House debates

Monday, 7 December 2020

Private Members' Business


6:17 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) affirms the longstanding, important, and respectful relationship between Australia and the Philippines, and supports the ongoing cooperation between our countries in key areas like regional development, maritime security, and disaster risk and reduction management;

(2) expresses its opposition to the recently intensified repression directed at human rights and labour rights defenders in the Philippines, evident by the:

(a) International Trade Union Confederation listing the Philippines in the top ten worst countries for workers' rights as a result of the extrajudicial killings of forty-six union members and officials in the last three years;

(b) deteriorating human rights environment and the rise in unlawful killings by state agencies which means that workers, civil servants, trade union organisations, and labour activists fear for their safety;

(c) nearly three-year extension of martial law in Mindanao, after it was initially approved for sixty days, and which only ended in December 2019; and

(d) UN Human Rights Council's adoption of resolution 41/2 expressing concern over human rights violations and requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines that was due in June 2020;

(3) supports recommendations put forward by the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Conference Committee on the Application of Standards to:

(a) oppose any language that creates a negative stigmatisation of those defending the rights of workers and human rights; and

(b) oppose any military intervention in industrial disputes, as such interventions in trade union affairs can only occur with approval of the Government, which constitutes a grave violation of human rights and the principles of freedom of association; and

(4) calls on the Government to support the upholding of labour and human rights, in line with international standards, by endorsing:

(a) the ILO's resolution to send a high-level tripartite mission to the Philippines to conduct an open, transparent, and robust investigation of the human rights situation; and

(b) any auditing process of Australian security engagements in the Philippines, such as the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, as a way of ensuring we are not indirectly supporting human rights violations in the Philippines.

Australia has a strong connection with the people of the Philippines. We have been and we will continue to be supportive of their peaceful and prosperous development. This motion was prompted by a meeting I had with a delegation of labour organisations, including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the ACTU, Union Aid Abroad and the Filipino workers representative group, Kilusang Mayo Uno. I thank them for raising this serious issue and I particularly acknowledge the unstinting work of AFIDA, with solidarity of workers around the world, but, most importantly, in countries where workplace rights and access to union representation is limited. We 're fortunate to live in a country that has a diverse and healthy union movement and in which, generally speaking, there is respect and protection for the role of unions, despite the best efforts of the coalition. Sadly. there are many parts of the world where that is not the case. In partnership with the Metal Workers Alliance, AFIDA and the AMWU, the Australian union movement is providing invaluable education and support to Filipino union activists in response to the ongoing intimidation by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

The reality for many workers in the Philippines is pretty tough. A skilled metal worker earns $12 a day in Manila, which is less than half of the daily cost of living for a family. There is no minimum wage and less than 10 per cent of workers are unionised. It's commonly the case that union representatives are labelled 'factory terrorists' by corporations that operate in the Philippines, some of which are multinational companies with brands that are well-known here in Australia. The International Trade Union Confederation consistently ranks the Philippines among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers' rights. There is credible evidence that 46 union members and officials have been murdered in the past three years with at least the complicity of the Duterte government.

There has also been an increase in violence directed at journalists in a bid to silence criticism and instil fear. Indeed, anyone who criticises the government can be targeted, as evidenced by the arrest of journalist Maria Ressa and the forced shutdown of ABS-CBN, which resulted in 11,000 media workers losing their jobs. Unfortunately the situation has worsened through the pandemic, with the government moving to suppress union activities in areas of essential service work and, health care, thereby hampering efforts to ensure safe workplaces and access to PPE.

What's more, in July the government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which criminalises conduct that is regarded by the United Nations as being legitimate forms of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Under that law the compilation of a list of alleged terrorists by the newly created Anti-Terrorism Council has resulted in surveillance, arrests and detentions with a focus on the red tagging of unionists, journalists and other members of civil society. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concerns that these laws violate the UN declaration on human rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Just last week the ACTU held a rally at the Filipino embassy, and President Michele O'Neil rightly called on the Australian government to take a more active stance. In October the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds, visited the Philippines for the purposes of deepening defence ties. We don't know if she raised concerns about human rights during these talks, but we do know that the minister's public statements contained no mention of the issue.

The Morrison government should be calling on the Duterte administration to stop the practice of red tagging against trade unions and civil society organisations, accept the ILO high-level tripartite mission to the Philippines, repeal any measures within the Anti-Terrorism Act that are inconsistent with human rights, and ensure the health, safe and security of all Filipino workers.

Workers' rights are human rights. There has been no greater organisational force for good and for human progress than the labour movement. All the best things we have achieved—democracy, equality, egalitarianism, antidiscrimination, peace and freedom—all these things have been fought for, campaigned for and bit by bit achieved or improved or protected with the efforts and principled commitment of organised labour, by unionists and their representatives in the union movement.

