House debates

Monday, 26 November 2018

Private Members' Business

Vietnam: Human Rights

11:02 am

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) Brisbane's southside hosts a vibrant Vietnamese-Australian community; and

(b) Vietnamese migration is a successful case of multiculturalism at its finest and has strengthened the social fabric of Australian society;

(2) recognises that:

(a) Australia must continue to advocate for freedom and the respect of human rights for the people of Vietnam and for all people around the world;

(b) international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, have become increasingly concerned about abuses to human rights in Vietnam;

(c) Vietnam's prisons currently hold at least 140 political prisoners; and

(d) during the first five months of 2018 alone, at least 26 rights activists and bloggers were put on trial, convicted and sentenced to long prison terms; and

(3) calls on the Australian Government to:

(a) exert pressure on the Vietnamese Government to allow thorough examination of claims of human rights abuses;

(b) seek the holding of those responsible for these abuses to account; and

(c) help protect vulnerable citizens from human rights abuses in Vietnam.

At a time when those opposite, the members of the current government, would seek to polarise the Australian public with their alarmist and dog-whistling statements on immigration, the motion I put before the House today is one that celebrates and embraces our multicultural heritage and, in particular, the flourishing Vietnamese community in the south side of Brisbane which I proudly represent. With almost 10,000 people born in Vietnam and a further 15,000 tracing their ancestry to Vietnam, my electorate of Oxley has one of the largest Vietnamese communities in Australia, and we are all the better for it. Alongside those in the electorates of Fowler, Maribyrnong, Blaxland, Gellibrand, Moreton and Bruce, our local Vietnamese enrich our society with their culture, their food and their dedication to Australian values.

It was under the leadership of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and the bipartisan politics of the day that, between 1975 and 1982, Australia welcomed about 200,000 immigrants from Asian countries, including nearly 56,000 from Vietnam alone. Fraser said in later years that one of the reasons for the enormous success of the Vietnamese migration in the seventies and eighties was that Vietnamese people and other refugees, wherever they came from, were warmly welcomed with assistance and generosity. Perhaps members of the current government could learn from those decades-ago achievements. I want to be very clear in the House that that is a lesson that we must hear and a lesson that is relevant today. I'd like to particularly acknowledge my friends in the Vietnamese community who have given me so much support, first as a Brisbane city councillor and now as a member of this place.

Today, I acknowledge the President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, Queensland Chapter, my great friend Dr Cuong Bui OAM. Dr Bui for many years has devoted his life and worked tirelessly to improve the lives of local Vietnamese communities as well as those living abroad and suffering under the communist government of Vietnam today. He serves as President of the Queensland Chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia and has held the role of National President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia. He has been a member of the Ethnic Affairs Advisory Council, Chairman of the Migrant Settlement Council, a member of the Australian Refugee Advisory Council and Chairman of the Vietnamese Family Group Home. I'm privileged to call him a friend and to thank him from the bottom of my heart for his service to our community, alongside his hardworking executive, volunteers, members of the community and a range of organisations in my electorate that provide so much cohesion, direction and inclusive behaviour that our community has embraced.

I also want to acknowledge the secretary, Bac Lam—originally from the Northern Territory and now doing so much work for events and activities to provide a bridge between Vietnamese Australians and the wider community. I also acknowledge amazing advocates like Quang; my great friend Phuong Nguyen, who has given me so much support and inspiration over the years; Tuan Le; and my own Vietnamese mother, Ma Chum. They have been responsible for holding so many inclusive community events, including the Children's Moon Festival, the Tet Festival and the Women's Festival.

However, sadly, many Vietnamese people remain oppressed and denied their rightful freedoms. One of the great joys I have had is learning from and understanding my Vietnamese friends. Whilst they have embraced Australia and contributed so much to our economy and vibrant community right across this country, they never forget those family members, friends, comrades and those people who have stood alongside them, fighting against the brutal, evil Vietnamese dictatorship. Human rights violations are continuing to happen every single day, and we must stand up and fight for those Vietnamese people. We know that during the first six months of 2018, the Vietnamese government has convicted and imprisoned at least 26 human rights bloggers and activists under communist laws. We know that these activists remain strong, but they need our support here in Australia—prisoners of conscience that every day are persecuted alongside their families. It was only a few weeks ago I attended a community candlelit vigil in Inala to pray for those suffering in Vietnam today.

So, today, I acknowledge and celebrate the wonderful community that I represent and the Vietnamese Australians right across this country, who have given so much to Australia. But today I pledge to keep fighting for the Vietnamese people in my community, in Australia and in Vietnam.

Photo of Craig LaundyCraig Laundy (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

11:07 am

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I will pick up where my friend the member for Oxley left off. I could not imagine modern Australia without the contribution of Vietnamese Australians. They are the very best of multicultural Australia. So many families fled the fall of Saigon seeking a new life based on freedom and dignity. As refugees, they were welcomed by Australia. They worked hard, they formed community, they got involved in the community, and, like so many migrant families to this nation, they understood that the key to a better life for their children was education. Through that educational attainment that we've seen, they now occupy leadership roles in every field of society.

This motion talks of Brisbane, but, of course, I'm from the state of Victoria. Deputy Speaker Laundy, it is a great day to be a Victorian, after the Andrews Labor government's re-election; I know we've conversed before saying that we both represent Labor seats, as it turns out! Certainly, the Vietnamese-Australian community has transformed suburbs in my electorate—Springvale, Noble Park, Keysborough. In that vein, I congratulate Dr Tien Dung Kieu on his election to the Victorian upper house in the electoral results. He gained the third spot out of five in the South-Eastern Metropolitan Region—he's actually a world-renowned mathematician, so he'll certainly raise the IQ in the Victorian parliament, as he would in any room he chose to enter!—also led by Councillor Loi Truong, a long-serving Vietnamese-Australian councillor in the City of Greater Dandenong.

In my electorate, around 10,000 people were born in Vietnam. It is the most common non-English language spoken at home—around eight per cent of people speak Vietnamese at home. I thank the member for Oxley for moving this motion to honour the contribution of Australian-Vietnamese people, but also importantly to speak out for Australian values of human rights in support of democracy.

I visited Vietnam in July on the Australian parliament's annual ASEAN delegation. We went to Vietnam, Thailand and Brunei. It was ably led by the member for Grey, and I was, in fact, the only Labor MP, which was an interesting experience!

I've been to Vietnam before and seen the energy of Ho Chi Minh City and the beauty of the Mekong Delta, but this was an opportunity to spend time in more formal settings in Saigon, in meetings with the Vietnamese government, assembly members, academics, businesses and so on.

Modern Vietnam is truly a paradox. You have to acknowledge the growth and the success in recent decades in lifting millions of people out of poverty. It really is an impressive achievement. I will acknowledge that they do have a capable government, strong governance in many areas, great discussions in many portfolio areas and the wonderful, industrious Vietnamese people, but it is a government that is intolerant of dissent. It silences critics, and it is utterly selective in its application and discernment of human rights.

Delegations are an important part of our work. It is an opportunity to see and learn firsthand and to exchange views on issues of concern. There is often a lot of polite formality but there can be great moments of authenticity once you've got the pleasantries out of the way. One of the curious moments came when some of the Vietnamese senior officials said to me very seriously, 'We want you to pass a law to stop people'—Vietnamese-Australians—'burning the Vietnamese flag.' We gave an appropriately polite response, but then they raised the issue again, which is usually a sign in diplomacy that they really want a deeper conversation, and so we had that. I did my best to explain to them what I saw as the psyche of Australians: if the Australian parliament passed the law banning the burning of flags, most likely it would lead to an outbreak and an increase in the burning of flags, such are our anti-authoritarian tendencies.

