Vietnam Human Rights

About this Item
SpeakersMeagher Ms Reba; Hartcher Mr Chris; Iemma Mr Morris; Kerr Mr Malcolm; Moss Mr Kevin
BusinessBusiness of the House

Page: 15026

    Ms MEAGHER (Cabramatta—Parliamentary Secretary) [10.47 a.m.]: I move:
        That this House notes the concerns of the Australian Vietnamese community in New South Wales over alleged abuses of human rights in Vietnam.

        Further, that this House:

        (1) supports the Australian Vietnamese community's concerns about the Vietnamese Government's continued detention, house arrest and harassment of political dissidents and religious leaders.

        (2) supports the Australian Vietnamese community's concerns with respect to the restriction of freedom of speech, the press, assembly and association in Vietnam.

        (3) supports the Australian Vietnamese community's call on the Australian Government to take concrete steps to monitor the human rights situation in Vietnam, including requesting the Vietnamese Government to allow Australian diplomats to visit those alleged to be prisoners of conscience and to do so on a regular basis.

        (4) supports the Australian Vietnamese community's call on the Australian Government to make regular representations to relevant Vietnamese Ministers and officials in Vietnam and the Vietnamese Embassy in Canberra for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience and for accelerated progress in moves to wind back restrictions on democratic freedoms.

        (5) supports the Australian Vietnamese community's call on the Australian Government to provide the Parliament with regular reporting on its human rights representations to the Government of Vietnam on the responses by Vietnam and the overall human rights situation in Vietnam.

    Today I speak on a matter that is of great importance to the community I represent and is of fundamental relevance to this House. Whatever the difference between members in this Parliament, we all share the belief that every person should be free—free to think what they like, free to speak their minds without fear and free to worship as their hearts dictate. We all hold these values as inalienable human rights. All governments should seek to preserve and extend those rights, and in places where they are denied it is our responsibility as men and women of conscience not to sit idly by but to act. As community representatives we are elected to do more than fine-tune the levers of taxation and spending—we must also articulate the fears and support the aspirations of our constituents. As the member for Cabramatta I represent the largest single community of Vietnamese Australians in the country. As their representative in State Parliament I speak for them on a range of issues like law and order, education and training—issues that are the traditional domain of a State Legislature.

    However, the concern that unites Vietnamese Australians is that of human rights in their homeland, and they have asked for our support. Many of the people I represent are victims of torture and trauma—political refugees who were forced to flee a repressive and intolerant regime. I personally know many men and women who have faced the heartbreaking choice of leaving their family or losing their life. The Vietnamese Australians that I refer to are good Australian citizens. They participate peacefully and enthusiastically in our democratic process. Many belong to volunteer community organisations that assist the elderly, the young or those that need help with the resettlement process. While they have contributed immeasurably to Australia's rich cultural heritage and helped build our reputation as a harmonious multicultural nation, many continue to campaign for the peaceful transition to democracy in Vietnam. Their concerns are fully justified.

    There has been a disturbing escalation of human rights breaches in recent times, particularly in the wake of the arrest of Father Van Ly by internal security forces on 17 May this year. Father Ly's social, humanitarian and educational work in Vietnam has won the support of many of the Vietnamese people and also the respect of the international community. His arrest, coupled with the continued detention of the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang Do of the unified Buddhist movement, has led to an international outcry for their release and greater tolerance from the Vietnamese Government towards religious freedom.

    On Sunday 3 June I addressed a rally organised by the Vietnamese community in Australia protesting the growing religious oppression in Vietnam. The rally was also addressed by leaders of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation, the Vietnamese Catholic community, the Cao Dai congregation and the Hoa Hao congregation. The rally was made more significant by the fact that it was the first time in Australia that all of the Vietnamese religious leaders had come together, united in their protest. These too are men and women of conscience, and their appeals to us on behalf of former countrymen cannot be allowed to fall on deaf ears.

