Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (11:56): The 30th of April is a date that is very significant not only for millions of Vietnamese people around the world but also for many Australians, including myself, who have witnessed the extraordinary contribution the Vietnamese have made to our nation. This year, 30 April marked the 43rd anniversary of the fall of Saigon—43 years since many South Vietnamese lost homes, family and friends; 43 years since they lost their freedom and their country. After the fall of Saigon, many Vietnamese families fled, seeking a new life based on freedom and dignity. In just over four decades, the Vietnamese community in Australia have overcome their collective trauma of the past and have flourished remarkably to become one of the most successful refugee stories in the world.
Unfortunately, this year, I was not able to join the many hundreds of Australian Vietnamese at the Australian War Memorial to commemorate the fall of Saigon as I was in Turkey having attended the Anzac Day ceremonies in Gallipoli. On 30 April each year, the Australian Vietnamese community come together to pay respects to family and friends they've lost, to honour the courage and sacrifice of the many Australian and Vietnamese soldiers who served and died defending South Vietnam, and to pray for the many hundreds of thousands of people who died in the jungles and at sea, fleeing tyranny in search of freedom.
The 30th of April is also an opportunity for the wider Australian community to reflect upon the extraordinary contribution the Vietnamese people have made to our nation. The Vietnamese have played such an important role in shaping our diverse, multicultural and democratic society. I'm not sure it's fully understood, but they are always the first to lend a helping hand in times of natural disasters, such as floods and bushfires. Incredibly, in response to an international appeal in 2016, the Vietnamese community raised more than half a million dollars in support of the UN's efforts for refugees of the Middle East crisis and, in particular, from Syria. Their resilience and hard work, their willingness to give back and their very generous nature, particularly for Australians in need, truly display the great Australian spirit.
The anniversary of the fall of Saigon is also an opportunity to draw on the ongoing human rights violations occurring in Vietnam. Vietnam continues to be ruled by a Communist government that's intolerant of dissent. It's a government that has a strong track record of silencing critics and suppressing any attempts by its people to advocate human rights and promote democracy. At the beginning of April, prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, as well as five other activists, were sentenced to a combined total of 66 years in prison under vague human rights laws because of their efforts to promote the building of a democratic, progressive, civilised and just society in Vietnam. Human Rights Watch have called for the Vietnamese government to drop charges against these peaceful campaigners.
The United Nations has criticised Vietnam for human rights violations and for preventing citizens from exercising their basic human rights of freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly. Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations have called on Vietnam to release all political prisoners and provide a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, as well as honouring their international human rights obligations. Vietnam is a significant player in a strong, emerging regional economy and now holds a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, so we should reasonably expect Vietnam to recognise the human rights, dignity and liberty of its people.
I'm very honoured to represent the largest Vietnamese community in Australia. While they have readily shared their vibrant culture and traditions with the wider community, they have never forgotten their history and their passionate belief in freedom and respect for all. I will continue to stand by my Vietnamese friends, who strive for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.