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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3478

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (21:48): I have on various occasions spoken out against human rights abuses in Vietnam. I have made no secret of my stance on the issue and my respect and admiration for human rights defenders both in the past and in the present. But on this occasion I would like to pay tribute to the families of these prisoners of conscience: the husbands, the wives, the mothers, the fathers and the children of these brave men and women who also have been and remain incredibly affected not only by the denial of human rights but by the legal system that fails to honour fairness and equity for those who are willing to speak out.

These people are heroes in their own way—certainly brave enough to want to live in a world of freedom, courageous enough to support their family members in this fight and strong enough to shoulder the burden of supporting the rest of the family when things go wrong. I have no doubt in their strength of character, but I often consider the emotional and financial hardship which they suffer and ask why it is they have to go through this. Why is it that they have to be separated from their loved ones without means of support and why is it that it has had to come to this point, where expressing one's view and demanding fundamental human rights would lead to separations of families and indeed the punishment of family itself?

I have often acknowledged the work of human rights defenders but today I wish to acknowledge the heroes behind them—the unsung heroes whose love and strength of character we need to acknowledge and support. I refer to Tran Duc Truong, father of Tran Huu Duc; Dau Thi Thanh, older sister of Dau Van Duong; Ho Van Luc, younger brother of Ho Duc Hoa; Dang Xuan Ha, younger brother of Dang Xuan Dieu; Tran Thi Lieu, mother of Nguyen Van Oai; Nguyen Van Thu, older brother of Nguyen Van Duyet; Nguyen Thi Oanh, wife of Nguyen Xuan Anh; Ho Thi Lu, older sister of Ho Van Oanh; Thai Van Hoa, older brother of Thai Van Dung; Chu Van Nghiem, father of Chu Van Son and Do Van Pham, uncle of Paulus Le Son.

I have been advised that all these people have been constantly called to police stations, harassed, deterred from their jobs and prevented from earning a living, solely to cause difficulty for their families. I am very concerned for the case of a Mr Paulus Le Son, who has not been able to visit his dying mother or any of his relatives since his detention over six months ago. To be separated from loved ones during Christmas and New Year would be extremely difficult and disheartening for the family, but the situation of Mr Le's mother not being able to see her son before passing must be unbearable.

I would like to bring the House's attention to the Vietnamese government's treatment of human rights defenders who are under house arrest. Although they are not imprisoned or subject to physical abuse, the psychological trauma and isolation which they are made to endure is inhumane and deserves our attention. I refer to Venerable Thich Quang Do, lecturer Pham Minh Hoang, Le Cong Dinh, lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan, Le Nguyen Sang, Huynh Buu Chau, Doan Van Dien and many others.

Against all this, I see potential for Vietnam to rise as a power for good in South-East Asia. Vietnam provides a good manufacturing base and is taking steps to build good relations with many Western states. However, an important concern which most Western countries have, and certainly one which Australia has, is Vietnam's human rights record. We rightly call Vietnam our South-East Asian neighbour and we value Vietnam as a trading partner. But I am appalled at the number of people currently incarcerated in Vietnam for exercising their fundamental human rights.

Not only is respecting human rights the just and right thing to do, failure to do so costs Vietnam enormous economic growth potential as well as its international reputation. If we look at the Vietnamese people who have settled all over the world since the war, in Australia, America, Canada et cetera, you cannot help but be amazed at what they have been able to achieve in just 36 years. If you take a short stroll through my electorate, and certainly in the streets of Cabramatta today, you will see a wide range of food stalls, fabric shops, medical practices, clinics, law firms and other professional agencies. The Vietnamese people have contributed widely to the Australian community, not just in sharing with us their food and cultural festivities but also in being proactive when it comes to helping fellow Australians in need. Remember the devastation caused by the Queensland floods this time last year? I was amazed when I learned the rationale as to why the Vietnamese people were so committed to raising funds to assist the Queensland Flood Appeal. A good friend of mine, Dr Vinh Binh Lieu, advised me of an old Vietnamese saying which states, 'When you eat the fruit, have regard to those who planted the tree.' He told me that over the past 36 years Australia has provided blanket protection and support for so many Vietnamese families when they were vulnerable and in need. Now, seeing fellows Australians in trouble, it was seen as their responsibility as the Vietnamese people to give back. Dr Lieu's fundraising event was a great success. He raised $145,000 in one evening. The Vietnamese community in Australia New South Wales chapter president Thanh Nguyen and his committee fundraised for three days at a Tet festival and organised a fundraising dinner, raising $236,000. Father Paul Van Chi called on the Vietnamese Catholic community of New South Wales and raised $40,000 from his collection boxes. The Vietnamese Sydney radio community spoke about the horrors of the Queensland flood and raised $40,000 in their appeal. The doctors of Vietnam Vision organised a barbeque and raised $5,000 in the streets of Cabramatta. Together, they raised more than $450,000 for the Queensland Flood Appeal.

Clearly, the generosity and compassion of the Vietnamese community, as has been demonstrated, is extraordinary. If this is what the Vietnamese people can do in their adopted country, just imagine what they could have done in Vietnam given different circumstances. Instead of looking to China as their most valuable ally, I challenge the Vietnamese government to look at the value and potential of their people. I challenge the communist government to build relationships with their people, to unleash the passion and the courage, the commitment to achieve. Above all, I challenge the Vietnamese government to view the people as we do, as their most valuable resource.

As the member for Fowler, I have got the privilege of representing the most multicultural community in Australia. Almost 25 per cent of my electorate is comprised of Vietnamese speakers. I have been fortunate enough to be warmly welcomed by them over the last year and a half. The more I learn about the Vietnam community, the more respect I have for their culture and their traditions. Human rights is an important issue for the Vietnamese community. As a member of federal parliament I have made a commitment to represent the interests of my constituents and publicly condemn blatant violations of human rights when they occur. Along with our international colleagues, we must work collectively to ensure that progress is made in improving human rights in Vietnam.

I speak not out of anger, I think that war has actually devastated Vietnam enough in that respect. However, I speak out of compassion. Vietnam has a great potential to grow and to achieve much in a modern world. But the only way that it can actually properly realise this is, first, by respecting the fundamental human rights of its own people. Next month, the Australian-Vietnam human rights dialogue will convene. I would urge all those that participate on the human rights dialogue to ensure that efforts are made to ensure that the focus remains firmly on improving the fundamental human rights of the Vietnamese people in order to improve the potential of Vietnam to grow in the South-East Asian region.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and in accordance with standing order 192B the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 21 : 5 9