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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 778


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (11:52): I have spoken on Iran in the past and, now more than ever, it is relevant to do so again. In 2009, US intelligence determined that, if Iran were in pursuit of nuclear weapons, they would be unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013. It is now 2013. It is a terrifying thought that a country as dangerous as Iran may have nuclear capabilities in just a matter of months. Many throw about the question of if Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon, but to my mind it is more a question of when.

Iran's actions have raised undoubted suspicions that it has plans to become armed with nuclear weapons regardless of what authorities have actually stated. It has never been shy in showing off its military capabilities, in a subtle attempt to threaten its opposition. We must remember that Iran already has systems in place which can easily target long-distance enemies. All that is needed is for a nuclear warhead to be attached for it to be truly deadly on a massive scale. Perhaps it will soon be time for the US to pre-empt that threat with a strike against those facilities.

In 2012, Iran boasted of a new long-range missile, Meshkat, with a 2,000-kilometre range. It has also announced plans to produce a missile-launching system, the Bavar 373. Even more recently, Iran has claimed that dozens of its drone aircraft have managed to penetrate Israeli airspace without detection, and they plan to produce more.

Iran has not allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors full access to its facilities, with only selective access granted to locations usually dealing with energy or raw materials. I note that the agency are refused access to sites such as Parchin, which is a suspected military explosives testing site where weapons relating to research may be found. Due to the secretiveness of Iran's programs, there is a strong possibility that, even if it does not have a ready-to-go nuclear weapon, it would be likely to be in a position where it could assemble one on short notice. If Iran did acquire nuclear weapons, there would be devastating reciprocal effects across the region. Nations who are enemies of Iran, especially those who have been repeatedly threatened, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, may be targeted, resulting in horrific consequences. Power plays would destabilise the Middle East. Some will form closer alliances with Iran to seek protection, while some may even take action to defend themselves against Iran and attempt to level the playing field by acquiring their own nuclear weapons. This will make pre-existing problems in the region even more difficult to resolve.

The contradicting claims by Iranian authorities create uncertainty. Repeatedly, they claim to want to lead the Islamic world and to wipe their enemies—namely, Israel—off the face of the earth. Yet the Supreme Leader of Iran has officially stated that Iran is not seeking to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities, stating that the possession of them is a great sin from an intellectual and religious point of view. I do not believe him, as Shiah Islam has used a form of religious dissembling known as taqiyya throughout history. As Shiah Islam is the minority, they have in the past justified lying in order to protect the Shiah population and ideologies. Regardless of what has been said by authorities, actions speak far louder than words.

If there truly is nothing to hide, why don't they just make the nuclear program accessible? This is unlikely. Iran has ignored international demands and sanctions for years. Their lust for power over their own people and their enemies outweighs their desire to comply. Iran has a sense of entitlement as the dominator in the region, which leads to fears that they are willing to go to extreme measures in acquiring this domination.

For too long, Iran has positioned itself as the victim and continues to claim ancient conflicts between Shiah and Sunni denominations and even between Persian and Arabic ethnicities as justification for violence and hatred. Shiah belief portrays itself as being the little fish in the Arabic Sunni pond. Iran believes it is its responsibility to return to Persian dominance, as before the Arabisation of the region between the seventh and 14th centuries. So they view it as their right to spread the Shiah theocracy and to suppress the Sunni majority.

This desire for control is not just for control over others. Within Iran, people are suppressed and they do not have basic human rights. This is a serious concern, especially as Iran claims to be a free and fair democratic nation. With Iranian elections due to occur in June, many are doubtful about how legitimate these will be. We only have to look back to 2009 to see how little honesty there is within the Iranian government and their elections. Despite there being strong support for the opposition, President Ahmadinejad's shocking win, with a two-thirds majority, points this out.

