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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 970


Senator BARTLETT (4:47 PM) —In the five minutes available to me I would like to express the Democrats’ support for this motion. It is a matter of urgency that the Chinese Communist government observe international laws and norms and cease the bloodshed in Tibet. But, of course, another point does have to be made. I appreciate that governments and people in major parties do need to be diplomatic in their language. I think it is part of the role of those of us on the crossbenches to be more explicit about expressing the deep concern that many people feel.

The simple fact is that the Chinese government has flagrantly and repeatedly breached international laws and norms with regard to human rights in a wide range of ways for a long period of time, and this is just the latest example and one that happens to have got international attention. This is a totalitarian regime that practices serious repression and oppression on its own people and supports serious repression and oppression in many other countries around the world. It is not alone in that, but it is certainly up there as one of the most serious, and this point does need to be made.

The oppression in Tibet is serious, particularly at present, but oppression is not isolated to there. This Chinese communist regime executes more people each year, by far, than every other nation on earth combined. Some of those people—quite a large number—are convicted via very dubious legal processes, some of them for offences which should not be offences. The opportunity for basic freedom of belief, freedom of speech and freedom of religion is seriously curtailed. The persecution of groups such as the Falun Gong practitioners is extreme, and it is clearly established as being extreme. In addition to executions, there is widespread torture and forced labour on an enormous scale. These things continue. They were happening before the current unrest and violence in Tibet, and they will continue after the world’s attention inevitably—as it always does—shifts somewhere else.

As was pointed out here today, I think in question time, there is a real prospect that some of the people protesting in Tibet at the moment will face the death penalty if they are captured and convicted of offences against the state. These sorts of things cannot just be swept aside by saying, ‘We’ll continue on with the dialogue.’ Dialogue is important—I support dialogue—but we also need to make clear much more strongly, I think, what is not acceptable.

The point has been made about the Olympics. I appreciate that boycotting the Olympics is not going to instantly reverse all of the human rights abuses in China, but we also need to look at what the Olympics are meant to be about: the international celebration of our shared humanity. We also know that the Olympics can be, and have been in the past, used as major propaganda exercises by particular governments in the country in which they are held. If we asked ourselves today the question, ‘Would we, in hindsight—should we, in hindsight—have participated in the Olympics in Berlin in 1936?’ I think most people would say, ‘No.’

I appreciate that there is an argument that coming together in Beijing at the Olympics—I am paraphrasing Senator Faulkner here; I think this is broadly what he said—will give opportunities for greater understanding of China and its challenges and give China a deeper appreciation of international norms which should ultimately assist the situation. That is an argument that can be put, but I do not see much evidence of it. All of the evidence I have seen—human rights reports from around the place, including from the US congress, Human Rights Watch and other bodies—is that, in the oppression leading up to the Olympics, things are actually getting worse. I think the Chinese communist government is well aware, frankly, of what international norms and requirements are, and believes it is in a position to ignore them. The simple fact is that if the Olympics were being held in somewhere like Zimbabwe we would all be boycotting them in an instant. It is because of the political clout of China. We all need to look at that.

I do not think this is just an issue for government; it is an issue for all of us. It is an issue for the corporate sponsors of the Olympics as well, I might say—people like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa and Kodak. The Olympics are not actually about governments; they are about people. I think this is an issue that all of us, as people, need to think about more strongly, and we need to look at ways we can make our horror and concern more strongly known to the Chinese government. (Time expired)