Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 June 2020


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

5:21 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 30 June 2021:

The future development of Australia's relationship with the People's Republic of China.

When I was first drafting a speech in relation to this motion nearly a month ago, I was reminded that the definition of 'insanity' is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Some might think me a bit insane to propose yet again that the Senate establish a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia's relationship with China. After all, over 18 months the coalition and Labor have combined forces no less than five times to block my proposal to refer such an inquiry to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, chaired by Senator Kitching. Each time, I've been concerned that various events and issues have demonstrated the need for the Australian parliament to take a deep dive into the dynamics of the Australia-China relationship.

The list of those issues and concerns is lengthy, including: the Victorian government's engagement with China's Belt and Road Initiative, pretty much without consultation with the federal government; China's growing influence in Australia's immediate sphere of strategic interest; China's investment and acquisitions in key sectors of the Australian economy; and serious allegations of Chinese government espionage in Australia and interference in Australian politics. All the while we've seen a steady rise in tension and deterioration in our relations with China—a trend that long preceded the coronavirus pandemic. Yet on each occasion the coalition and Labor have said no to a Senate inquiry: 'No, not interested.' I'm aware that the likely response today will be the same. However, I will bang my head against the wall again because I'm of the strong view that a wide-ranging inquiry by the Senate is in our national interests.

Managing our dealings with China is of course a task for government. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, has been keen to make this point on a number of occasions. But Australia's foreign relations are also of vital interest to and a responsibility of this parliament. After all, that is why we have a Senate committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade, and a joint standing committee on these subjects as well. There is no bigger issue for Australia at present than our relations with China, and parliamentary engagement is essential if we are to move forward with broad support across the Australian political scene.

One might think that both the coalition and Labor would welcome a parliamentary process that would provide support for them in making complex and difficult policy choices in our future relations with Beijing. Yet this initiative on each occasion has been blocked by the coalition and Labor. Five times they have voted on a unity ticket, and neither side has offered any reasonable explanation.

A number of coalition and Labor senators have privately expressed to me their interest in support for an inquiry. Senator Kitching herself was once prepared to co-sponsor a motion, only to withdraw at the last minute. Some others have found it in their personal political interests to agitate about China. Those members and senators have even formed a little club—the so-called Wolverines—with a little membership sticker displayed on the windows of their parliamentary offices. Yet none have been prepared, so far, to step forward and vote for a Senate inquiry. They might call themselves wolverines, but Chairman Mao would call them paper tigers. That's what the Chinese government today thinks of them, too: a bit of huff and puff, but quite inconsequential.

More importantly, the fact remains that the leadership of the government and the opposition has remained timid to the point of self-censorship. They have repeatedly failed to explicitly call out Chinese government political interference in Australia. The contrast with some other countries is striking. While the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and even the small Czech Republic have been open about the threats of Chinese espionage and political interference, Australian political leaders have bitten their tongues and pulled their punches, even when they discovered that Chinese intelligence had hacked into the computers of this very parliament.

In March this year Canada's National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians published a major report that called out significant and sustained Chinese espionage and political interference as a significant risk to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and to the country's sovereignty—a clear threat to the security of Canada. Our Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has never managed to make an explicit statement about the extent and threat of Chinese government espionage and interference in Australia. Some of the coalition and Labor members on the committee might fancy themselves as wolverines, and they have individually spoken up, but when it comes to a substantive inquiry and action they've been absent without leave.

Of course, a great deal has happened since 3 December 2019—the last time I attempted to initiate a Senate inquiry and the last time it was torpedoed by a unified coalition and Labor opposition. Within a month of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan taking hold, when it was beginning to spread across China and internationally—since January—we've seen not only the spread of the pandemic but also a rolling global economic crisis with geopolitical consequences that are likely to be felt for years and decades to come. However, in some way we are seeing the acceleration of trends that were already evident, notably the escalation of tension between Washington and Beijing and between ourselves and China.

The Chinese government's response to Australian support for an international COVID-19 inquiry, amplified by the belligerent trumpeting of their state controlled media, has left no doubt about the increasingly fraught nature of the Australia-China relationship. The Chinese ambassador's explicit threat of a Chinese boycott of Australian services and products unquestionably revealed China's true attitude and their clear preference for control rather than partnership. Within little more than a week, China took action against our barley and our beef. Those trade disputes were not new, but it was hardly a coincidence that China chose to escalate matters at that time.

This week the Chinese government has effectively moved for a boycott of Australian universities and education services. This will not have an immediate effect in the context of the current COVID-19 border restrictions, but China's message is very, very clear: they want to coerce us and punish us, not only in an effort to influence our international stance but also to send a signal to other countries in the region about the potential cost of noncompliance with Beijing's wishes.

