House debates

Monday, 22 March 2021


Human Rights in China

10:36 am

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Canadian House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution that, 'in the opinion of the House, the People's Republic of China has engaged in actions consistent with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 260, commonly known as the "Genocide Convention", including detention camps and measures intended to prevent births as it pertains to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims';

(b) the Parliament of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has passed a resolution stating that 'measures intended to prevent births' and 'having punishment camps' in China fell under United Nations Resolution 260;

(c) the UK House of Lords has passed a resolution urging the government to uphold all undertakings in and international obligations arising from the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide;

(d) the then US Secretary of State, Mr Mike Pompeo, issued a determination that Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims are being subjected to a genocide by the Government of the People's Republic of China, a position reinforced by his successor, Mr Antony Blinken;

(e) a series of international reports, including by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, have concluded that Uyghurs in Xinjiang have and are being forcibly held in 're-education' camps, subjected to torture, forced labour and coercive transfer to other regions; and

(f) other ethnic and religious minorities are being persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party;

(2) records its abhorrence that the Chinese Government continues to engage in serious and systematic breaches of the human rights of its peoples;

(3) calls on the Government of China to respect and abide by universally acknowledged human rights for all its peoples;

(4) urges the United Nations to investigate the breaches of human rights in China; and

(5) encourages the Australian Government to continue to protest the ongoing abuse of human rights by the Chinese Government and to take appropriate measures to enforce laws against modern slavery and identify supply chains that use forced labour.

The most egregious systematic abuse of human rights in the world is occurring in the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region of western China. It has been occurring for several years. It involves the imprisonment, torture and enslavement of millions of ethnic Uighurs, who compose some 90 per cent of the population of the southern area of Xinjiang.

The evidence for this conclusion is drawn clearly from a series of recent expert reports, including those cited in this motion; from internal statements and documents of Chinese officials; from analysis of Chinese statistics and data; and, significantly, from the eyewitness testimony of many people and the accounts provided to family and relatives. There is overwhelming evidence of the cruel, inhumane and brutal practices of the Chinese communist regime. Some of these practices extend beyond Xinjiang, but the sheer scale of restrictions on freedom, the mass internments and the programs of mass sterilisation and enforced labour elevate the activities in the region to new levels of human rights abuse.

It is for these reasons that the parliaments of Canada and the Netherlands and the British House of Lords have adopted motions of condemnation. It is why US secretaries of state Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken have denounced the policies and why many are asserting or questioning whether the CCP's program amounts to a contravention of the 1948 genocide convention. The official Chinese response to the widespread accusations is that there are no breaches of human rights and that the Uighurs are guilty of violent terrorism and separatism. But these unconvincing and self-serving responses conflict with the statements of Chinese officials and other objective evidence about the activities in Xinjiang.

Most notorious are the repeated statements of the CCP secretary-general of Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo. In his 2016 policy agenda speech Chen described religious extremist thought and behaviour in Xinjiang as a 'malignant tumour' and a 'communicable plague requiring more radical and invasive surgery'. His remarks mirror repeated comments by Xi Jinping calling on the police and security forces to prepare for 'a smashing, obliterating offensive' and giving directions to 'round up everyone who should be rounded up'. In speeches and in government orders there are directions to 'eradicate tumours', 'wipe them out completely', 'destroy them root and branch', 'show absolutely no mercy' and 'eliminate risks within risks, hidden dangers in hidden dangers'.

The result of this deliberate policy is the construction of more than 380 internment camps, described officially as 'concentrated transformation through education centres'; the imprisonment of millions of Uighurs over the last few years; the mass video surveillance of the population; the widespread collection of biometric data; the killing, torture and rape of Uighurs; the enforced sterilisation of the population; and the widespread use of enforced labour. In 2020 there were eyewitness accounts and video evidence of Uighurs transported in batches across China to work in factories around the country. A document from academics at China's Nankai University reported that the labour transfers were also a long-term measure that 'not only reduces Uighur population density in Xinjiang, but also is an important method to influence, meld, and assimilate Uighur minorities'. The writers recommended that the government expand the programs to other areas of China to meet labour demands. A documented report by ASPI found that Uighurs have been transported to factories in China, where they were forced to work. The report concluded that 83 foreign and Chinese companies, including many well-known brands, were benefiting from enforced labour. That is why this motion calls for, amongst other things, greater action to enforce laws against modern slavery and to identify supply chains that use forced labour.

This is not a party political issue; it is an issue of basic human rights. This is a time when this parliament should speak with one voice. I cannot think of any member or senator who would vote against this motion. I encourage the parliament to uphold the rule of law and universal human rights and not to accept these brutal totalitarian practices of the Communist regime. And I respectfully urge this government to recognise that this is one of those occasions when a motion such as this ought to be allowed to a vote in both chambers. On that basis, I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:42 am

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

I second the motion. I thank the member for Menzies for his motion and for his ongoing advocacy with regard to issues of human rights. It was only last week that he and I met here in parliament with a group of women from the Uighur community to discuss this very issue. These women have brought to us their personal impact of the human rights situation in Xinjiang, China, having family members who are currently detained in China's so-called re-education camps. One of the women spoke about the experience of her sister, who has been detained on allegations of financing terrorism. What was her crime? It was simple: the legal transfer of money to her parents in Australia facilitated through a state owned Chinese bank to assist them to purchase a home in Adelaide—a legitimate transaction that has resulted in her sister being arrested six years later. The woman's sister is the mother of three young children and is being held without legal representation and without being presented with any evidence to substantiate the crime she is accused of. On top of this, families have very grave concerns about her wellbeing, given her declining health, due to issues pertaining to liver damage which she sustained during a previous period of detention.

Like these women, there are many others around the world who are concerned about the welfare of their family members who have been detained in these camps. The human rights situation faced by Uighurs is dire, with reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International providing clear evidence of China's arbitrary detention and mistreatment of the Uighur population. Human Rights Watch notes that there are more than a million people detained in these camps, simply by virtue of their ethnicity and religion. The conditions in these camps are rife with torture and solitary confinement, and deprivation of food and sustenance is widespread. Throughout the Xinjiang region, the Uighur population has also been subjected to restrictions on movement, mass surveillance and significant limitations on their religious freedoms, in clear contravention of fundamental and universally accepted human rights.

More recently the discrimination has taken another form, with reports indicating a high incidence of forced labour within the Muslim minority communities of China. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has linked this to dozens of well-known Western countries. This is put into perspective in a report entitled Uighurs for sale, in which ASPI reports that, under conditions that strongly support forced labour, Uighurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands. The report goes on to estimate that, between 2017 and 2019, more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories, with some transferred directly from the re-education camps.

To this end, I call on the Australian government to take urgent action as part of our commitment under the Modern Slavery Act. Australia must take appropriate measures to enforce the law against modern slavery and to be satisfied that Australian companies are importing goods from supply chains free of forced labour. I also call on the Australian government to explain what actions it has taken to address the situation in Xinjiang and to ensure the Uighur communities in Australia are adequately supported.

What we are seeing unfold in Xinjiang, China is a serious campaign of repression. It is an urgent issue which requires our active attention and that of the international community. While China's economic growth is highly commendable and China is now rightly considered a global superpower, this should come with a global responsibility to show leadership, including in matters promoting human rights. Otherwise it will invite questions as to whether China's power is being projected for peaceful purposes or not.

As members of the international community we have a moral responsibility, if not a legal responsibility, to do all we can to encourage countries to adhere to the international human rights obligations. As has been the case in Canada, the United States, Netherlands and the UK, Australia must show a similar commitment in holding China accountable for the serious and systematic breaches of the human rights of its people. Given our trade relationship with China, anything less could open us up to charges of hypocrisy.

10:47 am

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In China's north-west rise autonomous ion called Xinjiang. 'Xin' translates into 'new' and 'jiang' translates into 'frontier'. The name 'new frontier' has an aspirational ring to it. But that's not how the world sees Xinjiang—especially for its Uighur people, an ethnic minority about whom there've been deeply disturbing reports of enforced disappearances, mass detentions, systematic torture, abuse of women, pervasive surveillance and religious discrimination.

The Australian government has already conveyed its concerns about the situation in Xinjiang to the People's Republic of China, including during Foreign Minister Marise Payne's last three meetings with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. A nation's foreign policy is an outward expression of its national identity, its values, its people and what they believe in. One of the things we believe in, as a liberal democracy, is universal human rights. And the breaches of human rights being reported out of Xinjiang are so egregious, so grave, that the House of Commons in Canada has passed a unanimous resolution calling them acts of genocide. However, the Chinese Communist Party denies these allegations. And herein lies our dilemma: unless we can draw more evidence-based conclusions the world the world remains at an impasse. While a determination on the question of genocide is a matter for the courts, and a range of judicial and quasi-judicial systems exist to consider such crimes, the starting point has to be uncover what is actually going on. That requires unfettered access to Xinjiang, something the Chinese Communist Party is not allowing.

Australia has raised its concerns during sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly. But still transparency is denied. Today I appeal to the Chinese Communist Party to reconsider its position and provide international observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, immediate and unfettered access. What's more, I contend that doing so is in fact in China's interests. Since a nation's foreign policy is an outward expression of its national identity, it is worth considering the situation in Xinjiang within the context of China's national identity.

China's identity consists of two parts: the yin and yang, if you like, the positive and the negative, the pessimistic and the optimistic. Where the yin is a memory of historical trauma they refer to as the century of humiliation, the yang is an aspirational expression of national rejuvenation when China reclaimed what it perceived to be its rightful place as the world's middle kingdom, with a clear line of sight between its past and its future, believing its history preordained its destiny. As the former 'middle kingdom under heaven', the Chinese remember themselves as not only possessing the greatest power and most advanced economy on earth but also the most culturally and morally superior civilisation. Let me underscore the words 'morally superior', because it is this part of China's national identity and this part of the China narrative that the situation in Xinjiang undermines.

If indeed the accusations of abuses of the Uighur people are false, as the Chinese Communist Party claims, then it should have nothing to hide. It would be in its interests to provide the unfettered access to Xinjiang that the world needs. To do otherwise, to continue to refuse access, dilutes the moral authority to which China lays claim, undermining its national identity and compromising the vision of Xi Jinping of the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation. That is unless, of course, the allegations are true.

10:52 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the motion put forward by the member for Menzies and, in doing so, I want to thank him for bringing this very important matter before the House. I'm very pleased to speak to the motion and vocalise my support here today for the Uighur people. I was pleased to join with my good friend and colleague the member for Makin just the other day to meet with them in front of parliament to discuss their concerns. They had made the trip to parliament to voice their concerns. I'm very pleased that many of my colleagues on all sides of politics, including the member for Fowler, the member for Menzies and the member for Makin and others, support the Uighur nation and the Uighur people.

As someone who is Jewish, I really do understand the terrible difficulties that are placed in front of the Uighur people. It does have echoes of Germany in the 1930s. I think it is very concerning. We as individuals elected to public office in a strong and vibrant democracy have a responsibility to stand against human rights violations wherever they occur, particularly now to the Uighur people in China.

The Uighurs are a very important minority group who have been systematically denied their rights in northern China. Population estimates vary, but around 15 to 20 million Uighurs exist in China and there are many thousands of Uighurs who now reside in Australia. Many Australian Uighurs feel deeply concerned about the systematic abuses that their people and loved ones are facing in China, and I share their concern. I know many of my colleagues share these concerns. We believe that China has coped very well with the pandemic. Medically, they have done some remarkable things and I applaud them for that. But their policies of treatment of the Uighur people and the sinicisation in Xinjiang province is really distressing. The Uighurs report violations of international law, including of conventions which China as a state is party to. These are not the actions of a responsible global power. It's incumbent upon the Australian government to provide its assessment of what's happening in Xinjiang and how it characterises the human rights violations that're taking place, based on all the information that is available to us and our agencies, and to other countries. The government of Canada has been mentioned as one that shares these deep concerns about human rights abuses involving the Uighur people.

The Australian government must also explain what actions it is taking to address the situation in Xinjiang and provide support for the Uighur communities in Australia and elsewhere. We owe it to our fellow human beings to not only stand in solidarity against such atrocities but do more than just mere words. As the honourable member's motion indicates, a number of other national parliaments have already stood in solidarity with the Uighur people and it's time that our parliament and the Australian government, in unity, did the same.

This motion also identifies that Uighurs in Xinjiang have and are being forcibly held in re-education camps, subject to torture, forced labour and coercive transfer to other regions. Women are being sexually assaulted, children are being denied education and the Uighur population is being denied appropriate health care. It is an atrocity. Over a million Uighurs have been detained in so-called re-education camps, subject to forced labour and denied any ability to practice their religion. Many people in groups have condemned these atrocities and many have described it as potential genocide, but at least in direct violation of the United Nations' genocide convention.

I have no hesitation to echo the sentiments of the member for Menzies and implore the United Nations to investigate these reports of human rights abuses. Australia, through its peacekeeping efforts within the United Nations and under its obligations as a responsible global citizen, has routinely stood against human rights violations in the past and must do so again. Atrocities such as Srebrenica genocide not too long ago were, unfortunately, met with too little and too slow a response from the international community at the time. I don't think it's too outrageous a thing to say that the international community must thoroughly investigate these reports of human rights violations in China to ensure that history does not repeat itself. I thank the members for Menzies for bringing this important motion before the House and in doing so making it a priority for our national parliament.

10:57 am

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a privilege to be able to speak on this motion. I thank the member for Menzies for moving it. As we know, there have been mass human and cultural genocides throughout history, often targeted at minority groups within dominant cultural communities. Of course, with my own Armenian heritage, we have a legacy that our first Anzacs bore witness to on their arrival into Gallipoli. They saw the human consequences of the Armenian genocide. Representing the third largest Jewish community in Australia, in Goldstein, I am very familiar with the ongoing memory and legacy of the holocaust. We need to remember that in remembering genocides it is part of the journey of stopping them into the future.

As I said right at the start, genocide doesn't just involve a human dimension, though that is critical, it can also involve a cultural dimension around erasing the memory, the traditions, the culture and the values that underpin societies. In Xinjiang the Chinese Community Party is engaging in a form of cultural genocide against the Uighur people. It's that simple.

The vicious and inhumane tragedy occurring in that province due to the actions of CCP makes for difficult reading for anybody who is interested. An investigation by the associated press has revealed that the CCP is regularly subjecting hundreds of thousands of Uighur women to forced sterilisation and abortions to lose the next generation. A report by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, published last year, describes how the CCP is seeking to erode and redefine the culture of the Uighurs to erase their memory and traditions and what they can then hand on to future generations. This has involved the destruction of 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang since 2017. Another report by ASPI details how between 2017 and 2019 over 80,000 Uighrs were forcibly transferred to labour camps for ideological brainwashing on an industrial scale.

