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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 772

Mr HUNT (12:45 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to rise and support on a bipartisan basis the motion presented by the member for Page. I have great respect for the member for Page, even though she may be misguided in her political orientation. I know that she has worked in the human rights field. I understand that in relation to Western Sahara in particular she has worked with my great friend Andrew MacLeod, now the director of the Committee for Melbourne. This is an important, real and profound issue.

I want to address three elements in relation to this motion: firstly, the issue of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and our abiding responsibilities; secondly, the course of history and the events that are currently sweeping North Africa and the Middle East; and, thirdly, the specifics about the action that is necessary to redress the wrongs that are currently occurring in Western Sahara.

Dealing with the first issue, we on both sides of this chamber are subscribers to, believers in and passionate upholders of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It dates back to the immediate postwar period. The rights that are contained within that declaration include freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of worship. They are the great ‘freedoms of’. Then there are the ‘freedoms from’: freedom from oppression, freedom from arbitrary detention and freedom from having one’s life taken by a state authority. These are abiding and universal and I stand clearly and absolutely by the view that they are hungered for by people of all origins, whatever their race, ethnicity or circumstance. What we are seeing in the Middle East now has risen out of a deep folly. It is a deep folly, generally used by oppressors rather than by those who are subjected to oppression, to say, ‘We have local norms that mean that people do not hunger for democracy, independence or the basic rights set out within the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

That brings me to the great and historic events which are presently happening at this moment right across the Middle East. What has occurred in the last few days in Libya is a crime against humanity. Let us be absolutely clear that these crimes against humanity are building upon the waves of repression that have been in place for decades now. In Bahrain, there are deep and powerful questions to address. Right across the Middle East and North Africa, people are seeking the capacity to shape and control their own destinies. There will be challenges. In some cases, it is not certain whether the future is a drift towards a Tehran-style regime or towards the great success of our nearby neighbour Indonesia, which broke down the strongman regime of Suharto and democratised in a very effective way. There is a journey still to take there, but what we see is real and profound. That is the context.

Against that context, Western Sahara has been suffering significant human rights abuses. We could put it in the hypothetical, but it is real. We know this. The reports internally and externally make it absolutely clear. That abuse is accompanied by a desire for a negotiated independence. We must stand by our principles. There is no doubt about that. That is who we are as a country; that is what we believe in as a country; that is what we must stand for as a country.

I think there are two significant steps which must be taken in Western Sahara. The first is to ensure that, in light of the abuses which have occurred from November last year, on top of historic injustice, there must be an independent UN verification mission. We are in agreement across the chamber on that point. This verification and monitoring mission must examine and, if necessary, compile reports which may lead to higher prosecutions through the international tribunals. That is the least that we can do. We must push for that. More generally, there must be an ongoing human rights international commission in place in Western Sahara. That will be the strongest bulwark against abuse whilst we seek a long-term resolution. I commend this motion to the House.