Wednesday, 10 March 2010
That the Senate—
- notes that:
- 9 March is an international day of action to raise awareness about the new military offensive against Karen civilians by the Burmese Army in Karen State, eastern Burma,
- since mid January 2010 more than 2 000 civilians have been forced to flee new attacks in eastern Burma with villagers being shot on sight, more than 70 homes have been destroyed, schools and health clinics burnt down and the blocking of aid to people hiding in the jungle,
- human rights abuses in Burma are widespread and systematic with the main perpetrator being the Burmese military,
- gender-based violence, including rape against women and girls, is used as a weapon by the Burmese military,
- in the week beginning 28 February 2010, in New York, an International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Burma, presided over by two Nobel Peace Prize winners and human rights experts, recommended that the United Nations Security Council refer Burma to the International Criminal Court and that countries in the Asia-Pacific not invest in Burma’s oil and gas industry, and
- Burma’s oil and gas industry is the regime’s largest source of income and directly contributes to the financial stability of the military regime; and
- calls on the Australian Government to:
- work with other governments to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed in Burma, and
- ensure that Australian companies with links to Burma’s oil and gas industry are not contributing to the financial stability of the military regime.
The Australian government does not support this motion. As has been stated on numerous occasions, the government objects to using formal motions to deal with complex international matters, particularly those involving other governments. As Mr Smith said in his comprehensive statement on 8 February, Australia has long been appalled by both the Burmese military’s suppression of the democratic aspirations of the Burmese people and its disrespect for their human rights.
The government holds grave concerns about indications of heightened tensions between the regime and Burma’s many armed ethnic groups. We have consistently urged the Burmese authorities to engage in dialogue with all Burma’s ethnic groups to seek non-military solutions to these long-running conflicts.
The motion refers to the establishment of a commission of inquiry. In order for a commission of inquiry to be effective, it would require the cooperation of the relevant state—Burma, in this case—and would face significant practical obstacles in getting established. Australia’s existing sanction measures—financial sanctions and travel restrictions—are carefully targeted to place pressure on senior members of the Burmese regime and their supporters. Until we see significant change from Burma’s authorities, the Australian government will maintain a policy of targeted financial sanctions. I thank the Senate.
The minister has presumably pointed out the two aspects of the motion that the government does disagree with. I would note for the record that, after receiving support from the government and from the opposition on a number of motions—some of them quite controversial—relating to foreign policy, it seems that the minister will only stand up and read one of those statements if it is an issue that the government disagrees with or does not like. I would ask that if this is not the time to debate these sorts of issues, then when is it time?
Much of the motion that is before us relates to the Senate simply noting the facts on the ground. I do not think the government disputed them, and I did not hear the minister disputing them. But what he did stand up and say was that we will not be able to proceed with the United Nations commission of inquiry without the support of the Burmese regime—which is factually not true—and that the sanctions regime is appropriate and working well as is.
The point that I am trying to make by way of this motion is that neither of those contentions is true. It is absolutely unconscionable that Australian investors are able to work in Burma, as we speak. There is drilling equipment moving from South-East Asia into gas fields off the coast of Burma right now, with Australian investors based in Western Australia in partnership with a regime that the minister just stood up and roundly condemned. I do not understand what complex or delicate foreign policy matter exists in simply reversing the government’s longstanding position of maintaining weak and inadequate sanctions that are at odds with many of our partners in the region and other countries that we would consider our peers. It is absolutely time that the government stood up strongly and made our sanctions bite, particularly in this all-important election year. As for the matter of the UN commission of inquiry, this is a boat that is going to leave without Australia. We need to lend our weight to moves within the United Nations for a commission of inquiry to lay the grounds for crimes against humanity, which we know are occurring, and it is time that Australia got on board.
It only relates to the procedural matters that Senator Ludlam raised. These are notices of motion. You asked for formality. Formality was granted; no-one denied you formality. If you want them dealt with in this way, and you have asked for them to be dealt with in this way, do not complain if you do not like the way they are being dealt with. You asked for them to be dealt with in this way.
If you want them to be debated, do not ask for formality, and they will then be dealt with in general business. That would be the course that you could adopt. But do not complain about the procedure when you asked for it for yourself. I thank the Senate.
What a fatuous statement from the minister that was! He wants the movers of motions here to relegate to general business—and that means no debating time, effectively—matters that ought to be dealt with in this period of motions. Let me suggest to the government and to the minister that if the government wants to afford the Greens and other people in the parliament the ability to debate important issues like its own failure to adequately levy sanctions against the ruthless regime in Burma, then just flag that to us and we will have a debate. All you have to do is deny formality and we will suspend all the other processes that are required and go into a full debate, if that is what the government truly wants. But it is quite fatuous of the government to say, ‘Oh, well, there is another procedure.’
If the government is going to allow a debate on the issue of its failures as far as Burma is concerned, which enhances the Burmese ability to repress Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest, then the Greens would welcome that greatly. I will speak to Senator Ludwig about that matter and, if we can facilitate that debate in the coming week, the Greens will be very happy to take the government up on that offer to have a decent debate, for the government to take it seriously and to organise that it be held in real business time in this parliament.
The Senate may have misheard what I said. What I plainly said was that if you ask for leave then you are requesting the Senate to deal with the motion in a specific way and you should then not complain about that process when we give you leave to make a short statement. If you want the matter dealt with as a formal motion, then do not ask for leave and it will be referred to general business time. That is the procedure in this place and the Senate will determine the procedure, as always, by the will of the Senate, not by a wish or a request by you in fact misquoting what I said.
That the motion (Senator Ludlam’s) be agreed to.