This year has opened our eyes to the importance of essential workers, fair and safe working conditions, secure work and proper leave arrangements, not just for workers and their families but for maintenance of basic services and public health. Yet workers' pay has fallen to the lowest share of national income in 50 years and wages have flatlined in a worrying disconnection from profits and productivity. If there's one thing we should carry into 2021, whether it's in the Philippines or in Australia, it's that we need a strong labour movement as the great guarantor of fairness and social— (Time expired)

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder for the motion?

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

6:23 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our country and the Philippines. But in fact we have a connection to the Philippines going back well before then, particularly during the Second World War, when General Macarthur left Mindanao Island for Darwin and flew down to Alice Springs—there was no railway in those days. From Alice Springs he took the train. It was at a small town in the mid-north of SA, Terowie, that two Advertiser journalists were able to rendezvous with him, where he made the famous comment to those journalists, which ended up in a headline in the AdelaideAdvertiser: 'I shall return.' That turned into a famous catchcry of the general. Of course did return in 1944 and went on up to Japan. As an allied commander my grandfather served under him—quite a way under him, I might add. He made an enormous impact and was very significant in the liberation of the Philippines.

Our relationship with the Philippines emanates not just from the diplomatic relationship from 1945, but before. They are a very important ally to us to this day, of course, being a member of ASEAN, a very important trading partner.

I had the pleasure of travelling there on an Australian Political Exchange Council visit in 2011. It is a beautiful country with great opportunity. There have been many challenges in their past, there are currently challenges and there will be into their future, but they are a very important partner for us. We are seeing more and more as new challenges arise in our region that we want strong relationships with all those nations, particularly the South-East Asian nations. So our relationship with the Philippines is very important.

I commend the member for moving this motion, because some of the things that are alleged to be happening in the Philippines are very concerning. He gave a catalogue of issues to do with workers' rights and general freedoms in the Philippines, particularly the freedom of the press, which are universal values that we all share across all sides of the chamber. He also mentioned the ILO, and I would like to take the opportunity to say that there's never been a more important time to embrace international organisations, the international rules based system and international law. In this country at the moment we are finding, with some of the trade challenges that we have with partners like China, that it is so important that there are structures that we can engage in to have fair rules based dispute resolution mechanisms and a fair playing field for everyone concerned.

Without digressing from the Philippines topic, there have been governments—not just the Philippines but others—in recent times that have been rather negative and critical, even mocking, of some of these international institutions. That has been regrettable but, hopefully, there is a sense of renewed optimism at the value of and need for these institution so that, when we have disputes and concerns amongst other nations—particularly those nations in our region—whether they are trading partners, trading competitors, security partners and so on, we have the right mechanisms to resolves those while preserving a peaceful framework.

I am very concerned about a number of the reports that we read in Western media about the Duterte regime and some of the ways in which they are governing their country, and particularly the way in which they are undertaking judicial processes or perhaps, as is reported and alleged, the lack of due process in judicial processes not just in the areas that the member has raised but also in the so-called crackdown on the drug trade and some of the claims about extrajudicial action against people indiscriminately—or, in fact, discriminately, I might correct myself in saying—where allegations are that, for reasons nothing to do with reported drug activity et cetera, critics and opponents of the regime are being targeted. We as a nation support democracies. We support human rights and people's freedoms. That includes those that the member has outlined in moving the motion but also other universal human rights that we always as a nation should stand united in proclaiming and defending. We have to be prepared to call out our concerns and take all action that is available to us when these reports come to us, no matter where these nations are, who they are, how powerful they are or how important our relationship is with them. I am very proud of the long history of our relationship with the Philippines. We are adult enough to be honest with friends, as we are in this case and should continue to do into the future. (Time expired)

6:22 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to proudly speak on and second the motion moved by the member for Fremantle about human rights in the Philippines. Australia and the Philippines have a warm and mutually respectful relationship. It is a relationship with many dimensions—economic and industry dimensions through to trade and investment and the close links between industry sectors like education and tourism; and political and diplomatic dimensions. There is close bilateral engagement between our two governments and we work together cooperatively in regional and multilateral forums. There is also a strong development relationship. Australia will provide $80 million in development assistance to the Philippines in 2020-21 and support programs to improve the health, education and economic welfare of the people of the Philippines. Of course, there are also the extensive people to people links between Australia and the Philippines. The richness of Australia's multicultural society has been enhanced by the presence of a large, vibrant and hardworking Filipino community in this country. This motion reaffirms the importance of this relationship and the need for continuing close cooperation between Australia and the Philippines. But the motion also expresses concerns about the human rights in the Philippines, particularly the treatment of workers and trade unionists.

