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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11464

Mr HILL (Bruce) (11:07): I second the motion. I will pick up where my friend the member for Oxley left off. I could not imagine modern Australia without the contribution of Vietnamese Australians. They are the very best of multicultural Australia. So many families fled the fall of Saigon seeking a new life based on freedom and dignity. As refugees, they were welcomed by Australia. They worked hard, they formed community, they got involved in the community, and, like so many migrant families to this nation, they understood that the key to a better life for their children was education. Through that educational attainment that we've seen, they now occupy leadership roles in every field of society.

This motion talks of Brisbane, but, of course, I'm from the state of Victoria. Deputy Speaker Laundy, it is a great day to be a Victorian, after the Andrews Labor government's re-election; I know we've conversed before saying that we both represent Labor seats, as it turns out! Certainly, the Vietnamese-Australian community has transformed suburbs in my electorate—Springvale, Noble Park, Keysborough. In that vein, I congratulate Dr Tien Dung Kieu on his election to the Victorian upper house in the electoral results. He gained the third spot out of five in the South-Eastern Metropolitan Region—he's actually a world-renowned mathematician, so he'll certainly raise the average IQ in the Victorian parliament, as he would in any room he chose to enter!—also led by Councillor Loi Truong, a long-serving Vietnamese-Australian councillor in the City of Greater Dandenong.

In my electorate, around 10,000 people were born in Vietnam. It is the most common non-English language spoken at home—around eight per cent of people speak Vietnamese at home. I thank the member for Oxley for moving this motion to honour the contribution of Australian-Vietnamese people, but also importantly to speak out for Australian values of human rights in support of democracy.

I visited Vietnam in July on the Australian parliament's annual ASEAN delegation. We went to Vietnam, Thailand and Brunei. It was ably led by the member for Grey, and I was, in fact, the only Labor MP, which was an interesting experience!

I've been to Vietnam before and seen the energy of Ho Chi Minh City and the beauty of the Mekong Delta, but this was an opportunity to spend time in more formal settings in Saigon, in meetings with the Vietnamese government, assembly members, academics, businesses and so on.

Modern Vietnam is truly a paradox. You have to acknowledge the growth and the success in recent decades in lifting millions of people out of poverty. It really is an impressive achievement. I will acknowledge that they do have a capable government, strong governance in many areas, great discussions in many portfolio areas and the wonderful, industrious Vietnamese people, but it is a government that is intolerant of dissent. It silences critics, and it is utterly selective in its application and discernment of human rights.

Delegations are an important part of our work. It is an opportunity to see and learn firsthand and to exchange views on issues of concern. There is often a lot of polite formality but there can be great moments of authenticity once you've got the pleasantries out of the way. One of the curious moments came when some of the Vietnamese senior officials said to me very seriously, 'We want you to pass a law to stop people'—Vietnamese-Australians—'burning the Vietnamese flag.' I gave an appropriately polite response, but then they raised the issue again, which is usually a sign in diplomacy that they really want a deeper conversation, and so we had that. I did my best to explain to them what I saw as the psyche of Australians: if the Australian parliament passed the law banning the burning of flags, most likely it would lead to an outbreak and an increase in the burning of flags, such are our anti-authoritarian tendencies.

In turn, I raised with senior Vietnamese officials the issue of human rights. I was the only member of the delegation to do so, and I did that in respectful but firm and constructive tones, because I think it is incumbent upon Australian parliamentarians to back the work of our diplomats and to reinforce the work of the Annual Human Rights Dialogue between Australia and Vietnam to speak up on these issues and not be silent. So, as we maintain our growing and deepening partnership with the Vietnamese people and the Vietnamese government, where we have so many issues of economic interdependence but increasingly converging strategic interests, we also have to remember to continue to speak up in support of human rights. I do believe that, with the maturity of our relationship, we can do both.

The United Nations has criticised Vietnam for human rights violations—for the violations of citizens' basic freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly. The Australian-Vietnamese Victorian community has raised numerous cases in recent years, such as that of Nguyen Van Dai and five activists, who were imprisoned. Human Rights Watch and their global campaign saw him released, eventually. I know that the member for Fowler was instrumental in that. Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations have implored the government. While we deepen our partnership and maintain our friendship, we must also continue to put pressure on our Vietnamese friends to do the right thing and not to be scared of dissent from their people.