Senate debates

Monday, 16 March 2015


Suspension of Standing Orders

3:52 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I support the suspension of standing orders to have a debate on this because if not us then who? If not now then when? I hear all this about there being appropriate processes—

Senator Moore interjecting—

Well, there are not. They do not happen. When is there a debate in this place on the human rights abuses that are going on in Tibet? When can these serious issues actually be debated? I come particularly to the visit here by the President of China. In his speech in the House of Representatives and in the Prime Minister's speech of welcome human rights did not get a mention. Yet, if we are a country that stands up for human rights, that is a period in which it should have been mentioned instead of what did get mentioned—which was, of course, the free trade agreement. That is what everyone wants to talk about: how we can engage in trade. The point here is that you have to be able to stand up for human rights as well. You have to be able to say what the situation is and ask questions of the countries concerned.

But, as I said this morning, Australia has not had a very good reputation in this regard in recent years. The fact that we have been mentioned as breaching the torture convention just demonstrates where Australia now finds itself. There are very few people who are prepared to take on China. One of the things that we in this parliament should be doing is standing up to the Chinese over their abuses in Tibet.

The report that is in question here, Torture and impunity: 29 cases of Tibetan political prisoners, shows that 14 people died in custody. There should be an inquiry by the Chinese government into cases of custodial death and extrajudicial killings. That is what Australia should be asking of the Chinese government—to have that inquiry into those deaths in custody and extrajudicial killings that have been going on in Tibet with regard to this particular report on prisoners in Tibet. But, instead of that, Australia remains silent.

If we are to believe the government, then perhaps it will produce for us the remarks it has made on the Chinese government's response to the convention against torture. What has the Australian government said? Or is it that we do not say anything anymore because we in Australia are involved in breaches of the very same convention against torture and if we were to criticise others then we may invite the same criticism ourselves? It is time Australia recognised that if we stand up for human rights we have to stand up for them both here and everywhere around the world that they are being breached and not pick and choose according to who our trade partners are at the time.

I think it is a bit rich to suggest there are opportunities to discuss this. The government runs a mile from any discussion of human rights abuses with regard to any of our trading partners or allies. It is about time that we actually stood up and spoke in global fora on human rights. We could start with Tibet and follow up with Sri Lanka, instead of being complicit and turning a blind eye in the case of Sri Lanka, as we have done in the last 12 months.


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