    I am sure that I speak for the vast majority of honourable members when I say that perhaps there are times when we take our freedoms for granted. That is because we know they are sacred and inviolate and protected by the full weight of the law and will of the people. But as the experience in Vietnam so clearly shows, there are people who are prepared to suffer great hardship, deprivation and cruelty to gain those same freedoms. We must support that struggle. It is because of men and women like them in our history that we have our liberty and the freedom to fully express our individuality.

    My electorate of Cabramatta is a shining example of how people from all walks of life, from nations all across the globe, can live and work together in acceptance and harmony. This comes from the respect we have for each other as individuals and from an acceptance, even joy, that comes from our differences. Let us do what we can to foster those very Australian qualities in other nations. The New South Wales Parliament is the oldest democratic institution in the country. For that reason I consider it entirely appropriate that we extend such a profound statement of support to Vietnamese Australians. I commend the motion to the House.

    Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [10.53 a.m.]: Human rights in Vietnam is a very sorry story. The Vietnamese people are a proud people. For 3,000 years they have maintained their identity. They fought the domination of the Chinese and the French in their attempt at Colonial exploitation, and today they are fighting the Communists who rule over them, and have ruled over them in the north since the 1954 Geneva accords and in the south since 1975—the fall of Saigon. The Vietnamese people will triumph and overcome their tyrants. As they overcame the Chinese and the French, they will overcome the Communists. The situation in Vietnam is tragic. There are believed to be 150 concentration camps where thousands of people are held against their will for so-called re-education. The economy and the political process are ground down to suit the rich people who now run the Communist Party: the new class that exploits the people of Vietnam. We have had repeated instances of religious and social persecution.

    Amnesty International reports that dozens of prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience remained in prison throughout 2000. Political dissidents and religious critics of the Government were subjected to surveillance, harassment and denial of basic freedoms, including the freedom of expression. In 2000 more than 110 people were sentenced to death and at least 12 executions were carried out. A reported total of 22,597 prisoners were held in Vietnam, and the sad story goes on of the constant persecution of the Buddhist church and the Catholic and evangelical churches. In recent times the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church has been subjected to the most savage of persecutions, as it is not a government-sanctioned church. Again and again across Vietnam individuals are arrested, dragged out and held in detention camps.

    I join with the representatives of the Vietnamese community, the President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, New South Wales chapter, Mr Tan Nguyen, and the Chairman of its Advisory Council, Mr Joahim Nguyen, who have spoken out against this exploitation and persecution. I place on record our concern about the recent arrest and treatment of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam monk Thich Quang Do at his pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. The Coalition parties, through Minister Downey in Canberra, have raised this issue repeatedly and have pledged their support for the establishment of human rights in Vietnam. Human rights must come to Vietnam. Human rights will come to Vietnam.

    I also place on record that when the people of Vietnam were fighting in the 1960s and 1970s against the Communist invasion from the north, it was the Liberal and National parties who believed that Australia should support them by military presence. It was the Australian Labor Party that opposed our military commitment to Vietnam. It was the Australian Labor Party that organised demonstrations in the streets of Sydney, similar to the one we saw outside the Parliament on Tuesday, fighting against our supporting the people of South Vietnam in their struggle against Communist oppression. It was the Australian Labor Party, under Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam, that objected to Vietnamese refugees coming to Australia in 1975. When the boat people were leaving Vietnam, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam attacked the Fraser Government for bringing Vietnamese refugees to Australia. The Australian Labor Party opposed Vietnamese settlement in Australia.

    When the Governor opened the Parliament only three months ago the Australian Labor Party had the Communist consul from Vietnam come to this Parliament. The President of the Legislative Council the Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann—a Labor Party member—made the Vietnamese consul an honoured guest in this Parliament. Only two weeks ago Stalinist North Korean representatives were invited into this Parliament by members of the Australian Labor Party—yet North Korea exploits its people as Vietnam exploits its people. Again and again the Australian Labor Party seeks to pretend to support the Vietnamese people while its left wing courts and ingratiates itself with them.

