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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16417

Mr JOHNSON (4:17 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the motion in the name of the member for Fowler, and I commend her for the motion. I know that she has a deep interest in Vietnam and particularly in some of the serious issues her motion raises. Like the member for Fowler, I have a very deep interest in Vietnam and the welfare and wellbeing of its people. The genesis of my interest in Vietnam and issues that relate to Vietnam has been encouraged by the fact that I am married to a wonderful lady, Huyen Giang Johnson, who is of Vietnamese heritage—a special individual in my life who I have had the privilege of knowing for almost a decade.

The second reason I am pleased to speak on this motion—which, as I said, I commend the member for Fowler for raising—is that I am chairman of the Australia-Vietnam Parliamentary Friendship Committee. In that position I have had the opportunity to be exposed to the issues and concerns that are raised in this motion and to develop an appreciation of them at a deeper level than might otherwise have been possible. The fact that living in my electorate there are also many Australians who have Vietnamese heritage is an added bonus. These Australians, who have now made our country their home, come from suburbs like Darra, Oxley, Corinda and the Centenary suburbs.

When the country of Vietnam is mentioned, most Australians might think first of the Vietnam War. Given our involvement in that tragic conflict, that is not surprising. But I say to my fellow Australians that, when I think of Vietnam, I think of a country rich in history, culture and tradition. As anyone who has either been to Vietnam or glanced at photographs knows, it is also an incredibly beautiful land with scenery that can be breathtaking.

But, as the member for Fowler said, there is another side to the equation—and this motion goes to the heart of it. Firstly, like all countries, Vietnam suffers from domestic violence. Secondly, it suffers from terribly high levels of abuse of women in the form of sexual harassment and, especially, sex trafficking. Thirdly, it suffers from the lack of safe and effective fertility control available to women.

The Australian government acknowledges that it can play a role in addressing those issues in the context of being a friend and neighbour in this part of the world. The vehicle through which assistance can be rendered is our aid program. Let it be stated at the outset that the bilateral relationship is very important to Australia. This country regards itself as a friend and supporter of Vietnam and will do all it can to help promote the economic and social issues Vietnam faces. As one member of this parliament, I state for the record that I would certainly subscribe to any policies that would help Vietnam. A specific initiative that can be pointed to where the Australian government has acted is its support for two Vietnamese NGOs to raise awareness of domestic violence issues and responses in rural communities in Vietnam. This was achieved through our global human rights fund.

The issues of women's rights and HIV-AIDS prevention will be discussed at the upcoming Australia-Vietnam dialogue on international, legal and human rights issues to be held in Canberra on 27 June 2003. At that dialogue, Australia will be in a position to offer technical assistance to the Vietnamese government on both women's rights and HIV-AIDS prevention related issues. This assistance will be in addition to the substantial effort the Australian government is already making to tackle HIV-AIDS in Vietnam and elsewhere in the region through many programs. It is a sign that we are interested and a sign that we are dedicated to making a difference, as far as we can, to the society of a neighbour.

The federal government also takes the crime of trafficking in persons very seriously, and no offence is more abhorrent than the trafficking of sex in a developing country. The government has developed a program valued at some $15 million in response to this terrible issue in countries like Vietnam. This includes victim support measures and projects aimed at developing appropriate responses by local police, local authorities and local agencies.

I regret very much that time does not permit me to expand on my contribution to this motion. Again, I commend the member for Fowler for raising it. It is vitally important that members of this parliament focus not only on issues in our backyard but also on a bigger picture vision. We must look beyond our backyard and support the countries in our region that we are in a position to contribute to. For my part, as a member of this parliament, I subscribe very much to that view. (Time expired)