The United Nations' genocide convention establishes that genocide does not necessarily require the immediate mass destruction of a group. The elimination of a people can occur in a number of ways, including those documented in the growing volume of Xinjiang investigations and reports. What is critical is the intent about whether there is an action being taken to remove the memory, the legacy and the future of a people. To me, it is quite clear that it is the intent in the case of the Uighurs.

The atrocities in Xinjiang are being implemented at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party with the specific intent of destroying the Uighurs separate cultural and political grouping within China. ASPI has described this as an agenda to render them subservient to the Chinese nation. These events serve as another reminder that, when political systems seek to enforce rather than earn their legitimacy, the end result will be a human tragedy and suffering for those today and, of course, for those in the future.

The CCP asserts its legitimacy by claiming that a Han-centric unified China has existed continuously for 5,000 years with broad consent and cooperation. The CCP argues it's responsibility to continue this tradition to ensure stability and prosperity in China. It's something that many people would question, whether that's those of Tibet, the good people of Hong Kong or potentially other territories in the future. It's a narrative that's particularly difficult to reconcile with the vastly different lived experience of minority communities throughout China, and Xinjiang in particular. Xinjiang was first subject to Chinese political authority since the mid-18 century and has witnessed significant periods of independent self-government while under Chinese rule.

The atrocities are incapable of respecting differences in spontaneous associations among free people, because they depend on the centricity of the state and lives of citizens in a rigid, national image imposed from above: a classic reminder of the horrors of communism, but particularly centralised authority. It's the job of the people to conform, not for the government to reflect their people. What we see is the merciless indulgence of a political elite who consider the separate identity of the Uighurs as a threat to the Han-centric image of China. These events are not an anomaly. In Hong Kong we have seen the CCP build its sovereignty on oppression, rather than cooperation and consent, including through the flood of people. The CCP's response to protests against extradition laws has seen police violence, attacks on the media, the imprisonment of 47 democracy activists and, of course, the removal of local elections. Now, only people who are conforming to Beijing's will are even allowed to stand for office.

For the good of humanity, it's the responsibility of free democracies and the international community to unreservedly call these events out and to call for an investigation, because free countries promote secure societies and human liberty as the biggest proponent of peace.

11:02 am

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As the member for Macarthur noted last week, Uighur people from throughout Australia gathered on the lawns in front of Parliament House to draw attention to rising levels of concern about widespread human rights violations against Uighur people and other minority groups in China, particularly in the province of Xinjiang, otherwise referred to at times as the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, abbreviated as XUAR. A similar rally was held a couple of years ago. The violations against Uighur people and others include: (1) the detention and re-education centres of over one million people, where nonconforming detainees are reportedly subjected to beatings, rape, starvation and numerous other forms of torture—amongst those detained since 2016, 450 Uighur intellectuals have disappeared or are now imprisoned; (2) the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of children from their families, who are then placed in state run institutions; (3) the restriction of free movement, both within and outside of Xinjiang; (4) the intense surveillance of Uighurs through the use of thousands of facial recognition cameras and other surveillance tools; (5) the arrest and incarceration of Uighur people for the most trivial of reasons; (6) the destruction of cultural and religious buildings and institutions—it is estimated that 16,000 mosques, 65 per cent of the total, in XUAR have been destroyed or damaged mostly since 2017; (7) a widespread birth-control program targeting Uighur women; (8) allegations of organ harvesting and people in detention disappearing or suspiciously dying; and (9) the use of detainees as forced labour in Chinese factories.

According to one report, researchers have verified over 380 detention centres across XUAR that were either newly built or significantly expanded, since 2017. There are between 1,300 and 1,400 extra judicial internment facilities, excluding prisons, in XUAR.

China is a party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. As a signatory to those international conventions, it has committed to honouring them and therefore has a universal obligation to do so. The claims of human rights abuse against Uighur people and other minorities have been debated in the Canadian House of Commons, the Netherlands parliament, and by the UK House of Lords, all of which have raised serious findings against China, including some labelling the human rights violations in Xinjiang as genocide. Over the years I have spoken to numerous Uighur people here in Australia, who tell me they can no longer contact family members in Xinjiang or that their family members are prevented from travelling or, even worse, that they have been detained. I have heard their stories, seen the worry and strain in their faces and, where possible, made representations to the foreign minister on their behalf. There have also been several well-regarded reports from credible organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Newlines Institute. They have all raised serious and extensive breaches of human rights in Xinjiang. There is now compelling evidence that there is a strategy of wiping out Uighur identity, including culture, language, history, music, literature, and religion.

As a signatory and founding member of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Australia should raise these allegations with China and within all other UN forums. If the accusations are untrue, China should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights unrestricted access to Xinjiang so an independent investigation can be carried out. The Morrison government should, of course, be strongly backing that course of action. If China refuses to do so, it can only spell one thing—that they don't wish the matters to be properly investigated.

