Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019


Treaties Committee; Report

6:25 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise, in the metaphorical sense, to speak to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties report relating to the Hong Kong and Indonesian free trade agreements. Just a few days ago, China's President Xi said of Hong Kong protesters, 'Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones.' This follows months of pro-democracy protests where the people of Hong Kong have been calling for universal suffrage and investigations into police violence, things that we here in Australia take for granted in their absence. They have faced: antidemocratic emergency powers to ban face masks; rivers of tear gas; bullets from police; and Chinese troops gathering on their borders—and still they have walked the streets. What is the Australian government's response to the crushing of dissent and to President Xi's threats? It is to go on with business as usual. Indeed, there have been greater shows of solidarity with the democratic protesters in Hong Kong emanating from the National Basketball Association of the United States than there have been from the Australian government.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has duly examined the proposed free trade agreement with Hong Kong and decided that everything should proceed as per usual. There is nothing to see here, or so we are told by the major parties. And I might make this very explicit for the chamber: this is a position supported by the Labor Party. That is not the view of the Australian Greens. Of course the Australian government should not consider any free trade agreement while protesters are being violently suppressed. This should go without saying. We in the Greens have listened to the concerns of the Hong Kong community here in Australia and the views of the union movement. As the ACTU said in its submission to the inquiry:

It is important that we show solidarity with the protestors and our support for human rights, civil society and the rule of law in Hong Kong before we decide how to proceed with the FTA.

We in the Greens absolutely do not buy the argument made by the coalition and the ALP that this agreement will strengthen Hong Kong's status under the 'one country, two systems' procedures. Here is the perfect opportunity for the government to send a clear message to the Chinese government and the Hong Kong authorities. We have the opportunity to back up our words of concern with actual actions and show that repression will not be tolerated.

Let me move also to the proposed Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Aside from the myriad concerns around the role of investor-state dispute clauses and labour market access—where the ALP have again folded at the first sign of a political challenge—there is the issue of the appalling human rights abuses currently occurring in West Papua. Just today I've read reports of five bodies found in the highlands of West Papua, allegedly victims of an attack by the Indonesian military. Of course, it is not easy to know for sure what has happened, because journalists and human rights observers have been forbidden from accessing the region. We have seen horrendous bloodshed in West Papua in recent months. Scores have been killed, perhaps many more. In just one example, Indonesian security forces opened fire on an antiracism rally of high school students in Wamena. The protesters were sick of being called monkeys. This was their crime.

We should be condemning the actions of the Indonesian government and its security forces. We absolutely should not be training them. We should be requesting access for our diplomats instead of not wanting to cause a fuss. And, of course, while our neighbours are subject to ruthless and violent occupation, we shouldn't be ratifying a shoddy free trade agreement that is strongly opposed by, I might add, the very same unions that the Labor Party claims to be the voice for in this place. I will flag here tonight that, when the implementation of legislation for these two agreements makes its way to the chamber in the next session, I and the Greens will be moving and voting in support of amendments which seek to increase human rights measures, remove the toxic ISDS provisions which enable corporations to sue our democracy if we threaten their profit and remove the horrendous and deeply worrying aspects in relation to the undermining of the labour market here in Australia.

You would imagine that these are clauses that would find support within the Labor Party. However, given the caucus of cowardice that they convened earlier today to consider these matters, I wonder whether they will indeed be supported. We will have to wait and see. For now, I flag their coming introduction. I thank the chamber for its time.

Question agreed to.