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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9041

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (10:14): I endorse the comments of the chair of the subcommittee and support the report that is before us. My approach will be somewhat different, but let me first thank the secretariat for their help and assistance in relation to this matter. We were asked to report on the effectiveness of Australia's human rights dialogues, particularly those with China and Vietnam. We did not get many submissions but, with respect to those that we did receive, you would have to ask yourself the question, 'Are the dialogues of any value at all?' The Australian Council for International Development said they were at risk of becoming ritualistic and an end in themselves. The International Commission of Jurists said they could be seen to legitimise or make respectable a particular government. The Australia Tibet Council voiced its concern over the 'Australian government's reliance on the annual human rights dialogue as the centrepiece of its efforts to improve China's human rights performance had not seen a tangible outcome'. The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights noted that, 'after almost a decade of implementation, the lack of human rights progress in Vietnam' raises serious questions about their relevance and impact. You have to ask yourself the question: were they really seen to be of any value when you have questions of that sort being asked?

The committee noted that it did not receive enough evidence to undertake an assessment as to whether there are measurable outcomes as a result of the human rights dialogue process and how effective it has been to date. I looked very carefully at the human rights dialogues and the discussion that occurred and was reported on, although I might say somewhat meagrely. One of the reasons the committee has recommended that it be enhanced is that there is not a great deal of information available about these matters. The NGOs that deal with them have had limited information. Even the reporting to the parliament has been somewhat meagre. I might say that when members of parliament are advised as to when these dialogues might be occurring, we are lucky to get several weeks' notice, even though there is a desire for members of parliament to participate in the process.

Where is this leading me? We have recommended that the dialogues continue. There is not much good sense in Australia berating governments abroad on human rights issues if it denies us an opportunity to talk about a range of other issues that are important bilaterally—and that is what tends to happen. I think there is some value in the way in which the dialogues enable us to progress human rights issues in a way of advocating for change and they certainly enables us to raise matters that we think are important bilaterally. It also helps to increase our knowledge about human rights issues when these matters are progressed and it helps in relation to broader debate.

I am one who has a very strong view that the parliamentary engagement in relation to the human rights dialogues has been something that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been happy to see sidelined. But I think if we are going to have a useful advance, an engagement which brings members of parliament into the process would encourage change also in the countries we are talking to as to who they include in the processes. I happen to think that if members of parliament or members of the congresses—or whatever they call them in Vietnam and China—were to be engaged, you might find that they start to think about these issues domestically in a much more positive way.

How are we going to get this parliamentary involvement? At the moment what the government says is, 'If members of parliament want to be involved, let them find some philanthropic organisation that might agree to send them.' Or they say, 'You can use your parliamentary allowances, which we are just about to take away, and you can assume that that is the priority concern you have and therefore the one you should progress when you are spending them.' I think the rubber is hitting the road. The allowances that members have had to undertake some private travel are being stripped away. If members of parliament are going to be engaged in this process, the government have to take seriously the recommendations in this report about the way in which members can be involved. I would encourage them to take that up very seriously, because it could make a realistic difference as to the way in which these works are undertaken.(Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Werriwa wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?