We certainly should not overreact to these actions and threats. However, in this context, it's all the more important that Australia carefully consider our approach to future dealings with Beijing. Parliament has to play a role in this because a substantial reset of relations with China may well be on the cards. Of course, the government and opposition have repeatedly self-censored on this. Had they not done that, we would already be holding an inquiry working through a wide range of issues. We would already be drawing on expertise from within government, from businesses, from universities and from non-government organisations to advise us on our links with Beijing in a post-coronavirus crisis world so that we can approach the reset better informed. So, while I might meet that definition of 'insanity', the motion before the Senate today gives coalition and Labor senators one further opportunity to act in Australia's national interest and vote for a broad Senate inquiry.

There is, of course, nothing unusual about the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee conducting inquiries into Australia's relationship with other countries. The Senate committee has looked at China before without controversy. For example, it held an inquiry in relation to China back in 2005 and 2006. Other parliamentary committees have also reviewed other aspects of our relationship with China. In August 2012, for example, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade tabled a report on Australia's human rights dialogue with China. The Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth is currently undertaking an inquiry into diversifying Australia's trade and investment profile, something with implications for our trade relations with China. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has also commenced an inquiry into the international dimensions of the coronavirus pandemic, an inquiry that will certainly focus on China. Presumably both of those inquiries enjoy the government's endorsement, but neither will involve a holistic examination of our relationship with China.

Senator Kitching has also quietly arranged for private briefings for the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee. This is all good, but it's no substitute for a proper inquiry into all aspects of the relationship, drawing input from the full range of experts and interested parties through public hearings and private briefings, if need be. It certainly makes absolutely no sense to attack this problem piecemeal.

Australia is clearly at a strategic, diplomatic and economic turning point in our relations with China. The new terms of reference before the Senate significantly refer to our 'future' relations with Beijing. That is where the focus needs to be: on the future, not on the past, not on the political posturing but on Australia's national interests. China is and will always be a hugely important element in Australia's geopolitical and economic circumstances. We have to work out how to manage that relationship going forward and to do so in ways that benefit both countries whilst being consistent with our national interests.

In opposing this motion, the coalition and Labor leadership are effectively saying they don't trust our own MPs and senators to engage on these key foreign affairs, trade and defence questions. They are saying that they can't or won't trust Senator Kitching, Senator Abetz or any other of their colleagues on the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee. But if we are to find a way forward and do so in a way that reduces the risk of partisan division and rancour, fires Beijing are likely to stoke, then we need to engage the parliament in a much more positive way. We don't need any more political self-censorship on our relations with China, nor do we need political showboating and megaphone diplomacy. And we certainly do not need an outbreak of domestic partisan conflict over our dealings with Beijing.

What the Senate needs to do is establish a rigorous, non-partisan inquiry. Today's motion seeks to establish such an inquiry, such an investigation. We really do need to take a deep dive on this vitally important relationship. Only then will we start to build a new national consensus on shaping and managing our dealings with Beijing in what are difficult times. Australia's national interests demand nothing less.

5:35 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I would like to say that One Nation is very supportive of the motion that Australia's relations with the People's Republic of China be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and preparation of a report. We wish to commend Senator Rex Patrick for his seventh attempt to have this or a similar motion—

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

It's the sixth.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The sixth—I'm corrected—to have this motion progress. Senator Patrick, I can only guess, must feel like he's on the set of Groundhog Day. And on each of those occasions, the Liberal and Labor parties have joined to defeat all five of his previous attempts. I wonder if it's because Liberal Andrew Robb, when he retired, received an $880,000 salary after selling the lease to the Port of Darwin? Or after Sam Dastyari's bills were paid by the Chinese, or after Liberal Gladys Liu's contradictions of fact about her associations with China that were never resolved, or about Labor's ICAC revelations in New South Wales? We keep seeing Liberal and Labor come together to defeat even looking at this very vital and important relationship.

It is imperative that Australia and China maintain a mutually respectful and beneficial bilateral relationship. China is Australia's largest two-way trading partner in exports and imports, representing 24 per cent of total trade and with a value of $183 billion. That alone shows significant influence on Australia. Australia is China's sixth-largest trading partner and fifth-biggest supplier of imports. Twenty-five per cent of Australia's manufactured imports come from China. Thermal coal represents 13 per cent of all Australian exports to China and, recently, they tried to blackmail us about that.

