Senate debates

Monday, 11 November 2019

Committees

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

5:27 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

This really should not be a contentious suggestion made in the form of a motion by Senator Patrick. This is, as Senator McAllister has just said, a very calm motion. It does not make any wild claims in either the surrounding material or the terms of reference; it simply asks for a series of matters that relate to Australia's relationship with the People's Republic of China to be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for an inquiry. To the Greens, it seems an eminently sensible suggestion, particularly as the opposition has been stonewalled by the government in its attempts to have some private briefings from relevant government agencies in relation to Australia's relationship with the CCP.

This should not be at all controversial. It is not a complex suggestion. This is a matter that has been the subject of significant public debate in this country, particularly in recent months and years. Senator Patrick's suggestion is a very sensible proposal to break the deadlock that now exists between the government and the alternative government in this place, the Australian Labor Party. For those reasons and others, the Greens will support Senator Patrick's motion.

I want to be very clear about a couple of things. First, the CCP is a totalitarian regime. They're engaged in a cultural genocide on the Uygur people at the moment. They have imprisoned, on conservative estimates, over a million Uygur people in so-called re-education camps, and many informed observers believe that number is actually over two million people. But it's not only the re-education camps where we've seen Uygur people incarcerated and detained. In Jinyang the prison population—this is not the re-education camps; this is the existing prison population—has spiked over 500 per cent in the last two years. That's been reported recently by The New York Times. At the same time, in fact, imprisonment rates in the rest of China have remained relatively stable. So you've got a situation where there is an ethnic cleansing, a cultural genocide underway perpetrated against the Uygur people by the CCP, a rampant disregard for human rights, a total disregard for the rule of law. We are talking about a government which oversees a court system that is far closer to a conviction factory than it is to a genuine justice system.

They've got form in Tibet, where they have absolutely invaded and attempted to destroy the Tibetan culture. They've murdered many, many tens of thousands of Tibetans along the way, I might add. And we've also got a situation currently in Hong Kong, where, for many months, brave protesters have been standing up for their democratic rights. Many of us, including me, are worried about the actions that the CCP may take in Hong Kong to put down the protesters. We have seen instances of brutality perpetrated not just against protesters but against journalists reporting on those protests.

The CCP is a government that is becoming more assertive internally, it is becoming more assertive externally, and it's absolutely time that we had an informed debate in this country and in this parliament about our relationship with the CCP and about what we are doing to respond to this internal and external assertiveness that we've seen under the regime of President Xi. If we're going to have that kind of informed debate, we need information at our fingertips. Senator Patrick's suggestion, a very calm and mature suggestion, is a very clear way forward for us to have that informed debate. The idea that the Labor Party would not support this motion today actually beggars belief. They've been completely stonewalled by the government saying to them, 'No, we're not going to have relevant agencies brief you so you can come to an understanding of the situation.' Yet they won't support an inquiry that would allow them to come to an understanding of the situation. It's difficult to conclude anything other than that Labor is happy in its ignorance on this matter because, if they genuinely wanted to know, they could support Senator Patrick's motion and we could have the inquiry that he is suggesting.

I want to make a couple of quick remarks about the relationship between the CCP and my home state of Tasmania. President Xi actually visited Tasmania in 2014, and I wrote an opinion piece that was published in Hobart's TheMercury just before he got to Tasmania. I made the point that he wasn't coming here to experience our wilderness and that he wasn't coming here to taste our Pinot Noir; he was actually coming to case the joint. And so it's turned out. I'm extremely concerned about CCP influence in Tasmania. I'm very concerned about the level of CCP investment into Tasmania and I'm extremely concerned that our state government has not yet come to grips with the challenges that this represents now and will represent in the future for my home state. I well remember standing on the Hobart domain, when President Xi was visiting, with a small bunch of Tibetan protesters when we realised that there had been chartered jets landing at Hobart Airport containing large numbers of CCP-supporting students from the mainland of Australia. They overwhelmed us with their numbers and their giant CCP-sponsored flags. I remain more concerned about my home state of Tasmania in regard to CCP influence and money than I am about the rest of our country, because we are on the radar of the CCP. It's time that the Tasmanian senators in this place stood up for more information to be shared with the Senate and the Australian people about CCP influence, CCP soft power and CCP money in this country and in my home state of Tasmania. We'll very happily and proudly support Senator Patrick's calm and mature suggestion contained in this motion, as we have in the past.

I urge two things of the major parties in this place. Firstly, to the LNP, to the government: please provide these briefings that have been requested by the opposition, and extend those briefings to members of the crossbench in this place. That would be a mature way to respond to this situation. In the absence of those briefings, I say to the Australian Labor Party: you can't just sit there complaining that you haven't got the information you want when there has been a pathway suggested to you by Senator Patrick, in this motion, that would allow you to understand far more than you currently do about CCP influence in this country and the way that the government is attempting to respond to it.

The last thing I want to say is about bipartisanship in this place. Bipartisanship between the LNP and the ALP in this place has seen over 200 pieces of legislation passed in the last two decades that take away fundamental rights and freedoms from Australian citizens. Bipartisanship in this place ought to be ended, because it is the opposition's job in a democracy to oppose. Simply agreeing with the government as they remove our rights, freedoms and liberties in this country and not standing up, and then using bipartisanship as an excuse, is letting down the Australian people. It's letting down those Australians, including my family members in some cases, who have fought and tragically died to defend the very rights and freedoms in this country that you are colluding with each other to get rid of. It's why we need a charter of rights in Australia. We are the only liberal democracy in the world that doesn't have a charter of rights, and it would be one way of ending, or at least slowing down, this ongoing erosion of rights, freedoms and liberties in Australia.

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