Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Matters of Urgency

Human Rights: Iran

4:21 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that I have received the following letter from Senator Chandler:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move 'That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Australian Government to take concrete action, including applying sanctions comparable to those applied by likeminded nations, in response to the human rights abuses and deadly violence perpetrated by the Iranian government against its citizens; and other actions of the Iranian Government including its support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:22 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Australian Government to take concrete action, including applying sanctions comparable to those applied by likeminded nations, in response to the human rights abuses and deadly violence perpetrated by the Iranian government against its citizens; and other actions of the Iranian Government including its support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

This is certainly a matter of urgency. People in Iran are dying every day at the hands of the government of Iran. Women are being killed. Children are being killed. Innocent civilians are dying. While Iranians authorities have done their best to hide from the world what is happening by cutting off internet and access to social media, the world knows who is responsible for this. I'm sure every senator in this chamber has received countless emails and social media messages and phone calls from the Iranian community, making it clear that they want action and not just words from our government.

It has been more than two months since Mahsa Jina Amini was killed. I've been calling for urgent action by the government since the week of her death back in September. It is completely mystifying to the Iranian Australian community as to why our government hasn't chosen to act sooner and faster. A fortnight ago, when the opposition asked the Prime Minister why Australia was yet to apply the same targeted sanctions that our allies have, the Prime Minister quite disgracefully chose to talk about considering the implications for businesses before acting. It is a situation where women are being beaten in the streets by their government for not covering their hair. Children are being shot and killed by the military. It is not a time to be sitting around, mulling over business dealings with Iran. It is time to act.

Other countries have acted and have applied multiple rounds of sanctions to Iran. This government likes to talk about acting in concert with our partners and the international community, but that is precisely the opposite of what it's done when it comes to sanctioning the individuals responsible for killing women and children in Iran.

Six days ago Canada announced its sixth round of sanctions in response to the recent violence and human rights abuses. In that same time our government has announced zero sanctions. The US has announced multiple rounds of sanctions directly in response to the current violence. So has the UK. Australia? None. These sanction notices provide long lists of individuals within the Iranian regime who our allies have identified and taken action against, along with detailed explanations of why they have been sanctioned. Yet when I asked the foreign minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs whether we agree with our allies that those individuals deserve to be sanctioned, all we receive in response is 'no comment, we can't discuss that'. By the way, if you go and look at the Hansard for those foreign affairs estimates held 13 days ago, we still haven't had a transcript published. What is going on? Not only can the community not get answers from the government; they can't even access a record of official proceedings of the parliament from two weeks ago.

I am pleased that yesterday the minister confirmed that government agencies tasked with countering foreign interference have been tasked to look at the threats and intimidation made towards Australian critics of the Iranian regime. This is a serious matter, one that I raised in estimates myself and have subsequently raised with our eSafety Commissioner in written correspondence. Security and intelligence services around the world are making clear that this is a very real and very dangerous matter. MI5 has confirmed that Iran's intelligence services have made at least 10 attempts to kidnap or even kill British nationals or people based in the United Kingdom regarded by Teheran as a threat.

Meanwhile, as if what they're doing to their own civilians is not bad enough, we know that Iran is arming Russia with drones to kill Ukrainian civilians. Once again, our allies have sanctioned Iranian authorities over this, but Australia, according to the minister's answers to my questions earlier this week, has not.

It is not good enough for Australia to be lagging behind our allies in responding to this human rights crisis with targeted sanctions. Iran is growing bolder every day in their violence and their threats to international peace and security. It is time for Australia to play our part in holding them to account.

4:27 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[inaudible] It is a shame it didn't come a bit earlier, because in government they oversaw a decade of cuts to Australian diplomacy and multilateral institutions; a decade of inattention and cynicism. Those opposite were members of the UN committee that appointed Iran—get this—appointed Iran to the Commission for the Status of Women! They could have acted when they were in government. They did nothing. They said nothing. Unfortunately, they seem to remain committed to the Scott Morrison approach of putting political point-scoring ahead of the national interest in foreign policy.

As Senator Chandler well knows, the Albanese government is committed to action on Iran. We have acted and we will continue to act. The Australian government condemns the deadly and disproportionate use of force against protesters in Iran following the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, whose Kurdish name was Jina. We have raised our concerns regarding the brutal crackdown on protesters directly with the Iranian Embassy in Canberra. The government has been alarmed by reports that hundreds of people have been killed and many more injured, including dozens of children, as a result of the heavy-handed measures Iranian authorities have implemented to crackdown on ongoing protests. Australia supports the right of the Iranian people to protest peacefully and calls on the Iranian authorities to exercise restraint in response to ongoing demonstrations. As the foreign minister, Senator Wong, has told the Senate, we'll continue to work with our international partners and continue building pressure on the regime to cease its brutal campaign against its own citizens.

