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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1962

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (10:32): As the House is aware, I have spoken on many occasions in respect of human rights. It is a matter that is very close to my heart. For me, human rights equate with the right to be treated with dignity and to live life free of oppression.

As many will recall, Vietnam has been a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1982. Now, 30 years on, little progress appears to have been made when it comes to the rights of people. In last year alone there were 61 reported cases of political activists being convicted and sentenced in Vietnam, which is a remarkable step up from the 40 cases of the year before. Among the arrested were lawyers, doctors and religious practitioners—hardly criminals by our standards.

Last month, I met with a delegation from VOICE—the Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment—an advocacy organisation operating in a number of countries advocating for human rights in Vietnam. This is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation advocating for the improvement of human rights for the people of Vietnam. The delegation took part in the 2014 United Nations Convention on Human Rights in Geneva, and enjoys strong support from the Vietnamese community in Australia. Leading the group was an Australian human rights lawyer and cofounder of VOICE, Mr Hoi Trinh. He was accompanied by a number of prominent human rights activists, including Mrs Thi Tram Nguyen, the mother of Le Quoc Quan, who was recently convicted and is being sentenced to 2½ years' incarceration.

In respect to Mr Le Quoc Quan, he was a prominent human rights lawyer who has been engaged to defend the human rights of others in Vietnam. He is a person who the United Nations Human Rights Council has also previously urged Vietnam to release. Mr Quan is very well known for his extensive work in human rights, both as a blogger and in providing representation to other human rights defenders. His refusal to be submissive has seen him been arrested on a number of occasions, most recently on 27 December 2012—on this occasion on very loose charges of tax evasion.

When I met with his mother two weeks ago, she explained to me many of the matters associated with her son and the work he has been undertaking for many years in the area of human rights. A couple of weeks ago, a Hanoi appeal court upheld the conviction, with Mr Quan to remain incarcerated for another 2½ years. Silencing activists with trumped-up tax evasion charges is a common way for the Vietnamese government to fight those who question their methods or stand in their way.

There are parallels between this case and a recent incident involving Mr Nguyen Bac Truyen, the chairman of one of Vietnam's prominent civil right groups, and his wife. They were targets of a vicious physical attack before a meeting with Australian diplomats about human rights issues. Mr Truyen and his wife were followed for days after arriving at Hanoi airport. The attack was clearly an attempt to prevent them from meeting with the Australian diplomats to raise human rights issues. Mr Truyen had already served a 3½-year sentence, having been released in 2010. He and his wife arrived at the Australian embassy with considerable injuries requiring medical attention. Understandably, this incident not only affected Mr Truyen and his wife but was also most distressing to the embassy staff, bringing into stark focus the issue of human rights abuses in Vietnam.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Mr Hoi Trinh and VOICE, who have worked tirelessly to protect and promote human rights and support those in Vietnam who are prepared to stand up and voice their concerns about human rights abuses. As an Australian, I believe that we have a moral responsibility to take part in the promotion and protection of human rights. I believe it is a reflection of our national values and forms an underlying principle of Australia's engagement with the international community. I hope and pray that this year we see a genuine improvements in human rights in Vietnam.