Private Member's Business, Federation Chamber, 22/10/2018
Mr HILL (Bruce) (16:45): I move:
That this House:
(1) notes Australia's proud legacy of working for peace and democracy in Cambodia, led by the work of the former Labor Foreign Minister the Hon. Gareth Evans QC in fostering the Paris Peace Accords in 1991;
(2) reiterates that as a longstanding friend of Cambodia and the Cambodian people, Australia must continue to urge the Cambodian Government to take steps to allow free and open political debate without violence and intimidation;
(3) condemns the sham election in Cambodia last month and expresses grave concern that:
(a) the illegitimate election may sound the death knell of democracy, reversing more than 25 years of work to establish and strengthen democracy in Cambodia; and
(b) Prime Minister Hun Sen's 'victory' is a sham and cannot truly be said to represent the will of the Cambodian people because freedom of expression and association underpin democratic societies, yet in Cambodia the:
(i) main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, has been banned;
(ii) opposition leader Kem Sokha remains in jail on politically motivated charges;
(iii) media and civil society have been silenced and harassed, with Hun Sen publicly threatening a civil war if he lost the election;
(iv) National Election Committee is not credible nor independent; and
(v) official 82 per cent turnout figures are not credible, noting the opposition boycotted the election and international media reported that election day was quiet in many places;
(4) calls on the Cambodian Government to immediately release Kem Sokha from jail and guarantee his safety;
(5) considers that Australia must now consider stronger measures and calls on the Australian Government to:
(a) review Australia's international development assistance to Cambodia to ensure the program is focused on humanitarian and civil society support rather than broader cooperation with Hun Sen's regime;
(b) examine the introduction of targeted sanctions such as visa restrictions and asset freezes for members of Hun Sen's regime and their families, given the reported strong links between the regime's key officials and Australia;
(c) lead and support multilateral efforts with other nations, starting with signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, to develop coordinated measures to increase pressure on Hun Sen's regime to allow free and open political debate without violence and intimidation;
(d) fully investigate allegations of illicit activities, including money laundering, by members of the Cambodian People's Party in Australia; and
(e) guarantee the rights of Australians of Cambodian heritage to live safely and free from intimidation, and determine whether the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme may apply to expose community groups which may be operating covertly in Australia in support of Hun Sen's regime;
(6) calls on the Australian Government to:
(a) withdraw from the refugee resettlement deal; and
(b) promise not to enter into any further such deals with Cambodia; and
(7) acknowledge the tireless advocacy of the Australian Cambodian community in support of democracy and human rights in Cambodia.
The motion speaks for itself, but time permits focus on only a few aspects. When I last spoke on Cambodia, I made clear my view, strongly held, that enough is enough and that it is time that Australia honoured the legacy of Gareth Evans and the then Labor government in support of peace and democracy and examined sanctions on Hun Sen's regime, including visa bans and asset freezes. Events were bad enough then, but in recent months the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, has remained under house arrest even though their fake election, in which, farcically, Hun Sen's CPP won 125 seats out of 125 seats, is over. Shockingly, the Australian filmmaker James Ricketson was convicted on trumped-up charges. Hun Sen is now jailing Australian citizens. What on earth will it take for this government to stop sipping champagne with a dictator?
Australians who are not familiar with the history and situation in Cambodia may well wonder what this has to do with us. Aside from our legacy, aside from good international citizenship, there are growing concerns in the Australian community, especially amongst those people of Cambodian heritage, that this thuggish regime's tentacles now reach our cities and suburbs, influencing our politics, committing crimes here and exploiting and threatening Australians. In August, I hosted Mona Kem, daughter of Kem Sokha, here at the parliament. In her meeting with the then foreign minister, they discussed the potential for tougher measures. I understand the then minister expressed doubt as to whether targeted sanctions by Australia would have any effect.
Cambodians fighting for democracy argued that, in fact, the regime would be most concerned by Australian action—second only to the UK's—as so many senior members of the regime come and go with family and assets here. I have no confidence that our desperate, divided caretaker government will act, so I will use my remaining time to name just a few of the people of concern to those in the Australian community who fight for peace and a true democracy in Cambodia. Some of these people warrant consideration for sanctions, such as visa bans and asset freezes, to put pressure on Hun Sen's regime. An important caveat is that some may now be Australian citizens, so visa bans will not be available. Some warrant investigation for crimes, including money laundering and worse. Many should register when the new foreign influence laws take effect, as they're trying to influence Australian media and MPs, including Liberal MPs.
