Senate debates

Monday, 3 March 2014


Responses to Senate Resolutions

5:00 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I present responses to Senate resolutions as listed at item 13 on today’s Order of Business, including a response from the Minister for the Environment (Mr Hunt) concerning the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The list read as follows—

Responses to Senate resolutions:

Ambassador of the Kingdom of Cambodia (Chum Sounry) – Cambodia (agreed to 13 February 2014)

Minister for the Environment (Mr Hunt) – Great Barrier Reef (agreed to 12 February 2014)

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the response of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the Senate resolution.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I thank the Senate for allowing me to have this opportunity. I note in the response from the Ambassador that he states that the motion which was passed by the Senate was based solely on the views of Mr Sam Rainsy, which are biased and flawed on several points, according to the ambassador.

I put to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that the ambassador is wrong. The information in the motion that was passed by the Senate is correct. I stand here today to say very clearly to the people of Cambodia that in this parliament we will continue to support the democracy movement. I would like to call for a stop to all the political violence that is going on in Cambodia as we speak—especially the police and the army's deadly crack-down on workers asking for better living conditions, starting with an increase in the monthly minimum wage to US$160.

I want to say, here, that the garment workers in Cambodia are working for very low wages. They work long hours and in terrible conditions. It has got to the point where they report in the newspapers the first fainting of the year. That refers to hundreds of workers who have fainted because of paint spills or toxic spills in the factories. It is just shocking.

The workers have gone on strike. There are 600,000 workers on low wages in Cambodia. In some cases, when these workers tried to leave factories to join others on the streets in protesting for higher wages the gates were locked to prevent them getting out. Companies like Puma, H&M and Gap are all getting the benefit of goods from these low paid workers in Cambodia. As a result, when they went out on strike, the regime of Hun Sen turned on them. Four were shot dead—live ammunition was used against them—and 23 of them were detained. So I stand here today calling on the government to release those people who are still jailed. Out of those 23 people, 21 are still detained. They should be released.

What is more, the minimum wage—$160 a month—is not an unreasonable wage. It is wrong for overseas companies to threaten to pull their factories out of Cambodia if they have to pay an appropriate wage. We have run strong consumer campaigns against what happened in Bangladesh, for example, and we will stand up for the workers of Cambodia to be paid decent wages.

But we will also stand up for an independent investigation into the serious irregularities which marred the 28 July 2013 national elections and obviously distorted the will of the Cambodian people. We know, now, from several investigations into those elections last year that parts of the election were rigged. There was 'indelible' ink that washed off very easily, so people voted more than once. There were situations where some voters were barred from the ballot offices and other people cast their votes. So they were not allowed to vote.

We know that there were a whole lot of missing and duplicated voter names We know that 1.2 million to 1.3 million names were omitted from the voting rolls. Sam Rainsy, the leader of the opposition party, was not able to vote or stand as a candidate. He had been in exile from Cambodia and was only allowed back just two weeks before the election, as a result of a royal pardon. But the rules suggested that he was not even able to vote.

The US Department of State has called for a transparent and full investigation of all credible reports of irregularities in the Cambodian election. Human Rights Watch came out and said that the ruling Cambodian People's Party appears to have been involved in electoral fraud. They called for an independent commission to investigate allegations of fraud.

The Australian parliament stands by our request for an independent investigation into the serious irregularities in the national elections last year. We want to make sure that all the civil society organisations and independent human rights organisations in Cambodia, as well as many international observers' views are respected here.

It is quite wrong for this letter from the Ambassador from the Kingdom of Cambodia to suggest that this is a biased view from just the opposition party in Cambodia. It is not. It is the view of many observers from non-government organisations and of parliaments such as this parliament and the European parliament, which also passed a very strong resolution condemning the violence that has been going on in Cambodia.

Just this last week, Gareth Evans, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs in Australia came out and condemned the Hun Sen regime and said that they were getting away with horrendous violence in Cambodia.

It is time that this parliament took a stand for democracy in Cambodia—for the poor people working in that garment industry, so that they get a decent wage and decent conditions in which to work. That is not too much to ask. Of course, we want to make sure that in standing up for them we do get free and fair elections and not have the situation that we have at the moment, where in the last election, in spite of all the repression that had gone on, in the final result that was declared there were 55 seats to the Cambodia National Rescue Party and 68 to the Cambodian People's Party, even with all those irregularities. That is why the opposition says that it won the election and that, if the irregularities had been investigated, that would be shown. That is why we must have an independent investigation into the elections. Finally, the Hon. Julie Bishop met with the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Hun Sen, on 22 February. He allegedly asked for Australian assistance in election reform in Cambodia because 'Australia has precise intention to be a good friend and partner of Cambodia' while 'deepening bilateral ties'.

