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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1107

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (10:45): I would like to speak today about a subject that I have spoken about on many occasions in the parliament—I think over 25 occasions now—and that is the state of democracy or the future democracy of Vietnam. There is no doubt that when you have a country that has a single-party system and democracy is not an opportunity that is available to the people there is no true representation. In many ways a country cannot be all it can be without being a democracy. So when you look at Vietnam and the rule of the Communist Party, the classic autocracy and the abuse of freedoms, you see that that is something that is holding that country back. There is no true freedom of speech. There is no true freedom of religion. There is certainly no true freedom of association.

In recent years—the last 20 or so years—the non-violent pursuit of democracy in Vietnam has been led, in many ways, by Viet Tan, the Vietnam Reform Party. This is an organisation of Vietnamese expatriates around the world who believe in making their homeland the best it can be through modernising, democratisation and the pursuit of a multiparty state in their homeland. This is a noble cause. It is not about taking up arms. It is about a non-violent struggle. It is about trying to make the best future for all Vietnamese people. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

Particularly you can look at some of their campaigns of late. The current campaigns they run are: a campaign on internet freedom; a campaign to raise public awareness of the bauxite mining—'Save Tay Nguyen'; and also a campaign for freedom for prisoners of conscience. These are all noble and just causes, and these are all pro-democracy linked causes. There is much to recommend our support for Viet Tan.

Recently, on 1 November, I had a meeting with Dr Nguyen Quoc Quan. The doctor is one of the leading members of the central committee of the Viet Tan. He was a school teacher in Vietnam from 1976 to 1981, when he escaped. He went to the US and got his doctorate in mathematics. On the two occasions he has returned to Vietnam in support of democracy and the non-violent struggle he has been arrested and jailed. Last time—and I spoke about this last year on Vesak Day, Buddha's birthday—I spoke about how he had been arrested. At that time he had been in jail for a couple of months. He was released after pressure from the US after nine months.

The Viet Tan and their supporters, and everyone who believes in democracy in Vietnam—many of whom are Vietnamese people who are currently still within Vietnam—struggle and are courageous. They believe in freedom and a better Vietnam. That comes at a cost. So many have been jailed. People are jailed who protest against the giving up of control of some of the Paracel and Spratly islands to Chinese interests. They protest about the environmental damage caused in the highlands by the bauxite mining concessions of the Chinese companies, and they protest about the arbitrary arrests of themselves and many of the other pro-democracy people in Vietnam.

As I said at the start, a country cannot be all it can be if it is not a multi-party democracy. A country is held back if the people do not have the right to vote and the right to choose their representatives. In a country where there is one party—if it is a one-party state—then that country is being held back. I look forward to a time when Vietnam truly has freedom and multiparty democracy