Australia must stand up for human rights wherever there is a violation and abuse of people and work with international communities standing up for the people being oppressed, persecuted or abused. The Morrison government should also support Australia's Uighur community, who understandably hold grave concerns about the well-being of loved ones and family in their homelands. Finally, the support for this motion will provide a ray of hope for the Uighurs here in Australia.

11:07 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to congratulate the member for Menzies for bringing this motion to the parliament. I believe this is a very significant motion in the context and history of our parliament as, today, members from all sides of the House are speaking out against the appalling systematic human rights abuses against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in China by the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang province. As a member of parliament who is part of an ethnic and religious minority, I think it is vital that our parliament is counted in condemning this wide-scale human rights abuse across the world. I'm pleased that in my time in this place I have spoken against the persecutions of Christians in North Korea; Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Kurds in the Middle East; and Christians and the Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party. Today, I add my name to those speaking on the persecution of Uighurs by the Chinese Communist Party.

Today the House of Representatives joins the Canadian House of Commons, the Netherlands parliament, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom in calling out and condemning the systemic human rights abuses committed against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. We indicate our abhorrence at the continued actions of the Chinese Communist Party in engaging in these systemic human rights abuses. We call on that government to respect the human rights of all people and we call on the UN to investigate breaches of human rights in China. At the same time, we as a parliament acknowledge and encourage the Australian government to continue to protest the ongoing human rights abuses by China and to enforce modern slavery laws, which were piloted by this government against suppliers who use forced labour.

As an Australian, I want to acknowledge the wonderful work of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which has drawn these systemic human rights abuses to our attention. As James Leibold and Kelsey Munro wrote earlier this month:

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has launched an extraordinary campaign in China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang to forcefully integrate the indigenous Uyghur population into the Han majority, in violation of China’s own constitution and international legal norms.

As is now well documented, the CCP's crackdown in Xinjiang includes max extrajudicial detention of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in hundreds of purpose-built interim camps; near ubiquitous surveillance; systematic destruction of Indigenous culture, language, religions and practices, including the demolition of mosques; forced birth-control, including sterilisation; psychological and physical torture, including sexual abuse; and forced labour and restrictions on the freedom of movement.

In 2020, ASPI identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces using Uighur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. Those factories claim to be part of the supply chains of 82 well-known global brands. And ASPI estimated between 2017 and 2019 at least 90,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories throughout the labour transfer programs under the Xinjiang aid policy. ASPI's work identified the need to do more to rid global supply chains of forced Uighur labour.

I want to acknowledge the foreign minister, Senator Payne, who has consistently called out human rights abuses in Xinjiang and last month, in response to reports of rape of women in detention camps, said:

These latest reports of systematic torture and abuse of women are deeply disturbing and raise serious questions regarding the treatment of Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

We consider transparency to be of utmost importance and continue to urge China to allow international observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to be given immediate, meaningful, and unfettered access to Xinjiang at the earliest opportunity

Our country has consistently raised reports of arbitrary detention, restrictions on freedom of religion, pervasive surveillance and forced labour, both in the bilateral discussions we've had and also at the United Nations.

I want to conclude my remaining time by acknowledging some comments of Ephraim Mirvis, who is the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth. As a Jewish Australian I'm particularly proud, as is the member for Macarthur, that Jewish leaders around the world have called out the persecution of Uighurs. Rabbi Mirvis called for the urgent, independent and unfettered investigation into what's happening. Those responsible must be held to account, and Uighurs able to escape must be given asylum. He said this of their persecution:

Can it be true that, in our modern, sophisticated world, men and women are still beaten if they refuse to renounce their faith? That women are forced to abort their unborn children and are then sterilised to prevent them from becoming pregnant again? That forced imprisonment, the separation of children from their parents and a culture of intimidation and fear have become the norm?

Sadly, the weight of evidence of this persecution of the Uighur Muslim minority in China is overwhelming. Satellite images, leaked documents and survivor testimonies all paint a devastating picture affecting well over 1 million people, which, for the most part, the world continues to ignore.

…   …   …

I have been left feeling that any improvement in the desperate situation is impossible.

The chief rabbi calls on us to make it not impossible, and this motion helps him do that.

11:12 am

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It should be the collective duty of all of us, as members of a great democracy, such as Australia is, to stand up in this place for human rights and to speak up when we see those rights diminished or abused, whether it's speaking up in support of democracy in Myanmar or Hong Kong or against the religious persecution of the Baha'i or the persecution of the rights of the Palestinian, Rohingya and Kurdish peoples or the persecution of Christians in Iraq or the Copts in Egypt. We should because what we say in this place has meaning and real impact. As representatives in a democracy that comes with a responsibility. Alongside many of my colleagues I have and will again speak up against the persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Thank you to the member for Menzies for bringing this motion to the House. For our part, Labor has publicly and strongly condemned the human rights violations against the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. This includes the mass arbitrary detention of Uighurs, forced labour, forced sterilisation, sexual assault and restriction of movement in Xinjiang and across China. According to a recent report published by Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, between one million and two million people have been detained in extrajudicial internment camps across Xinjiang by the Chinese government since 2014. The report details allegations of psychological torture, cultural brainwashing, interrogations and indoctrination, forced sterilisation. People have been forced to renounce their culture and language. There have been mass forced labour schemes and family separation. Few people from the camps have been able to share their stories, but, of the stories that we have heard, of the few stories that have made the light of day, they are simply harrowing. Detainees in the camps are so deprived of their basic human needs that suicides have become so pervasive that they've had to be forced to wear suicide safe uniforms. In February the BBC reported that women in the camps are systematically raped and subjected to sexually based torture. Women are forced by guards to assist in this abuse.

