Monday, 18 February 2019
Private Members' Business
Senator Leila De Lima
It's a great privilege to rise in support of this motion and discuss these important issues raised by the member for Fowler. In fact, he and I occasionally work together, particularly on human rights challenges around the world, particularly in relation to Vietnam. It's an issue that both of us are very concerned about, as is making sure that we have a global community where people are free to stand up, exercise their voice and exercise their freedom, because freedom is not something that is gifted by a government; it is a God-given right. It is people's freedom to be able to choose how to live their lives. I don't care how they do it so long as they adhere to that old Lockean principle of doing no harm to others.
Obviously, in my former role as Australia's Human Rights Commissioner, I had the great privilege of working on lots of different human rights issues, whether it was in Vietnam and speaking in the Australian embassy to bloggers holed up—against the will and wishes of the Vietnamese government—to stand up for their free speech and being able to criticise their government and for their freedom of religion or it was in Europe, speaking at an EU conference talking about the challenge around data privacy, encryption and national security laws. That was just after the Bataclan theatre attack, so it was topical and relevant. It might have been in Thailand with one arm of the United Nations, talking about the freedom of LGBTI people to live their lives freely across the world, or in the United States, particularly talking about the challenge around religion and freedom. I was very privileged to be able to represent our great nation at the launch of the Free & Equal campaign at the United Nations in New York.
This issue sits amongst a patchwork of many global human rights challenges, because one thing is that the task of advancing the cause of human rights never ends. There is always a threat to people's freedom somewhere on earth—always. That's because human beings are fallible and flawed and also because there are always people who want to use centralised power to crush people or individuals. They want to impose their will because it's easier than persuasion, reason and leadership.
When we look at challenges in our own region, particularly in countries like the Philippines, it raises an eye and a brow for many people in here because we are disturbed by the deteriorating circumstances that exist in the Philippines, particularly around the extent of arbitrary detention and limitations on freedom of movement of political officials. Also, of course, there has now been a long history of efforts by the government and the President to be able to impose their will, in some cases in horrific circumstances.
That's the basis on which I rise to support the motion and the resolution. I'm very conscious of the political sensitivities that emerge between our two countries. Of course, we try to get along with our neighbours and the countries in the region, but, if we're to be credible voices in the international community, we shouldn't be afraid of standing up either. We can't do so in isolation; we need to work with other countries in the region and partners in the region to deliver a comprehensive approach of persuasion, to work with the Philippines government to make sure that it understands its obligations not just to the international community but, more critically, to serve the best interests of the citizens of its nation.
The best way to do that is that, yes, you need to have strong laws and you need to enforce them—people should respect the rule of law; it's one of the foundations of having a proper country with a human rights framework—but a country is not built from technocrats or bureaucrats or political officials down. Mr Deputy Speaker, while I respect your great and illustrious office, we here do not run this country; it is the 25 million Australians who run this country. We merely serve them and represent them to fulfil and deliver a rule of law to enable them to live their lives. In every other country there is no difference because the contract that sits between citizens and their government is that the government is there to serve them, not to direct them or impose on them. We are not mere puppets or vehicles to achieve some centralised force or impose order on others.
We know that there are great challenges around the world. There are perpetual threats to human rights everywhere. We have to be very mindful of working with our neighbours and very constructive partners, but we also can't turn a blind eye to the reality when we see senators detained on non-bailable charges. These are serious issues. We as legislators here have to defend the right of legislators elsewhere for their freedom and to stand up for the type of country they want.