Australian House Debates on Vietnam Human Rights: Addresses by Philip Ruddock, Dennis Jensen and Graham Perrett

Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock
Berowra, Liberal Party

Canberra | 24.6.2013 |

In the few minutes available to me, let me reiterate how this issues arises. A motion was moved by my colleague the member for Fowler, I believe, on Vietnam and political prisoners in Vietnam. It detailed many cases. The issue was broadly discussed by members on both sides raising concerns about a wide range of human rights abuses that are believed to occur in Vietnam. The debate occurred on the very day that the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue occurred. The debate progressed up until the lunch break and some divisions were imminent, and I thought there would be five minutes for me to report on the dialogue. These dialogues occur quite regularly in relation to China and in relation to Vietnam. Members do not always have the opportunity to participate, but on this occasion I, with the member for Werriwa, was able to participate in the Australia-Vietnam dialogue, representing the Australian parliament.

I believed it was desirable to report to the House on the way in which that dialogue was conducted. I was particularly impressed with the way in which the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the 10th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue raised a number of issues that were of substance, were real. I was particularly impressed with the way in which Vietnam responded to those matters. I would like to brief colleagues who are interested in what is happening in Vietnam on those matters.

The objectives for the 10th round of the dialogue were to streamline the discussions and affirm Australia’s view that human rights issues continue to be an integral part of the broader Australia-Vietnam bilateral relationship. There was a concern about freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of information in Vietnam. We wanted to discuss a list of cases and to encourage Vietnam to release those in detention and to lift restrictions on others, and to express concern at the sharp rise in the number of cases on our lists over recent years as well as the severity of sentencing that had occurred, and to welcome what we believed were some areas of improvement in relation to legal reforms, women’s issues and religious freedom.

I was present when Australia took up particularly the cases of Father Ly, bloggers Dieu Cay, Ta Phong Tan, Phan Thanh Hai as well as the 14 bloggers convicted in January, and a number of musicians, and also took up cases of some of the Buddhists, particularly the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, whose case I have been particularly interested in.

It was quite interesting during the discussions to see the way in which Vietnam was responding. I am fairly open in relation to these matters. I examine fairly critically what I believe are the facts, but it was of interest to me that Vietnam reported that, in relation to some of the more significant sentences that have been imposed, they were more frequently using the system that we understand to be parole. They spoke of that and, to the extent that we receive reports that people are being released earlier than might have been expected, it was a very positive development.

There were also issues raised in relation to the death penalty. The death penalty is a human rights issue, which is of concern to members of this House. The interesting aspect of the report from Vietnam was that, while they had not abandoned the use of the death penalty, they were narrowing it in relation to the types of offences for which it might be used particularly focusing on those relating to drugs and those relating to injuries to individuals and the like, these sorts of offences that we would regard as being fairly serious in the Australian context. I wanted members to know that these issues were being progressed. The discussions were very positive and it all demonstrated to me the desirability of members of parliament participating in these dialogues in the way in which the member for Werriwa and I were able to on this occasion.

Source: OpenAustralia


Dennis JensenDennis Jensen
Tangney, Liberal Party

Canberra | 17.6.2013 |

Vietnam served as the chair of ASEAN in 2010 and has since demonstrated little respect for core principles in the ASEAN charter to strengthen democracy and protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. The economic advances of Asia in the last quarter-century have been nothing short of astounding. Since Doi Moi, or economic liberalisation, growth has been miraculous, lifting millions out of poverty. But lifting people out of poverty is not enough. Important is the way in which it is done. The world needs more good growth. This differentiation is widespread in economics, and the united opinion of commentators from Amartya Sen to Greg Mankiew is that the world needs more good growth, or conscientious capitalism. To guarantee further good growth and responsible growth cognisant of human rights and the benefits thereof, Australia should have a greater say.

This motion is all about getting this place to put responsibility before reticence. It is about standing up. We are talking about Asia—this is where we live. The people we are talking about here are our neighbours. To paraphrase former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, we must have an interest for selfless and selfish reasons. Our interest in issues in Vietnam goes beyond the altruistic; we have economic and security interests in the region. One half of the world’s seaborne trade travels through the region surrounding the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Our parliament should mirror the concerns held by The Australian regarding China and its intention in the region, remembering that prudence is to look at processes and proceedings, not just pronouncements. This would mean asking more, and more difficult, questions of China and its desire to engage claimants to the disputed territories of the Paracel and SpratlyIslands in bilateral dialogues. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. This speaks to our values.

As an Australian and a free person I am concerned. I cite the case of Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha. Vietnam is a signatory to theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I call upon Vietnam to step up and honour their words and commitments. The time is now, and the opportunity is the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.

Under the current constitution, the Communist Party of Vietnam is the only one allowed to rule, the operation of all the political parties being outlawed. This is the main problem in terms of political freedom. Other human rights issues concern freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I draw attention to Freedom House reports that a provincial court in Vietnam convicted 14 activists of ‘subversion of authority’, sentencing 13 of the activists to three to 13 years in prison and giving one activist a suspended sentence. The 14 activists, which include students, bloggers and citizen journalists were accused of having ties to the banned Viet Tan network and were tried together in a sham trial that lasted only two days. Most of the activists are Catholic, a group often persecuted in Vietnam, reflecting the government’s poor record on religious freedom.

Freedom House is also concerned by reports that several of the family members and supporters of the activists who peacefully gathered outside the courthouse were harassed, assaulted and detained by police officers. This is the latest escalation in the government’s persecution of free speech advocates. Le Quoc Quan, a blogger who was arrested on 27 December and subsequently began a hunger strike to protest his detention, has been denied visits from his family and lawyer.