Within the CPP elite, Hun Manet, Hun Sen's son, has visited Australia many times and oversees CPP political infiltration operations here and in New Zealand. Hun To, Hun Sen's nephew, who has children and assets in Melbourne, has been implicated in a heroin and money-laundering syndicate targeting Australia. Dy Vichea, Hun Sen's son-in-law and deputy chief of Cambodia's police—a gangster force—has mysterious business in Australia, Cambodia and China. Kong Vibol, the head of Cambodia's tax department, involved in shutting down Cambodian media, has owned millions of dollars' worth of property in Australia, including in suburbs in my electorate, and appears to have falsely claimed he's an Australian resident. Kim Santepheap, from Cambodia's Ministry of Justice, is involved in CPP's Australian operations. He visited with Hun Manet and is described to me as a 'vicious' and 'sharp' operator.
The CPP has divided Australia and New Zealand into regions and has front groups overseen by key people in most Australian capital cities. Lau Vann is in Melbourne. He has business links to Hun Sen, is an army general and apparently has children in an elite school in Melbourne. Hou Hap, who is in Sydney, holds Australian citizenship now. Vong Visiddh is in Brisbane. In Meatra is in Adelaide. Sara Nary, or Jason Nary, is a CPP operative making connections with the Liberal Party. Ravuth Lac is allegedly involved in money laundering and labour-hire scams.
We have information regarding dodgy community fundraising events organised by other goons, such as Tong Eang Te and Phany Thai. We have accusations that Samnang Huor is a CPP operative running Chompran Enterprises, involved in labour hire rorts in south-east Melbourne, ripping off workers. We have six Australian community groups which are really just local fronts for the CPP and were reportedly run out of their embassy in Canberra. Koy Kuong, Cambodia's ambassador to Australia, is president of the CPP committee for Australia and New Zealand. There are media reports suggesting that the Cambodian embassy has been involved in smuggling black market alcohol and tobacco.
Regarding the money laundering allegations, Australian banks may have been loaning money and facilitated transactions, which of course raises questions about their compliance with anti-money-laundering laws. Ministers of this government assure us, 'Don't worry, money launderers will be caught.' I don't believe them because Australia's anti-money-laundering laws are shamefully weak. They cover banks but still do not cover other critical gatekeeper professions—most importantly, real estate agents, accountants and lawyers. The government's ongoing silence and failure to list even one speaker on this motion, when giving tens of millions of dollars for refugee deals with Cambodia, is a disgrace. It's about time they fronted up and spoke up.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): Is the motion seconded?
Ms STANLEY (Werriwa) (16:50): I second the motion. It is easy to take for granted the openness and fairness with which democracy is practiced in this country. Indeed, it's easy to forget the foundations of democracy are hard fought for, and people are right to be naturally wary of any moves to curb their right to be represented and participate in government and decision-making. Australia has a proud history of working for peace and democracy in our region, but particularly in Cambodia. I note the Paris Peace Accords struck in 1991 and the work of the Hon. Gareth Evans in bringing them to fruition.
However, recent events in Cambodia, including the national election held on 29 July, do not reflect those accords or the sentiments with which they were reached. The election saw no other serious contenders challenge Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party. Other parties which did contest the vote were being propped up and promoted by Hun Sen to foster the illusion of democracy. The election has been rightly seen as a sham, with all 125 seats secured by the Cambodian People's Party. The EU said the result was not legitimate. The White House commented that the poll was flawed. The only credible opposition force, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved by the Supreme Court of Cambodia last year, and many of its leaders, including Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, are either in exile or have been imprisoned in Cambodia. The opposition press, including The Cambodia Daily, have been shut down. Recently, Australian journalist James Ricketson was arrested and jailed for six years for filming at an opposition political rally in June 2017. The trial has been described as farcical.
The Cambodian community in my region are very concerned about the escalating political situation in their country of birth. I've met with members of the local community, along with my colleagues the members for Fowler and McMahon, to discuss the situation. I also met with a delegation when they came to Canberra in December and have had regular correspondence contact with them. They are concerned, and rightly so, about the threats that have been made to Australian Cambodian citizens living in Australia. I strongly encourage the investigation of such threats. If correct, it is simply unacceptable for a foreign government to threaten Australian citizens in Australia.
The Cambodian community has a strong presence in my electorate. They arrived here as refugees seeking a better life for their families away from conflict. They still retain strong ties with their ancestral homeland and their family and friends in Cambodia. I would particularly like to acknowledge the efforts of Chhayri Marm and Sawathey Ek for raising awareness around this important issue in the wider local community. I've received petitions signed by several thousand members of the Australian Cambodian community in Sydney, citing their grave concerns about the current situation in Cambodia. They know without strong, independent institutions, including press, governments are not held to account and the foundations of a free and democratic society are placed at risk.
They remember all too vividly the previous Cambodian regimes and the lasting impact they have had on the country and its people. I was particularly moved by one member of the community: a small, softly spoken woman. With tears in her eyes, she told me her experience of the Pol Pot era. She lost all her family. Her brothers, aged seven, nine and 13, were taken away and never seen again. Her parents were not spared either. She said to me:
We looked to the sky constantly waiting for the helicopters to come, for help to arrive it never did, we had to flee; please don't let this happen again.
Unfortunately, this story isn't unique. Almost all of the Australian Cambodians have similar harrowing stories. It is these experiences that led Australia to help broker the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. It is time that Australia again showed leadership in this area and ensured that the promises made then for fair and democratic elections and country are formally put into place. We should be promoting and protecting the freedom of political expression, not sipping champagne with dictators.
I'm deeply concerned to see voices being unfairly silenced and I share the concerns of my colleagues, particularly the member for Bruce, who have risen to speak to this motion. I especially note that this motion calls on the government to induce targeted sanctions and guarantee the rights of Australians of Cambodian heritage in this country. I draw the other points of the motion to the attention of the House and fully support their implementation now.
Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief 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.
Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (17:00): It's a pleasure to speak after the member for Fowler and the member for Werriwa, and I also want to congratulate and thank the member for Bruce for moving such an important motion.
My community is home to a large and vibrant Cambodian population. I spent a really enjoyable evening two Saturdays ago celebrating Ancestors' Day at the temple on Third Avenue in my community with all of my friends from that particular temple. I will say here what I said then: I'm proud to represent a big Cambodian community here in this place, and I'm very grateful, very thankful, that they have welcomed me so substantially into their community. I work very closely with them, and I consider many of them to be personal friends of mine. I stood proudly here in Canberra with 23 Cambodians from my community last December after they drove here to protest against the denial of basic political rights and freedoms in their home country. I have also been privileged to repeatedly meet with representatives from Cambodia's opposition party over the years to hear about their plight to restore proper democracy and freedoms to Cambodia. It's been an honour to lend support to their cause, along with so members on this side of the House.
Having heard their stories of their struggles, it is with a sense of anger and revulsion that I watch what's going on in Cambodia at the moment. Earlier this year, I stood in the parliament to condemn Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's despicable and deplorable threats of violence against those who wanted to peacefully protest against him at the ASEAN Summit. And I also said that we condemn many of the other activities that he has undertaken to condemn basic political rights. This is a man who banned the main opposition party and silenced any effective opposition in his country to win what's been slammed among the international community as a 'sham election'. This is a guy who cracked down on and suppressed media and NGOs and civil society in his country, and publicly threatened civil war if he lost the election. These are despicable things.
On top of that, party insiders have told Al Jazeera recently that members of Cambodia's ruling elite are involved in money laundering and visa fraud in Australia, and the member for Bruce went through some of these issues in some detail. These revelations are in addition to a Four Corners investigation that uncovered more than $15 million worth of properties and companies in Australia owned by members of Hun Sen's extended family and his political allies. There are also serious questions to be asked about the official 82 per cent election turnout figure, especially when you consider the opposition boycotted the election and many polling stations were quiet.
Despite all of the despicable remarks and his disgraceful actions, Hun Sen was formally reinstated as Prime Minister for another term just a couple of months ago, where he had the gall to tell parliament that this was the end of a free, just, fair and transparent election. We in this parliament, and indeed people around the world, know that that election was not free or fair; it certainly wasn't just and it wasn't transparent. It didn't properly represent the will of the Cambodian people, nor did it uphold the ideals of democracy that those of us in free societies value.
I do think it is a little bit disappointing that there is not a speaker from that side of the House to join with Labor to condemn all of these actions, whether it be the money laundering, the interference in elections, the suppression of basic political rights. It is disappointing that we do not have a single speaker from that side of the House so far. On this side of the House, we're proud to stand with the Cambodian people—the member for Cowan is here and the member for Hotham. Right across the board, we are proud to stand with our Cambodian friends. I want to also acknowledge the work of Senator Penny Wong in the other place. She has done a great job advocating for the Cambodian people, calling for a condemnation of the suppression of democracy in Cambodia, reiterating our concerns about Cambodia's sham election and expressing our extreme disappointment that the Cambodian people have been denied the right to a fair and truly democratic election.
We call on the government to fully investigate the allegations of illicit activity, including money laundering. We urge the Cambodian government to allow free and open political debate without intimidation and threats of violence. And we call on the government to consider, in coordination with our other partners, additional measures to support democracy in Cambodia. We owe this to our Cambodian friends who have fled a repressive regime in their homeland. We reassure them that they have the right to protest peacefully here. We thank them for their tireless efforts to advance and support human rights and democracy in Cambodia, and we stand in solidarity with them.
Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (17:06): I congratulate the member for Bruce for moving this motion. I think it's a great pity that he feels the need to move the motion, that we need to speak on this motion. It would be much better if Cambodia had seen the error of its march against democracy and had corrected the mistakes of recent years. But, alas, here we are again—not for the first time, but I hope for the last—calling on the government of Cambodia to embrace a return to democracy.
This is a particularly auspicious time to be discussing this motion given that tomorrow marks the 27th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accord. Of course Australia is proud of its role in the Paris Peace Accord. We're proud of the role played by then foreign minister Gareth Evans, by the then Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael Costello, and by Prime Minister Hawke. But the progress made in the Paris Peace Accord now seems like a distant memory. Since the Paris Peace Accord, the Cambodian people have voted six times for their national government, but there is no way that the most recent occasion could be regarded as a democratic or fair election. In the last few years, we've seen Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government engage in what can accurately and carefully be described as despicable behaviour. We've seen the opposition party banned, we've seen members arrested on false charges, imprisoned or exiled, and we've seen an election held recently which any objective observer would call a sham.
In order to be truly free and fair, an election needs to have a democratic press with freedom of speech to hold a government to account, whether the government of the day likes it or not, a legitimate and authentic opposition allowed to participate, and an opportunity to vote, free from intimidation. Not one of those elements exists in Cambodia today. There have been ongoing attacks on the press. The Cambodia Daily newspaper has been closed down over a spurious tax dispute—a trumped up tax charge has seen a daily newspaper close down. In May, staff of the English language newspaper The Phnom Penh Postresigned en masse following the sale of the paper to an entity which demanded changes to an article detailing the tycoon new owner's links to Prime Minister Hun Sen—again, freedom of the press disappearing. Around 30 radio stations have been silenced because of their opposition to and criticism of the Hun Sen regime. We've also seen, frankly, threats and intimidation, and I have had the opportunity and the need to speak in the House before about Hun Sen actually threatening Australians of Cambodian heritage. When he came here for the ASEAN summit, he said if there were protests against him here, he would have those protesters followed home, with the onerous overtones that threat entailed.
It's fair to say that the local Australian Cambodian community is extremely concerned and exercised about the political interference of the Hun Sen regime in their activities here in Australia. Some of this was outlined in a recent Four Cornersprogram. I congratulate Four Corners for taking the time and the trouble to highlight this issue, because it is a real issue. Members of the Cambodian Australian community should be able to participate freely in Australian political life and comment on Cambodian political life without interference from the Cambodian Hun Sen regime.
