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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8098

Mr FORREST (8:11 PM) —I commence my remarks by commending the member for Wills for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. Dr Aung San Suu Kyi has become quite symbolic in our modern era, representing the struggle for freedom and democracy. In fact, in the Australian last week there was a beautiful photographic portrait of her with a headline saying ‘Defying the despots’. Her treatment by the oppressive Myanmar regime is an appalling abuse of human rights and Australians who enjoy the freedom of democracy our wonderful nation offers are appalled. So I am more than enthusiastic to support the member for Wills in his motion here on behalf of the fair-minded and decent citizens who make up the constituency of Mallee.

The motion quite rightly condemns the Myanmar military regime for its ongoing persecution of Dr Aung San Suu Kyi and calls upon it to implement the democratic election that it as a regime proposed for next year. This oppressive military regime stands condemned, not just by this parliament but by the rest of the world. There have been countless examples of its cruelty and oppression beyond the treatment of Dr Suu Kyi, but she has become symbolic of the struggle that hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens have endured under the crushing foot of this despotic regime.

Earlier this year I was privileged to undertake a study visit to the north-west of Thailand, right next to the Burmese border, in a little village called Maei Suai. The visit was the subject of my own private member’s motion, which we debated in this chamber in May. In a report that I tabled in this parliament I was not game to repeat all of the horror stories of those people belonging to the Akha tribe who have had to escape across the border because of the oppression in Burma and of the children attending the training centre that I visited at Maei Suai. There were many horror stories, and they remain untold by me for fear of retribution within Burma against surviving members of their families. As I said in that report I tabled in the parliament, in the case of one particular family, the father of the child staying at the training centre gave a horrendous report of their escape from the Myanmar regime and of the many atrocities committed just on that one particular group of people, the Akha. There are something like a dozen of these mountain tribes scattered right through the mountains in South-East Asia, and the ones in Burma are particularly oppressed, more so than those in other countries such as China, Vietnam and Laos and in Thailand itself. I heard the story of another family who fled on foot across the mountains, chased by army regulars firing guns at them. They ran through the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs, hungry and tired.

This is a despotic regime which must be brought to account and the international community needs to keep up its efforts to succeed in this outcome. I would like to complete my remarks by commending this resolution to the member for Hinkler and the member for Canberra who, I am delighted to see, is present in the chamber. Both these members will be representing all of us in the General Assembly of the United Nations from September through to December, and I would like them to take the strength of this resolution into account, as they represent not just us as members of the parliament but Australians who are generally appalled at the treatment of Dr Suu Kyi. As bad as this is, she is just so symbolic of so many other hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens who are being oppressed, suppressed, persecuted and even murdered. The members for Hinkler and Canberra can carry this resolution confident that it has the energetic support of this chamber on behalf of the Australian people, and whilst at the United Nations they can confidently carry the will of Australia to the debate which that assembly has been conducting over some time now to do what it can to expose this deplorable regime in what was once the proud country of Burma. I commend this resolution to the House and to those two members in particular to carry the strength of this resolution forward in the United Nations.