In more recent times, China has embarked on the 'one belt, one road' initiative. This is a Chinese government economic and strategic agenda, where Eurasia, Africa and Oceania are more closely tied along two routes: one land and one maritime. It is intended to facilitate Chinese economic and strategic domination of smaller countries along the route—indeed, Chinese control. For Australia, we see the growing Chinese involvement in projects from northern Australia right through to Tassie, all providing little benefit to Australia and yet substantial benefits to China. We need to understand this relationship; we don't just let them have an open door.

Other examples of Chinese involvement have been in the funding and support of local academic conferences and seminars. The negative aspects of the Confucius Institute are only just being realised as some universities remove them from their offerings. Australia has been a destination of choice for many Chinese students, to further their education in an Australian academic institution. It's important to our economy. In 2018 there were more than 166,000 enrolments of Chinese students in Australia, representing 43.3 per cent of the total international student cohort—heading for half. A concern noted in some Australian universities is the potential dependence generated by full-fee-paying international students on the overall money pool available to university budgets. Should those numbers suddenly diminish it may leave some of our universities destitute and many university staff unpaid. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, these concerns have come to fruition and Australian universities are bleeding financially. To make matters worse, the Chinese government has just warned Chinese students not to study or return to study in Australia, suggesting that they would face discriminatory attacks.

Australia has been a favourite destination for Chinese tourists, and this is shown again by recent numbers. More than 1.3 million Chinese tourists visited Australia last year, representing 15 per cent of our total visitors—one seventh. This is a clear positive for Australia. At the same time, there has been a growing boom in Australian tourists—around 700,000—heading for China. This may also change rapidly, as the Chinese government has recently warned off Chinese tourists from visiting our country through recent directives to their people.

One of the ongoing issues of concern relates to regional and global security. The growing tensions between the United States of America and the People's Republic of China in the imposition of trade tariffs is placing Australia in a challenging position, given the importance of Australia's relationships with both countries. More recently, the Chinese government has imposed an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, without explanation, and has refused to accept meat from four of Australia's major meat abattoirs, causing concern to Australian producers.

These actions by the Chinese government appear to be in retaliation for being called on by Australia to allow an independent investigation into the cause of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China—what I have referred to as the Chinese Communist Party virus and the UN virus. How dare we want an independent investigation? The Chinese, still denying being the source of the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic, remain uncooperative in dealing with this, just as Liberal and Labor remain uncooperative in dealing with any inquiry into our relationship with China.

Chinese actions and/or inaction certainly made the pandemic far worse than it could have been. The behaviour of China is responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of lives—in fact, hundreds of thousands of lives. The views taken of China's growing military influence in the South China Sea remain of concern to our most important ally, the United States of America, and are therefore necessarily of concern to our country as an established ally of the US.

Regionally, China is having a growing influence through infrastructure projects for some of the Pacific island countries and our very near neighbour, Papua New Guinea, just over the horizon from Australia. This runs the risk of changing the whole dynamic between Australia and our near neighbours. Given the potential for military and strategic use of these bases by China and the potential for resource extraction at some future time, we need to consider this factor when examining our relationship with China. We already feel this at home, with the outrageous decision to lease the Darwin Port—our strategic northern gateway to China—for 99 years. This is the home of our local naval presence. What on earth was the government thinking? I point to Mr Dutton, Mr Hastie and Senator Kitching, who have raised valid concerns—both Liberal and Labor MPs and senators—just as Senator Patrick mentioned. This was reported on 11 October 2019 of Mr Dutton:

One of the Morrison Government's most senior figures has taken a direct swipe at Beijing, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of behaving in ways that are "inconsistent" with Australian values.

One of the key points that emerged was that:

    Well, let's see an inquiry. The report continued:

    He said he wanted universities to be free from foreign interference.

    So let's see an inquiry into that foreign interference that Mr Dutton acknowledges.

    The home affairs minister—a very powerful, senior minister—also criticised China's Belt and Road Initiative and defended a ban on using Huawei to help build Australia's 5G network. The newspaper article also says:

    Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned Australia would "call out" foreign interference in universities, as well as cyber hacks and theft of intellectual property (IP), insisting it was the right thing to do. It represents some of the strongest language yet from a Federal Government minister on the threat posed by China.

    But we need more than language. We need more than inferences. We need an inquiry into the relationship. The Chinese Communist Party behaves in ways that are inconsistent with Australian values and Western civilisation.

    Recently in Queensland, my home state, a university student was suspended for daring to make pro-democracy statements about the suppression of students and demonstrators in Hong Kong by the Chinese government. The University of Queensland appears now to be an agent of the Chinese government, which seems to have bought out this Australian university and to have been enabled by the university to oppress an Australian student for standing up for democracy.