In 2020 the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported what it has described as the new phase of the Chinese government's ongoing repression of Uighurs, reporting that more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. Some of them were sent directly from the detention camps. ASPI's research identifies about 82 foreign and Chinese companies potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from this forced labour of Uighur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labour transfer programs as recently as 2019.

All of this horror is happening right now, as we speak these words. Parliaments and democratic nations—our friends like Canada, the UK and the Netherlands—have spoken out, passing resolutions that call out what is happening as consistent with United Nations General Assembly resolution 260. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has determined the Uighur people are being subjected to genocide, and his successor, Antony Blinken, has supported that assessment.

I asked our foreign minister: 'How does the Australian government characterise what is happening to the Uighur people in China? What assessments do our security and intelligences agencies make of the situation?' I also asked the foreign minister: 'What action is the Australian government taking to address this situation? Are we working with our allies as much as we can—the UK, the US, Canada and others—who share our concern and commitment to human rights, coordinating with them on a plan to end this unacceptable situation? Are we doing everything we can to ensure that Australian businesses and consumers are not buying products made through the forced labour in these camps?' Australia cannot sit back, watching on in horror, and still do nothing. This motion is a small but important part of the collective effort that we as a parliament have to make. The international community must take action, and this motion is part of that effort.

11:17 am

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The road to Auschwitz was paved with indifference, and if we remain indifferent to the Chinese Communist Party's treatment of ethnic and religious groups we will forever wear the shame of having stood by and watched when we could have acted. China's systematic genocide of Uighurs in East Turkestan cannot be ignored. It doesn't matter where you sit on the political spectrum; the acts perpetuated by the Chinese Communist Party against this group of people are objectively evil.

I note that the Chinese Communist Party and its regime have strongly denied the reports of these re-education camps, and said that they're anything but facilities to educate minorities on Chinese culture. China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, called reports of Uighur genocide 'rumour with ulterior motives and a complete lie'. I'm sure he missed the irony of his own words! There has been a rapid increase in the number and scale of these camps in the last five to 10 years amid claims that President Xi Jinping of China is ramping up the CCP's agenda against religious and ethnic minorities. The Chinese government's own statistics show that birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60 per cent from 2015 to 2018.

We know from various sources, including those who have been imprisoned in those camps, that horrendous atrocities are taking place. Uighurs are being displaced, imprisoned, indoctrinated, forced into labour, tortured, raped, sterilised and used for medical experiments, and are even having their organs harvested. This is genocide by definition—by the UN's own definition, in fact. On that note, if you ever feel useless in life remember that there's a thing called the United Nations. What these guys are actually for, if not to hold countries to account on human rights abuses, is anyone's guess, because the human rights record of the CCP is absolutely shocking and the UN is doing nothing. The fact that this country is peppered with statues and portraits of Mao Zedong, who was responsible for the deaths of 50 million of his own people, indicates that that record isn't going to improve if the CCP are left to their own devices. Although the Uighurs are bearing the brunt of the Chinese Communist Party's disdain for ethnic minorities, the persecution also extends to anyone who believes in a higher power than the state in China.

For decades, Christians in China have had to form underground churches to avoid persecution from the CCP. It was reported last year that the CCP was rolling out a policy of withdrawing government welfare from Christians unless they renounced their faith. In April 2020, all the officials from a town in the northern province of Jiangxi were ordered to remove crosses and other Christian items from the homes of Christian recipients of benefit payments and replace them with portraits of President Xi Jinping and Chairman Mao Zedong. Christians who objected had their payments stopped.

A Christian in a Jiangxi village had Christian verses and a Christian calendar torn from their wall and replaced with a portrait by Mao by an official, who declared: 'Impoverished religious households can't receive money from the state for nothing. They must obey the Communist Party for the money they receive.' A woman in her 80s, who attends a state registered church in Jiangxi's Poyang County, stopped receiving her monthly welfare payment because she said, 'Thank God,' when she collected her January payment. 'They expected me to praise the kindness of the Communist Party instead,' she said. There are endless accounts of crosses being removed and replaced with images of Mao Zedong or Xi Jinping, of welfare payments being cancelled and of workers being demoted, harassed and receiving pay cuts.