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Cessnock will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate at the appropriate time.

    Mr HARTCHER: Members of the Australian Labor Party are total hypocrites on anything to do with human rights in Asia or Vietnam. They are friendly to Stalinist North Koreans when they come here. The Australian Labor Party did not want the people of Vietnam to come here in 1975. They did not want Australia to support them as they struggled for freedom against the communists in the 1960s and 1970s. But because a number of Vietnamese people live in the electorate of the honourable member for Cabramatta, they are suddenly the friends of the Australian Labor Party. The honourable member for Cabramatta is interested in this issue only because she wants the votes of the Vietnamese community in her electorate.

    The honourable member for Cabramatta never talks about human rights anywhere else in the world. This motion is specially designed for her own personal electoral gain. Although the honourable member was allocated 10 minutes in which to speak about human rights in Vietnam, she spoke for less than five minutes. She read from a prepared text, and that was it. Having asked representatives of the Vietnamese community to sit in the public gallery, the honourable member spoke for only five minutes about this matter. The honourable member is a hypocrite: she is using the Vietnamese people for her own personal gain. The honourable member for Cabramatta is a disgrace to democracy. She has never condemned the Australian Labor Party's attitude to Vietnamese resettlement. Why does she not reply to the debate and call Gough Whitlam and Robert Hawke hypocrites and frauds for saying in 1975 that no Vietnamese people should settle in Australia?

    I have one message for the Vietnamese people: The Liberal and National parties stand by you. We will fight for human rights in Vietnam, just as we fought for the people of Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. Members of the Australian Labor Party barricaded buildings and took to the streets and, with the trade union movement, called on the then Government to bring home the boys from Vietnam and to let the communists take over that country. That was their policy in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Australian Labor Party can wear the consequences now. The honourable member for Cabramatta would move a similar motion about Pol Pot if she thought she could gain some political advantage. She spoke for only five minutes during which time she mentioned only two names. She has had months to prepare; this motion has been on the notice paper for months.

    The honourable member for Cabramatta made no useful contribution to this debate. She does not even know how many people live in Vietnam. She does not know the history of the churches in that country or whether it was once a Chinese colony. She does not know when the French occupied Vietnam. The honourable member for Cabramatta knows only that there are Vietnamese people in her electorate, and she put on the show for them today. She has been caught out—just as she was caught out on the issues of crime and heroin in Cabramatta. For two years, the honourable member for Cabramatta failed to deal with the heroin problem in her electorate—despite the fact that her local chamber of commerce begged her to act—until she could ignore it no longer. She is a disgrace to this Parliament.

    The Opposition stands up for human rights in Vietnam, in Cuba and in North Korea. Only two weeks ago the Australian Labor Party invited the Cubans to Parliament as official guests of the President. The Cuban and the Vietnamese consuls were invited to attend the opening of Parliament as official guests, and were honoured as such. Labor members do that one day and the next day they move hypocritical motions in support of human rights in Vietnam. This motion is window dressing by the honourable member for Cabramatta, designed to protect her insecure hold on her electorate. We stand up for the people and we will support them. We support the right of every Buddhist to worship in his or her pagoda and the right of every Christian to worship in his or her church.

    We support the rights of the Vietnamese people to join political parties and to enjoy full freedom of expression. We will demand an end to the concentration camps. We will demand that the Vietnamese Communist Party goes the same way as the communist parties of Eastern Europe and ends its tyrannical reign over Vietnam. We supported the people of Vietnam in the 1960s and we will support them in this century. The Australian Labor Party would not back them in the 1960s and it objected to the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s. The Australian Labor Party abused the people of Vietnam, but we support them. [Time expired.]