    When I get to the point of quoting Clive Hamilton, then we know things are serious, because Clive Hamilton, to his credit, has written a book calling out the issues that we have with China—raising serious threats and concerns to our country and our country's security.

    My issue, I must make clear, is not with the marvellous Chinese people, including the amazing Chinese community we have here in Australia. We had Chinese influence in North Queensland through the gold rushes in the 19th century right through to the southern and western parts of our country, and they have made a marvellous contribution. My issue is with the Communist Party of China and their policies that are inconsistent with our own values. They have undue influence in Australian politics, values, communities and way of life.

    Human rights is an area where China and Australia have vastly different views. Australia is a democracy and a signatory to many international agreements that preserve basic human rights. China is a republic following a communist regime that is very rigid. It is a controlling machine with little room to question the state and with limited rights for the individual. Watch the demonstrations for freedom happening in Hong Kong to see how that goes down. Many Australians remember the appalling and tragic events at Tiananmen Square where many people's lives were sacrificed in the name of democracy. Our Prime Minister cried over that and understandably so, yet we can't even have an inquiry into our relationship with China. Tiananmen Square was not merely an incident, as recently reported in the media; it was one of the earliest signs to the West of China's serial breaching of human rights and the suppression of their own people in China. The detention of those whose views differ from the regime's is a continuing disgrace and worthy of further review.

    The government and Labor have sold out Australia's inheritance. No wonder they don't want us to have a review of this potentially catastrophic relationship. Will the Liberal Party and the Labor Party—will the Lib-Lab duopoly—look beyond the Chinese donations to their parties and do the right thing by our country? These actions by China would appear to threaten the relationship of mutual respect between the two countries and are worthy of inquiry. The actions of Lib-Lab MPs and governments handing control of essential services—like our electricity, for goodness sake; our ports; our food producers—to the Chinese Communist Party, is insane. Why are we doing it and why aren't we bothering to look into it? These deals threaten our honesty, fairness, humanity and our national security. One Nation supports the call for an inquiry into a nation exerting powerful influences over our nation with potentially far more powerful influences on our nation's future and on our people's security.

    5:47 pm

    Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

    I rise to commend the motion to the chamber. How many times are we going to have to do this? Honestly, I've been here now since 2014 and we're still talking about it. Let's just get it over and done with. You're embarrassing yourselves; you really are. You're embarrassing yourselves! How long is it going to take for the Liberals and the Labor Party to wake up to the fact that our relationship with China is toxic? You know it, and we know it, so, for goodness sake, come out and just admit it. While you're doing this, you're actually making yourselves look really bad, and it's getting worse. You are making it worse. How long is it going to take for you guys to see that we have a major problem here? It beggars belief that both of the major parties are still digging their heels in on this. Trust me: there mustn't be much left on that heel. It's time it went to a bootmaker! I can't believe that you have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do what's in Australia's national interest. But—mark my words you in the Liberal Party, you in the Labor Party, you in the Nats—one day you're going to have to get over yourselves, swallow your pride and actually start doing your jobs for what is in the national interest. Do your jobs. You get paid enough. It's not that hard.

    The Australian people will not tolerate you talking tough for the camera and going soft—and 'soft' is putting it politely—in the Senate. Here's my promise to you: this isn't going to just blow over; it's not going away. Sooner or later you'll be forced to actually vote with your conscience. Sooner or later you'll be asked to remember where you left it. And you know what? Sooner rather than later you're going to have to support this inquiry, because the problem is not going away. If anything, like I said, you are making it worse. You actually look like cowards. It's embarrassing that you are taking so long.

    What's even worse is that what you're doing is very un-Australian. You're not putting your country first. Show a spine. Better still, here's a good idea—I know it's really hard in this place—start showing some leadership. And I say this to those big-talking crossbenchers sitting on both sides of this chamber: you love to talk the talk, but, I tell you what, you're absolutely paralysed when it comes to walking the walk. You like to pretend to be brave on your Facebooks—you're right patriots, aren't you?—but when it's off the record you're about as lame as your memes. And what are you actually doing to get this inquiry off the ground? When are you going to put the needs of the country over the needs of your parties? I will call you out, Senator Abetz and Senator Paterson. I know that you know we have a point here. My goodness, I sit on the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee. I hear what's said behind those closed doors. Yet you don't have the courage to come forward and cross the floor. You don't have the courage to put your country first. When it comes to being accounted for, let's be honest: when it comes to that day when you could actually stand up and be counted, and you could actually show some courage, you go missing in action.

