Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

6:46 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of Senator Lambie's referral motion about Australia's relationship with China. The Australian Greens support this referral, as we have supported a number of referrals in the past, because our relationship with China is a really important topic that we think deserves serious scrutiny. Our relationship with China is incredibly complex; it's exactly the sort of stuff that the Senate should be considering in a full and proper inquiry process.

Our relationship includes issues of human rights and our trading relationship, as well as the broader scope of foreign policy issues. We also think it's important to have an inquiry that actually puts the issues on the table in a careful and considered way so that we can have the debate about China in a careful and thoughtful way. And, in particularly, as part of this discussion about China, we must be loudly antiracist and fight attacks against Australians of Chinese heritage. That includes attacks from those within this chamber calling on Chinese Australians to pass loyalty tests. This inquiry would be an excellent opportunity to thoroughly consider these issues. As I said, it's exactly the sort of complex issue that the Senate should be considering.

I now want to step through some of the issues that the Australian Greens think would be covered in an inquiry, if we were to get one up. We'll start with human rights. We believe that in our relationships with any country around the world human rights should be absolutely at the core and centre of that relationship. We've been consistent in our calls for action on human rights by governments around the world, including the Chinese government. In a state visit by the then Chinese president, Hu Jintao, in 2003, Greens MP Michael Organ wore a Tibetan lapel pin to symbolise the concerns we've raised about the situation of the Tibetan people. Tragically, despite the many years that have passed since then, the human rights situation in China has certainly not got better. In fact, it has got worse.

Human Rights Watch summarised in a recent report how Beijing's repression, insisting on political loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, has deepened across the country. In Hong Kong, following six months of large-scale protests in 2019, the Chinese government imposed a draconian national security law on 30 June. This was its most aggressive assault on the Hong Kong people's freedom since the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. In Xinjiang, Turkic Muslims continue to be detained arbitrarily on the basis of their identity, while others are subjected to forced labour, mass surveillance and political indoctrination. In Inner Mongolia, protests broke out in September when educational authorities decided to replace Mongolian with Mandarin Chinese in a number of classes in the region's schools. And authorities in Tibetan areas continue to severely restrict religious freedom, speech, movement and assembly, and fail to address popular concerns about mining and land grabs by local officials. This often involves intimidation and unlawful use of force by security forces.

I have met with Tibetans, Uighurs and Hongkongers who have told me what the on-the-ground impacts of those policies are. In fact, it was only yesterday that this parliament received a delegation of Uighur Australians who told the tragic stories of the awful conditions and situations that their relatives in Xinjiang were suffering through—their sisters, husbands or other family members who were imprisoned, who were essentially in concentration camps, who were being tortured and who they hadn't heard from for years. In one case, the only reason given was that the person had travelled to Egypt. Another person had travelled to Turkey. For that, they were then placed in the indoctrination camps or were essentially imprisoned for decades.

We think that issues of human rights should be at the core of our relationship with China. Right now, we reiterate our call for the Chinese government to allow access for UN and other independent human rights observers, which is the absolute bottom line—a simple, basic step that they should take immediately. In our relationship with China, we should see action from the Australian government on a framework for targeted sanctions to address these human rights violations, wherever in the world they occur. We have seen the Australian government dragging its feet for months now on proposed Magnitsky legislation. We know that there was a letter sitting on the Prime Minister's desk months ago, and it hasn't been answered. So we need the government to take urgent action and respond to the unanimous cross-partisan recommendation from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade that they introduce Magnitsky legislation.

As Senator Lambie was saying, this government seems to want to walk away from these issues. The issues need to be brought front and centre, and certainly having this inquiry will enable these issues to be considered in a holistic, complex way. The inquiry would be an excellent opportunity to consider our trading relationship with China, which clearly is in a position of absolute tumult at the moment.

There are clear steps that we could be taking to improve our ability to manage our trade relationship with China. The Greens believe that we should be rethinking our political economy and shifting away from a reliance on an extractive based economy to one where we add value through a strong domestic manufacturing sector powered by renewables like green hydrogen. This applies to all our trading relationships, not just China. Any reduction in our exports of fossil fuels to China, which have been forced on us by the trade embargoes that China is imposing on us, should be seen as an inevitable part of the global transition to net zero in the face of a climate crisis and actually as an opportunity to be reducing our economic reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels.

We reckon that the Australian government should be working with Australian industry to diversify our markets following the decades of focus on exports to China as the mainstay of our economic growth. There are so many opportunities. Green steel and green aluminium are some of the possibilities there. Current trade disputes demonstrate that our free trade agreements aren't worth the paper they are written on. These are the issues that should be considered in this type of inquiry. What does it mean to have a free trade agreement with China in the current situation, when they can basically just tear it up? These are the very things that we should be considering.

Moving on to our broader foreign policy, it really needs to be seriously looked at. The Australian Greens believe that in our international relations we should be promoting peace, democracy, ecological sustainability, equity, justice and human rights. This applies to our relationship with China, as it does for every other country in the world. As part of that, again, something that could be really seriously looked at in this inquiry, given the relationship between the US and China, is the very strong argument that we as Australians should be pursuing an independent foreign policy. That should include renegotiating the US alliance, because an unthinking alliance with the US means that we are not seen as an honest, independent broker in our region, including with China. Hitching our wagon to the Trump administration was a really powerful example of this, and it significantly contributed to the current dire state of the bilateral relationship that we have with China. The alliance with the US makes us less safe, not more.

Additionally, I think that, if we are going to have a focus on our relationship with China that's based on human rights, it would also include looking at the influence that we have, as Australia, while our human rights here in Australia are under question. While we continue to turn a blind eye to the ongoing injustices and racism suffered by our First Nations peoples and ignore calls for truth-telling and for treaties, while we jail innocent asylum seekers and refugees indefinitely, and while we are criminalising Australians seeking to return home, we are vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy on the world stage. We are not in a position where we can forcibly say to China, 'You need to be addressing your human rights abuses,' while these things are ongoing in Australia. The Australian government can talk about a rules based order in as many white papers, policy statements and major speeches as it likes, but, until we walk the talk, we are continually undermining our credibility.

Finally, we think that, as part of looking at our relationship with China, what we need to really keep a focus on is the need to reject racism. We need to have a strongly antiracist approach. The significant focus in the media and in this place on the threat from the Chinese government, as well as the Australian government's focus on Chinese foreign influence, has been damaging to Asian communities in Australia, to international students and to other visitors to Australia with Asian heritage. We need to keep that in mind, and we need to make sure that we are always supporting Australians and others in Australia of Asian heritage and that, when we are being critical of the Chinese government, of the Chinese Communist Party, it doesn't flow over into racism, into xenophobia and into attacks, prejudice and discrimination against people of Chinese heritage.

Asian Australians, permanent residents and temporary visa holders must be able to participate freely in all aspects of Australian society. In having this sort of debate, we believe that, if we got this inquiry up, it would be really important throughout that to continue to call out racism and champion the rights of our multicultural communities. Our relationship with China is incredibly complex, and it is exactly because of that complexity that it is a very appropriate issue for the Senate to be looking into. The Greens are very definitely in support of this motion to set up this Senate inquiry to consider Australia's complex relationship with the People's Republic of China.


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