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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 39

Senator COONAN (4:37 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

The Coalition has had a longstanding concern with the oppressive regime in Burma. Not only has the regime caused grave damage to the rights and welfare of the people of Burma, the regime has also generated tensions within the region.

Burma’s rulers in the State Peace Development Council have overseen economic decay and social disintegration since 1988. The regime has ensured that Burma is now the cot case of South East Asia.

The United Nations remains concerned about the ramifications of the activities and nature of the Burmese regime.

Even the tragedy of Cyclone Nargis in May this year has not changed the approach of the Burmese regime to maintaining its grip on the Burmese people. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in his address to the 63rd Session of the United Nations on 23 September said “… in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis … the challenge now is to push for political progress, including credible steps on human rights and democracy.” Perhaps rather hopefully, he also linked international relief efforts following Cyclone Nargis with the potential to build trust and dialogue with Burma’s leadership when he spoke in the Philippines on 29 October. Australian and other efforts to support the recovery of the Burmese people from Cyclone Nargis remain largely decoupled from human rights and civil freedoms in Burma.

On 22 October, the Coalition welcomed further well targeted measures expressing Australia’s deep concerns relating to the violation of human rights, and the suppression of popular democratic ambitions in the state of Burma.

Public demonstrations against the regime in September 2007 and the violent responses by its military and police brought the plight of the Burmese people to the world’s attention, but the problems remain. The continuing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, has become the symbol of the brutal nature of this regime and her release is a key step towards reaching a peaceful settlement.

The Government must continue to persist, as the Coalition Government did, in making formal representations at the highest levels of government in urging the Burmese regime to address human rights and the release of all political prisoners. This must be done in cooperation with our regional neighbours including China and Thailand who are among Burma’s leading trade partners.

It is also critical that ASEAN be front and centre of such efforts. We see signs that ASEAN members are starting to consider the effect on the organisation of the Burmese situation.

We in the Coalition are concerned by the wider foreign policy implications of authoritarian states, such as Burma, which through their lack of care for their citizens, appears to be robustly impervious to efforts to achieve basic political and participatory reforms.

Burma’s tensions with Bangladesh in the past days along their shared Bay of Bengal border are also of concern and in part, as we see it, a result of Burma’s inability to hold substantial discussions about its policy strategies with Bangladesh as well as other members of the international community despite long standing contact. This situation illustrates another of the Coalition’s concerns —the management of tensions caused by the demand for energy.

The further sanctions announced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in October follows on from the sanctions implemented in October last year by our government. These financial sanctions announced by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer were well targeted against 418 individuals, including members of the State Peace and Development Council, Cabinet Ministers and senior military figures.

This coincided with $14 million in humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people who are the innocent victims of this regime.

These funds were directed through a number of organisations and supported basic health, water and sanitation for vulnerable people along the south-east as well as northern borders of Burma. This helped show the Burmese people we were not seeking to add distress to their already difficult circumstances.

Now, Australia’s financial sanctions have been extended to a total of 463 individuals who are active within the Burmese regime.

We support targeting Burma’s leadership and their supporters and backers. It keeps our pressure visible and direct. We are not alone, the United States, for example, uses the same type of pressure applied to both individuals and commercial entities to show its concern over the “continued repression of the democratic opposition in Burma”.

The Federal Opposition supports the measures taken by the Government today in extending the previous government’s financial sanctions of 2007 as sign of our requirement that the Burmese regime must improve the conditions it imposes on its people. We hope that its leadership understands that its actions carry serious consequences.