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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1270

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (10:59): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. Certainly, it is true that the world did not need this report to know there is a problem in North Korea and that there has been a wide and terrible history of abuse of human rights in that country. Whenever you look at such a regime, an autocratic regime where rule is handed down son to son, a regime that is obscured by secrecy and isolation—a hallmark of everything they do—you can be certain that oppression and abuse of human rights will endure. This report has given substance to the depth of the realities surrounding the regime. There is a darkness that surrounds North Korea. The United Nations Human Rights Council's Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Koreaopens the regime to greater scrutiny.

It is regrettable that the North Korean government chose not to respond or participate in any way—regrettable and certainly predictable. It is a demonstration of exactly the problem—their general approach and their inability to defend their record of horrendous and disgraceful abuses of human rights. China could have contributed by providing access to those who have escaped from North Korea and I find it sad that China did not participate. It is also a shame that the Chinese government actually rejected even the existence of the commission. The participation of China would have created further opportunities to properly and accurately assess just how terrible the situation is in North Korea. I note that on 20 February during the human rights dialogue with China, Australia raised the issue with China and urged them to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to those who have crossed the border into China.

I pay tribute to the chair, the members and the secretariat of the commission for the efforts they put into the inquiry and the resulting report. One could imagine that it would have been fascinating to hear all the witnesses but, at the same time, it would have been a harrowing and challenging experience, given accounts of abuse, torture, murder and rape.

Australia applauds the commission of inquiry's efforts to uncover the deplorable human rights record of the North Korean government. The report has shown that, over many decades, North Korea has denied its people basic rights and freedoms, and subjected them to gross human rights violations. The Australian government has urged North Korea to implement the commission's recommendations, including on reunion of separated families, repatriation of abductees, repeal of laws allowing for arbitrary decisions by authorities and the death penalty. I note that in the commission's report, detailed factual and legal analysis has been provided and the Australian government will study these carefully ahead of its consideration at the 17 March Human Rights Council meeting. I welcome the commitment by the government to promote and advance the cause of human rights for North Koreans beyond the halls of Geneva. To that end, Australia will determine how we can use our membership of international bodies and work with others to give a greater profile to the report and to this cause.

On 20 February, Australia was among those who raised the report in the UN Security Council during the quarterly briefing on the North Korean sanctions committee, noting that it deserves the attention of council members. It should also be noted that the Australian government regularly raises its concerns on human rights in North Korea both bilaterally and multilaterally. It is also true that Australia's Seoul based ambassador raised North Korea's appalling record with their ministers in Pyongyang in November last year. Therefore, I consider that available steps have been taken by the Australian government to take action on this report.

In the remaining time available to me, I would like to examine some of the principal findings of the report. It is true to say that the excesses of the state are, I guess, tolerated, but, in fact, the report found that the human rights abuses form the basis of how that government runs the country and controls its people. That is a tragedy and there is no parallel to this across the world. Some people call it the hermit kingdom or a pariah state. That is absolutely the case.

The systems within North Korea are there to control the people completely. Look at systems such as the Songbun, a system of rigid levels of status in society. These systems amount to state determined discrimination. Everyone is classified on the basis of a social class that has been allocated based on their birth or the directions of the state. Songbun determines where people can live, their accommodation, their educational access and even who they can marry. While some aspects of that have been modified by increased economic activity and economic markets, the reality is that it is an insidious system where people are controlled based on how the state determines who they are. Not only are all those determinations under Songbun, what makes it even worse is that the distribution of food is determined based on the Songbun system of rigid class.

Yes, Pyongyang is looked after and food is sent to Pyongyang. Everyone knows of the famine of the 1990s, but there has also been a shortage of food in North Korea for the last generation.

Under the Songbun system , only people who are considered essential and people at the highest levels of society get access to food. The remainder of the population are discriminated against according to their standing in the Songbun system. They are restricted from moving around the country and their access to jobs is restricted. They are controlled and required to remain in their location even if there is a lack of food. This system oppresses the people of North Korea.

A few years ago I saw a documentary about North Korea. The daughter of one family, who was probably in late primary school, commented when there was a blackout in their apartment that it must have been the Americans interrupting their power supply—a completely ridiculous and illogical comment. This system, where the North Korean government controls information, prosecutes those who do not comply with their rules, rewards those who inform on others' political activities and indoctrinates North Koreans from birth and throughout their entire lives. Children being forced to accept only the state system, adults being forced to comply and people receiving food based upon their standing in the system—this is the terrible system of human rights abuses and the abuse of any form of government by the regime in North Korea.

It is good to see this report, Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It highlights so much of what is wrong with North Korea. I advise everyone who has an interest in this area to have a close look at this fascinating but tragic report.