Senator Chandler seems to want to give people who might be the subject of sanctions as much warning as possible, which of course weakens their effect. It's an open-mic night in the Liberal Party foreign policy committee, and they're all competing for who can score the pettiest political point. The government won't play political games. We'll continue to step up pressure on the Iranian regime. Australia stands with the Iranian women and girls in their struggle for equality and empowerment and will continue to call on Iran to cease its oppression of women. We're committed to promoting gender equality, and women's empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls worldwide. The Liberals and Nationals had their chance in government, and they did nothing.

4:31 pm

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

Every day, we wake up to more devastating news from Iran. Today, there is news of Iran's revolutionary guards attacking targets in neighbouring northern Iraq for a second day in a row. The air strikes targeted bases of Kurdish separatist groups in northern Iraq, according to most recent reports. Also, today, Iran's football team at the World Cup have been told that they could face reprisals if they fail to sing the national anthem in their remaining World Cup group games, after a politician in the country said that they will never allow anyone to insult their national anthem. Despite these chilling warnings, the players stayed silent at their first game, in solidarity with Iranian people protesting following Mahsa Amini's death. A major disruption to internet services has also been reported today in Iran. There have been reports of indiscriminate killings of more protesters, including children. This is all in simply one day's worth of news.

The Australian government must do more. These behaviours by the Iranian regime have continued and continued. Words of condemnation are not enough. Actions must be taken. The Australian Greens remain deeply concerned about the ongoing situation in Iran and are in solidarity with protesters there. We will always protect the right to protest. We will always fight for people's rights to choose their dress, their partner, their religion and their career and what they want to do with their bodies. The Iranian authorities' oppression of the rights of women, of LGBTIQ+ people and other minorities, including the Baha'i, must end.

The Australian Greens support this urgency motion, and we are again calling on the Australian government to impose Magnitsky style sanctions and other targeted sanction measures, including financial asset freezes and the introduction of visa bans for people linked to the Iranian regime—including members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, key security officials, militia personnel and members of the morality police.

In conclusion, what I will observe here is that we have heard from the government an argument that they've done enough already or that there is little more that they could do. The government of this country must engage with this issue, in solidarity, now.

4:34 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I agree, endorse and associate myself with every single thing that Senator Steele-John just said in this place. I was very pleased a few weeks ago to attend a rally with the good senator, which was convened by our wonderful Burmese diaspora, with respect to the human rights abuses which are occurring in Burma as we are here today.

This is an important issue, and our Iranian diaspora in Australia expect us to act. This place adopted Magnitsky sanctions, adopted laws, which would enable them to be imposed. They need to be applied. The fact of the matter is that Western democracies around the world are moving ahead of us at a rate of knots. The death of Mahsa Amini has been an absolute lightning rod for disaffection in Iran. It has come to symbolise the repression and violence against Iranians from their own government. This country needs to act. We need to act. Hundreds have been killed. The journalist who actually broke the story with respect to Mahsa Amini, Niloofar Hamedi, has been arrested after she took photographs of and communicated on Twitter the reaction of Mahsa Amini's family to her death. She has actually been put in prison. This is unacceptable. The Australian government needs to act. This should not be about partisan politics. We should be above partisan politics in this regard.

In relation to Senator Sheldon's point about us broadcasting the names of those who should be subject to these sanctions: you don't need to broadcast them. Just have a look at the press statement dated 26 October 2022 issued by Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States. They actually list the people who are subject to Magnitsky-style sanctions. They're already on the public record. I will go through the categories because these are the people who need to be held accountable for the atrocities and the brutalities that are occurring in Iran today.

The first category: six officials in the government of Iran responsible for or complicit in serious human rights abuses who hold leadership positions within Iran's prison system, including at Evin Prison, and in the provinces of Sistan, Baluchistan and Kurdistan, among others. You can read their names. The US Department of State acted on 26 October 2022. We're nearly in December. What are we waiting for?

The second category: three individuals serving as commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who have been at the forefront of the brutality. Again, they've been identified as individuals directly responsible for the suppression of peaceful protests and the arrest of peaceful protesters.