    You guys over on that side, in Labor, are meant to be the party of the worker. What an absolute joke. The party of the worker is happily selling off our farms and our businesses to foreign investors who feel no loyalty to the people who work here. Senator Kitching and Senator Keneally, come on: how can you vote against this inquiry with a straight face? How can you? How can you defend your position knowing what you know? Honestly, you make yourselves look like a pack of muppets. You stand up on your Facebooks and, at the same time, when you're asked to put bravery where your mouth is, all of a sudden, there are no Wolverines among you guys—absolutely none. As a matter of fact, you're about the size of a miniature teddy bear. Well, do you know what? It's the 21st century and there is social media everywhere out there. Australians see through you, and not just a few hundred thousand of them—millions. This will cost you seats in an election, but you're still not getting it. People want to see courage. They want to see bravery, they want to see action and they want you to start putting your country first.

    You beat your chests about being tough on China when it's Premier Daniel Andrews and the Belt and Road funding, but when you're asked to vote for an inquiry into Chinese efforts to infiltrate our universities, our political parties and our parliament itself, suddenly you get all gun-shy. You're all,' Hey, mum's the word.' Do you think people don't see what you're doing, and what you're doing to this country, through your gutlessness? You'll only stand tough against China when you aren't getting money from its state-run businesses. How much have you actually taken in Chinese money in the past? And that goes for the Liberal Party too. How much have you taken, Labor? How many leaflets have you posted out in the past that have been bought and paid for by the Communist Party of China?

    You say you're getting serious about foreign investment. You say you care, and then you go and sell off all of our critical assets. And it happens all the time. You say you're standing up for the national interest on trade, and you sign us up for free trade agreements that let Chinese companies sue us if they don't like changes to the law, but, by jeez, it doesn't work the other way. You say you're cracking down on human rights violations by Chinese nationals, but you vote down inquiries into Chinese nationals coming into Australia and gambling away dirty money through Crown Casino, who have in the past given all of you political donations. You're all for Australian sovereignty, until it hurts your political donation bottom line. That's the truth of the matter. We're being bought and sold by Chinese money. It's painful to watch. You pretend to take a firm line on China while you're stuffing their money into your own political pockets. By all means go hard on the national interest—but don't tell me you're serious about this while all you do on Chinese aggression in our region is wave your finger at it and say, 'Hey, tut-tut, bad little boys.' Please! Once again, courage—it's called courage.

    I'd show you how much China cares about your disappointment, but there isn't a microscope big enough or strong enough to see it with. Just be honest and up-front with the Australian people and say, 'We're not sure why we're angry, but we're angry, and we'll figure it out later.' You jump around from one side of the fence to the other, and go back and to and fro on what you choose to be outraged about so often that it's like you're being paid to pretend to give a damn about this stuff, and, quite frankly, you don't. And that even comes through on national security. You'll have one side worrying about our national security; you'll have Senator Keneally going at Minister Dutton all the time about national security. Neither of you actually give a stuff about national security. That's been made quite clear.

    Well, guess what? I've got news for you. Some of us over here actually care about this. We love our country and put our country first, and our national security means everything to us. For some of us this isn't just an applause line. Some of us care about selling at the farm gate for rock-bottom prices, and when you in the Liberals and you in the Nationals and you in the Labor Party—all of you—let it happen it breaks our hearts. You are selling our national soul, and I tell you it is slow and it is painful. Some of us actually care when a member of parliament—someone with undisclosed links to the Chinese Communist Party, someone who's hosting dinners for people on ASIO's watchlist of potential foreign agents—is paying for their own election with some filthy, dirty, disgusting money from China.

    Let me be very clear here: I'm not trying to have a go at Chinese people. There are plenty of people in China and in Australia who are just as horrified as I and millions of other Australians are about what is going on in Australia's backyard, but we have to be able to call out the aggressive actions of a foreign country that is trying to undermine our national security and our national sovereignty. Asking questions about foreign influence in our parliament is not about race. Calling out a supposed ally that is literally hacking our parliamentary computer systems is not about race. This is a country that we have banned from building our 5G network because we think they'll hack us. But if you say anything about it you're being racist. And that's rubbish. I don't understand it. We don't trust Chinese money to build a mobile phone network, but we trust it to bankroll our election campaigns. You go figure! Go work that one out.

    You guys want to look tough, but you're being asked to put your hand on your heart and vote with your conscience instead of your chequebook, and all of a sudden every Wolverine in the room is reduced to a wimp. The cowardice and the dishonesty from both parties on this are absolutely astounding. Everyone in this chamber knows that we have a problem. Goodness me, even the communist Chinese know we have a problem! And do you think they're going to stop coming at us? Do you think, by us rolling over like a dog, they're going to stop coming at us? What you're doing is showing them fear. You're giving them everything they want.

