Thursday, 25 June 2009 SENATE 55 CHAMBER
China: Human Rights
Senator BOB BROWN (2.19 pm)—My question, with almost no notice, is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the plight of the famed Chinese democrat Liu Xiaobo, who is coauthor of the Charter 08 declaration, which calls for freedom, civil rights and human decency in China. He has been under arrest for six months and has now been formally arrested and charged with trying to spread rumours, subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialist system. I ask the government: will it make a stand for Liu Xiaobo and democracy in China? What representations have been made to the government about the plight of this extraordinarily courageous advocate for democracy in China and what news can be given to the Senate about the plight of this great and noble person?
Senator FAULKNER—I thank Senator Brown for his question. Certainly I can say to Senator Brown— through you, Mr President—that I am aware, as is the government of course, of the reports that China has now confirmed the arrest of the internationally acclaimed author Liu Xiaobo on grounds of subversion. I can certainly say to the Senate that Australia again calls for his release. The Australian government encourages China to address the concerns raised by the authors of Charter 08. I can also assure the Senate, and Senator Brown particularly, that the government will continue to make representations to China on the detention of Charter 08 signatories and others who were exercising internationally recognised liberties including freedom of speech.
Australia will continue to engage frankly with China on questions of human rights, including higher level meetings through the Australia-China Human Rights Dialogue. I say also, as I think I have said before, that we believe the best way to encourage China to make further progress on human rights issues is through those channels, and the government has encouraged that as opposed to—(Time expired)
Senator BOB BROWN—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask Senator Faulkner at what level the contact has been made with China. Has, indeed, the Prime Minister rung his counterpart in China and spoken in Mandarin about the plight of Liu Xiaobo? If not, will he? If not, at what level is the contact? Is it simply going to be at official-to-official level, as we have so often seen with Australian governments, that this contact will be made? Finally, I ask: why did the government not support the Greens’ motion in this place two weeks ago condemning Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and detention? Does the government not think that was some sort of comfort to the Beijing authorities, who now have him up on these charges?
Senator FAULKNER—Senator Brown, I am unable specifically to answer your question that goes to the level of contact. I can only seek some advice on that for you. I certainly can say more generally to you—and I hope this assists you—that the Australian government regularly raises its concerns on human rights and does so directly with China’s leaders. I know that, for example, the Minister for Foreign Affairs raised our human rights concerns with Foreign Minister
Yang Jiechi in March this year during the Australian foreign minister’s visit to Beijing; I know he raised those concerns with Mr Yang in February and July 2008; and I know the Prime Minister raised human rights concerns in his meetings with Chinese leaders in April this year and in April and August of last year.
Senator BOB BROWN—Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Many Australians will laud the Australian government for having called in the representative of Iran over the current actions in that country in repressing democracy. I ask the minister— through you, Chair—whether the government will consider calling in the ambassador from China to seek an explanation and to express Australia’s position on the arrest of Liu Xiaobo and the obviously fraught position that this great man now faces in China.
Senator FAULKNER—I think I have indicated a strong statement of concern on behalf of the government.
I will need to check for Senator Brown what the immediate plans are in relation to the specific question that he raises, but I can assure you that the government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continue to raise concerns about human rights issues with representatives in Canberra and Beijing. I will need to seek some further advice for you, Senator Brown, on the specific issue you have raised and, if I am able to get some information soon, I am very happy to certainly provide it to you at the earliest available opportunity.
China: Human Rights
Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales—Minister for Defence) (3.04 pm)—I want to respond to some elements of the supplementary questions that Senator Bob Brown asked me in question time today.
I have sought some advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It may be recalled that Senator Brown asked me at what level representations were made regarding the arrest of Liu Xiaobo. I can indicate to Senator Brown that these were made through our Beijing embassy to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initially at councillor and first secretary level, and subsequently followed up on several occasions at councillor and first secretary level.
I have also been advised, in response to the question raised by Senator Brown in relation to calling in the Chinese ambassador, that the answer at this stage is no. The government considers the most appropriate avenue on this occasion will be through diplomatic channels in China, registering our concerns directly with the Chinese authorities in Beijing.
I had intended also in my answer, but did not have enough time available to me, to address another issue that Senator Brown raised, which went to the question of a previous resolution of the Senate.
I was going to indicate to the Senate, if I had had enough time, that I have made on very many occasions, perhaps some would say on far too many occasions, some comments about how foreign affairs motions are dealt with in the Senate—that they are blunt instruments. I do want to reinforce the fact that the government is very happy to work with all parties, particularly minor parties, on notices of motion of this nature.
I know that Senator Brown and others in the Australian Greens move a lot of notices of motion. But, as I have said consistently now, both in opposition and in government, the government takes the view that, because they are such blunt instruments and there is an opportunity only to vote either in favour of them or against them, the government can only support a motion which it supports in its entirety. In other words, the government takes the view that it needs to be completely satisfied with the content of any motion.
I know Senator Brown is aware of this, but it was another issue that he raised in his question and, now that I am on my feet, I did not want to leave that issue unanswered or in abeyance, given that I sought some immediate advice on those other elements of the question he asked. Also, this was the motion that the Greens put to the Senate and the resulting vote:
Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania) (Leader of the Australian Greens) (3:50 PM) —I move: That the Senate—
(a) remembers the thousands of people who were killed 20 years ago on 4 June 1989 in the Tiananmen Square massacre;
(b)supports the pro-democracy and pro-human rights principles outlined in Charter 08, which has been written by prominent Chinese academics and activists; and
(c)condemns the detention and interrogation of signatories to the Charter 08 by Chinese authorities, including the continued detention of acclaimed author Liu Xiaobo.
The Senate divided.
(The Acting Deputy President—Senator GM Marshall)
DIVISION:NOES 37 (31 majority) AYES 6 PAIRS 0
Brown, B.J. Fielding, S.
Hanson-Young, S.C. Milne, C.
Siewert, R. Xenophon, N.
Adams, J. Arbib, M.V.
Back, C.J. Barnett, G.
Bilyk, C.L. Bishop, T.M.
Boyce, S. Brown, C.L.
Bushby, D.C. Cameron, D.N.
Colbeck, R. Collins, J.
Farrell, D.E. Feeney, D.
Fisher, M.J. Heffernan, W.
Hurley, A. Hutchins, S.P.
Joyce, B. Kroger, H.
Ludwig, J.W. Lundy, K.A.
Marshall, G. McEwen, A.
McGauran, J.J.J. McLucas, J.E.
Moore, C. Nash, F.
O’Brien, K.W.K. Parry, S.
Pratt, L.C. Ronaldson, M.
Sterle, G. Troeth, J.M.
Trood, R.B. Williams, J.R.