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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7837

Malaysian Elections

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:44): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. Later today before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade two key representatives from the Malaysian NGO Bersih, the movement for clean and fair elections in Malaysia, will be giving evidence. Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan and committee member Andrew Khoo have told me of their serious concerns that the Malaysian elections due in the next six months will not be clean, free or fair. Among other things, Bersih has raised strong concerns about the credibility of the electoral rolls, the integrity of the postal voting system, dubious vote-counting, gerrymandering, an absentee voting system and draconian media controls as well as laws prohibiting street demonstrations. Is the minister aware of these concerns and does the Australian government share these concerns?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:45): The Malaysian elections of course will be held in April next year. Malaysia is a constitutional democracy, as we are, and the timing and organisation of the election is a matter for the Malaysian government. I know that since April at least there have been domestic groups—the one the senator mentioned—and international groups that have raised matters of concern connected with the Malaysian electoral system. I recall that in April there was a well-publicised demonstration in Kuala Lumpur in Merdeka Square, and I understand that Senator Xenophon at the time was in Malaysia and had comments to make about the way the police handled that, with allegations of tear gas use. The demonstration, I think, was by any test a large one. I acknowledge the senator's concern. On the bottom line, however, the question of electoral reform in Malaysia is a matter for Malaysians and for their government.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:46): The tear gas was real, Minister Carr. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given Australia's role in being part of international observer teams in other elections in the region and internationally, what role will the Australian government take within the Commonwealth to ensure that the Malaysian elections are clean and fair? Will, for instance, the government consider giving its support to an international observer mission in the lead-up to the elections given the concerns raised by Bersih and others? For instance, if the opposition leader requested such assistance, what would the government do?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:47): Whether we send observers to a Malaysian election would be a matter for the Malaysian government. We would not have any way of initiating such a proposal; we would respond to a request from them for election observers. I understand that the Malaysian Election Commission itself may be seriously considering inviting international observers to monitor the election. I understand the Malaysian government has argued that the last election must have been fair—it lost its two-thirds majority in the parliament. Again, I have got to say that this is a matter for Malaysia. Our high commission will consider following reporting very carefully and speaking to participants on all sides of Malaysian politics so that the Australian government will have a sense— (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:48): Mr President, I ask another supplementary question. Is the minister aware that under Malaysia's Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 street protests have been made illegal and the Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is now facing being disqualified from parliament for allegedly participating in a street demonstration? Given the Australian government has raised issues of human rights and peaceful assembly and a fair go in a democratic community, will the Australian government be making representations expressing its concerns about these charges that could see the Malaysian opposition leader disqualified from parliament?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:49): All I can say is that the high commission in Kuala Lumpur will continue to follow these unfolding political events in Malaysia as closely as they would in any other jurisdiction.