Citing the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong, which is now subject to national security laws that could be used to arrest prominent pro-democracy figures, Senator Ciccone said Australia needed to do more to stand up for human rights.
Senator Ciccone’s comments are in sharp contrast to some of his Labor colleagues including federal frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon and Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas, who hit out at the Morrison government for putting the trade relationship with China at risk by pushing for an independent global review into the coronavirus.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’s decision to continue his government’s agreement with China under the Belt and Road Initiative has also angered federal Labor MPs.
While insisting China remained a friend of Australia, Senator Ciccone said Australia had an obligation to speak up in defence of human rights wherever they are being abused and “must expect better from our friends, we must demand better of ourselves”.
“The world has watched on in disbelief at the current situation in Hong Kong, where a people who value freedom and democracy have seen this increasingly taken from their reach,” he said.
“In China the ruling Communist Party routinely suppresses the rights of Chinese to participate in decisions about their nation’s future, it suppresses their rights to speak freely, to worship freely, to organise and to assemble.
“For many years the sheer scale of this has been hidden behind a carefully constructed curtain of disinformation and secrecy but now, as it erupts onto the streets of Hong Kong, we see it live in our homes.”
Senator Ciccone said Australia must diversify its trade relationships away from China “for the sake of our exporters of goods and services”.
“Those who struggle for their freedom should know that they have a steadfast ally in Australia, and those who face persecution in Hong Kong, a place with whom we share enduring values and ties through the Commonwealth of Nations, should not be denied refuge in Australia where their rights will be respected and upheld,” he said.
“I have hope that these times are but temporary. I have hope that the Communist Party will come to see that respect for human rights serves as an asset for the development of any country rather than a hindrance.
“But until that time comes, we must realise that our commitment to the advancement of human rights cannot be divorced from our trade relationships and that while this may not always be the most convenient choice, it is indeed the right one.”
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.