House of Representatives 22/03/2021
Mr KHALIL (Wills) (19:50): I am saddened to have to rise again in this chamber to speak on the atrocities that are occurring in Myanmar. Every day there is a new number of lives lost. At least 249 people have been ruthlessly killed for standing up for their democracy since the military took power in a coup on 1 February. Just this last weekend, protesters in some 20 places across the country staged candlelit night-time protests. They chanted: ‘Failure of the military regime: our cause, our cause. Federal democracy: our cause, our cause.’ Just as the sky was beginning to brighten, screams were heard, with people shouting, ‘Sniper! Sniper!’ before another man was shot in the head and died. He joins a 16-year-old girl who was at a friend’s home just last week and was also shot by a sniper. I don’t know their names, but if I did I would say their names in this place.
There are too many stories like this. We are compelled to hear their voices of protest. We cannot and we must not turn a blind eye. We cannot and we must not turn away from their cry for freedom. We must support the people of Myanmar, who are fighting so bravely to keep their democracy alive, because this is the battleground for democracy in the 21st century. The battle that rages on the streets of Myanmar is the frontline battle of our age between rising authoritarian military regimes and democracies.
On the weekend, Australia was absent from a statement condemning the junta’s violence against protestors. It was co-signed by ambassadors from almost a dozen democracies. Why? This is an opportunity to demonstrate strategic courage. The idea that it’s strategic realism to engage with the military junta because if we do not then China will fill the vacuum is nothing more than strategic cowardice. Australia, one of the world’s oldest continuous and successful democracies, must at least, and morally, stand with these protesters. But there must also be action. I have called publicly in this place for Australia’s military cooperation with the Tatmadaw to be suspended. Thankfully, after a month, the government made this decision. It should have been made after the first live bullets were shot at the protesters by the military.
I have called publicly for tight and targeted sanctions on the military leadership and their families. I have called for the government to offer a Hawke-style amnesty to Myanmar students already in Australia. And I now call for Australia to follow in the steps of the United Nations, the European Union and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to recognise the CRPH, the representative body of the democratically elected Myanmar MPs and the acting vice president, who is in hiding. They are the legitimate government, which was about to form a new cabinet on 1 February, the very same day of the coup. These are concrete actions that our federal government can take right now.
Myanmar’s nascent democracy has been brutally usurped by a military dictatorship. If Australia is serious about our leadership role in the region then we need to be on the front foot, working the diplomatic channels through our bilateral relationships and the multilateral architecture in the region with ASEAN countries and other democracies to lead a coordinated response and working to keep the pressure on the military junta. We need to say with one clear voice that we as an international community will not accept the military dictatorship as the legitimate government of Myanmar.
I have met with so many people from the Myanmar community in Australia—in Melbourne, here in Parliament House and at rallies. These people have broken down in tears before me, fearful for their friends and families who protest back in Myanmar for democracy to be restored.
I want the brave protesters in Myanmar and their families here to know that I stand with them. It is the least I can do. For if we, the democratically elected members of this place, will not stand up for democracy, who will? And to the foreign minister: when I next meet with these leaders in Australia, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that we have not just used words in in place but we have taken action, that the Australian government, the Australian democracy and the Australian people stand with them.