Australian citizens are being tried in a court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on faked trumped-up criminal charges of things like incitement and fermenting social disorder.
Federation Chamber - 16 February, 2021
Today, Australian citizens are being tried in a court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. These include a number of my constituents and two of my friends. They've been charged with fake, trumped-up charges, criminal charges, for things like incitement and fomenting social disorder—or at least that's what we think they've been charged with.
We don't actually know, because the only reports have come second and third hand of these charges and the only notification appears to be a piece of paper that was nailed on the office of a banned political party in Cambodia. I do know, through a series of pressures and adventures now in the last couple of months, that the Australian ambassador has spoken directly with the minister for justice in Cambodia about these charges. But they won't give details of what these charges are because, apparently, they say you have to appoint a lawyer to go to the court—which has other issues that I will get to.
These people of course are not actually in Cambodia. They're safe here in Australia and, in most cases, they haven't been to Cambodia for years or decades. It includes Hong Lim, who served for 20 years as a Victorian state member of parliament and retired at the last election, Hemara In and others I know—and others around Australia whom I haven't met but have heard of.
Why is this happening? It's an authoritarian tactic by authoritarian governments to try and silence dissent and criticism of their regimes and human rights abuses overseas. In this case, it's being perpetrated by Hun Sen's gangster regime. It's not unique, DFAT told me. I asked them that. I thought, 'Oh, well, maybe there are authoritarian conferences where dictators go and have workshops and give PowerPoint presentations to each other and swap tactics and techniques.' We wouldn't be invited of course. But it's now happening. Hun Sen's doing this little trick to hundreds of people across the world—in America, Europe, across the world; anywhere where people speak up for human rights and democracy. They're targeting people just for speaking up in support of those values, to try and shut down criticism in the diaspora communities. It's part of a deliberate strategy of foreign interference, which I'll get to.
In a sense, it's ridiculous. It's a kangaroo court. It's silly. It's a foregone conclusion what will happen. They'll be found guilty and sentenced to jail and have ridiculous fines imposed on them which they'll never pay. But there are serious consequences for the people affected, because, if that sticks, they will need to declare a criminal record when they travel to places, which will complicate their ability to travel to the United States and other places. More importantly perhaps, if these fake crimes stick, it will restrict the ability of Australian citizens to travel to many places in South-East Asia that might have extradition treaties with Cambodia. Australia, I think, only has a treaty around sex crimes and so on. It doesn't cover these sorts of ridiculous offences that are not recognised in Australian law.
This is a political issue. It's not a legal issue; it's a political issue. I expect, and these Australian citizens expect, the elected government of Australia—Labor, Liberal or whatever they want to call themselves—to actually do their job and speak out and push back. This is foreign interference. It's an attempt to silence dissent and to restrict the ability of Australian citizens to speak up here in Australia in support of democracy and human rights—values which I think everyone in this place shares. It's political; not legal. As the member for Maribyrnong said yesterday, though, what we have in this government is a backbench of lions led by donkeys on the frontbench. The foreign minister has said nothing. We've written, we've raised it with DFAT and I've met with her office—to their credit, we had a good briefing with DFAT, though I won't talk about what happened in that briefing—but there's still nothing. There's silence.
I will use the words of Hong Lim. He was given a list of lawyers by the government and he's taken advice and he's concluded, I think rightly, that to get a lawyer is 'tantamount to accepting Phnom Penh court's jurisdiction and legality' over this case. He went on: 'This is very much a political show trial that needs a political response in kind by the Australian government. With or without my lawyer's presence'—as happened in the case on 10 February; another case—'this kangaroo court will appoint a lawyer' on his behalf and 'the lawyer then will plead guilty and beg the court for leniency and the court will sentence me to a number of years in jail and impose a heavy fine of around US$500,000.'
It's not good enough from the Australian government and the disappearing foreign minister. I say 'disappearing' because she was last seen, I think, in the seat of Gilmore, and, when the Labor MP turned up to the announcement of the infrastructure, the foreign minister literally ran away. She got in her car and drove back to Sydney and went: 'Well, that's not happening.' It's not good enough. I thought, 'Well, that's the last we'll hear from the foreign minister for the next three months.' She does not speak up. It's a good thing the Australian ambassador has taken this up, but this is a political issue. The government not only must just speak up but also needs to push back and work with like-minded countries. This is happening to other countries around the world. Why are we not coordinating with other countries where this is happening to their citizens?
