 27.03.2015