I do not want to see asylum seekers sent to Cambodia. In the current circumstances it would be shocking to send people into a regime where there is repression and violence. At the moment there are rules against association, for example. Areas where the opposition meet are being shut down and people moved on. Just in the last few days, Hun Sen has come out and said that, if they lift the ban on association or protest, he will encourage pro-government forces to come out and protest beside the anti-government forces, which is a recipe for inciting violence, actually, when you come down to it.

This parliament must take a strong stand for human rights in Cambodia, for strengthening of the democratic movement, for an independent investigation into the irregularities in the elections last year and to stand up for what is right, not to engage with the Cambodian government in trading off our strong stand for human rights if it means some awful, tawdry deal on asylum seekers. That would be a shocking thing to do. Instead, we know what we have to do, and that is make a strong stand. We call on Hun Sen to lift the ban on public assembly that has been implemented in Phnom Penh. We want to make sure that we get out of jail these 21 people who are currently there in no-one knows exactly what circumstances. We do not want to see a situation where workers trying to protest for better rights are shot down in the street. That is unacceptable and we need to stand up and say so. I look forward to Australia calling for an independent investigation into the election and I look forward to Australia getting behind the statement that it made to the United Nations in which our country identified those human rights abuses. It is time to take a strong stand against the Hun Sen government.

5:11 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I take note of the response given by Minister Hunt to the Senate resolution regarding the Great Barrier Reef. I notice that today we received a response from the minister to the Senate's request and mine to table the public submissions into the Great Barrier Reef draft strategic assessment. As people may know, this is the document which will set the future of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a very important document. It is a document which also, as many people might not know, puts the reef in the hands of Premier Campbell Newman. It takes away federal approval powers and gives those entirely to the Queensland government. It is a crucial document, given that that state government has set upon a program of repealing as many environmental laws as it possibly can in the short time it has been in charge in Queensland.

So I was very interested in the minister's response to the resolution that public submissions be made public, as the name would suggest. Sadly, the minister has said that, actually, it is not really his problem—'Don't call us, we'll call you,' is in essence what the minister said today. The reason I requested this information is that there was some reporting of the mining industry making a submission to that process and seeking some favours, essentially, whereby the regulation of dredging and offshore dumping be weakened for the reef. I was very interested to know that the mining industry wants to weaken protection for the reef and enable it to continue its disastrous program of offshore dumping simply because it is cheaper for the industry to dump this sludge in the water than it is to treat it safely and dispose of it on land. Hence the Senate's resolution.

The Australian public have a right to know what was said in those submissions—what the mining industry asked for, whether in fact they have had any truck with this minister and whether there have been any meetings or negotiations about whether those demands to weaken reef protection will be granted. But we do know that, in that process of the strategic assessment, the reef protection will be weakened, because Premier Campbell Newman will be put in charge of issuing approvals.

So I was quite disappointed with the federal minister's response today that it is not really his problem because the process is being run by the Queensland government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority—so they will look into it, but do not hold your breath. I am afraid that is not good enough. This government has a responsibility to protect the reef and it is not just a legal responsibility, although of course it is that; it is also a moral responsibility, a responsibility that it seems to be doing all it can to shirk. We saw over the weekend some freedom of information documents released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that in fact show that the science is clear that dumping is dangerous in the reef—that offshore dumping of this sludge to make coal ports bigger and deeper for yet more export is damaging the reef and in fact should not proceed. We know that, sadly, Minister Hunt ignored that science and approved the expansion of Abbot Point anyway, such that we will now have the world's largest coal port, in a World Heritage area. I think that is utterly horrific and that you would find that many in the community would agree. Hence our concern about the disclosure of these submissions. The public have a right to know what favours the mining industry are seeking, what weakening they have sought in reef protection, whether they have had any truck with the minister, whether any quiet negotiations behind closed doors have gone on and why the federal government is not making this their responsibility. It is not okay for the minister to say, 'We are not running the process—it is nothing to do with us. Go away; it is not our problem.' It is our problem. It is the problem of all of us. It is a problem for the 63,000 people who need a healthy reef for their job and it is a problem for our budget bottom line, given that the reef brings in $6 billion every year and could continue to do so into the future if we look after it.

We will be pursuing this issue of making those submissions public. I am disappointed so far that the minister has said that he is liaising, 'but don't call us, we'll call you'. That is not good enough. We need those public submissions disclosed if the public is to have any confidence in this process of a strategic assessment for the reef. We will be following this up. Rest assured that the public cares very much about our reef and wants to know that its interests are being put ahead of the interests of the big mining companies and the interests of the Abbott government in doing favours for the mining industry.

Question agreed to.