Senate debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021


Treaties Committee; Report

4:01 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] Thank you to Senator Urquhart for making sure I got the call; I appreciate that. I wish to take note of the report by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, or JSCOT, on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and there are particular aspects of the report that I would like the Senate to note. They are the committee's considerations and recommendations in relation to the situation in Myanmar, which, of course, would be a party to the RCEP, as an ASEAN member state.

At the outset I want to reiterate Labor's view that the 1 February coup against the democratically elected government of Myanmar by the Tatmadaw was a direct attack against Myanmar's ongoing democratic transition, and I reiterate my concern and frustration that the Morrison-Joyce government has not taken sufficient action to put pressure on the leaders of the coup. Labor immediately condemned the coup and the subsequent violent crackdown against peaceful protesters across the country, in which over a thousand innocent civilians died. On 2 February we called on the government to review Australia's defence cooperation with the Tatmadaw, and other bilateral cooperation, and to consider implementing targeted sanctions against those responsible for the coup. Unfortunately, it took more than a month for this government to suspend military cooperation with the Tatmadaw, although, of course, the opposition welcomed the decision when it was finally made.

In April, we called on the government to provide visa pathways for at-risk Myanmar nationals so they could remain in Australia. Once again, about a month later, the government said that those on temporary visas could apply to extend their stay. But now seven months have passed since the coup, and the Morrison-Joyce government has still not implemented any additional targeted sanctions against those responsible for the coup and for human rights abuses in Myanmar. This is despite many of our like-minded partners taking strong action. The European Union has sanctioned 43 individuals and six entities. The US has sanctioned over 50 individuals and 20 entities. The United Kingdom has sanctioned the entire ruling State Administrative Council as well as Tatmadaw linked companies, and Canada has sanctioned 25 individuals and 10 entities.

The government's inaction is despite the government chaired Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommending in June that sanctions against the Tatmadaw should be put in place and, last week, JSCOT, whose report we are discussing today, embarrassingly having to remind the Morrison-Joyce government once again of the need to act. So we have a government chaired parliamentary committee reminding the government to follow through on a recommendation of another government chaired parliamentary committee to do something the government should have done months ago.

One of the three recommendations of this JSCOT report was that the Morrison-Joyce government continue to pursue the restoration of civilian democratic rule in Myanmar as a foreign policy priority and consider making a declaration to this effect at the time of ratification. So they've had a lot of reminders to do their job. Labor members of the committee also noted that the Morrison-Joyce government have failed to act on the recommendation from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade—a committee that they lead—to enact standalone targeted sanctions legislation to address human rights violations and corruption, similar to the United States Magnitsky Act.

In the meantime, Labor members of the committee have again called on the government to, under existing mechanisms, sanction additional senior members in the Tatmadaw and Tatmadaw-linked entities who have directly played a role in the overthrow of democracy and the subsequent violent suppression of protests. Indeed, the JSCOT as a whole supported Labor's view in this report that submissions highlighted the importance of enacting Magnitsky-style laws and the relevance of these laws in responding to the situation in Myanmar.

So it isn't just Labor calling for the Morrison-Joyce government to show more leadership in response to the coup in Myanmar, although we have done so from the start; it is also members of the government themselves—members of the Morrison-Joyce government—begging the Prime Minister and the foreign minister to take action. And the reason is simple. The Morrison-Joyce government's refusal to implement any sanctions since the coup sends precisely the wrong message—that Australia doesn't care; that we're mere bystanders to democratic backsliding in our region. Unfortunately, that is the approach Mr Morrison takes to everything—to dodge responsibility and only ever do too little too late—and it's the approach he's taken to serious issues of diplomacy and leadership in our region. I say to the Senate: it's past time for Mr Morrison and Senator Payne to act in support of Myanmar's democracy, implement targeted sanctions and support the people and the democracy of Myanmar. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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