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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2523


Mr HAYES (Fowler) (19:12): As the member for Fowler, I have often raised in this place the human rights situation in Vietnam. In May last year, I raised a private members' motion that drew attention to a number of human rights abuses that existed then and I asked members on both sides of the House to put aside their political differences when considering human rights. As the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue will take place around June or July this year, I have chosen to raise another motion in the House recognising the Vietnamese government's continued human rights abuses. My stance on human rights has been clear. I believe in a world where people's fundamental human rights are respected and I have always shown great admiration for those who are brave enough to stand up for human rights.

Since becoming the member for Fowler, I have often been approached by the Vietnamese community to voice their concerns about human rights to this parliament. I have seen it as an honour and a privilege to represent them on such an important issue. Over the past three years, I have brought to the attention of this House the increasing reports of gross human rights violations in Vietnam. I have shared the stories of some of the incredible and courageous human rights advocates who have risked their safety and their lives in the fight for a higher cause. I have spoken about the convictions of many of the bloggers and activists, including the legal advocates Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu, Vo Thi Thu Thuy, Nguyen Van Thanh and Ta Phong Tan, and the singer-songwriter Viet Khang.

I have questioned several procedural irregularities that seem to be apparent in the Vietnamese justice system. I have also paid tribute to the families of the human rights defenders—the husbands, the wives, the mothers, the fathers, the children of these brave men and women who remain incredibly affected not only because of the denial of their human rights but because they have been let down by a legal system which fails to honour fairness and equity for those who speak out.

Today I would like to bring to the House's attention the plight of a fellow called Paulus Le Son. He is a bright and very inspiring young person who has an ambition to change the world and the courage to make it happen. Paulus is a passionate member of the Vietnamese community, having been an activist organising for issues such as HIV and public education and served as a member of the John Paul II group for pro-life. He is a prominent writer for Vietnam Redemptorist Newsand is a popular young blogger who covers various issues, in particular social justice, human rights and sovereignty.

At the age of 27, Paulus is not much younger than my youngest son Jonathan. Paulus is full of potential, energy and capability, yet his vision and courage is beyond what can be expected from anyone of that age, in my humble opinion. Paulus is one of 14 human rights activists recently tried in Vietnam in the People's Court of Nghe An Province. He has been detained since 2011 and, in January this year, was sentenced to 13 years prison followed by a further five years of house arrest upon his release.

The sentences resulting from these trials were among the highest given to any political dissident in Vietnam over recent years. They demonstrate a disturbing trend in Vietnam, particularly in respect of the suppression of human rights.

I have recently been advised that a few days ago the families of the 14 activists who were tried along with Paulus Le Son met in the Canadian embassy in Hanoi and had meetings with the ambassadors for Canada, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway. The families have gathered 28,480 signatures from around the world demanding the release of their relatives. There will be a retrial of this case over the next few days, I understand—I believe it is imminent—and I request the Australian embassy in Vietnam to closely follow these proceedings.

At the conclusion, I wish to table a document signed by 3,716 Australians condemning the treatment that was handed out to these 14 activists. I am in a very fortunate position of being kept informed of the human rights abuses in Vietnam by the representatives of the Vietnamese community in Australia, by Colonel Vo Dai Ton, Father Paul Van Chi, Father Francis Van Tuyet and Vietnam Sydney Radio as well as Viet Tan. These people and organisations have shown much passion and commitment to improving the human rights situation in Vietnam.

I have much respect for the Vietnamese people. Over the past three years I have had many opportunities to work closely with the Vietnamese community to learn their culture and customs but, more importantly, to represent their voice in the federal parliament.

The Vietnamese people are some of the most generous and hard-working people I have ever met, and we have all seen their enormous contribution to this country over the last 38 years that they have called Australia home. When Vietnamese people speak to me about their journey, they have such strong emotions attached to the value of freedom. These strong emotions are indicative of their compassion and hope for millions of Vietnamese people.

I, too, have great hope for the 80 million people living in Vietnam and therefore I have raised this notice of motion in the hope of bringing greater national attention to this very important issue. I believe that, as a trading partner and a significant aid donor to Vietnam, Australia has a moral and legal responsibility to require Vietnam to abide by its international obligations imposed by virtue of Vietnam's membership to the United Nations and also its being a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

I recognise that 30 April is fast approaching. Significantly, it is a commemoration of the fall of Saigon. The Vietnamese community in Australia will gather at the Vietnam war memorial in Canberra and pay respect to the thousands of Vietnamese and, importantly, the 521 Australian soldiers who gave their lives in the fight for freedom and democracy.

I would like to take the opportunity to pay my respects to the human rights defenders, past and present, and to make a commitment to doing whatever I can to advocate for the human rights position in Vietnam. I believe that, on any reasonable analysis, the Vietnamese government's treatment of the individuals that I have named in this notice of motion is absolutely inconsistent with that country's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the provisions under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly relating to the issues of freedom of expression and due process.

These are issues that cannot be taken for granted, and we on all sides of this parliament wish Vietnam to have a strong and prosperous future. But, to do that, it must first take steps to recognise the dignity of its own people and institute, through all organs of government, including the judicial system, respect for the value of human life and restoration of human rights. Therefore, I will remain committed to doing whatever I can to advocate for human rights in Vietnam.

In the short time I have left I would like to table a document, which I have referred to earlier. It was given to me this week and it relates to the trial of the 14 young Catholic activists and the retrial that is likely to occur over the next week or so. This document was signed by 3,716 Australian Vietnamese. It shows the depth of concern that Vietnamese people living in Australia have about what is occurring in Vietnam at present. What is consistent is that people want fairness and decency in the treatment of human life. We can certainly expect more from the government of Vietnam, particularly if they want to be taken as a serious player in trade with the West and to open up a greater avenue for expansion and their involvement in terms of world trade. I commend this motion to the House and seek leave to table this document relating to the 14 Catholic activists.

Leave granted.