Freedom of expression is severely curtailed in Vietnam, and the country is rated ‘not free’ in Freedom in the World 2012Freedom of the Press2012 and Freedom on the Net 2012. Harassment of cyber-activists has been on the rise since 2008, with the government engaging in a targeted campaign against critics, cracking down on blogs and social media, and harassing and detaining independent bloggers and their families. The government restricts religious practices through legislation, registration requirements, harassment and surveillance. A centrally directed police unit, A41, monitors groups the authorities consider religious extremists. Religious groups are required to register with the government and operate under government controlled management boards. The government bans any religious activity deemed to oppose national interests, harm national unity, cause public disorder or sow divisions.

Adherents of the same unregistered religious groups and religious activists campaigning for internationally guaranteed rights are harassed, arrested, imprisoned or placed under house arrest. In just January of this year police used tear gas and electric batons to disperse villagers from Dong Chiem parish, near Hanoi, who were trying to stop police from taking down a crucifix.

Australia should advocate for a conscientious capitalism. It is not beyond our right and duty to wish to see greater human rights and freedoms in Vietnam, but I urge all in this place to be conscious of the need for economic development—for it is true that, if we have nothing, it is easy to share. The pie needs to be grown. The greatest example of the liberating revelation of democratic capitalism is that today in the West the average person has a lifestyle that the wealthiest kings in Europe could only dream of a short time ago.

The two young activists were convicted of conducting propaganda against the state. They were convicted for handing out leaflets that distorted the party and the state’s policy in relation to religion and land and exhibit a twisted viewpoint regarding the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the borderland between Vietnam and China. The conviction of these two young people shows the insecurity of the Vietnamese government, and acting in this way is akin to dictatorship. The police arrested Phuong Uyen and took her to the police station without informing her family. The family was not aware of where she was for eight days and only became aware of her whereabouts after searching for her and making a public search for her. Her family were eventually told of her detention at another police station—after over one week of worrying and searching. If these allegations took place as stated by her mother, this is in contravention of human rights and everything that the Australia-Vietnam human dialogue stands for. The Australia-Vietnam human rights dialogue is meant to demonstrate the maturity of Australia’s relationship with Vietnam.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 13:21 to 13:40

It provides both countries with an opportunity for open, frank and constructive discussion about human rights issues. Previous dialogue has included freedom of expression and association. The dialogue provides an opportunity for Australia to raise a number of individual cases of human rights concern. It is now needed more than ever for this individual case to be discussed in the next round of the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. Dinh Nguyen Kha, a student at university, was convicted of dropping 2,000 anti-government leaflets at an overpass in Ho Chi Minh City. Clearly, this was an act of peaceful demonstration. All people charged with an offence worldwide should be given access to lawyers and doctors. Keeping people behind closed doors only creates more speculation as to their maltreatment. There have been calls by international agencies to say that there is a need to put new pressures on the Vietnamese government, as there has been a worsening crackdown on dissent in the recent year. Whilst all other international intervention could be discussed in the future, it is important to effectively use the dialogue that we already have in place. If the claims that cracking down on dissent is worsening are true, these dialogues and open communication between our governments are needed more than ever.

If Australia believes that the protection and promotion of human rights is vital to global efforts to achieve lasting peace, security and dignity for all, then it is obvious that we need to voice our concern in regard to the arrest and detention of these two young activists. It should be strongly heard that there is an expectation that Vietnam honour its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Australians know the price of freedom. Freedom is not free, but it is a price that should not be paid in blood.

Source: OpenAustralia

1:42 pm


Graham PerrettGraham Perrett
Moreton, Australian Labor Party

Canberra | 17.6.2013 |

I also rise today to raise awareness of the Vietnamese government‘s abuse of human rights, and I thank the member for Fowler for putting forward the motion with regard to human rights dialogue in Vietnam. I chair the Vietnamese Ministerial Consultative Committee with the member for Fowler. We recently had a meeting in Canberra where we heard from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr; the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr O’Connor; the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform, Mr Butler and the Minister for Human Services, Senator McLucas. This is a regular issue that has been raised over the last few years.

In Queensland, there are more than 11,000 people whose country of birth was Vietnam. In my electorate, I have nearly 3,000 constituents who were born in Vietnam or who had parents born in Vietnam. This issue has regularly been raised with me, particularly because the Queensland community has been shaped so much by Vietnamese Australians. I am only going to mention this briefly because of time constraints. I do commend the motion put forward by the member for Fowler. As one of the convenors of Amnesty International, I got to take along a petition signed by many people—probably some in this room—to the Vietnamese Embassy to raise some of the concerns put forward by Vietnamese Australians, and all Australians who believe in justice for some of the goings on in Vietnam. I know that we will only change by engaging, and we have lots of opportunities as a nation, and through diplomacy, to make a change in Vietnam. I hope that it comes quickly.

I think it is the role of every Australian tourist who goes to Vietnam to raise this issue. Our economic power as tourists should be used to create change when we go to Vietnam. I know that it is difficult for the Vietnamese Australians because they have family members and contacts, and there can be pressure put to bear. As we have heard from many of the speakers previously, when you can receive 20 years in jail just for raising a legitimate concern, Vietnam is a long, long way from democracy. It will come, but it will only be through the advocacy of countries like Australia.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 13:45 to 16:00

Source: OpenAustralia