Speeches

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS; Cambodia

October 22, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (16:55): 'The standard you're prepared to walk past is the standard you accept'. This is a quote you would ordinarily apply to bullying, domestic violence or other egregious acts within the community, but it also puts in perspective our collective need to recognise but, more importantly, act when it comes to human rights.

As past humanitarian disasters have taught us, to remain silent in the face of brutal attacks on freedom or on human rights is just unacceptable. Clearly, this now applies again in relation to the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia. On behalf of the many concerned Cambodian Australians, I lend my voice to support human rights and a true democracy in Cambodia.

I strongly condemn the recent Cambodian national elections, which have effectively seen the reinstatement of Prime Minister Hun Sen's 33-year rule. It's apparent that the election was neither free nor fair and failed to represent the general interests of the general people, given the level of voter intimidation and the absence of any viable challenger to either the Prime Minister or his government. I believe it represents a significant setback for democracy in Cambodia, undermining the valued and principled work of the international community in the lead-up to the Paris Peace Accords as Cambodia now effectively returns to being an autocratic, one-party state.

Over the past year, Prime Minister Hun Sen has launched a broad crackdown against critical independent voices. This includes the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the dissolution of the main opposition party and an assault on the media organisations and NGOs that have been critical of government policies. It is particularly concerning that Cambodian people have not been able to participate in choice or control over their political processes, reversing 27 years of efforts in building democracy in Cambodia. The Cambodian elections were nothing but a sham and cannot be seen to be legitimate by any means.

If this weren't concerning enough, the influence of Hun Sen is now being played out in Australian universities, businesses and charities. The Cambodian government has been involved in recruiting students and members of the Cambodian diaspora in Australia and actively building support networks for this Cambodian dictator. I am told that Hun Sen's son, Hun Manet, has visited Australia on many occasions for this purpose, recruiting and radicalising students from Cambodia into youth movements. I have even been approached, under the guise of charities, to support their activities in this regard.

We cannot ignore the illicit activities by members of the Cambodian People's Party in Australia, particularly when it comes to visa fraud and money laundering. I urge the government to follow the lead of the US and apply targeted sanctions, visa restrictions and asset freezes on members of the Hun Sen regime and their families. I also call on the Australian government to immediately withdraw from the Cambodian refugee resettlement deal, where we've now contributed $55 million and yet only seven people from Nauru were settled in Cambodia, of which only three remain at present. Apart from being an expensive failure, the Hun Sen government must be held to account for these funds. We risk aiding corruption unless we have transparency and assurance that these funds are not being utilised to undermine human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

Now, while it's pleasing that the Australian film director James Ricketson has been granted a royal pardon, released from prison and deported to Australia, his ordeal demonstrates the judiciary's lack of independence, with the courts clearly operating at the will of their government. In the early 1990s, we saw significant efforts by Australia and the international community to transform Cambodia from a communist dictatorship to a multi-party democracy. Time has come again for the same level of commitment. We cannot play the role of bystander. Given that tomorrow marks the 27th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, it's only fitting to conclude with the words of Gareth Evans, one of its principal architects:

Peace and freedom are not prizes which, once gained, can never be lost. … Their foundations must be sunk deep into the bedrock of political stability, economic prosperity and above all else, the observance of human rights.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST