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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2614

Mrs GASH(10.35 p.m.) —I rise to lend my voice in support of a people near to my heart: the not so lucky people who awake every day with deep fear and concerns about the human rights abuses and political violations perpetrated by a regime under which they are forced to live. Burma, a nation of 45 million people, is governed by a non-elected military regime, a regime described as one of the most repressive in our region.

I am sure every member in the House has recently read of and observed most painfully the ruling junta's ongoing abuses of basic human rights in its campaign against social and political justice. As I speak, the situation is deteriorating. However, I am heartened—as are some of my constituents and the wider Burmese community—by the statement made on 9 June by our own Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, and his strong condemnation of the new moves by the Burmese rulers, the SLORC, to silence dissent. I urge members to note the minister's remark, `The prospect of instability in Burma is a matter of concern to Burma's neighbours in the region and the wider international community.'

As we know, Burma is classified as one of the world's most impoverished nations, a country where 45 million people live out a pitiful existence, watched over by a ruthless and hostile government. It is a sad indictment of its military masters that a country nominated as one of the most resource rich in the South-East Asian region should be classified as one of the poorest.

Historically, the majority of Burmese people are deeply religious and follow the path taught by Buddhism, a code of passive coexistence. However, it is this very passiveness that has opened the way for and fuelled the greed and ruthlessness of its present rulers—the greed to encourage foreign investment at any cost to the environment and even the inhumane use of slave labour to provide the infrastructure for the development by multinational companies of projects, projects that have spawned many freshly minted millionaires in the ruling party and among their friends.

As I said in my opening remarks, the situation is deteriorating and the repression of the ordinary citizens and the continuing harassment of the members of the National League of Democracy and its leader are escalating. I do not need to remind members of the courage displayed by that brave, petite symbol of Burmese democracy and her legitimate defiance of the military rulers. We should heed her message when she says that the policy of constructive engagement by some of the region's governments is doomed to failure. We should also note her plea to foreign companies to curtail investment in Burma on the grounds that no substantial growth can be expected until democratic reforms are effected.

How can growth be achieved when the very fabric of Burmese society is being torn apart by the greed of the present rulers and their subjugation of its people's minds and pockets? As a Burmese friend said, `Foreign investment in my country is as oil on water. It floats on the surface but never filters down to the bottom.' It is a pity that our former Prime Minister, in undertaking his brief flirtation with the military rulers, did not seek to look below the oil. I shall close with a quote from a recent interview by Aung San Suu Kyi with an Australian journalist:

We have always appreciated any support from Australia. Australia needs to be involved because it is really part of the Asian Region now and one of the strong democracies in Asia.

Mr Speaker, members of the House: the people of Burma deserve better. They need our support in their quest for a peaceful future with a democratic government.