    We all know that we have a problem. This inquiry is the first step to finding a solution. It's a very simple, straightforward idea. All we're asking for is a Senate inquiry into Australia's future relationship with China. What's the problem? All we want to do is have a conversation about what's going on and what we need to do to protect Australia's national interests. It shouldn't be that controversial. But the major parties' masters in the Chinese Communist Party have called them to heel and, once again, they're rolling over like a dog, as they always do. These are the people who are running the country. It's shameful, and shame on you for allowing it.

    I'm not just talking about the ministers and shadow ministers. Each and every backbencher who has had a hand in voting this down should take a damn good, hard look at themselves and start putting their bloody country first before it is too late. Show your courage. Start leading for your country. That's what your voters expect of you, and that's what your country deserves. Stop being a pack of cowards. It has gone far enough.

    5:59 pm

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

    Australia's relationship with China has been a hot topic in the community and the media in recent times. Of course this is an issue that our parliament should consider. This is something that the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee should inquire into. How we manage this relationship is a critical foreign policy question for this government, and it will no doubt continue to be for future governments. There are myriad facets to this complex relationship, from how we address the coronavirus health crisis and investigations into international responses to our trading relationship, to the impact Chinese government decisions can have on sectors like our universities or farmers, to the increasing competition between Xi's China and Trump's US, to China's Belt and Road Initiative and its influence in the Pacific.

    However, in my limited time today I'd like to focus on an aspect that, sadly, gets neglected by the Australian government, and that is the Chinese government's human rights record. The world's focus is understandably diverted, but human rights abuses continue to occur in China on a massive scale. In the past few months, while China was publicly touting its success in containing the virus, it was also forcibly disappearing people who were independently reporting on that issue. The Chinese government has detained five activists and citizen journalists who publicly reported on the outbreak. This is just another example of the Chinese government's opaque justice system and its government's efforts to censor people. The Chinese government must immediately and unconditionally release these people.

    And, of course, front of everyone's mind at the moment should be the erosion of fundamental rights in Hong Kong. One year ago yesterday, on 9 June 2019, over one million Hong Kong people marched peacefully against the extradition bill—a law that would have allowed the Hong Kong authorities to transfer criminal suspects to China and into the hands of its dangerous and unfair criminal justice system. Thankfully that bill did not proceed, but in the past few weeks we've seen the Chinese government double down and announce that it will impose draconian national security legislation in Hong Kong. Instead of addressing the protestors' demands, particularly for universal suffrage, Beijing has called the protests 'riots' and the protestors 'a political virus'. The national security law would further trample Hong Kong rights and freedoms; protest could be treated as subversion.

    The Greens have been vocal in our calls for Beijing to abandon the planned laws. We call on the Australian government to do more than simply issue strongly worded statements. We should be offering safe haven to those in Hong Kong who fear retaliation for exercising their basic rights, as well as permanent protection to all those from Hong Kong who are here in Australia and currently fear going home, just as Bob Hawke offered to do after Tiananmen Square. And we should reassess Australia's recently signed free trade agreement with Hong Kong. As the Greens said when the legislation passed through the parliament late last year, of course we shouldn't enter into such an agreement when Hong Kong's fundamental rights are under threat. The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated how true that was. It's now time for the government to follow words with actions and revisit that agreement.

    I'll go on to the appalling human rights abuses being committed in China's Xinjiang region against its Turkic Muslim population, which have not stopped in the face of COVID-19. Xinjiang has a Turkic Muslim population of 13 million people. Of that 13 million, approximately one million are arbitrarily detained without any legal process. They are detained for weeks, months and sometimes even years. Families have been torn apart. Those who are incarcerated are subject to forced labour, sometimes to torture, and to forced political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are denied the right to freedom of movement, to privacy and to freedom of religion. The mass surveillance that is occurring in Xinjiang is terrifying. People going about their lawful daily business are watched constantly by the state. They're forced to give their biometric data, and face and voice recognition technology is being used as a tool of repression. My colleagues have in this place spoken before and no doubt will again about some of the Uyghur Australians whose lives have been irreparably altered by the Chinese government's devastating repression—people whose wives and babies have been trapped in China for years or whose family members are imprisoned for so-called transgressions like studying overseas in Muslim-majority countries.

    Then of course we have the injustices being perpetrated against the Tibetan people by the Chinese government. Tibetans have been deprived of their right to democracy, their right to freedom of speech and their right to freedom of religious observance. Right now in Tibet people can be locked up for years and years for simply doing things like making documentaries. Tibetan monks and nuns are being forced by Chinese authorities to act as propagandists for the Chinese government and the Communist Party, and Tibetan children are being denied the right to be taught in their own language. Plans for massive nature reserves in Tibet threaten to further dispossess Tibetan nomads, under the guise of protecting a unique and important ecosystem.

    And of course there's the 11th Panchen Lama of Tibet, who was forcibly disappeared with his parents by the Chinese government at only six years of age. He has been missing for the last 25 years. On 25 April he turned 31. He has been disappeared for the last 25 years in blatant contravention of international law. Australia must urgently make it clear to the Chinese government that the world has not forgotten him or his family, despite the Chinese government's best efforts to erase him from our memory. He and his family must be released.

    Of course the Senate should be considering our relationship with China in the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. If not this issue, then what? If not now, then when? The Morrison government has thus far failed to take any meaningful action against the Chinese government's egregious human rights abuses, so perhaps the Senate can provide him with some suggestions.

    6:05 pm

    Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    I rise to briefly speak in support of Senator Patrick's motion to refer a matter to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. Australia's relationship with the CCP is a matter of significant national importance and ought be examined by a Senate committee. In order to fully understand how important it is to Australia and to understand our vulnerabilities in this context we do need to reflect on history and on the current activities of the CCP.

    Firstly, I want to briefly reflect on the historic invasion and annexation of Tibet in 1950, the subsequent brutal occupation of that country and the subsequent destruction of Tibetan culture, the Tibetan way of life and the unique and beautiful environment on the Tibetan plateau. We also need to reflect, as my colleague Senator Waters just did, on the abduction of the Panchen Lama 25 years ago in flagrant contravention of human rights norms and to call strongly for the Panchen Lama and his family to be released from wherever they are secretly locked up and allow him to take his position in the Tibetan religious framework.

    We also need to think about what's happening today to the Uighur people in China. It is estimated that one million to three million Uighur people have been forcibly imprisoned without trial, systemically indoctrinated, punished and harmed. Significant restrictions are placed on Uighur people who are not in those prisons. They are not free to go about their day-to-day lives in any way.

    We also need to reflect on Hong Kong. As Senator Waters said, yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of a civil uprising in Hong Kong in protest against the Chinese government's attempts to undermine the freedoms and liberties that have existed for so many decades in that place, and against the Chinese government's ruthless and ongoing attempt to quash democracy and to subjugate Hong Kong's citizens. As the leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, has said, we need to follow Bob Hawke's lead and open our arms to Hong Kongers in Australia and offer them safe haven, because for so many of them it is simply not safe to go back to Hong Kong and not safe for their families to remain in Hong Kong, where they are facing intimidation from the CCP. The United Kingdom has raised the possibility of accepting up to three million people from Hong Kong should the CCP continue its attempts to quash freedoms and democracy in Hong Kong. It's not good enough that Australia has not joined in that push, which also involves other Five Eyes countries.

    I'm not going to mince words here: the CCP is a totalitarian regime that seeks to ruthlessly control every aspect of its citizens' lives. Ultimately, that government, the CCP, is a junta which came to power using arms and force and maintains its grip on power using arms and force. The activities of that government need to be properly examined, and Australia's relationship with that government needs to be properly examined by a Senate committee.

    I'm not expecting the major parties in this place to support this motion. They've made that very clear in the past. I can't help but suspect that the Labor Party's refusal to support this motion is about providing cover to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews who signed up Victoria to the Belt and Road Initiative and who is being excessively secretive about whatever arrangements he has made, in leading a Victorian Labor government, with the Chinese Communist Party.

    In light of all of those matters, it's critical that Australia's relationship with the CCP is examined by a Senate committee. For those reasons and others, the Australian Greens will be supporting this proposal.

    6:11 pm

    Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I want to make some brief remarks on this proposed inquiry. I recognise the good faith with which this inquiry is being brought forward. I think many of the issues that have been raised here do deserve examination, and I will come to those. But I do want to briefly put on the record the reasons I won't be supporting this specific inquiry. Some of them go to the substantive issues that have been raised through this debate. I will come back to ones that I think do deserve inquiry and investigation by this parliament and its committees.

    As much as I share the concerns of Senator McKim and other contributors to this debate on human rights abuses in China and as much as I also share concerns about developments in Hong Kong, I do think the primary focus of committees of this parliament should be on matters that relate directly to the Australian people and matters relating to Australia. There are other forums to investigate issues of human rights abuses in other nations, and I think we should be a little bit wary of seeking to use our parliamentary committees and processes to, effectively, inquire into other nations. I don't think we would appreciate other countries' parliaments seeking to interfere in our domestic affairs, and we should respect that as a general rule.

    In saying that, some very important issues have been raised in this debate which do deserve further examination and which do relate directly to issues that go to our sovereignty and independence, and they should be investigated. In particular, our too heavy reliance on trade with China does deserve examination and inquiry, and we should be seeking to do what we can to diversify and reduce our vulnerability to those markets. To that end, an inquiry is already going on in this parliament. An inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth into diversifying Australia's trade and investment profile is currently underway. It's being chaired by a Nationals colleague of mine, George Christensen, and its terms of reference are very explicit. I won't read them out in full, but the terms of reference of that inquiry go to considering whether Australia is too reliant on one market for exports; the advantages and disadvantages to our national interests; the national economic risk of overreliance on one market; whether Australia is too reliant on foreign investment and, if so, what factors are contributing to this; and many other factors that go exactly to many of the issues that have been raised in this debate.

    My colleague George Christensen is doing a very good job, I think, of highlighting these issues. In particular, the inquiry will look at our relationship with China. It is a joint committee, so senators are represented on the committee. Given the importance and the sensitivity of this issue, it is enough to have that inquiry look at these matters at this stage and not proceed with this specific Senate inquiry right now.

    6:14 pm

    Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    I also rise to add my voice in support of this reference to the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee and to add my voice to the sentiments which have already been expressed by my colleagues here, Senator Waters and Senator McKim, about China and its human rights record. I think that in itself is a significant reason why we should be looking at the issue of Australia's relationship with China. China is our largest trading partner. We know that our relationship with China is in turmoil at the moment, but we have to keep a focus on the fact that the underlying issue with our relationship with China and why it is controversial is that the Chinese government is a totalitarian state. They are not a democracy like we are here in Australia. Yes, we have problems with human rights in Australia. In fact, in response to Senator Canavan's comment that he wouldn't like other countries to be looking at our human rights record, I think other countries should be looking at our human rights record. I think other countries should be looking at how we treat refugees. Other countries should be looking at how we treat our First Nations people.

    We in Australia need to look at what's going on in China. We cannot be silent. We cannot just say, 'Because it's happening in China we will turn our eyes away,' yet we are happy to continue to export our produce to them and happy to have that relationship.

    I speak from the privilege of not having to be at the mercy of the Chinese government, but I have spoken to so many people who have been, stemming from when I was first elected to Maribyrnong council as a councillor in 2006 and I had some Falun Gong practitioners who came and met with me. I knew nothing about Falun Gong. I knew nothing about human rights in China at that stage. They laid out for me what was going on in China, with political prisoners who are disappearing and then being killed—being killed! They are being murdered for their organs—for their hearts, for their livers, for their kidneys. From all the evidence that can be discerned it's still going on. There is absolutely credible reference and evidence of very learned legal people who have put together the documentation that it's still going on. I sponsored a motion with Senator Abetz—a very strange thing for me to do as a Green to be cosponsoring a motion with Senator Abetz—to try to get a focus and a spotlight in this place on what's going on in relation to Falun Gong practitioners. It doesn't stop in China. We know, in fact, that there are agents of the Chinese government who are following those Falun Gong practitioners who manage to come to Australia and be refugees here. It doesn't stop at the Chinese border.

    The same goes for the Tibetans. I have some very good friends in the Tibetan community in Melbourne who have welcomed me into their lives. They have told me what goes on in Tibet. They have told me about the abuses. They have told me about horrible examples of people disappearing, people not being able to speak out and people being killed. They've told me that that's what's going on.

    Then we've got the issue of the democracy movements in Hong Kong. You just think: look at the crackdown on those people who are just fighting for what we think are our rights here. They thought it was their right in Hong Kong as well, just to be able to be living in a democratic system and yet that is now all under threat.

    We need to speak up. We need to shine a spotlight on this. I know from the position of the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Labor Party that it can be very inconvenient, because they've got some very close financial relationships. There are some big donors and there are some big economic players who they don't want to upset, but we cannot let that stop us taking action. At the very least what we can do, as a very important first step, is to have this Senate inquiry to look at these issues in the context of our broader relationship with China.

    6:19 pm

    Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

    The Morrison government continues to lead an informed conversation on China and has avoided politicising these important matters. The China relationship is important and complex, engaging the full range of Australia's national interests. We seek to address differences through dialogue and with respect.

    The government's China policy is clear: we pursue cooperation consistent with our national interests and in line with our values. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership which benefits both countries. We remain focused on areas of cooperation that support both our interests. The Morrison government will continue to deliver outcomes that advance our national interests, protect our sovereignty and enhance our security and prosperity.

    Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

    The question is that the motion moved by Senator Patrick be agreed to.