Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Statements by Senators

International Relations: China

1:08 pm

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

Virendrasinh Bhosale is a sailor who, in December last year, was in a ship packed with Australian coal sitting waiting off the Chinese coast. He missed his five-year-old son at home. 'Every night I dream about him and I wake up crying in bed,' he said.

It's easy to talk about the geopolitics, but the reality is that the relationship between the Chinese and the Australian governments has an impact on millions of people—here in Australia, people in China, and people who are trapped in the middle like Virendrasinh. There is Uighur Australian Marhaba Salay, who is worried sick about her sister in Xinjiang, who is one of the thousands of Uighurs who have been arrested by the Chinese government on trumped-up charges and one of the millions who have been detained. There's Osmond Chui who was a very insightful witness before a Senate committee, where he was attacked by Senator Abetz. In Osmond Chiu's words:

Instead of being asked about complex issues facing multicultural communities or how Australia could benefit from a more diverse Parliament, I was asked by Senator Eric Abetz to "unequivocally condemn" the Chinese Communist Party. … I may have Chinese heritage but I'm Australian. I was born here and my family has been here for half a century. This is my home, the only home I have ever known.

Then there's Alister Purbrick from Tahbilk Winery in Central Victoria, who lost a quarter of his business when Chinese authorities put tariffs of more than 200 per cent on his wine exports to China.

There is no doubt that the Australia-China relationship is complex and that it matters for people's lives. The Australian Greens believe that, in its international relations, Australia should promote peace, democracy, ecological sustainability, equity, justice and human rights. This applies to our relationship with China as it does for every other country of the world. First and foremost, the Greens believe that we should take a human rights centred approach to that relationship.

Under Xi Jinping, oppression in China's authoritarian state is increasing. In Xinjiang we've seen the horrific cultural genocide undertaken against the Uighur people, with the detention of up to a million people, forced labour, reports of systemic rape and the widespread destruction of and damage to thousands of mosques. Tibetans have been persecuted for over 70 years by the Chinese government, which has imposed severe restrictions on religious freedom, speech, movement and assembly and has detained and tortured Tibetan political prisoners. In Hong Kong, in violation of international law, the Chinese government has jailed opposition figures for protesting, it has targeted newspapers that take a pro-democracy stance and it has unleashed police brutality, including pepper spraying, tear gassing and beating protesters.

A human rights centred approach to China means that the Greens will continue to speak out strongly against these abuses and call on the Chinese government to uphold human rights across China for all people. We will continue to call for full, unfettered access for human rights observers, and we will continue to urge the Australian government to do likewise. We will continue to advocate for targeted sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses, as we do for other jurisdictions. We urge the Australian government to fast-track the development of Magnitsky legislation to provide a framework for this to occur.

I want to move on to our foreign policy. Australia needs an independent foreign policy, and that should include renegotiating the US alliance. Hitching our wagon to the Trump administration reduced our credibility in the region and undermined our reputation as an honest broker. A human rights centred approach to our foreign relations also means rejecting militarism. The Australian government should not seek to contain China through an increase in our military spending. It is counterproductive for ministers, public servants and warmongering members in this Senate and the other place to ramp up the rhetoric. It escalates tensions and it must be avoided. Our ultimate goal in the region should always be the attainment and the maintenance of peace. War is the worst possible outcome to resolve geopolitical tensions and end human rights abuses. It seemed like Peter Dutton was determined to throw his weight around 10 minutes into being defence minister. The only result was to make an already tense relationship with China even worse. Peter Dutton's role is to keep Australians safe, but his aggressive posturing against China is instead putting us all at risk.

An independent foreign policy would strengthen our ability to work bilaterally, multilaterally and through institutions to promote human rights. In particular, multilateral cooperation can strengthen Australia's approach on vital issues like targeted sanctions. Crucially, much of Australia's work on the international stage can be strengthened if we improve our domestic policies. While we continue to turn a blind eye to the ongoing injustices and racism suffered by our First Nations peoples and ignore calls for truth-telling and for treaties, while we jail innocent asylum seekers and refugees indefinitely, when we criminalise Australians seeking to return home, we are vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy on the world stage. The Australian government can talk about the rules based order in as many white papers, policy statements and major speeches as it likes, but until we walk the talk, we are continually undermining our credibility.

Strong multilateral relationships should mean that we can draw on trade relationships with other countries if China punishes us with trade embargoes. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to reduce our unhealthy reliance on China and shift away from an extractive economy based around digging things up and sending them overseas. We could, and we should, be building an economy with a strong domestic manufacturing sector, powered by renewables like green hydrogen, as well as knowledge based industries. However, we should be open to continue working with China on areas of shared interest, particularly relating to strong action on climate change and environmental protection.

We've spent a long time in this place debating measures to address foreign interference. The best way to counter undue influence in Australia's political system, whether that be from foreign governments or big corporations, is to get money out of politics. We also need a federal ICAC with teeth that can properly investigate allegations of impropriety and corruption by Australian elected officials. Our universities deserve funding to be able to function effectively on their own without relying on businesses or foreign governments. We must support Australians of Chinese heritage here at home. We must never conflate the Chinese government with Chinese people or Chinese Australians. We must be loudly antiracist and fight all attacks against Australians of Chinese heritage, including attacks from those within this chamber calling on Chinese Australians to pass loyalty tests. We must support those people being persecuted by the Chinese government here in Australia who are fearful of speaking out because of the impact that it may have on family and friends back in mainland China. Transparency and shining a spotlight on alleged and suspected foreign influence are the most effective and optimal ways of addressing these issues. However, we should note that China isn't the only government that engages in political interference. We should be criticising all attempts at foreign interference—not having selective debates on this issue. In particular, we need leadership from government in fighting racism here in Australia. The increased focus on, and criticism of, China has stoked and fuelled anti-Chinese racism. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the Asian Australian Alliance, Per Capita and others in their antiracism work. Asian Australians must be able to participate freely in all aspects of Australian society without fear of stigmatisation and abuse. As part of that, we call on the government to formally condemn anti-Asian hate crimes and to fund a national antiracism strategy.

A human rights centred approach to policy is not easy. To genuinely adopt it requires complying with international human rights law in our domestic policies, embracing the change we need to respond to the climate crisis, and adopting different strategies bilaterally and multilaterally. But we must do it if we are to live up to our potential as an active, engaged member of the international community, including in our relationship with China.