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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3468

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (11:18): I want first of all to endorse the words of the member for Swan about the work of the Australian aircrew. Reluctantly, I even have to endorse his words about the Australian government acting in a timely and humane way over this issue. I think the government in this instance is doing a good job, as you would expect an Australian government to behave in circumstances like this. Like him and the government, the opposition mourns for the six Australians who apparently have lost their lives and shares the grief of their families.

I want to take a different angle in looking at this issue, and that is to look at how this has been handled in Malaysia. Frankly, I have a very harsh view, but I believe it is shared by the majority of Malaysians. The events of the last three weeks, if they have highlighted anything, have shown democrats all around the world the consequences of the lack of transparency and democracy in Malaysia. Not only have we seen the Malaysian government demonstrating a lack of leadership following the disappearance of this flight but it seems, as The Australian editorial noted, that it has been 'chaotic and confused'. The New York Times has described the effects of this. When I mention all these newspapers I am not doing it to drop names. There seems to have been international consensus developed across the Asian, Chinese and Western press to describe what has happened over the last three weeks as 'the dysfunctional leadership in Malaysia', 'poor investigation of the missing flight' and 'the suppression of information, obfuscation and contradiction'.

My friend Anwar Ibrahim has been the source of a lot of criticism by the Malaysian government because at one point it appeared that the pilot was a supporter of his. The Malaysian opposition leader sent me Tuesday's The Washington Post, which says:

From the moment the plane went missing, the Malaysian government has been ham-handed in its dealings with grieving families and the global glare of attention. It delayed for hours saying anything after the plane first vanished, and over the next few weeks much of the information it disseminated was conflicting, wrong or misleading.

The most serious thing for all of us, particularly those who are in a defence relationship with Malaysia, is that apparently only after a week did the Malaysian government advise us that the plane crossed back over the Malaysian Peninsula and that their defence radars seemed to have missed that entirely.

The Malaysian government has shown signs of a deeper malaise that comes from half a century of rule without challenge or transparency. When Malaysia's Prime Minister was about to make a statement recently, his spokesperson told reporters that there would be no questions. When reporters pressed for more access, the reply came back from his minders, 'Go and watch a movie.'

Malaysia has been ruled by the same governing coalition since independence and has enjoyed strong economic growth. Democrats all around the world had hopes that the last elections would be free and fair and that the country would go down the path toward a more competitive democracy. Mr Najib has taken steps towards modernisation and reform, and he is owed great credit for that. But the election fell should ort. The Najib coalition, UMNO, won a majority of seats in parliament, largely through gerrymandered districts, while the opposition coalition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, won a popular majority and disputed the outcome. Clearly there is a rising popular discontent with corruption, authoritarianism and ethnic favouritism in the ruling powers. It is very encouraging, actually, for Malaysia's future that the opposition coalition consists of younger Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indians, and that it is not simply based on one ethnic group.

The six Australians who were on that plane naturally led me to make comments about this and the Malaysian government's handling of this on my Twitter page. In response, a minority—and I would make it very clear that it was a minority—made comments that were highly inappropriate, of a highly-sexualised content and of a homophobic nature. They were not just abusing me, which I do not mind in that I have not lost any relatives and I am not seeking to make myself the centre of this, but abusing the Malaysian leader of the opposition. To an Australian talking about the disappearance of a plane on a political website, it is frankly weird to have people commenting and tweeting to you homophobic comments about the leader of the opposition in Malaysia, as if that had anything to do with the situation. On behalf of people who want an investigation into what happened I regret that, and I regret it very strongly.

I would ask the Malaysian government, in its investigation of what happened to this plane, to cease seeking to link the disappearance of the plane to its obsession with the leader of the democratic opposition in Malaysia, who, as I said, enjoyed the support of 52 per cent of the people at the recent elections. The political allegiances of the captain of the plane seem to have little to do with the disappearance of the plane. It is absurd to say that because he had such a view this is somehow a motive for the disappearance of this aircraft in the tragedy that has happened. If that were the case, then the majority of Malaysians would be equally responsible.

I commend the Australian government for its humane treatment in this matter regarding our citizens who have been lost and the international citizens who will be coming to visit Perth. I commend the aircrew who, as the member for Swan pointed out, are on very difficult missions very far from Australia. The search area is about as far away from anywhere as it could possibly be. I hope we can all cooperate in a completely non-political way, including within the Malaysian domestic circumstances. This is a great mystery and a great tragedy. How this event will play out, as the former chairman of Qantas security said today, will probably change forever the way all international aircraft movements are undertaken. None of us would have believed that a modern aircraft like a Boeing 777, with all its built-in communications systems, could simply disappear in these circumstances. We are very lucky that international satellites, particularly British satellites, seem to have been able to track where this aircraft apparently has come down in the Indian Ocean. I grieve for the families and I hope that this investigation gets to the bottom of what happened to that aircraft in a non-political way, certainly not exploiting it for domestic advantage in Malaysia.