Chile: Human Rights


Peter Khalil: I move:

That this House:

(1) notes with concern the ongoing violence and political instability in Chile, driven by rising economic inequality;

(2) condemns the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and calls on all parties to refrain from violence;

(3) recognises the importance and right to peaceful protest in any democracy and condemns the use of violence to repress the democratic right of Chilean citizens to protest;

(4) calls on the Chilean Government to include all parties, namely, civil society, unions and indigenous peoples in addition to business leaders in the process for drafting a new constitution;

(5) encourages the work of the Chilean National Human Rights Institute and authorities to investigate human rights abuses and hold those responsible to account; and

(6) calls on Australian companies that do business in Chile to play a constructive role in the solution to end the political instability.

I rise today to speak in solidarity with so many Chilean Australians in moving a motion on this issue. The instability that has been occurring in Chile since October last year, initially over a rise in metro fares, has since spiralled out of control over the decision to call in riot police and the national army in response. As independent observers, we’ve seen violent and repressive responses to peaceful protests by Chileans standing up for something as basic as public transport fares, standing up for the right for all Chileans to fair wages, standing up for the right to a pension, standing up for the right to make basic cost of living, standing up for the fundamentally fair and more equal distribution of their nation’s economic wealth.

Since I was first elected in 2016 as the member for Wills, I’ve spoken in this place in support of many fundamental rights—human rights and democratic freedoms—for many different peoples across the globe, whether it be the Rohingya, the Kurds, the Somalis, the Uygur more recently and the Baha’i. It was heartbreaking to hear the distressing accounts of police crackdowns on protesters in Chile, many of whom have family and friends here in Australia, who’ve relayed their concerns to me. These protestors are on the streets because it costs a third of their wage to catch a bus, and wages aren’t going anywhere. It’s not right in a wealthy country like Chile that the government would turn to a violent response to peaceful protest. It is a fundamental right to have peaceful protest, and that should never be violated by a violent response. We need to call that out, and that’s why I decided to move this motion.

I know that, for many Chilean Australians and many Chileans, what’s happening in Chile right now must be a very terrifying reminder of the violence that they themselves or their parents and grandparents fled from during the Pinochet regime. I’m here in solidarity with them. In the past, former Labor governments—under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam through to Prime Minister Hawke—have supported refugees who fled the Pinochet and other regimes in Latin America throughout the 1970s and 1980s. We’re here in parliament to say we support our Chilean Australian brothers and sisters. And I’m here to say we’ll speak for them in solidarity with them. As a democracy and country that values human rights, and as a Labor Party that fights for those rights, we have a responsibility, as good international citizens, to speak out against violent actions, to hold governments to account and to play a positive role on the global stage. If we don’t, who will?

If you look at the situation in Chile, the protesters have every right to go out there and speak their minds about the injustice they’re facing. One per cent of Chileans who are the richest have 33 per cent of the wealth. We recognise with concern that this peaceful protest, driven by the rise in economic inequality, is being met with ongoing violence and political repression. This is a country that has had steady economic growth of something like five per cent, on average, for two decades. But most of that wealth hasn’t gone down to the people. It hasn’t been distributed fairly at all. It has been concentrated amongst the one per cent, the wealthiest.

We are here to condemn the fact that peaceful protesters in Chile are being subject to detention, persecution, torture and killings. We emphasise the importance of peaceful protest in any democracy around the world and condemn those actions by the government in using violence and aggression to repress the right of Chilean citizens to express themselves through freedom of association and freedom of their own speech. I ask as well that the Australian government call on the Chilean government to include all parties, including civil society, unions, Indigenous peoples and business leaders, in the process which is being undertaken for the new constitution. I encourage the work of the Chilean National Human Rights Institute and of authorities investigating human rights abuses and holding those responsible to account.

The many Australian companies that do business in Chile—there are over 100—have a role to play as well. They should be held to account and should play a part in the solution for the future of Chile. It’s also very important that we remain resilient and strong for our brothers and sisters who remain in Chile and that we stand in solidarity with Chilean Australians.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Bird): I thank the member.