The third category: those people associated with what's referred to as the Ravin Academy, which engages in cybersecurity and the training of hackers, who are being used to stifle freedom of speech in Iran.

The fourth category: the Iranian commander in chief of police in Isfahan province, who has engaged in gross violations of human rights, namely the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of peaceful protesters. The names of these people are here. They're already the subject of sanctions imposed by the United States. What are we waiting for?

The Iranian diaspora in Australia expect us to act, and we should act in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iran. There is no reason not to wait. I listen to and respect the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I know she cares deeply about these issues—I don't suggest otherwise—but there is potentially a systemic problem here. There is a systemic problem, in my view, in terms of Australia's response to human rights abuses, whether or not they occur in Myanmar, Sudan, Tigray, Ethiopia or, in this case, Iran. We've got these sanctions on the books. The rest of the world moves, and, for some reason, we don't move when we should move, when there's a moral obligation to move. That's what we should do. That's why this resolution is important. I'm sure all senators here would agree with the sentiments behind this resolution, but we need to act to enforce human rights.

4:39 pm

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

I rise in strong support of this motion today, and on behalf of the Australian Greens we stand with all of the women and girls and people of Iran. They have a government that is killing them. It is unfathomable to privileged people like us here in Australia where, whilst our democracy has its problems, we are essentially safe from being shot at by our own government. This is an extremely, deeply distressing issue, and I appreciate that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has made some representations to the ambassador and made some appropriate remarks by Twitter a month or so ago. But it is not enough. If you feel it—and I think you do—you've just got to follow through with some action.

As has been said by many of the previous contributors to this discussion, most of the world has already done this. It's not like we're daring to go out on a limb and lead here, which wouldn't be such a problem if we were. But everybody else has already imposed sanctions. They are already taking really strong action and sending a really strong message that it is not acceptable to tell people—to tell women—what they can or cannot wear. And it's certainly not acceptable to arrest people and then kill them because they haven't got their headscarf on properly or their pants are too tight. It is inconceivable that our government is not doing more to stop this sort of treatment of people in another nation. There are so many things that could be done. My colleague and many of the other speakers have gone through the Magnitsky-style sanctions that could be employed. But, frankly, we should also be declaring the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation. We should be immediately moving to withdraw the Iranian regime from the Commission on the Status of Women. These are concrete measures that could and should be taken by the Australian government and that we would not be alone in taking.

I was so proud to stand at a Brisbane rally—and I give a massive shout-out to the strong Brisbane Iranian community who are holding successive rallies, as I'm sure is happening right around the country. These people are strong and determined. They deserve safety in their own country, and they deserve a government that they have the right to vote for and vote out. I hope that this strength and resilience and sheer bravery and courage of the women, girls and people of Iran will ultimately lead to a democratic system for them, and I want the Australian government to do everything it can to send the message that we are with you. That is what we want for you too, that you get to make your own decisions about your own lives and your own government. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Again, I was so proud and privileged to stand with those people in Brisbane. I now have a beautiful little plaque that says, 'Women. Life. Freedom' that I have put with pride in my parliamentary office. It reminds us of the job we have to do here to stand up for the rights of women, girls and people everywhere, not just in our own nation.

4:42 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Chandler for moving this motion. It is indeed a matter of urgency. It's been almost 70 days since Mahsa Amini was murdered. We continue to hear news of shocking developments, including the beating and killing of teenage girls in school raids orchestrated by Iranian security services. This regime is clearly very willing to escalate its violent oppression of women and girls who refuse to be silenced in their ever-louder calls for freedom. I am in awe of the courage and bravery of Iranians in standing up against this regime's draconian laws. They are risking imprisonment, they are risking death. Over 300 people have been killed since the protests began, including more than 40 children. The regime apparently believe these protests are an existential threat to their grip on power, and I believe it's beyond time to move from soft diplomacy with a regime such as this to targeted sanctions.

In recent weeks I have had the privilege of attending protests here in Canberra, standing alongside the Iranian Australian community and others in our community. While these crimes may be happening thousands of kilometres away, our local community is feeling the pain closely. I want to thank everyone who has written to me, called my office or come to Parliament House to keep this issue front and centre. I hear you, and I stand with you. We hear with you and stand with you. I have written to Minister Wong twice, calling on the government to apply targeted sanctions on Iranian officials. I applaud Minister Wong's willingness to speak in support of the Iranian people, but clearly now it's time for more action from the government.