    Mr IEMMA (Lakemba—Minister for Public Works and Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship) [11.03 a.m.]: For the benefit of our friends watching from the gallery, the honourable member for Gosford said that Tuesday was a sad day. I agree with him. However, today is even sadder as a result of the honourable member's performance. Whenever any member of this House moves a motion about another country—particular regarding human rights—the honourable member for Gosford usually gets to his feet and says, "Hang on, this is a State Parliament and we should not be expressing any opinions or moving motions about human rights or democratic rights in Fiji or in other parts of the world. Those are foreign and international relations matters and those debates should occur in the national Parliament." The honourable member for Gosford changed his tune today because the public gallery is full of members of the Vietnamese community from Cabramatta, Bankstown and other parts of Sydney.

    The honourable member for Gosford spoke about hypocrisy. If those who are in the public gallery examine the parliamentary record they will discover that, when the honourable member for Liverpool has moved motions about human rights and human rights abuses in other countries, the honourable member for Gosford has said that those debates were not relevant to this Chamber or this Parliament and called them a waste of time. But the honourable member sang a different song today. Why? Is it because he has fundamentally changed his views? No. It is because the gallery is full and he gave a performance. Today we witnessed quite a performance from a snivelling, weak-kneed Opposition member who was too gutless to take on his leader in a leadership challenge. It is no coincidence that he came into this place with Mr O'Farrell, who also snuck out of the Chamber like the snivelling, spineless and gutless person he is.

    Mr Fraser: Point of order: The honourable member for Gosford is not in the Chamber at the moment and the Minister is making derogatory and insulting remarks. I ask you to direct him to withdraw those remarks.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch): Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Gosford has left the Chamber. Having regard to the free-flowing nature of the debate it hardly seems fair to restrain members on one side of the House bearing in mind what has been said by members on the other side.

    Mr IEMMA: We have witnessed a grotesque abuse of the parliamentary process.

    Mr Hazzard: Point of order: While I do not wish to deny the enthusiasm of the Minister for Public Works and Services, he knows—as I am sure does the Chair—that any member who wishes to attack another member of Parliament in this place must do so by way of a substantive motion. If a point of order is taken about this matter, you are duty-bound, Mr Acting-Speaker, to direct the member concerned to comply with standing orders.

    Ms Meagher: Tell that to Hartcher.

    Mr Hazzard: If those on the Government benches did not request compliance with the standing orders, that is a matter for them. However, the New South Wales Opposition is asking you, Mr Acting-Speaker, to comply with standing orders and direct the Minister to speak through the Chair and not mount a substantive attack on the honourable member for Gosford, who was clearly simply speaking out for democracy.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order. The Minister has the call.

    Mr Kerr: Point of order—

    Mr IEMMA: The temporary member for Cronulla is on his feet. I have only one minute left in which to speak. Opposition members do not want to hear about human rights abuses in Vietnam; they do not want me to speak. That is what this is about.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! I call the Minister for Public Works and Services to order.

    Mr Kerr: The Minister referred to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition as "O'Farrell". Members should refer to other members of Parliament by their correct titles.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has the call.

    Mr IEMMA: I have no time left to discuss the motion before the House. The honourable member for Gosford gave a grotesque speech. I did not want to respond to the issues that he raised about who was in government federally and who objected to whom entering this country in the 1970s. Suffice to say that those who have arrived in this country in recent times, escaping countries where human rights abuses are rife, are now in concentration camps in the centre and the far west of Australia. I did not want to have to make that point. I endorse wholeheartedly the motion moved by the honourable member for Cabramatta and I commend her high principles.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch): Order! I call members of the public in the gallery to order. The standing orders do not permit them to applaud. Others have breached the standing orders today, but I ask those in the public gallery not to do so.

    Mr KERR (Cronulla) [11.08 a.m.]: This motion in relation to the tyranny, cruelty and the viciousness of the current regime in Vietnam, a corrupt regime, smacks of hypocrisy, given the hospitality that was shown to that regime by the President of the Legislative Council at the opening of Parliament. Honourable members should put on the record how they regard the actions of the Labor President of the Legislative Council, who gave aid, comfort and credibility to representatives of a vile and vicious regime. As the honourable member for Gosford correctly said: Why did South Vietnam lose its freedom? It lost its freedom because after 1975 it was not supported in its fight against communism as a result of the anti-war protest movement. Australian troops were removed from supporting the South Vietnamese Government—a government that was elected. When that Government was in office the people enjoyed the rule of law; they had a Parliament and a judiciary. All of that was swept away and people were put into concentration camps and executed because they believed in democratic ideals. People fled the country. They did not flee when President Thieu was Head of State.