With opposition parties banned and soldiers at polling booths there is no way that the recent election could be called credible, and no credible organisation has signed off on the election's validity. It is the case that Cambodia is not currently a democracy, and that leads to quite extreme actions having to be contemplated. The motion moved by the member for Bruce goes through those. I know he hasn't done this lightly. There are a number of steps that Australia should consider. We don't call for changes to foreign aid lightly, nor do we say, for example, that the other activities that are contemplated by this motion should be considered lightly. But Australia should withdraw from the refugee resettlement deal. I think two refugees have been sent to Cambodia. Millions of dollars have been spent in Cambodia. It gives legitimacy to the Cambodian regime. It's not an appropriate arrangement, which was entered into by the now Prime Minister when he was the minister for immigration. Cambodia can and should have a democratic system.
Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (17:11): I am incredibly proud today to stand in this chamber on the side of the Cambodian people and particularly on the side of Cambodian Australians. I have the enormous privilege of representing thousands of people in this parliament who are of Cambodian descent. I don't just represent them; I represent their places of worship and their community organisations. The Wat Dhammarangsee, the Wat Khmer, the Wat Dhamaram and the Cambodian Buddhist Association of Victoria—all of this community infrastructure is located in my electorate.
It was with huge regret that Labor moved the motion before the House this afternoon. We did so because it is absolutely clear that the situation in Cambodia is going backwards, not forwards. The member for McMahon really clearly articulated the things that have happened recently, but I want to echo one of the points he made. I feel the straw was broken when we heard the leader of Cambodia, Hun Sen, effectively threaten violence on Australians who are of Cambodian descent who were protesting peacefully here in Australia when he visited. It's not appropriate for members of the Australian parliament to allow that sort of thing to go unaddressed and unspoken. That's why we've got so many Labor members of parliament standing up in the parliament today to say enough is enough.
On this special day for Cambodian Australians it's appropriate that we reflect on the past and we reflect on what we can do to secure a better future for Cambodians. Tomorrow we commemorate the 27th anniversary of the signing of the Paris peace accords. This marked the end of the Cambodian-Vietnamese war. It was an enormously auspicious occasion that seemed to herald a new way of doing things in Cambodia. The agreement led to the deployment of the first post Cold War peacekeeping mission and the first-ever occasion on which the UN took over as the government of a state. The agreement was signed and agreed to by 19 countries. The peace accord process launched a process of ceasefire, peacekeeping and rebuilding that stabilised the country, but it left deep wounds unhealed—through the 1970s genocides and the decades of war that have afflicted Cambodians.
The peace process was one of the first of its scale undertaken by the international community after the Cold War. It was an enormous amount of work, and all of us in this chamber are entitled to feel proud because our country and our government, through the foreign minister at the time, Gareth Evans, was instrumental in making sure that Cambodia was able to turn the corner towards a brighter future for democracy in their country. We love democracy in this chamber. We talk about it a lot, but most of us actually don't know what it feels like to fight to have the right to do basic things, like to vote in an election and to peacefully stand in a chamber like this and articulate a point of view. The Cambodian people understand that and that is why hopes were so high after the Paris peace accords that things were going to improve. But things have turned in the opposite direction in recent times. Cambodia became a multiparty democracy, but I don't think any commentator would describe Cambodia as a multiparty democracy today. There was a recent election in Cambodia. Enormous issues which do not reflect a democratic process have taken place there. In 2017 the Cambodian opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested on charges of so-called treason, on the basis of a speech he gave in my electorate in Melbourne in 2013. That's how connected we are to what goes on in this country. It's not just the imprisoning of the opposition leader. In 2016 the Cambodian government's most ardent critic, Dr Kem Ley, was shot dead in broad daylight in Phnom Penh. The people who committed, planned and masterminded that crime have never been brought to justice.
For too long the leaders in Cambodia have been getting away with murder, literally in some instances. It's not good enough for us to keep standing in this parliament and saying we're not happy with this situation. I believe the time has come to take action. The member for Bruce has outlined some of the ideas Labor has for how this might change. One of the most obvious things we can do is call to end this ridiculous refugee resettlement deal where the Australian government, the taxpayers listening to this broadcast now, have paid $50 million for the resettlement of three refugees. We can't continue like this. On this anniversary of the Paris peace accords it's time for us to reshape this relationship and make it clear that Cambodians are not to be treated like this.