In turn, I raised with senior Vietnamese officials the issue of human rights. I was the only member of the delegation to do so, and I did that in respectful but firm and constructive tones, because I think it is incumbent upon Australian parliamentarians to back the work of our diplomats and to reinforce the work of the Annual Human Rights Dialogue between Australia and Vietnam to speak up on these issues and not be silent. So, as we maintain our growing and deepening partnership with the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese government, where we have so many issues of economic interdependence but increasingly converging strategic interests, we also have to remember to continue to speak up in support of human rights. I do believe that, with the maturity of our relationship, we can do both.

The United Nations has criticised Vietnam for human rights violations—for the violations of citizens' basic freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly. The Australian-Vietnamese Victorian community has raised numerous cases in recent years, such as that of Nguyen Van Dai and five activists, who were imprisoned. Human Rights Watch and their global campaign saw him released, eventually. I know that the member for Fowler was instrumental in that. Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations have implored the government. While we deepen our partnership and maintain our friendship, we must also continue to put pressure on our Vietnamese friends to do the right thing and not to be scared of dissent from their people.

11:12 am

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Between 1975 and 1985, over 80,000 Vietnamese people came to Australia seeking asylum from persecution in their home country after the Vietnam War. Before coming to Australia, some were in jail and in re-education camps where they were starved and forced into labour merely because they had worked with the previous government. Fearful for their safety and hopeless for their future, especially for the future of their children, they fled Vietnam to neighbouring countries and, ultimately, found their way to Australia.

Many of the Vietnamese refugees who came to Melbourne settled in my electorate and many more took their first steps on Australian soil in my electorate. They lived in temporary accommodation like the Midway Hostel near Footscray but soon found employment and started rebuilding their lives. There are now over 200,000 Vietnamese-Australian people living in our country, and there are almost 10,000 in my electorate. The land on which the Midway Hostel formerly stood in Footscray is now governed by a council that has a long representation of Vietnamese-Australians. Indeed, the previous mayor in Maribyrnong is my good friend Councillor Cuc Lam. On this occasion, I would like to congratulate the newly elected member for the South-Eastern Metropolitan Region, Tien Kieu, for being elected for the first time to the Legislative Council for the Labor Party.

In just over 40 years, the Vietnamese-Australian community has played a significant role in transforming Melbourne's west into a vibrant multicultural hub, enriching our society and our identify. We couldn't imagine it without them. Indeed, my children attend a bilingual, Vietnamese-English primary school. New ideas and innovations from the Vietnamese community have strengthened our businesses, hospitals, schools, cuisine, literature and culture. We learn from the values revered in the Vietnamese-Australian community, values like hard work, the pursuit of excellence, and community and familial obligation. The contribution of the Vietnamese community to our society is so visible in the social fabric of my electorate, and it is one that we appropriately celebrate here. That's why I support the Vietnamese community in Australia's efforts to build a new Vietnamese-Australian museum in my electorate, in Footscray. I welcome the Andrews Labor government's commitment of $2.5 million to make this project a reality—a museum to showcase the many ways in which this community has enriched our state, our community and our nation, a museum where all Australians can learn about the Vietnamese-Australian community's experiences, achievements and values, a museum to remind us that the personal freedoms that we take for granted—freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech—are not universal.

In Vietnam, personal freedoms and rights are in fact deteriorating. As the Vietnamese community built their lives here in Australia, they saw with anguish their brothers, sisters, cousins, family and friends left behind, suffering at the hands of the same government they fled. In September this year over 100 members of the Vietnamese-Australian community came to Parliament House to voice their concerns about human rights violations in Vietnam. The delegation expressed concern about the lack of protection for religious freedoms, a draconian cybersecurity law used to surveil the Vietnamese community, law enforcement brutally acting against people conducting peaceful protests, and the horrifying treatment of people who are imprisoned, including deaths in custody.

Respect for human rights, embodied in the concerns shared by the Vietnamese-Australian community, is fundamental to Australian values. The shadow minister for foreign affairs recently said in a speech:

… in all foreign relations, we should have a clear understanding and articulation of our interests.

…   …   …

Our national interests are firmly grounded in our values – and we will always seek to protect them.

