House debates

Thursday, 16 February 2012



12:55 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have not yet had an opportunity in the parliament to welcome the freeing by a Malaysian court of my friend Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition in Malaysia. The cooked-up trial against him, the second one for alleged sodomy, was clearly bogus. The gentleman who made the allegations visited Malaysian Prime Minister Najib's family home before he went to the police station. It is great progress to see that in Malaysia the courts now feel sufficiently independent to throw out these obviously bogus charges.

Anwar Ibrahim and the Malaysian press are speculating that an election will be held very soon in Malaysia. I was surprised recently at the Economist saying that younger people find 64-year-old Anwar untrustworthy. I remember at the last elections, in 2008, that Anwar was able to contest his coalition won 50 per cent of the seats in the Malaysian peninsula. I certainly hope that that will be the situation again. It will be wonderful to see from an outsider's point of view a peaceful democratic transition in Malaysia from one party to another. It has happened in Indonesia. It is to the great benefit of Australia that a democracy in Indonesia has seen people transfer from party to party in presidential elections and in parliamentary elections in an entirely peaceful way. The economic progress in Indonesia, together with its democratic process, shows that what someone said were 'Asian preferences militating against elected democracy' is untrue.

Malaysia also has a tradition of the rule of law. Obviously the justices have decided to overcome some of the other problems they have in Malaysia that nearby Indonesia does not have, with its freedom of the press. Anwar Ibrahim and the opposition parties in Malaysia have identified that they have no ability to project their views in the Malaysian media prior to elections there. Indonesia is much better than Australia with its diversity of media. The raucous nature of the Indonesian media is something that all Democrats should celebrate. I know my friend Bambang Harymurti, who was the editor of Tempo and who now runs his own TV station, is constantly chasing corrupt politicians, institutions and bureaucrats in Indonesia, and that is something to be encouraged and supported.

Political parties in Malaysia have different altitudes to the proposal of the Australian government to send people who are not regarded as refugees to Malaysia and for us to take people from the back of the queue who have come to that country. There are more than 90,000 people registered by the UNHCR in Malaysia, and that country is having a great burden placed on it. I think it would be very good for Australia to take some of that burden on our rich, strong and wealthy shoulders. It is not something that the opposition has supported. There are many people in the media who would normally be strong supporters of Mr Abbott and the coalition who think that it is disgraceful that the Liberal Party is lining up with the Greens to oppose a regional solution to these kinds of problems. With the Malaysian government, even with the character of Mr Najib, running a policy of engagement with Australia, I think it would be very good if the Australian media and the UNHCR were able to observe these arrangements in place. I am sure that would keep the Malaysians very close to the mark.

I think it is farcical when you look at the speeches of all of the people in the opposition who spoke about these matters of caning and about their alleged concerns for human rights that they had never once, prior to opposing Labor's policy, raised the human rights convention or the issue of caning in Malaysia. I have been through all of their records and, unlike me and other members on the government side, those opposite had not raised these issues, except in order to sabotage a very good policy for a regional solution to a difficult issue of asylum seekers. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

Main Committee adjourned at 13:00