House debates

Monday, 4 September 2017

Private Members' Business

Cambodia: Human Rights

12:08 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that between 1975 and 1986, over 12,000 Cambodians were settled in Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program after being forced to flee their homeland by the Khmer Rouge;

(2) acknowledges the contribution that Cambodian-Australians have made to our nation since that time and the role they have played in the success story of Australian multiculturalism, including the large Cambodian communities in Fairfield, Liverpool and Cabramatta;

(3) notes that the Cambodian community in Australia faces challenges that require attention, including a higher than average unemployment rate and a higher proportion of lower wage employment than the national average;

(4) notes the struggle that many in Cambodia still face from their Government, including the right to peaceful assembly and opposition to Government policies; and

(5) reaffirms Australia's commitment to the United Nations Human Rights Council's statement of 14 September 2016 that we are 'deeply concerned about escalating threats to legitimate activities by Opposition parties and Human Rights NGOs' in Cambodia'.

The Cambodian community in Australia is not our largest ethnic community and it's not our most high-profile ethnic community, but it's a very important ethnic community. I want to take this opportunity for the House to record its views about significant issues relating to the Cambodian community in Australia.

By way of background, there wasn't much migration from Cambodia to Australia until about 1979. The first recorded case of migration from Cambodia to Australia was in the 1940s—one family of nine people—but it was after the issues and the troubles and the terrible tragedies which befell Cambodia in the 1970s that Australia, quite rightly, provided refuge to many more Cambodians. We now have, on the last figures I've seen, around 25,000 Australians who claim Cambodian heritage.

The Cambodian community is a particularly vibrant and colourful one. Those honourable members who've been to Cambodian functions in their electorates at their temples and other events, as I have, would attest to the friendly and vibrant nature of a Cambodian community event.

The Cambodian community has contributed much to Australia. I will use a small case study. Mr Sawathey Ek is a lawyer who resides in Western Sydney and works closely with me and my office in assisting Cambodians, particularly around immigration cases. When he was awarded an Order of Australia medal, in 2001, he said something very profound, and it's relevant to some of the debates we see more broadly on immigration and refugee issues in Australia at the moment. He told a story. He said: 'When my father first went before the immigration board in 1983, aged 60, they said to him, "What do you have to offer?" He said, "Maybe nothing, but my sons will."' That was a very telling statement, I thought, by Mr Ek Sr. And he is right: his sons, Sawathey in particular, have gone on to make an important contribution to Australia. That was recognised with the Order of Australia medal in 2001. I'm sure that in 1983 Mr Ek Sr could not have imagined that his son would make such a contribution that he would receive an Order of Australia medal.

I want to deal with the matter of the interaction of the Australian Cambodian community with events in Cambodia. The Australian Cambodian community, as I said, is a vibrant, strong, good community. But there are some who seek to drag the Cambodian community in Australia into domestic political issues in Cambodia. That is most unfortunate. It is incumbent on governments around the world to leave their diasporas free to undertake political activities in new countries—that applies to the Cambodian community as well—and not to feel in any way intimidated or admonished by home governments for any views that they might take which aren't in keeping. We all know the challenges that continue to exist in Cambodia. Even this morning, I heard on the radio that a newspaper in Cambodia is being closed down, allegedly because of a tax bill. A newspaper which has been critical of the government is being closed down. Of course, this is the latest in a long line of concerns which have been raised with the Cambodian government. The government has been admonished by international organisations for denying Cambodians their right to peaceful assembly, for suppressing protests and for enforcing bans on non-violent gatherings.

What this motion is about is the House coming together as one and saying to the Australian Cambodian community: 'You are valued, you are an important part of Australian society and fabric, but we will not tolerate members of the Cambodian community in Australia being intimidated in any way by anybody, including by the Cambodian government or anybody in the Australian Cambodian community who seeks to interfere with their rights as Australian citizens to express views.' We do not want to see a situation where what is a very troubled political environment in Cambodia is carried over to Australia. We stand with the Cambodian Australian community, a wonderful community that has contributed so much. We stand with them not just in words, not just in general sentiments, but in the view that they are not the playthings of political parties in Cambodia and they should not be involved in efforts to rope them in to political issues in Cambodia. They are Australian citizens and they have every right to conduct themselves as Australian citizens and not feel in any way intimidated. If we see that intimidation at any point, we will call it out for what it is in this House and in other places.


No comments