I acknowledge the efforts of the government of the Philippines to promote economic development and reduce poverty. In recent years these efforts have included the passage of legislation for universal health care, the adoption of a Magna Carta for the poor and new policies to provide emergency relief and protection for children. But despite these gains in fighting poverty in the Philippines there have been several deeply concerning issues around human rights. In recent years we've seen extrajudicial killings associated with the war on drugs, attacks on civil society and human rights defenders and moves to reintroduce the death penalty. We've also seen a deteriorating situation when it comes to human rights for workers and the labour movement in the Philippines.

The right of workers to organise, to bargain collectively, to come together in trade unions and to be represented by their trade unions are fundamental legal, economic, social and human rights. That's why it's so distressing that the Philippines was listed as one of the world's 10 worst countries for workers by the International Trade Union Confederation earlier this year. The ITUC's 2020 global rights index report found union members in the Philippines were at risk of violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and even murder. The report highlighted two cases from last year. On 2 June 2019 Dennis Sequena, a union organiser, was shot while meeting a group of workers in Bunga in the province of Cavite. Dennis was shot by a gunman riding on a motorcycle. He tragically died in hospital later. On 4 November 2019 another union organiser, Reynaldo Malaborbor, was shot several times in the head while walking with his wife near their home at Banay-Banay in the province of Laguna. These are two profoundly disturbing cases. Even more shocking is the fact that these are just two of a total of 46 killings of union members and officials in the Philippines since 2016.

It is clear that the rights of Filipino workers have been under attack in the most extreme way. These issues were raised at the International Labour Organization's annual conference in Geneva last year. In June 2019 the ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards received information about harassment, intimidation and violence against union officials and activists, assassinations of union leaders and so-called tagging of union and labour organisers as 'Reds' by the Philippines military. The employer, union and government representatives from a number of countries expressed concern over these cases. The ILO committee asked the government of the Philippines to carry out immediate investigations into the violence against unionists and to introduce effective measures to prevent violence in the future. The committee also requested that the Philippines accept a high-level tripartite mission from the ILO. The motion we're debating today supports these efforts and calls on the Australian government to support the push for a high-level ILO mission to investigate the labour rights situation in the Philippines.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the Philippines is a valued and respected partner for Australia. I'm proud of my Filipino Australian community in the Hunter. The FASHVI community is incredibly important to my region. I'm proud of the fact that it's the only Filipino community in the country that owns its own hall. The roots between Australia and the Philippines are deep and abiding and go beyond any one issue, but the violence, intimidation and denial of workers' rights that we've seen in recent years are unacceptable and not in any way consistent with a prosperous future for the people of the Philippines. I commend this motion to the Chamber.

6:33 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Fremantle for bringing this motion to this place, which amongst other things affirms the longstanding, important and respectful relationship between Australia and the Philippines. I want to join my voice to others in this place in reflecting on the importance of that relationship, its complex nature and its interwoven constituent parts. However, just like you need to have honest conversations with friends, there are some elements of that relationship that I will touch on in a minute. But before I do I want to touch on that part of the relationship which has brought me here today to support the motion, and that is very much the people-to-people links.

As a member representing a rural electorate which has three export abattoirs in it, I've got to tell you: Filipino Australians represent a disproportionate share of those workforces. They're fabulous Australians, quite frankly, and they're amazing citizens. We share a passion for life and energy, a work ethic which in my view is second to none and, of course, in many cases Judeo-Christian faith. It's in many of my local churches that I interact, particularly as a Catholic, with members of this community.

But, as I said earlier, just as Australia and the Philippines enjoy a great relationship, it's one of friendship, and we need to be honest with our friends. As the member for Fremantle has said, there are some elements of the relationship, particularly behaviour by the Duterte government, which are giving our government some concern. Before I mention that, I will reflect that ours is a relationship that is officially 75 years long in terms of diplomatic ties in 2021. As I have said, we have concerns regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines, including issues around the ongoing so-called 'war on drugs' and widespread extrajudicial killings with the controversial anti-drugs campaign. I'm particularly concerned about the clampdown on media freedoms, including the revocation of ABS-CBN operating licences and attempts to suppress government critics. As a long-term opponent of the death penalty, attempts by the Duterte administration to reintroduce it give me serious cause for concern.

