Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Chris Hayes MP – Private Members’ Business - Human Rights: China

March 22, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (10:42): I second the motion. I thank the Member for Menzies for his motion and for his ongoing advocacy with regard to issues of human rights. It was only last week that he and I met here in parliament with a group of women from the Uighur community to discuss this very issue. These women have brought to us their personal impact of the human rights situation in Xinjiang, China, having family members who are currently detained in China's so-called re-education camps. One of the women spoke about the experience of her sister, who has been detained on allegations of financing terrorism. What was her crime? It was simple: the legal transfer of money to her parents in Australia facilitated through a state owned Chinese bank to assist them to purchase a home in Adelaide—a legitimate transaction that has resulted in her sister being arrested six years later. The woman's sister is the mother of three young children and is being held without legal representation and without being presented with any evidence to substantiate the crime she is accused of. On top of this, families have very grave concerns about her wellbeing, given her declining health, due to issues pertaining to liver damage which she sustained during a previous period of detention.

Like these women, there are many others around the world who are concerned about the welfare of their family members who have been detained in these camps. The human rights situation faced by Uighurs is dire, with reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International providing clear evidence of China's arbitrary detention and mistreatment of the Uighur population. Human Rights Watch notes that there are more than a million people detained in these camps, simply by virtue of their ethnicity and religion. The conditions in these camps are rife with torture and solitary confinement, and deprivation of food and sustenance is widespread. Throughout the Xinjiang region, the Uighur population has also been subjected to restrictions on movement, mass surveillance and significant limitations on their religious freedoms, in clear contravention of fundamental and universally accepted human rights.

More recently the discrimination has taken another form, with reports indicating a high incidence of forced labour within the Muslim minority communities of China. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has linked this to dozens of well-known Western countries. This is put into perspective in a report entitled Uighurs for sale, in which ASPI reports that, under conditions that strongly support forced labour, Uighurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands. The report goes on to estimate that, between 2017 and 2019, more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories, with some transferred directly from the re-education camps.

To this end, I call on the Australian government to take urgent action as part of our commitment under the Modern Slavery Act. Australia must take appropriate measures to enforce the law against modern slavery and to be satisfied that Australian companies are importing goods from supply chains free of forced labour. I also call on the Australian government to explain what actions it has taken to address the situation in Xinjiang and to ensure the Uighur communities in Australia are adequately supported.

What we are seeing unfold in Xinjiang, China is a serious campaign of repression. It is an urgent issue which requires our active attention and that of the international community. While China's economic growth is highly commendable and China is now rightly considered a global superpower, this should come with a global responsibility to show leadership, including in matters promoting human rights. Otherwise it will invite questions as to whether China's power is being projected for peaceful purposes or not. As members of the international community we have a moral responsibility, if not a legal responsibility, to do all we can to encourage countries to adhere to the international human rights obligations.

As has been the case in Canada, the United States, Netherlands and the UK, Australia must show a similar commitment in holding China accountable for the serious and systematic breaches of the human rights of its people. Given our trade relationship with China, anything less could open us up to charges of hypocrisy.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST