Sep 4, 2017

Human Rights Abuses in Cambodia Speech – 4 Sept 2017

I commend the motion put forward by the member for McMahon and the contribution by the member for Bruce, who I know is a passionate advocate on behalf of the Cambodian community here and in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, along with the member for Hotham and the member for Isaacs. I too note the significant contribution that Cambodian Australians have made to our community, because they really have been one of the success stories of Australia’s multiculturalism. It has been mentioned previously that my predecessor, Gareth Evans, had some significant role in the Cambodian community and the difficulties that arose out of the killing fields of the Pol Pot regime. I refer to the motion, which states:

… between 1975 and 1986, over 12,000 Cambodians were settled in Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program after being forced to flee their homeland by the Khmer Rouge;

In the four years—and it’s important in this debate to recall the context—that the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century. The barbaric Khmer Rouge regime in power in that period of time claimed the lives of up to two million people. According to the BBC, under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside. But this horrific attempt at social engineering had enormous cost. Many families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork. That’s important to reflect upon, particularly given the current concerns of the Cambodian community here in this country.

I pay tribute to the former member for Holt, Gareth Evans. As many in this House will know, he played a significant role in the political settlement of this conflict. As foreign minister, he helped secure the 1991 Paris peace accord, which ultimately resulted in direct involvement by the United Nations in the civil administration of Cambodia during the transition period.

Given that history, particularly of my most illustrious predecessor, it is of grave concern to see the recent actions of the Cambodian government. In recent years, the local Cambodian Australian community, including the Cambodian Australian Federation, in Springvale, along with Gareth Evans and many others who have taken an enduring interest in and focus on the future of the Cambodian state, have voiced concerns about increasing human rights abuses and the attack on free speech. For example, the Cambodian community is very concerned about Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s assault on government critics, which has intensified since May 2015. The Cambodia Daily newspaper, a frequent critic of the government, has been forced to close down recently. An incredibly disturbing development occurred last year with the assassination of political activist Kem Ley, which caused deep concern and anguish amongst the Cambodian community in my region. Most recently, the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, has been taken into custody by around 100 police. The accusation is treason.

On Saturday, 9 September, the Cambodian Association of Victoria, under the leadership of President Youhorn Chea, will be leading a protest at the Springvale Town Hall condemning the Cambodian government’s recent actions of suppressing dissenting voices in Cambodia and, importantly, particularly given Gareth Evans’s involvement, failing to fulfil commitments as a party to the 1991 Paris peace accord. I know that many members of the Cambodian Australian community as well as the broader community will be in attendance to support this particular action.

We have been blessed with the contributions made by important figures within the Cambodian community in my time in politics. For example, Victoria has been incredibly well represented by Hong Lim, the Victorian state member for Clarinda. He’s obviously of Cambodian-Chinese descent. He’s been a member for 21 years. Hong was the first and only Chinese Cambodian to be elected to a parliament anywhere in the English-speaking world and has served the community very well. Councillor Youhorn Chea was the first Cambodian mayor when he was the Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. We now have Councillor Heang Tak, from the Paperbark Ward, who has also been Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong. Their contribution to this country has been amazing and fulfilling. They are one of Australia’s great multicultural success stories. We need to do what we can, as we are with this motion by the member for McMahon, in supporting them with their concerns about what is happening in Cambodia today.


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