Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Additional Answers

Cambodia: Election

3:11 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to add to an answer I gave to Senator Milne yesterday.

Leave granted.

Yesterday, Senator Milne asked me some questions about irregularities in elections for the Cambodian National Assembly in July 2013 and what the Australian government's attitude and initiatives in relation to those alleged irregularities were. I can inform the Senate that the Australian government has called on all concerned parties to ensure a transparent investigation of those alleged irregularities. There was an investigation but, regrettably, the government and opposition parties were unable to agree on the modalities for a joint investigation.

Ultimately, these are matters for the people of Cambodia to determine, but we encouraged the government and opposition parties to remain in dialogue. It is important that the door is kept open for successful opposition candidates to take up their seats in the National Assembly.

The Australian government has urged the Cambodian government to undertake electoral reforms to ensure credible elections. We welcome the agreement of the Cambodian government and opposition on 18 February to establish a joint committee on electoral reform.

Senator Milne further asked about the diversion of aid to civil society organisations. I can inform the Senate that Australia's aid program is delivered in partnership with a range of entities including civil society organisations, multilateral organisations and partner governments. We aim to work with those organisations that are the best fit for the program activities. Using a range of delivery partners, including the government and NGOs, enables Australia's aid program to maximise its impact and reach, and ensures that it is effective. A significant portion of our aid to Cambodia is already delivered through more than 100 civil society organisations—for example, in the health sector and in community development.

Finally, Senator Milne asked me some questions about Minister Bishop's visit to Cambodia. I stated that Minister Bishop, during the course of that visit, met with Cambodia's opposition leader, Sam Rainsy. In fact, Ms Bishop, during her visit to Cambodia, had a telephone discussion with Mr Rainsy but not a face-to-face meeting.

3:14 pm

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

Mr Acting Deputy President, I seek leave to make a short statement to note Senator Brandis's reply.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Milne, you may seek leave to do that. The Clerk has advised me, though, that there is a further opportunity for you to pursue this matter if you would like to. But I will put the question to the Senate. Is leave granted?

Senator Abetz interjecting

Leave is granted for two minutes, Senator Milne.

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

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I appreciate that and I thank the Senate on this occasion. Sam Rainsy is the leader of the opposition in Cambodia. An election was held on 13 July last year. Subsequent to that, many irregularities in the election were identified. However, since the period to which Senator Brandis refers, there has been a complete breakdown in negotiations between the government and the opposition in Cambodia to actually resolve those election irregularities. That is why there has been a call for the international community to step up efforts to put pressure on Prime Minister Hun Sen to now reform the electoral commission. That is, the United Nations Special Rapporteur came out and said that, firstly, the electoral commission should be reformed and that an independent electoral commission be run. Secondly, there needs to be an international investigation into the election irregularities, ensuring that there is in fact an early election in Cambodia following the reform of the electoral commission.

So, whilst I thank Senator Brandis and the minister for that further information, it implies that the Australian government is going to stand by and allow this stalemate to continue. We need to ensure that we have intervention. There is now a growing body of opinion around the world that there should be an independent investigation. I call, again, on the government to take a leading role in the same way that Australia took a leading role in the Paris Peace Accord in 1991. Australia has very strong role to play in furthering the democracy of Cambodia. I would urge the minister to meet with Mr Rainsy while he is in Australia at the moment.