Senate debates

Monday, 16 March 2015


Suspension of Standing Orders

3:44 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving this general business notice of motion no. 641.

I find it convenient of the government to simply say that, because this is a matter of foreign affairs—because this is a complex international issue—somehow this place cannot have a genuine discussion, or even raise these issues. There should be an opportunity to discuss these issues in this place, and to have a genuine robust debate about where it is that Australia fits in, particularly in our region.

We know that human rights abuses are going on towards Tibetans in China. We know that they are happening under our watch. We know because we have raised these issues previously with the Chinese government. To simply say that the Senate should not discuss it just does not cut it. It is a cop-out; an absolute cop-out. For months and months, the local Tibetan community here in Australia have been asking very serious questions of this government, and of the foreign affairs minister, as to exactly what Australia is doing about the human rights abuses that the Chinese government continues to commit on the local Tibetans in that province. And we know that those questions continue to go unanswered. We know that journalists are stopped from visiting the provinces to find out exactly what is going on. We know that there is an extreme level of abuse and intimidation of Tibetans in their homes and in their local communities. This motion is specifically in relation to political prisoners, whose situations we know have been documented. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many other organisations internationally have well-documented references to the fact that these political prisoners are being abused. If countries like Australia do not start standing up and calling out human rights abuses where we see them, then those abuses will continue to happen—unchallenged. When we see something that is wrong, as a fair-minded decent country in our region we have a responsibility to stand up and call it out—to call out wrong behaviour, including human rights abuses.

I know and I understand that, in the context of our relationship with China, it is difficult—because we have trade obligations, and we have other types of accords with the Chinese government. Of course we do. But friends must be able to call each other out when something wrong is being done. We must ensure that we can stand up for what is right—not be silenced because of our other interests; particularly when they are simply that it is been put in the too-hard basket because of the commercial interests of our relationship with China. Beijing should not be dictating to our country as to whether or not we accept human rights abuses that are happening in our region. We in Australia, as a strong democracy and as a leader in our region for fairness and decency, have a responsibility: when we know that dozens of political prisoners are being abused and denied their rights; and are being jailed simply because they have spoken the name of the Dalai Lama, or because they have distributed some information about the local Tibetan culture and community. Those political prisoners need a voice. And we are the right country to help them, and to stand up and speak out. Our region only becomes a safer place if we lead by example, and do not stay silent in the face of human rights abuses.

I find it abhorrent that in the Senate there is now an agreement between the Labor Party—the opposition—and the coalition government that they simply shut down debate in this place when it is too difficult an issue for them to handle. The idea that we cannot discuss or debate foreign affairs issues is madness—absolute madness. We know that many of our constituents across the country—whether they were born here or whether they are descendants of people from other parts of the world; regardless of where they have come from and where they were born—want Australia to be involved in our global community, and that means being able to have these debates. (Time expired)


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