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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6179


Mr DANBY (8:35 PM) —As the Australian federal election draws closer during what many speculate might be the final sitting week of the parliament, I would like to take this opportunity to speak about democracy in our region and the world, particularly on this anniversary of the stolen election in Iran and the ongoing fight for democracy in that benighted country. Unfortunately, even in 2010 too many people in far too many countries have never experienced the democracy or liberty that we know here in free and open Australia.

In addition to my parliamentary duties, I take the abuse of human rights in our region seriously. I was fortunate to host a conference in Melbourne in early 2009 with nearly 250 participants which examined the situation of the 300,000 political prisoners held in Kim Jong Il’s gulags in North Korea.

In Darfur, in Sudan, 400,000 people have suffered the fate of being killed under a regime whose president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. Despite many resolutions by the United Nations, the violence and the killing continue there. I have been proud to be a friend of two leading Darfuris in Australia, Abdelhadi Matar and Alpha Lsimba, both of whom went with me recently to the World Movement for Democracy conference in Jakarta in order to give these two leading black African Muslims an important platform to put their message to the world’s most important Muslim country.

The World Movement for Democracy organises biannual global assemblies with hundreds of activists, practitioners, scholars, donors, parliamentarians and others engaged in democracy promotion from the more than 100 countries assembled. As a member of the steering committee, I was particularly proud that we, the 600 democracy activists from all over the world, met peacefully at a function co-hosted by my friend from Tempo magazine, Bambang Harymurti. For many of the assembled democrats, the keynote speech by President Yudhoyono of Indonesia was the highlight. I have also heard him speak here in the Australian parliament. On both occasions I have been very impressed by his knowledge, his insight and particularly his democratic instincts.At the World Movement for Democracy conference, his theme was democracy and Indonesia’s experience of it. His speech was idealistic. In his view:

… the 21st century instinct is the democratic instinct. And the democratic instinct in the 21st century is inevitably stronger than the democratic instinct in the 20th century.

His idealism is based on the Indonesian experience. The President spoke of the 1970s and 1980s, when ‘Indonesians found convenient cover’ in the ‘comfort zone of an authoritarian system that sought stability, development and national unity’. Indonesia’s initial period of democratisation seemed to validate his views. He stated that, initially, Indonesia was in disarray in the 70s and 80s: its economy contracted, there was ethnic violence, East Timor seceded, terrorist bombs were exploding and constitutional crises seemed endless. Even Thomas Friedman called Indonesia, like Russia, ‘the messy state—too large to work, too important to fail.’

There were predictions that Indonesia would break into pieces. Some even talked about it becoming a failed state. However, it now looks like this period of instability was only temporary. President Yudhoyono spoke with rightful pride about how much has changed in Indonesia when he said:

… our democracy is growing strong, while at the same time, Indonesia is registering the third highest economic growth among G-20 countries, after China and India. In other words, we do not have to choose between democracy and development—we can achieve both! And we can achieve both at the same time!

Ten years after the first ‘reformasi’ election, in 1999, democracy in Indonesia is irreversible and a daily fact of life.

This week is also the first anniversary of the bloodiest days of the Iranian regime’s crackdown on the Green Movement, a spontaneous and broad-based movement largely consisting of young Iranians. A year ago, 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan lay dying in a Tehran street, shot down by a thug from the Basij. The grisly video of her painful last moments was captured on a mobile phone camera and in the following days seen by millions around the world. She was one of ten people killed that day. For a brief moment the dramatic image of her martyrdom—such images have a special resonance in Shia Iran—looked like it might spark a movement capable of bringing genuine change to Iran. Unfortunately, on that day the regime was too strong. But many of us who support democracy hope that it will one day come to Iran, as it has come to Indonesia. (Time expired)