4:44 pm

David Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to associate myself with the contributions that have been made by those senators across the political divide who are calling for action today. The wave of protests in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Jina (Mahsa) Amini, which are now two and a bit months long, continue. In the last week alone, 72 people have been killed in the brutal repression of protests. This takes the total number of people killed to at least 416, more than 50 of them children.

Thousands upon thousands more have been arrested, and now the regime is threatening to execute those protesters. The UN has described the situation as critical. All of this is part of an ongoing, brutal crackdown against protest and dissent. It's largely young people, the future of Iran, who are calling for basic human rights that we take for granted: democracy and freedom. Their rallying cry is 'women, life, freedom'. The crackdown has been particularly severe in the Kurdish areas of Iran. Martial law has been imposed in Mahabad. Convoys of armed forces are moving towards cities of Iranian Kurdistan, and some of the deadliest violence has been directed against other minorities, including the Baluchi community.

We cannot let the Iranian government use this as an opportunity for further genocide. What has been clearest throughout these recent months is the bravery of the people of Iran, and we've seen that on the streets and out the front of this parliament. Both their staunch, unwavering courage in the face of terror and brutality and the enormous solidarity of Iranians who are rallying and protesting in the diaspora are powerful, inspiring and important. We're saying today: we hear you.

I watched as the Iranian soccer team stood silent while the anthem played at the World Cup. It gave me chills. We've watched videos of women removing their scarves, cutting their hair and walking bravely towards security forces. They want us to stand up and act. The people of Iran are stepping up, and we need to stand with them. That means immediate and comprehensive Magnitsky sanctions against that awful regime, targeting the criminal leadership, not the people of Iran. It means taking action with the powers this parliament gave the government to act. It means solidarity.

4:46 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Every single day in Iran, the basic freedoms and rights of the Uranian people are being violated, and every day that the Albanese government does nothing and refuses to take a stand is another day that more innocent lives are lost. Authoritarian regimes around the world are taking the lives of innocent people. We see this clearly in Ukraine, we see it in China and we're seeing it writ large in Iran. We cannot allow these authoritarian regimes to ignore the international rules based order.

The detainee diplomacy undertaken by the Iranian regime when it the jailed Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert for around three years was just one symbol of the despicable acts of this regime and its complete disregard for the principles of law and human rights, including freedom of speech.

Countries like Canada are leading the world in standing up for women's rights by sanctioning Iran. Canada's measures prohibit dealings with several individuals and entities, effectively freezing any assets they may hold in Canada and banning them from the country. Australia needs to follow this lead. We need to stand up for the people of Iran with everything that we can do. We can do more, because at the moment this government is not doing anything but talking. Australia needs to follow in the footsteps of like-minded countries, like Canada, the US and the UK, and impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on Iran and its regime. This should include financial asset freezes and travel bans against members of the revolutionary guard, the morality police and other key officials, as well as financial sanctions against the government.

We now can take these actions due to the coalition government signing into law the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Act 2021, which we did in December last year. The coalition have made it clear to the government that we will provide bipartisan support for Australia to do the same. Statecraft is a responsibility of government, and sanctions are a tool of statecraft. The government is doing nothing. We hear lots of rhetoric from the table and we see the media performances—still, nothing is happening.

The government said, and we heard this in estimates that other week, that the charge d'affaires, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Iranian embassy had been called in by a first assistant secretary of DFAT. Why hasn't the Foreign Minister called in the Deputy Head of Mission? Why has it been left to a lowly official from DFAT? Surely we can send a stronger signal than that! The Iranian community of Australia is calling loudly for the Australian government to do more. They are outraged that nothing that has been done—completely outraged. I've spoken now at four rallies in Melbourne and here in Canberra, and the amount of sadness and horror they are witnessing back home, and the anger that they are feeling that nothing is happening here, is palpable. Yet this government ignores them. We need to be able to stand up for the people of Iran. We need to be able to show that we care about human rights and about the rights of women and children, and not to stand by idly while people are being shot in the street for exercising a right that we would fight for here in Australia.

This government is all words and no action, and I call on the Albanese government to do more, to bring in sanctions and to stand up for the people of Iran. The coalition government brought in sanctions against the Russians after the invasion—we did it within days, and we had the support of the opposition. We are giving you our support to do the same against the Iranian regime.

A di vision having been called and the bells being rung—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, I believe the ayes have it. The division is cancelled. The ayes have it.

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm just seeking some clarification for Hansard as to how the division was cancelled.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Pratt? I understand it was cancelled at the request of the Labor Party.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Acting Deputy President, I'm happy to put that on the record.