Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. On 8 November 2012, the minister made the following statement:
Promoting democracy helps to secure peace, prosperity and stability in our region.
I note the minister's record in supporting democracy in Fiji, Myanmar and Pakistan, to name but a few nations. Ten days ago Malaysia's 13th general elections were held. The official results had the opposition gaining 50 per cent of the vote, but it obtained only 40 per cent of the seats and lost to the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional. Since then Bersih, the clean and fair elections movement in Malaysia, has stated that there was massive electoral fraud and irregularities in the elections with the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, referring to the worst electoral fraud in Malaysia's history. Does the Australian government share the concerns expressed by the White House and the EU over the need for a proper investigation of the allegations made?
Mr President, I acknowledge Senator Xenophon's keen interest in Malaysia and the welfare of the people of Malaysia. I underline what I have said in the past about his comments on the Malaysian election campaign. The first thing I want to repeat is that we are not in a position to make determinations about how that election was run. We cannot be the electoral commission for Malaysia. We cannot be the court of disputed returns for Malaysia. We cannot reach conclusions about whether people—
We cannot be the electoral commission for Malaysia. We cannot make determinations about which voter is eligible and which is not. We cannot make determinations about whether the ink put on the finger of someone who had completed a vote washed off easily. We cannot make those sorts of judgements. We do not have the resources to do it. The people from our high commission were out and about around polling places throughout Malaysia, observing the election, but they cannot make determinations about these sorts of arguments. We are not the court of disputed returns for Malaysia. We cannot make a determination from our high commission on the validity or otherwise of complaints made about it. On the question of observers, and Senator Joyce suggested we send observers, it is not the practice of the Australian government to send observers uninvited into a country that is conducting an election. Observers go as part of a Commonwealth mission, as they did to the elections held in Papua New Guinea last year. Observers will go to Zimbabwe as part of a Commonwealth mission, but again—(Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Last night opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim spoke to me and posed a question, which I ask of the foreign minister. How can Australia be blind to and condone such blatant fraud and massive rigging of the elections? Whilst I note the minister's comments that we cannot be a court of disputed returns, will the minister at least raise these concerns with the Malaysian government at regional forums, including the Bali Democracy Forum, and in particular with the Commonwealth secretariat? That is not a court of disputed returns. Will you raise these concerns?
The conduct of the elections is a matter for the Malaysian people, and I see no basis for raising them in any Commonwealth forum and it is not within the scope of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to look at the conduct of elections in Malaysia. Malaysia is a country with which we consider ourselves a close friend as well as a neighbour. Malaysia is an important regional partner to Australia. It is in our national interest to work with whatever government the people of Malaysia themselves choose. The people of Malaysia have changed government at the state level. They have opted to do that; they have been able to do it. The people of Malaysia have voted out government candidates in by-elections. No-one would consider for a moment that the elections were conducted in a way that elections would be in Australia. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the minister have a view about recent reports in the Malaysian government controlled media that Anwar Ibrahim may be charged with sedition, which carries a three-year jail term, merely for speaking out at public rallies, challenging the validity of the election result? Would the foreign minister be concerned if such charges were laid?
Of course we would be concerned, but to speculate about it is to do precisely that. That is a hypothetical position, and we would hope that no opposition leader in Malaysia would be charged with sedition or anything else for speaking out and debating the conduct of an election. Of course, that would be a valid matter for us to respond to but, again, that is a hypothetical question. The way the elections are being conducted is a matter for the Malaysian people. As I said at the time of the election, we will deal, we will work, we will partner with whatever government the people of Malaysia choose. There has been a trajectory, not only in Malaysia but also throughout the region to our north, for elections to open up and be conducted by more inclusive and robust rules. We have seen that in the nations to our north with the most imposing example being that provided by Indonesia. Indonesia can be considered a great democracy—(Time expired)