Senate debates

Monday, 9 September 2019


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

8:30 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I would like to say that One Nation is supportive of the motion that Australia's relations with the People's Republic of China be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and preparation of a report. It is imperative that Australia and China maintain a mutually respective and beneficial bilateral relationship, and I thank Senator Patrick for moving this motion.

China is Australia's largest two-way trading partner—export market and import source—representing 24 per cent of total trade, with a value of a staggering $183 billion. Australia is China's sixth-largest trading partner and fifth-biggest supplier of imports. Twenty-five per cent of Australia's manufactured imports come from China, and 13 per cent of Australia's exports, including thermal coal, go to China. A free trade agreement was signed between the two countries in June 2015.

In more recent times, China has embarked on the One Belt, One Road initiative, as Senator Patrick drew to our attention. This is a Chinese economic and strategic agenda where Eurasia, Africa and Oceania are more closely tied along two routes—one land route and one maritime route. Those who support the initiative say that it facilitates the development of infrastructure and economic aid to needy economies. On the other hand, it can be said to facilitate Chinese economic and strategic domination of smaller countries on the route—some near us. In Australia we see growing Chinese involvement in projects from northern Australia to Tasmania, all providing little benefit to Australia but substantial benefit to China.

Other examples of Chinese involvement have been in the funding and support of local academic conferences and seminars. One of the ongoing issues of mutual concern relates to regional and global security. The growing tensions between the United States of America and the People's Republic of China in terms of imposition of trade tariffs is placing Australia in a challenging position, given the importance of Australia's relationships with both these countries. Similarly, the views taken of China's growing military influence in the South China Sea remain of concern to the United States of America and necessarily Australia as an established ally of the United States. Regionally, China is having a growing influence by funding infrastructure projects for some of the Pacific island countries and Papua New Guinea on our northerly doorstep. This runs the risk of changing the dynamic between Australia and our near neighbours.

Australia is a destination of choice for many Chinese students to further their education in our Australian academic institutions. In 2018, there were more than 166,000 enrolments of Chinese students in Australia representing 43.3 per cent of the total international student cohort—almost half. Noted in some Australian universities is the potential dependence generated by full-fee-paying international students on the overall money pool available to the universities' budgets. The concern is that, should those numbers suddenly diminish, some of those universities may be left destitute.

The unfettered Chinese development of five research bases within the Australian Antarctic Territory is of growing concern to many of us at a time when Australian investment into its three bases in that territory has been considered relatively conservative by comparison. Given the potential for military and strategic use of these bases by China and the potential for resource extraction at some future time, there is a need to consider this factor when examining our increasingly important and complex relationships with China.

Australia is also a favoured destination for Chinese tourists and this is shown by recent numbers. More than 1.3 million Chinese tourists visited Australia last year, representing 15 per cent of the total of visitors to our country. This is a clear positive for Australia. At the same time, there is a growing boom of tourists heading to China, which is welcoming tourists from around the world, including 700,000 of them from Australia alone.

Human rights, though, is a massive and huge issue where China and Australia have complex competing views. Australia is a democracy and a signatory to many international agreements that preserve basic human rights. China is a totalitarian republic following a communist regime that is very rigid, with little room to question the state and having limited rights for the individual. One only has to turn on the news and watch the demonstrations for freedom happening in Hong Kong to see how that goes down. Many Australians remember the events of Tiananmen Square. The detention of those whose views differ from those of the regime is a continuing disgrace and worthy of further review.

Currently Australian writer Yang Hengjun is being detained in China in harsh conditions and has been charged with spying—a serious issue that could bring the death penalty if he is found guilty. He has published works promoting democracy and seems to be now paying the penalty for having a different point of view and daring to express it. An Australian expressing his point of view—what could be more natural? He has been denied access to his lawyers and family. I'll now read selectively from an article in the Weekend Australian by the president of the Law Council of Australia, Arthur Moses. He points out:

After travelling to China with his family, the democracy advocate and academic was detained in January on the allegation of being suspected of "endangering national security".

Since then he has been held in harsh conditions without charge, with limited access to consular assistance. He has not been permitted to talk to his lawyers or see his family.

His lawyers do not even know the particulars of the allegations against him. As I said, Yang is an Australian citizen. Arthur Moses also writes:

Being a true friend and ally of any nation means when issues arise in a foreign justice system affecting Australian citizens, we are obliged to speak up.

This is the president of the Law Council of Australia. He goes on to say:

As a blogger, he has written thousands of articles promoting the rule of law, democracy and human rights, and built up a large following in China.

These fundamental things that Yang is fighting for go back to our country's roots in the Magna Carta, to our own Constitution and to the tenet of presumption of innocence. Mr Moses goes on further to say:

Yang and detainees like him must be treated humanely in a fair, transparent manner …

Mr Moses says that this is really important for our own future, and then says:

But it is the rule of law that most strongly drives economic performance.

Without the rule of law, there can be no stable, strong economy—and that is core.

I make note of the LNP's Andrew Hastie's courageous comments about China—frank and open comments about China. I note Senator Patrick's comments about Senator Kimberley Kitching from the Labor Party being a co-sponsor initially. That's on the public record. I wonder—a question of Senator Patrick—is Labor worried about losing donations rather than just simply being cowed? Then we have, as Senator Patrick pointed out, the New South Wales ICAC's ruminations right now. We have questions over the Liberal Party's interactions with Chinese influences. It's not just the Labor Party. We have land ownership issues that are upsetting many, many Australians, including One Nation supporters. We have essential infrastructure being handed over to the Chinese to control our ports, our electricity supply and potentially our railroads. And when Clive Hamilton becomes an ally in saying exactly these things, and warning us of China's influence, then it's really a point to take note, because we don't see eye to eye with Clive Hamilton on very many issues. I hope paragraph (h) in Senator Patrick's motion includes political institutions as well, not just university institutions.

In summary, China is a vital and important trading partner. There are military and security questions associated with this large and increasingly powerful country, there are human rights issues and there are fundamentals about the practice of law. This is a complex relationship, as Senator Patrick has the courage to point out, and it must be inquired into for the benefit of our future, for the planning of our future and for the security and safeguarding of our future. Government has three fundamental roles: to protect life, protect property and protect freedom. There are needs in this inquiry to ensure that it protects Australia's future, but there are also enormous opportunities, as Senator Patrick pointed out, if we understand this relationship and the potential for the future. One Nation supports the call for such an inquiry into a nation exerting powerful influences on our nation and on key institutions in our nation and with potentially far more powerful influences in our nation's future. For the people of Australia, I urge senators to support Senator Patrick and this motion.


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