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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2525

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (19:23): I welcome this opportunity to speak on matters concerning human rights and freedoms in Vietnam, and I thank the member for Fowler for bringing this motion forward. This is my 15th speech in the parliament on matters to do with freedom and rights in Vietnam. I do have a history of being critical of the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. On principle, I do not believe that a single-party state—Communist Party or whatever—represents a democracy in any way, and I do not believe that the people of a country such as that can be represented appropriately when the government cannot be held to account and, as a result, completely changed by the will of the people.

For many Australians, Vietnam is becoming a popular tourist attraction. It is vibrant, colourful, picturesque and interesting. Yet clearly the standard of living is very low. While all that is clear to anyone who visits the country, what is not clear is that there is political discontent and dissatisfaction amongst increasing numbers of people. That discontent has manifested in ways that it can be, when so much of the print, television and radio is under the control of the government. In many ways, it falls to the internet and to bloggers to hold the government to account, and many have been put in jail for being caught. Given the risks involved from the law, such as even suggesting a multiparty state being an offence, I am surprised by the courage shown by so many Vietnamese people.

The protestations of Vietnamese people include the basic, as I deem them, demands for democracy: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association. Yet beyond that there are many that protest about the giving away of sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. There are those that protest about the mining and business concessions in Vietnam given to Chinese sovereign owned businesses, and there are also protests about the environmental damage caused by Chinese bauxite mining in the highlands of Vietnam. With regard to religious based protest, there has also been government seizure of land from churches and the parishioners protesting about those losses.

On 30 January this year I asked DFAT to seek for me a visa to visit Vietnam in April, thinking that around three months would be a good time period to allow the processes to work. In what would be my third visit to Vietnam, I sought to visit in jail the 14 recently jailed young Catholic activists Dang Ngoc Minh, Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, Ho Van Oanh, Le Van Son, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc, Nguyen Dinh Cuong, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nguyen Van Oai, Nguyen Xuan Oanh, Nong Hung Anh, Thai Van Dung and Tran Minh Nhat. They were tried and convicted in Nghe An Province on 9 January 2012. I also asked to be able to visit Cu Huy Ha Vu and Le Quoc Quan.

These brave people have my profound respect, as do their families. They have sacrificed their freedom in pursuit of a just cause. I suspect that life inside a Vietnamese prison is unpleasant and the path of least resistance would be to renounce their cause, but it is a testament to their courage that they continue to serve the cause by not recanting. In a visit next month, I hope to at least get a glimpse of what they have to endure, but, given that it has been two months since my request was submitted and there has still been no result, I suspect that there will never be such a result.

In October 2012 I spoke in the parliament about a campaign called Million Hearts, One Voice. This is a campaign for democracy in Vietnam and calls for the release of all political dissidents. The campaign was launched about a week before my speech and has been strongly supported by many prodemocracy organisations and groups. At that time around 40,000 people worldwide had signed the petition, with 100,000 targeted by International Amnesty Day on 10 December 2012. In the end, 135,000 people signed the petition, 15,000 of them in Australia, including me.

I know that the Vietnamese community in WA joined the campaign and many groups in WA actively supported it. The petition seeks international investigation of the situation of arbitrary detention, inhumane prison conditions and a lack of political processes in Vietnam. It also demands that the government respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and repeal vague national security laws which are often the pretext for arbitrary arrest and detention. Finally, it urges the Vietnamese government to immediately release all political prisoners.

I take this opportunity now to speak on the specifics of certain individuals that are not free as a result of the repression in Vietnam. I thank the Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, for highlighting these causes. On 27 November 2011, social activist Bui Thi Minh Hang was arrested for causing public disorder. She had been a constant presence at the weekly anti-China protests in Hanoi and Saigon during the summer and fall of 2011. She was detained by police while demonstrating in support of other peaceful protesters who had been recently arrested. She was sentenced to two years of re-education without a trial or any due process. Police have also harassed her son and family friends.

A resident of Can Tho, Cao Van Tinh, has been involved in land rights campaigns since 2011. He participated in a 27-day peaceful sit-in outside government offices in Saigon in 2007. On 22 February 2011 he was arrested and in May 2011, after being charged with attempting to overthrow the government, was sentenced to five years imprisonment with a further four years of house arrest after that. In 2011 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the Hanoi government's detention and conviction of Tinh and six other activists is in violation of international law. Despite that, he remains in a detention centre.

Cu Huy Ha Vu is a prominent government critic and human rights lawyer. He filed unprecedented lawsuits against the government, including suing Prime Minister Dung for violating laws on environmental protection, national security and cultural heritage by approving a Chinese run bauxite-mining project in the central highlands. His law firm provided legal assistance to democracy activists and, prior to his arrest, to six Catholics from Con Dau parish who protested at government confiscation of properties. He was arrested in November 2011 and, in April 2012, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment followed by three years house arrest, having been charged with propaganda against the socialist state. His current address is Prison Camp 5, Thanh Hoa Province.

The next person that I will speak of is even more special for me because of my personal connection through a visit to his church. I speak of Duong Kim Khai, who is a leader of the Cow Shed congregation. A member of Viet Tan, Pastor Khai has been active in helping farmers petition for the return of confiscated lands. He was arrested on 16 August 2010 and, on 30 May 2011, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment, followed by five years house arrest, having been charged with attempting to overthrow the government.

On 5 September 2011, Ta Phong Tan was arrested and remains detained without trial and for unknown charges. A former police officer and Communist Party member, she is a prolific blogger with more than 700 articles to her name. She began her writing career as a freelance journalist in 2004 and, since then, her articles have appeared widely online. With her knowledge and experience of police work, she provides insightful observations about widespread abuse of power by the security police. She is a recipient of Human Rights Watch's Hellman/Hammett award. She is at Phan Dang Luu Prison in Saigon. These are just some of the examples of very many that highlight the restrictions on freedom of speech and the undemocratic standing of the Communist Party and its governance of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

As stated earlier, I asked at the start of the year for a visa to visit activists who are in jail in Vietnam. The Communist government is not providing an answer in an attempt to delay me or to make me give up. Until such time as they make a decision, I will continue to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to pursue the matter.

In the same way, it is right that we continue to raise these matters in the Australian parliament. Continually raising these matters and the cases of individuals such as the ones I have spoken of today, which exist amongst many others, helps to maintain the pressure on the Communist government in Vietnam. As is mentioned in this motion, clearly the point that Vietnam is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights means nothing with their draconian and antidemocratic laws. They can sign what they want but that is all for show when the international community identifies these terrible flaws and harsh application of those laws and processes that see people arrested and detained without even a trial for years.

Once again, I thank the member for Fowler for this motion. I welcome the opportunity to speak about the need for a better future for Vietnam. Finally, I would say that any government that is confident in its belief that it governs in the interests of its people should not fear an alternative. It is only when a government knows it is not doing its best for its people that democracy is opposed and alternatives are suppressed.

Debate adjourned.