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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1765

Senator BOURNE(10.25 a.m.) —I would like to join in with everyone who has spoken so far in this debate. The main theme of what has been said so far in this debate—I do not think it will go on for much longer—is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's great heroes. I think that everybody in this chamber would say the same; in fact, probably most people in Australia would say the same. We do wish her as happy a birthday as she can possibly have under the circumstances of her current habitation in Burma.

I have been a member of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade almost since it was started. I think that I missed the first meeting before I was actually put on to that committee. We have looked at Burma over the years, from 1990 until now. We handed down a quite short but fairly thorough report, a quite recent one, in the last parliament on the situation in Burma and human rights in Burma.

The report demonstrated that human rights in Burma is at an abysmally low level. It has to be one of the worst places, as Senator Schacht said, in the world today for human rights. Forced labour is everywhere. The army just picks civilians out from villages anywhere—anyone they feel like. It does not matter how old you are, how young you are, whether you are pregnant, or whether you have small children. Nothing matters. If you are an individual who can carry what the army needs to be carried, then you are picked up out of the village and you just go with the army.

You just drop everything—your children, your ageing grandfather; you may be the aging grandfather—and you go with the army until either they decide they do not need you, which does not happen all that often, or you drop dead, which does happen far too often. Forced labour is a real and very destructive problem.

Talking of destruction, there is also the destruction of entire villages, the burning of villages. If anybody is suspected of being against the SLORC, then the entire village might go. There is torture all the time, everywhere. There is repression and pervasive fear.

About four years ago I asked the then foreign minister Senator Gareth Evans where the heroin on Australian streets came from. I think that the answer was that about 80 per cent of it comes from Burma. There are plenty of heroin poppy-growing areas in South-East Asia, outside Burma. If 80 per cent of it comes from within Burma then there is a reason for that. The reason is not just that that is the best area to grow the heroin poppy. The reason must be that it is easier to get the heroin out of Burma, and there must be a reason for that too. Burma is an absolute disaster area. But it well and truly should not be. The reason that it is is obviously the SLORC.

I remember the first time that I heard the term `SLORC'. I think it was in 1990. To Senator Schacht, who at the time was the chair of the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, I said: `What a dreadful acronym. Fancy calling something the SLORC. It sounds like a horrible, enormous squishy monster that comes and gets you.' Senator Schacht said, `Yes, it is an enormous, squishy monster that comes and gets you. It is a very accurate acronym for this body.' And it is.

It is one of the most dreadful regimes in the world today. If we cannot agree in this parliament that we should take extremely strong action against such a repressive regime, then we have a problem. If there is any regime in our region that we should be taking incredibly strong action against, this is it. It is very obvious.

I have two motions and an amendment in front of me at the moment, and I would say that I agree with everything in all of them. I think that we do have to take action with countries around the world. That is essential. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Hill) is absolutely right when he says that. I also agree with Senator Schacht when he says that we have to tell the SLORC that we are now considering whether trade sanctions ought to be on the agenda.

They have to know that we are not going to just sit here forever and put up with what they are doing. What they are doing is wrong. It is not right. They have to have very, very strong signals from this parliament that what they are doing is wrong. We have to be able to tell them that.

One of the things Senator Hill said at the end of his remarks was that we will feel good if we pass some of the things in this motion but they will not achieve anything. That is an interesting comment coming from somebody who is a minister and who has been in opposition. I do not actually expect to be a minister in the near future. I expect to be in opposition for a fair while.

Senator Schacht —We would all be in shock if you were.

Senator BOURNE —Senator Schacht would be shocked if I were a minister. If I were the foreign minister, things would change. However, speaking as somebody who is in opposition and probably expects to be there for quite a while, words are all we have in opposition to try to change things. We will take whatever actions we can to try to change things but these are the actions that we have available to us. Therefore, this is what we will do to try to change things.

Yes, it does make a difference. If enough people say they think this is the wrong thing to do, if enough people put pressure on those who do have the power to change things, it will change. That is how all change happens in this world. I hope that is what I am contributing to every day, and I hope every member of this chamber is also contributing to that every day. We say enough about the things that are wrong in this world and, my goodness me, if anything is wrong in this world, the situation in Burma has to be very high on that list. If we say as loudly and as long as we can enough things about what is wrong in this world, eventually those things will change and the world will become a better place.

You have to believe that. You have to take every action that you can personally take to achieve that end. That is what I am doing, and what I firmly believe this chamber is doing. I would vote for Senator Hill's motion. I would vote for Senator Chamarette's motion. I will also be voting for Senator Schacht's foreshadowed amendment.