These concerns, I must say, have been raised on a number of occasions by the Australian government directly with the Philippine government through bilateral diplomatic representations and through advocacy as a voting member on the Human Rights Council. We're a strong supporter of the independent mandate of the United Nations and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We we're careful to combine our human rights advocacy with our peace and development work to maximise its impact through programs that support human rights and civil society such as strengthening the investigative capabilities of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, assisting with the case load reduction in the Philippine anti-corruption court and supporting the retention of the office of the UN resident coordinator and senior human rights adviser in the Philippines. Those opposite have spent some time here discussing the ILO. I wish to indicate that the Australian government fully supports the ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards.

As I said, this is a relationship of long standing. It's one that is complex in its nature. It operates, as others have indicated, on many levels. But, as I interact with Filipino Australians who have decided to live in the greatest electorate on earth, they share just the concerns I've indicated. They are particularly concerned about developments in the Philippines and the Duterte regime. I am pleased to say that our government has four-square put those concerns on their behalf and on behalf of our nation to the Duterte administration. I hope that our concerns are heeded.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member, I didn't realise there were quite that many Philippine expats living in Fisher.

6:38 pm

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

This is an important motion. I thank my friend the member for Fremantle for bringing this debate to the House today and the speakers, government and opposition, who have spoken on the motion. I think there's a lot of commonality. We note the deteriorating human rights and labour rights situation in the Philippines under President Duterte. I say at the outset 'under President Duterte' quite deliberately, because we should also recognise that this deterioration is of great concern to all countries that value human rights and labour rights standards, to those that consider themselves friends of the Philippines—and I think Australia is certainly one of those—and to the Australian Filipino diaspora.

I'm proud to represent many Australians of Filipino heritage. Indeed, when I step outside the front door of my electorate office, across the road is the Dandenong Uniting Church. The minister there over the last 12 months or so, Berlin Guerrero, is a Filipino Australian who sought asylum in this country some years ago having previously been abducted, held hostage and tortured under a previous Filipino government for standing up for labour rights and democracy. He's a fantastic chap.

I've also learned that, when you put any speech like this on Facebook, out come the Duterte trolls. So we'll get that bit out upfront. As one of the 10 members of ASEAN and a bilateral partner with whom Australia has a respectful and cooperative relationship on regional development, maritime security, disaster risk reduction and so on, we do value our relationship with the Philippines. But it's in that context of friendship that I echo the sentiments of the motion and say that I'm deeply alarmed by the June report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It was an alarming report. It reported that President Duterte has been using the cover of COVID-19 to introduce even more draconian security laws, with phrases like 'shoot the protesters on sight'. That, of course, comes on the back of President Duterte's campaign against drugs. At least 8,600 people have been illegally killed, and it's probably three times that number.

I note that that report was considered by the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2020. It's disappointing that Australia failed to show leadership in that exercise. We did not raise our voice loudly and push for stronger investigative mechanisms. It was a weak resolution that was passed and the situation continues to worsen for human rights activists and lawyers. I was sent a list by my local community of 60 lawyers, judges and prosecutors who have been killed in the last four years alone, and that is just those who are known. There were 44 lawyers, seven judges and nine prosecutors and, as the previous speaker rightly said, there is media suppression.

This is all a worrying trend towards authoritarianism and illiberalism in a country that has been democratic and has fought for its democratic rights. I remember the revolution some decades ago in the Philippines in support of democracy. Democracy is fragile and must be protected, so I share the growing concerns, echoed in the motion and by my friend the member for Fremantle, regarding labour rights and workers. The International Trade Union Confederation has ranked the Philippines amongst the 10 worst countries in the world for working people. Fifty union members and officials have been extrajudicially killed, and the antiworker climate is now fuelling fears more broadly across society and is further undermining democracy.

It was good to hear the previous speaker express support for the work of the International Labour Organization, because I hear scepticism at times from government members about the role of trade unions. From visiting developing countries, I know that, in many cases—Cambodia is a case in point; I was there a couple of years ago—trade unions are the only truly democratic organisations in a country. They do such an important role of building civil society and fighting for the values of democracy and for a free civil space where people can express their views, so support for trade union organisations, and active support, by the Australian government in developing countries is especially critical. It's a pity that, under this government, a lot of that support has been cut from our international aid and development as a result of some kind of weird ideological crusade that holds that, when we see the word 'union', that must be bad. Unions have such a critical role to play in supporting democracy.

I go back the last part of the motion, which calls on the government to support the upholding of labour and human rights, in line with international standards, by endorsing the ILO's resolution to send a high-level tripartite mission to the Philippines to conduct an open, transparent and robust investigation of the human rights situation and—I'll repeat this; I've spoken in the parliament about it before; the government has just been silent—any auditing process of Australian security engagements in the Philippines to make sure that, in our engagement with the police, the security and the defence forces, we are not inadvertently supporting any human rights abuses, given, unfortunately, the shameful record of those forces in suppressing human rights in recent times.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.