I could talk about Falun Dafa petitioners who have experienced severe persecution since 1999, when a rapid rise in its popularity prompted the CCP to ban anyone from practising it. In 1995 we know that the 11th Panchen Lama, who was six years old at the time, was kidnapped, along with his entire family, allegedly by CCP operators. Neither the Panchen Lama nor his family have been seen since.

It is reported that the Chinese government has put Christians, Tibetans, Falun Dafa, Muslims, the Uighurs—you name the religion—into camps, tortured them and killed them. What can we do? The UN won't do anything. The CCP's actions are only getting worse. The CCP is guilty of crimes against humanity. The CCP is guilty of genocide. The CCP is now no better than, and should be considered, a transnational criminal organisation. We can't remain indifferent. We must keep talking about this. We must call the CCP out. We must unite across the political divide to condemn these horrid atrocities.

11:22 am

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On Friday I spoke to a distressed resident, an Australian Uighur who has not heard from their family for four years. They are desperate, anxious and can't sleep because of worry. In fact, they can't remember the last time that they had a good night's sleep. There has been no word from parents, siblings, partners and children. They are silent. Those here don't know whether they're alive or dead. Friday wasn't the only time that I've spoken to distressed family members whose families are in China. I'm privileged to have a strong Uighur community in my electorate. They have raised their concerns and angst with me on many occasions.

I acknowledge the motion from the member for Menzies and strongly condemn the human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang province. The reports of mass arbitrary detention, forced labour, forced sterilisation, sexual assault and the restriction of movement should be condemned no matter where it occurs. The ABC reported that there are approximately 28 detention camps where human rights violations and deaths in custody are occurring. Almost a million Uighurs have been detained. The scale of this is almost incomprehensible from the safety here in Australia, but for the more than 3,000 Uighurs living here—many in my electorate—it's a constant source of concern. Most Australian Uighurs know someone—a relative or friend—who has disappeared or has not been heard from for several years.

Like many Australians, they came here as students to study and make a better life for themselves. They chose to stay in Australia and become Australian citizens because of the opportunities and the promise that Australia can offer. For some time it was also because they had a genuine fear for their lives if they returned to their homeland.

I've had many constituents come to see me or email my office about the events taking place in the region since the reports started to emerge. They explained that they fear for the safety of their loved ones, due to the rumours that they have been taken to prison. They are concerned by firsthand witness accounts, and reports from the media and intergovernmental agencies about the potential human rights violations by China in its treatment of its Uighur minority.

I stand today to voice my concerns along with those of my constituents and many across the world. Australia has a long record of playing a leading role in international relations and defending human rights, especially in our region. Increasing reports are painting a worrying picture of the treatment of the Uighur people. The detention of Uighurs in the so-called re-education camps and the increasing rate at which those detention centres are being built continue to increase the worry. There are also reports of Chinese surveillance and intimidation of Uighurs abroad, including right here in Australia. It's important that Australian citizens, regardless of their background, do not feel pressure or intimidation from a foreign power. Condemnation of the Chinese government has been widespread. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on China to halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not lawfully been charged, tried and convicted of a criminal offence. As a member of the UN's Human Rights Council, we should be working in coordination with other members to pursue this issue and the Chinese government, so that all of us holding concerns are able to find comfort and so that those who are worried about their friends and family know they are safe and can talk to them.

The US government and the parliaments of Canada and the Netherlands have labelled human rights violations in Xinjiang as genocide. The Human Rights Watch has also labelled the actions as crimes against humanity. Australia needs to be part of an effective multilateral response to this ongoing issue. Actions taken by the Chinese government are not the actions of a responsible global power. We should stand with the global community on this important and reprehensible situation in Xinjiang. No matter who is responsible for the human rights violations, Australia must always stand up for human rights and hold those responsible to account.

I support the motion, and I will continue to condemn any breach of human rights in the past, present and future so that Australian Uighurs can find, and talk to, their missing loved ones and reconnect with their families.

11:27 am

Photo of Vince ConnellyVince Connelly (Stirling, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


The member's speech in Chinese was unavailable at the time of publishing.

Deputy Speaker and others, I just mentioned that my name is Vince. I said good morning and that I speak a little Chinese but my wife speaks Chinese very well. I also mentioned that my wife, Peta, spent a year living in Hangzhou and going to university there. Peta, as a little girl, was fascinated by stories that her great aunt would share with her about her travels around that ancient country some decades ago. That inspired Peta to study Chinese language, history and culture throughout primary school and into high school, and then she undertook a Bachelor of Asian Studies, majoring in Chinese at university, including a year in Hangzhou. Some of that fascination with Chinese culture really rubbed off on me, and, together we've spent some time in China, both in Hangzhou and also in Beijing, Shanghai and a number of other places. It's been wonderful to see China firsthand, meet some of the people and experience that culture. That's why it's also really important that we continue to do what we are doing and distinguish between Chinese people—those who now call Australia home and the Chinese Communist Party, who are the government in the People's Republic of China.