This includes defending and promoting democracy, free speech, the rule of law, and protection of rights, including freedom from intimidation.

We need a museum in Australia that documents the Vietnamese-Australian community's history, and their journeys to Australia, to remind all Australians why defending democracy and human rights is in the national interest for all of us. We need a museum that celebrates the success of multiculturalism in Australian society, particularly at a time when the Morrison government is preaching the politics of division and seeking to sow fear and suspicion in our suburbs—when the coalition's contribution to multiculturalism is to tell us 'it's okay to be white' and to blame traffic on immigrants in our community. We need a Vietnamese-Australian museum so that the community can have a place to call home, a place where they can look back with pride at their arduous paths to Australia, their hard work, resilience and persevere to rebuild their lives, and a place where they can advocate for a better future for all Vietnamese people in Australia and abroad. There is no better place—with respect to my parliamentary colleagues here—to do that than in Footscray, in my electorate, the home of the Vietnamese community in Victoria. I want this to be a place where we can celebrate a thriving, multicultural success story that is my community and the broader nation's.

11:17 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to start by acknowledging the member for Oxley for bringing this important motion to the House today. The human rights situation in Vietnam is something that, unfortunately, I've had to speak on in this place on a number of occasions, particularly as the human rights situation continues to deteriorate. My electorate of Fowler is the biggest home in the country to Vietnamese Australians, as you well know, Deputy Speaker Laundy. I've had the pleasure of seeing firsthand Vietnamese migrants who have worked very hard to build a strong home here in Australia and raise a generation of young Vietnamese Australians to make a positive contribution to our country. Among them are many of our doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, lots and lots of teachers, and artists—young Australians whose dreams have been built on the backs of their parents' sacrifice and hard work in their newly adopted country.

On top of these achievements, organisations such the Vietnamese Community in Australia, the VCA, Australian Health Humanitarian Aid and the Australian Human Rights Relief Foundation not only come together to celebrate their Vietnamese culture and heritage but also dedicate themselves to bettering lives in our community and for those here and abroad. As I've had the opportunity of representing such a large and spirited community, it is certainly disheartening, if not infuriating, to see that the human rights situation in Vietnam has continued to worsen, with a crackdown on basic human rights and freedoms very much intensifying. Those who are brave enough to speak out against the Vietnamese government are being charged under vague national security laws and are being thrown in prison without a fair trial or, in many cases, access to defence lawyers. On top of this, those who have been jailed are facing very poor conditions in detention and mistreatment by the authorities. It was only last August that activist Tran Thi Nga was beaten and threatened with death by another inmate in an attack which was widely believed to be orchestrated by prison authorities themselves. It is true that the Vietnamese government has become accustomed to oppressing peaceful activists, both inside and outside the prison.

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting the a human rights forum in my electorate, with organisations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Action Aid and the Family Court Registrar, Registrar Dinh Tran, who is very active in the human rights scene. They all came to speak about human rights issues occurring within our region. I was extremely encouraged to see more than 150 people turn up from many different communities. They came together to discuss human rights concerns in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and the Middle East. This was an image that displayed how much members of my community genuinely care about the welfare of others, and it was a stark reminder that there is much more that needs to be done to hold those who violate human rights accountable. In particular, it was Registrar Tran that noted the release of activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known as Mother Mushroom, as being a very small victory. She was released after only recently being sentenced to 16 years in prison. She was given her freedom at the expense of being exiled from her home country and flown immediately to the United States. This was also the case for prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his colleague, Le Thu Ha, who have now been exiled to Germany.

Vietnam remains one of the most prolific jailers of human rights activists in the South-East Asian region. The Vietnamese government have shown themselves unwilling to adhere to the rule of law and are keen to oppress, jail and exile those who simply advocate for the most basic of human rights: freedom of speech, the right of association, the right to practise the religion of their choosing and, importantly, equity before the law. The economic relationship between Australia and Vietnam is good, yet this should not be at the expense of individuals whose human rights are being so flagrantly violated.

Debate adjourned.