    We were told by the Australian Labor Party that Vietnam was one country and that the war was a civil war. Yet when Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister he established diplomatic relations with Hanoi and maintained relations with the Republic of South Vietnam. It was a diplomatic recognition of two countries and the fact that the north had invaded the south. That is why the regime that exists there is able to perpetrate the cruelty on the people of South Vietnam. The view of many military experts who have examined the war is that South Vietnam could have stood on its own. The Tet offensive was a total military failure because it did not enjoy any support from the people of South Vietnam. There was no rising by the people of South Vietnam. The south supported the government of the Republic of South Vietnam and a military defeat was inflicted on the North Vietnamese. The Vietcong, supposedly conducting an indigenous insurrection, ceased to exist as a substantial player in the conflict. The takeover of North Vietnam saw the displacement of any indigenous South Vietnamese, who no longer formed any part of the government of Vietnam.

    As the honourable member for Gosford said, people practising their religion, whether Buddhism or Christianity, are being persecuted in a systematic fashion in Vietnam. Human rights are being denied by a small clique that controls the economic power. They not only abuse people physically and exercise the most despicable tyranny in that nation, they also profit from their misdeeds. In Vietnam people are enriching themselves by the suffering of others. This is not simply a Communist takeover where people have been prepared misguidedly to act for ideological reasons. We are seeing despicable criminal acts and outright robbery being conducted against the population on a wholesale basis. If this motion is to have any substance, receptions must not be given to representatives of the Vietnamese Government. They must be made to feel unwelcome whenever they enter this Parliament. Otherwise the Parliament is speaking with two voices by trying to maintain and draw attention to human rights and at the same time giving diplomatic hospitality to those people. [Time expired.]

    Mr MOSS (Canterbury—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.13 a.m.]: I do not want to labour on the remarks of previous speakers. However, the remarks of the honourable member for Gosford were appalling. He accused the honourable member for Cabramatta of speaking out on behalf of her constituents. He said that she was talking to this motion because a number of her constituents are Vietnamese people. I always thought that we were obliged to speak out on behalf of our constituency and to support the people we represent. Like the honourable member for Cabramatta, I have a large constituency of Vietnamese citizens, although not as many as the electorate of Cabramatta. I am pleased that the honourable member for Cabramatta invited me to join her in support of this motion.

    In July 1995 the Communist authorities in Vietnam signed a human rights agreement in Brussels with the European Union. With that agreement, it was hoped that the oppression that had occurred in Vietnam, with thousands of people being imprisoned or placed under house arrest, would cease and those imprisoned would be set free. Prior to 1995,religious leaders, political opponents of the Communist regime, and writers, artists and intellectuals who expressed themselves in a way that differed from the dictates of the regime ran a high risk of being rounded up and imprisoned for up to 15 years. It was hoped that the agreement would bring an end to that type of conduct. However, despite the thousands already under arrest at that time, the arrests continued and today even more people are being arrested or detained for daring to be different, for daring to practise their religion and for daring to oppose the line of the government.

    Evidence shows that people are still being rounded up in Vietnam. The honourable member for Cabramatta said that Father Nguyen Ly, a Catholic priest, was arrested in May this year. Father Ly has made repeated public calls for religious freedom in Vietnam. For that reason he was rounded up. His case highlights the plight of thousands of people in Vietnam. The case of Father Ly has been publicised because he is a prominent and well-known person. But he is only one of many. Tragically, in the past people who have spoken out, such as Father Ly, have been detained for 15 years, some for even longer.

