Monday, 4 September 2017
Private Members' Business
Cambodia: Human Rights
Andrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source
Through my association with the Parliamentary Friendship Group of Cambodia, I've come to learn how important the close relationship between Australia and Cambodia is and that it's vitally important we continue to foster this relationship into the future. I thank the honourable member for making this opportunity to further this discussion, because it is a very important relationship that we have.
There are currently 60,000 citizens of Cambodian descent who call Australia home. Their contribution to our way of life enriches our society and contributes to Australia's economy and, indeed, our very social fabric. There's also a growing cohort of self-funded Cambodians who choose Australia as their place of preference for studying. The federal government's scholarships program has seen 700 Cambodians study in Australia since 1994. This has provided these Cambodians with important skills and training and qualifications that they are able to take back to their own country and assist with their own social and economic development. Importantly, the Cambodian government has proven to be a strong supporter of the New Colombo Plan, which encourages a two-way exchange of students within the Indo-Pacific region. Cambodia joined this program in 2015 and expects to host 530 students in the program during 2018.
The governments of Australia and Cambodia enjoy close cooperation on transnational crime, education, development, cooperation in defence and trade, and investment. Australia's support has delivered real progress in economic growth and also in reducing poverty in that country. In particular, we've supported the Cambodian health sector through the Development Cooperation Program. One goal of this program is to achieve universal health coverage, which equates to a financial contribution from Australia in the order of $50 million over five years. Assistance that has been provided in agriculture and infrastructure has also seen positive results across the Cambodian nation.
It is clear that Australians have a very strong desire to support and nurture our relationship with the Cambodian people. This is evidenced by the nearly 7,000 Australians who currently reside in Cambodia. Australians are also choosing Cambodia as a tourist destination, with approximately 147,000 people travelling to Cambodia in 2016 alone.
During the 65 years that Australia has maintained close diplomatic ties with the Cambodian people, we have also ensured the relationship has been supported by high-level exchanges. This year the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Cambodia in March; Vice Chief of the ADF, Vice Admiral Griggs, visited in July. There have been many other high level exchanges over the years that demonstrate Australia's ongoing interest in and support of this nation.
In addition to its strong track record in supporting the economic and social welfare of the Cambodian people, Australia has also supported Cambodia's development as a democracy. Australia closely monitors political developments in Cambodia, and has not remained silent in instances where it has held concerns. Indeed, in February this year, the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh issued a statement raising concerns the government had with amendments to Cambodia's law on political parties. Australia made direct representations, including at an ambassador level and at senior levels of government, both before and after the law was passed. Senator Fierravanti-Wells raised our concerns in her meeting with the Cambodian foreign minister during her visit. I am a proud member of the parliamentary friends of Cambodia group. Friends speak up when they need to, and the Australian government will continue to work with the Cambodian government in times to come. (Time expired)