The lack of true democracy in Iran prevents the nation from moving forward. Elections do not achieve real change in Iran, as it is not the President who acts as head of state; it is the Supreme Leader. He is Iran's highest political and religious figure, though he is not elected. He is instead appointed by a closed assembly of experts. While the President is elected in a popular vote, he is only one of a number of selected candidates approved by the guardian council, and that guardian council consists of six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader, including him.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Supreme Leader holds that sort of control, showing that he holds almost a dictator-like power, and that the President is merely a puppet preapproved by the leader. Currently, 15 potential candidates have already been approved to stand for election. It is expected that the President will be even more compliant with the Supreme Leader's ideologies following the fallout between the leader and Ahmadinejad. This is not how a successful democracy should be run. This is not a democracy. These elections are not fair or legitimate. Opposition leaders are often denied approval to run as candidates and are often imprisoned for attempting to do so.

Dozens of political activists and those supporting the opposition have been arrested. They are charged with exaggerated claims of espionage, propaganda or treason, amongst other things. Many are never formally charged and few receive a fair trial. There are even cases of those who are subject to abuse, torture and death at the hands of officials. There have also been human rights violations against those in the media, students, lawyers and civil and human rights activists. As of October 2011, there have been claims of at least 49 journalists and bloggers being held in prisons, for questioning the acts of the government. Attacks have been carried out on those who openly criticise the Iranian government, and authorities prevent people from partaking in peaceful demonstrations.

There is no freedom of speech or expression in Iran, two things crucial to the running of a true and successful democracy. Extreme censorship measures are in place, with countless political news, analysis and blogging websites blocked within Iran—not to mention all social media sites, despite the irony of the Supreme Leader having both an Instagram and a Twitter account. Newspapers, blogs and independent journalists have routinely been shut down or been forced to endorse government bias and ideology.

Iran goes to incredible lengths to suppress those attempting to hold them accountable. Authorities continue to deny the freedom of assembly and association in Iran. Activists and students are targeted for acting against national security and arrested for propaganda against the state. Students known, or even suspected, to be politically active may be denied access to graduate programs at state universities.

There have also been numerous cases in which protesters have been killed, regardless of whether their protests were peaceful or not. Even the UN Secretary-General has called for an end to Iran's human rights violations. He has urged for the release of political prisoners in the lead-up to June in order for a fair and legitimate election. If political freedom is not established there will never be a true democracy. The UN continues to encourage nations to enforce and to strengthen sanctions against Iran, to put an end to the numerous human rights violations and to prevent their acquisition of nuclear weapons.

These are steps that Australia needs to take. Yes, we do implement some UN Security Council resolutions which impose sanctions upon Iran and we have established our own autonomous sanctions, yet there is more to be done. In order to strengthen Australia's opposition to Iran and its government, everything needs to be done to show Australia's position. Sending envoys to the Non-Aligned Movement in August 2012 was a step in the wrong direction. The supreme leader claimed the success of the Non-Alignment Movement proves that the forced isolation and sanctions imposed on Iran have been unsuccessful. Simply by attending, Australia, who is not even a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, has reaffirmed those statements.

It is my view that maintaining embassies in Australia for Iran and for Australia in Iran shows that Australia is still willing on some levels to communicate and work with Iran. This shows to Iran that Australia is not as serious as some in the isolation of that country. Israel has complete bans on travel and business with Iran, while the US has an almost entire economic ban. The United Kingdom has closed its embassy in Iran, as well as forcing the closure of Iran's embassy in the UK. Even more recently, Canada announced that it had severed all ties—mainly trade, political and economic—with Iran.

These are the measures that the government needs to take to ensure Iran complies with sanctions. Putting pressure on Iran will be the only way to end human rights violations, to conduct free and legitimate elections and, most importantly, to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. We can only hope that the presidential elections will have more optimistic results than in 2009, but this cannot occur without the commitment by the international community encouraging Iran to do so.

There are no easy or immediate solutions, but we cannot allow the attendance at the NAM to occur again. Iran cannot become a legitimate and functioning democracy overnight. It requires a commitment and the dedication of Australia and other nations around the world. (Time expired)