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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15577

Mr LIEBERMAN (4:07 PM) —In participating in this debate on the motion concerning human rights in Vietnam I would first of all like to acknowledge, once again, the deep appreciation of the Australian community for those Australian ex-service men and women who served in the conflict in Vietnam 25 years ago and for their families. I think we should, at this stage, acknowledge that point and also that many of the scars of that conflict still have a grave effect on the health and wellbeing of some of those veterans. We hope they will recover their health and understand that the Australian community has a deep respect and appreciation for their contribution on behalf of Australia during that difficult time.

The Australian government is deeply committed to working with Vietnam to improve their human rights situation. We have a good bilateral relationship with Vietnam—a mature relationship that has diversified, particularly over the last decade. It encompasses dialogue and cooperation on a very wide front, including on police and defence matters. The human rights issue is a difficult one, as has been spoken about. As a nation we quite frankly approach this issue from a different perspective to Vietnam and the government of Vietnam at the moment. But Australia and Vietnam both belong to relevant international instruments. We are both active participants in the United Nations and we sit alongside representatives from Vietnam in forums dealing with human rights issues. As a result of that good relationship and the friendship we have developed, we are taking every opportunity to promote the observance of human rights in Vietnam through, I guess, quiet diplomacy and the provision of practical and technical assistance. We have sought to increase awareness of human rights among decision makers in Vietnam. We have provided funding for and conduct training programs in human rights at Vietnam's elite Ho Chi Minh Political Academy. Through our embassy in Hanoi we also monitor the human rights situation in Vietnam on an ongoing basis.

We regularly make representations to the Vietnamese government regarding the detention, house arrest and harassment of individuals. We are particularly concerned to ensure that Australian diplomatic representatives are also able to assist Australians who are incarcerated in Vietnam, which is a matter that does cause concern from time to time. We do not have a large diplomatic presence in Vietnam and, because of that, it is a bit hard to envisage us doing more in these direct ways, but we do our best. The relationship is a mature one and I think we are respected as a friendly nation, regarded as a friend, by the government of Vietnam. That is always the best basis for achieving successful negotiations with another country about its sovereign rights and the way it treats its citizens. We have of course urged Vietnam to observe internationally recognised human rights standards, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There have been improvements in some areas of human rights in Vietnam, but of course there are some areas of concern. There has been an improvement, for example, in the environment for practising officially sanctioned religions. You might baulk at the words I just used, but that does represent some progress because there had not been any progress before. Thirteen out of 17 people, on whose behalf the government made representations, were released from detention in the 1990 amnesty. (Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.