Federation Chamber 24/06/2021
Mr KHALIL (Wills) (10:30): The government have been woeful in their response to the Tatmadaw, the military junta, the perpetrators of Myanmar’s coup on 1 February. Australia is one of the world’s oldest democracies and a middle power in the Indo-Pacific region. We have a responsibility and it is in our national interest to stand up and defend democracy. I have called for Australia to act. There is more we can do. Our allies are taking action. The US, the UK, Canada and the EU have leveraged their relevant Magnitsky laws to sanction a total of 38 individuals and 17 entities, all targeted at military leaders and their business interests, yet what have the Australian Prime Minister and foreign minister done? There have been zero sanctions from Australia. Yes, we restricted the sales of arms to Myanmar and we’ve also suspended—belatedly—the military cooperation agreement that we had with Myanmar, but it was only six weeks after the first live bullets were fired at democracy protesters.
Now, I know the Prime Minister is out of his depth on foreign relations and still hasn’t mastered his brief after three years, so I’ll make this easy for him. I’ll outline exactly what he needs to do to put in place sanctions. Australia can immediately impose sanctions on individuals, including Myanmar’s military leaders, through section 6 of the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011. Australia can also sanction entities, although it will take a little bit longer because the government would need to amend the regulations. We could enact sanctions very swiftly if the government weren’t dragging their feet on legislating effective Magnitsky laws as recommended by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade last year.
Last week, the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the Myanmar coup. Australia voted in support of the motion, and I welcome this, but Australia did no more than that. Twenty-five countries spoke about their position on Myanmar in the UN General Assembly. Australia was not one of them. Of course, some will argue that the UN General Assembly is symbolic only, but moments like this signal to the rest of the world where Australia stands.
Speaking up for democracy matters. Using our diplomacy matters. The Prime Minister made these very points in his G7 speech, but the rhetoric and the fine words must be backed up with substantive actions. Australia should be a leading voice for democracy in our region on this issue because it is the front-line battle between democracy and authoritarian regimes. It’s an issue that will shape the geostrategic map this century and, despite some fine words, Australia is missing in action.