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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1460


Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (12:45): I would like to congratulate the member for Hotham for bringing forward what I believe is one of the most important motions that we will be discussing in parliament today. I would also like to recognise the members of the Cambodian community and their venerables.

It is a sad and tragic event when workers are killed for demonstrating peacefully to increase the minimum wage, and that is exactly what happened in January; and it is unacceptable. As the previous speakers have pointed out, Cambodian workers are among the lowest paid workers in the world—it was just to increase their wages from a mere $90 a month to $112 a month; that was what they were asking for.

This is a case where workers, who are working in atrocious conditions and get very small wages, have been further victimised. They were killed by Cambodian security forces, and a further 23 were detained for taking part in the protest.

I understand workers were just asking for a very small wage—just over US$100 a month—and that is woefully insufficient to meet the cost of living. We would not accept those conditions in Australia, nor would many other countries around the world.

I have heard the statements that have been made by previous speakers and how they are generally supportive of the workers in Cambodia, but I am disappointed that some of that support did not come out earlier. I would like to acknowledge the human rights organisations and multinational business leaders, and join with them in expressing my deep concerns over the actions of the Cambodia government. I would also like to condemn the violence against the protesters, because violence cannot be accepted as a response to workers fighting for better wages.

I would like to ask the Cambodian government to release those people who are being detained for participating in the protest It is totally unacceptable that peaceful protesters can be thrown into jail for protesting about better wages.

I would like to say that, while we would all like to have cheaper clothing, we cannot have that at the expense of workers. Sometimes people fail to recognise that we can get cheaper clothes because of the terrible working conditions that these employees were fighting against.

The garment industry is worth about $5 billion in Cambodia each year, and the clothing made for high street brands is the country's largest export. So an industry that provides the country's largest market is refusing to look after workers, and that is compounded by the fact that, when workers went out and protested for higher wages, not only were their demands ignored but the workers were thrown in jail. That is not acceptable. Everybody remembers what happened in Bangladesh in 2013, and we do not want that sort of thing to happen in Cambodia. We would like to support the Cambodian workers. We would like a message to go back to them that we here in the Australian parliament understand the issue of decent pay for a decent day's work. We need to make sure that this happens in Cambodia. We need the Cambodian workers to know that they have the support of us here. Everyone deserves a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, as I have mentioned.

But at this particular time the federal government is asking the Cambodian government to accept asylum seekers on behalf of Australia. This is akin to the Malaysian solution which the former government put forward in 2011, yet the coalition is happy to offer a deal to Cambodia, which has the human rights record that we are talking about today. We want to support you, not exploit you.