    Why is this motion important? It is important to point out to the Australian Government the need to lobby the embassy in Canberra, the need to be briefed on the human rights situation in Vietnam, and the need for official visits to Vietnam to speak to prisoners of conscience to find out exactly what is going on. Recently, a Norwegian member of Parliament, Lars Rise, went to Vietnam and met with Father Ly about a month before he was arrested. He also met with the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, the patriarch of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, who has been held in isolation for 19 years. For speaking to those people the Norwegian member of Parliament was rounded up and deported from the country. That demonstrates the difficulty of the situation.

    The motion is important. Today there is an impression that everything is becoming free in the communist world because of what has happened in Europe. We are led to believe, even by the media, that in countries like Vietnam, China and North Korea everyone is working towards democracy. But nothing could be further from the truth. The old communist regimes in those countries continue to operate in the same way they always have. There is clear evidence that in Vietnam, for instance, nothing has changed since the takeover. It is a brutal regime that oppresses freedom of religion, assembly and speech. The motion opposes the denial of human rights in that country, supports an end of that oppression, and calls on the Australian Government to monitor the situation and do everything it can to bring about a free society in Vietnam. I support the motion. [Time expired.]

    Ms MEAGHER (Cabramatta—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.18 a.m.], in reply: I am somewhat perplexed by the contribution of Liberal members. Today could have been a very proud day for this Parliament in our expression of support for freedom of association and a peaceful transition towards democracy in Vietnam. Instead, they came into this place and attempted to launch a political attack on me because I moved the motion. I am the member for Cabramatta, and I have the largest single Vietnamese constituency in the country. As I said earlier, as a member of State Parliament my jurisdiction is to articulate the views of my constituency on issues such as law and order, health, roads and education. But as a community representative I have a responsibility to articulate and support the concerns of my community. I represent a large Vietnamese constituency in this Parliament; I am their voice in this Parliament. This is the issue that concerns them and the essence of my motion today.

    The contribution from Liberal members was unfortunate. They took points of order to deny the Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship the right to contribute to this debate, to show support for this motion at the highest level of our Government. The tactics used by Liberal members to prevent the Minister from contributing to the debate is indicative of their insincerity. They indicated that they would support the motion, and they may vote for it, but we have heard their contributions, which directly linked heroin in Cabramatta to the motion on Vietnam. I am sorry, but I will not tolerate the suggestion of a direct link between heroin in Cabramatta and a motion on human rights in Vietnam. We are right to be cynical about the contribution of Liberal members.

    The New South Wales Parliament is the oldest democratic institution in the country. It is a very important day when we can show a comprehensive resolution of support for the Vietnamese community in Australia in their campaign towards the transition to democracy in Vietnam. I see many faces in the gallery that I know well, and people with whom I have worked closely on this issue. I see members of the Free Vietnam Alliance and many religious representatives. We can be proud that this institution will pass the most profound statement on human rights on Vietnam since the Vietnam War. Those opposite walked into this Chamber and tried to give us a history lesson on the war. Let me give them a history lesson on human rights debate in this Parliament.

    Never has there been such a comprehensive statement of support for human rights that will officially stand on the books of this Parliament. This motion has the support of the Government, my colleagues in the Chamber and the Minister Assisting the Premier on Citizenship. It is a profound statement. As the member for Cabramatta, with a large Vietnamese constituency, I am proud to have had the opportunity to move the motion. It is an historic statement of support that shows New South Wales leading the way in pressuring the Federal Government to take action in Vietnam. I commend the motion to the House.

    Mr HARTCHER: I speak under Standing Order 73. A material part of my contribution was misquoted by the honourable member for Cabramatta. I did not, in any way, link the heroin trade to the Vietnamese community. I reject any attempt to link the heroin trade to the Vietnamese community. I deplore the heroin trade. It is not linked to any community. It is the work of evil people of their own volition. I disparage the honourable member for Cabramatta for attempting to link me to that.

    Motion agreed to.