The US congress, the US government, have spoken up. We should at the very least expect our embassy to be at every trial. They can't represent people in foreign countries, but they should be at every trial. They should be making statements publicly. We expect more. We should also be talking to all the countries in the world who have extradition treaties with Cambodia, getting agreements that they will not pay any attention to these fake charges, so that our citizens can still travel freely and can speak their mind. We always hear from the backbench when there's foreign interference and so on in other matters, from other countries. Where are their voices on Cambodia?
But this latest tactic sits in a distinct context. We've seen for the past five years a concerted strategy, which was exposed in a fantastic article released overnight, by Jack Davies, an investigative journalist from Radio Free Asia. It is little listened to in Australia, but often in South-East Asian countries and many places it is the only voice for democracy that gets through to people through the censors. It's a terrific article that exposes shocking statistics about the extent of foreign interference by Hun Sen's CPP and the regime in Australia—tens of millions of dollars worth of property being purchased in the capital cities. As Kem Monovithya, the daughter of the jailed opposition leader, says, 'Australia is the number one destination for Cambodia's thugs.' We have to question where the dollars are coming from, but it's pretty clear to everyone observing this that tens of millions of dollars gained from corruption and serious human rights abuses are being used to buy property and find safe haven in Western countries. That's not on.
The article quite aptly describes Hun Sen's regime—I've previously called it a gangster regime—as 'Hun Inc': Hun Manet, Hun To, all the family, all the crony connections, raping and pillaging money out of the Cambodian people. And it's shameful that this stuff is being used to buy luxury apartments and businesses, not only in my electorate but also in Sydney. In 2016 the son of the land management minister, Chea Sophara, purchased an $11 million house in Sydney, in one of the most exclusive suburbs. Where did the money come from? Clearly, if you trace this back, it's from human rights abuses and corruption. It's been well documented.
The government needs to speak out and do something about this. I hope the parliament will soon introduce laws around Magnitsky sanctions. That was signed off in a bipartisan way by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. It should allow targeted sanctions of people. But there are anti-money-laundering laws now. I put some questions on notice to ministers last year. We got a response last week—a nonanswer. They picked on a word in my question, like childish schoolchildren, to avoid answering it. They can't even bring themselves to say: 'Yes, we're aware of these concerns. We will refer them to Austrac. We will refer them to ASIC. We will get the responsible agencies to look at them.' They're like a bunch of children, not a government. This is a serious issue. It's affecting Australian citizens. They're about to be charged or jailed in absentia in foreign countries, and the foreign minister has said nothing.
Of course, if it were a different country, a larger country that started with C, you can imagine the queue of government backbenchers out there to beat their chests and bleat, to carry on about foreign interference and freedom of speech—often quite rightly so. Where's the government when it's a smaller country but it still affects Australians? It's just not good enough—the running-away foreign minister.
In the last minute or so that I have, I want to put on the record and call out the Morrison government's failings in managing quarantine. Right now seven million Victorians, my fellow state citizens, are in lockdown. In the past three months every one of Australia's five biggest cities has had an outbreak from hotel quarantine. If you look in the Constitution, quarantine is a Commonwealth responsibility. The Commonwealth has always managed quarantine for people coming over the borders—always. You wouldn't find a politician in this place who's banged on more than the Prime Minister about managing the borders—'We're going to turn back the boats,' he said, on the borders. He's tough on borders.
Well, when it comes to 41,000 stranded Australians, he turns his back on them. He won't take responsibility. He wants to blame the state premiers for everything that goes on. He won't take responsibility. For months he's had on his desk a report that says 'National Standards', 'National Workforce Quarantine', 'National Standards for PPE', 'Training.' It's way past time that he actually acted. The health and the economy of Australia depend on it. You can't just blame the state premiers. You need to take responsibility for what is rightly yours in the Constitution—quarantine.