Australia and Australians operate on some pretty simple principles. We absolutely believe in a fair go and in respect for our fellow country men and women. We respect the rule of law and, at the same time, we uphold absolutely the right, individually, to freedom. Against this, we must sadly juxtapose the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province in north-west China. Australia remains deeply concerned by reports of forced disappearances, mass detention, forced labour, pervasive surveillance of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in China. Recent reports of systematic torture and abuse of women are, of course, deeply disturbing. We urge China to act consistently with its human rights obligations.

It is morally right that we use our voices. I thank the member for Menzies and others in this place for, along with me, joining in and using our voices to absolutely object to these egregious human rights abuses. Access to the region continues to be restricted, making it difficult for Australia and other concerned nations to see what's happening on the ground for ourselves. But by bringing forward and debating this motion today in our federal parliament we are contributing to greater transparency as we continue to urge China to allow international observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to be given immediate and unfettered access to Xinjiang. We will work closely with our key partners, including the UK and others, to advocate for this transparency and accountability. It is critical that China immediately facilitates these visits and ensures transparency and independence.

The government has clearly conveyed the Australian government's concerns about the situation in Xinjiang to China. This includes through Minister Payne's last three meetings with her Chinese counterpart, state councillor Wang Yi. Australia will continue to raise our objections and call for independent investigations both here in Australia and with Beijing.

Whilst the Chinese government continues to systematically breach the human rights of its own citizens, it greatly weakens its moral authority to engage as a respected global citizen. Through this motion, we record our abhorrence at these abuses of our fellow humans. We urge the UN to investigate these breaches of human rights and we commit to continuing our calls for the Chinese government to end these abuses. I call on the Chinese government to demonstrate respect for its own rich cultural history and to move back to a path of peaceful and prosperous engagement at home and, in this way, to also regain the moral authority to engage and to prosper globally.

11:32 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by telling the story of Mayila Yakufu. Her sister, Marhaba Salay, was here in parliament just last week, sharing the devastating story of what happened to Mayila. Mayila committed no crime. All she did was transfer funds to help her parents, who were buying a family home in Adelaide. That happened in 2013. Years later, the Chinese government has created charges stating that she was somehow financing terrorism. Since April 2019, she has been detained without legal representation or evidence of the crime that she has been accused of. Her family are incredibly concerned for her. From the very limited moments they have been able to contact her, they know that her health has suffered significantly from her confinement. Marhaba is also concerned about the consequences of speaking out here in Australia, seeking justice for her sister. Her family are concerned for her aunt and uncle, who have also been accused of the same crime. Many like Marhaba who are campaigning are also concerned for younger family members and that they may be removed from family care and placed in state facilities.

Tragically, Mayila's story is just one instance in a much larger story of the cultural genocide that the Chinese government has been perpetrating against the Uighur people. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has summarised the systematic campaign that has been undertaken, stating that a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in camps without formal charges or due process. The BBC has published evidence of 'widespread and systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of ethnic minorities in detention facilities'. Around a quarter of a million children in Xinjiang have lost parents to detention, with many children being placed in state run institutions. The Chinese government is also working to forcibly reduce birthrates amongst Uighur people and other Muslim populations, including through forced abortions and sterilisation. There has been systematic destruction of Uighur cultural heritage, including of cemeteries and pilgrimage sites, with an estimated 16,000 mosques destroyed or damaged. The global centre has concluded:

The government of China is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect and is perpetrating possible crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

The Australian Greens have been calling out the cultural genocide committed by the Chinese government for years, and we will continue to do so. The Chinese government should immediately halt its attack on human rights and it must immediately allow for United Nations and other independent international observers.

And there is more that the Australian government should do as well. The Australian government should apply targeted sanctions against the officials who have perpetrated these violations of human rights. It should match the commitments by the US, UK and Canadian governments to ensure that companies within Australia are not benefiting from the forced labour of the Uigher people. It should work with other nations to insist that, at the very minimum, international human rights observers be allowed into Xinjiang.

I want to take a moment to thank the Uigher campaigners who were here last week. To speak truth to power is hard of the best of times, but to do so when the threats against you, your family and those who you know are so close and so real is a testament to your courage. We affirm our solidarity with all the campaigners and activists, and with the Hong Kongers and members of the Tibetan community who are campaigning for human rights and democracy. You are showing tremendous courage in speaking up on these abuses, and the world cannot stand by.

I think it's also worth reflecting that there has been a lot of talk about the importance of standing on principles during the debate on this important motion. For many, many years in Australia, the Greens have been calling out human rights abuses by the Chinese government and by other governments. During the mining boom, when the money was flowing in, we were often lone voices in this place; neither of the establishment parties wanted to raise the issues that we were raising at the time. One might ask what changes have taken place in the US and elsewhere that mean some of these issues are now being brought to the parliament. But so far, the flip-flopping of the Australian government over many years on human rights has had the consequence of undermining our international human rights advocacy. We're in a weaker position to demand that the Chinese government take action because we haven't taken consistent action in the past.

I hope that what we're seeing now is the beginning of a firm position—that we will always stand up for human rights abuses, whoever commits them and in whatever part of the world.

Debate adjourned.