The Hon. DAVID CLARKE [6.20 p.m.]: The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in the closing years of the twentieth century gave great hope to those who oppose totalitarianism, dictatorship and suppression of human rights. For hundreds of millions of men, women and children to be liberated from communism after decades with such speed and with such little loss of life is, in many ways, a miracle of our times. But that spread of freedom, that advance of democracy and that demise of communism did not extend to every nation in which communism held sway. For example, it did not extend to Vietnam, where the communist regime has one of the world’s worst records of suppression of human rights. Australia has several hundred thousand citizens of Vietnamese origin who are living testament to the corrosive and brutalising human rights violations of the communist regime in Hanoi. That is why they came here in the first place. That is why they crossed perilous seas. That is why they left their possessions behind them. On the whole, they have been remarkably successful blending into the fabric of Australian life and in readily accepting the values upon which Australia thrives as a nation of freedom and democracy.
But Australia’s Vietnamese community has never forgotten that up to 80 million others cannot escape Vietnam’s communist regime—a regime that denies them political and religious rights, and a regime that is incapable of delivering them a reasonable economic existence unless, of course, you are part of the Communist Party elite, who hoard economic wealth and privilege to themselves. Anyone who has had any involvement with the Vietnamese-Australian community would know that it is totally united in working for a truly free Vietnam, which can join other free nations of the world. I pay tribute to the Vietnamese community for having achieved success in Australia without forgetting about those who languish in Vietnam. Almost two years ago I attended the launch in Sydney by some 800 Vietnamese Australians of the New South Wales Branch of the Viet Tan, or the Vietnam Reform Party, a worldwide movement dedicated to a democratic Vietnam. Today I draw the attention of the House to an event of great significance for the cause of a free Vietnam. On 8 April this year 116 citizens of Vietnam, residing in Vietnam, issued a proclamation entitled “Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam”.
Those 116 citizens represented all strata of Vietnamese society—academics, religious leaders, representatives of the professions, farmers, tradespeople and various community leaders. The proclamation is formally addressed to “All Vietnamese compatriots inland and overseas, and the world community of advocates for democracy in Vietnam”. The manifesto calls for freedom of political association and independent political parties because in today’s Vietnam all political power has been usurped by the Communist Party. It calls for genuine religious freedom because in today’s Vietnam religious freedom is a sham, regardless of whether you are a Buddhist or a Christian, or a member of any other religious faith tradition. It seeks the right of all citizens to a better life through access to economic opportunities because at present only the Communist Party elite and their sidekicks have such access. It seeks freedom of expression and freedom of the press to replace the suppression of free speech and the monopoly of all media in the hands of the Hanoi regime. Above all, it seeks democracy in Vietnam.
In the last few months thousands of others have joined the original 116 signatories to the manifesto, despite the fact that the original signatories have faced harassment and persecution. Their homes have been searched. Their mobile phones and computers have been confiscated. Frequently they have been detained for questioning. They have been forbidden from travelling abroad and, in some instances, they have been physically intimidated. Both inside and outside Vietnam support for the manifesto is escalating. Some 50 members of the United States of America Congress have signed an open letter of support. Many of the initiators of Charter 77, the declaration that ignited the freedom movement in Communist Czechoslovakia, have signed the manifesto, including former President Vaclav Havel.
Only a few weeks ago I was one of many who spoke at a rally in support of the manifesto. The rally was organised by the Vietnamese-Australian community and was held in Freeman Plaza in Cabramatta. On that occasion, together with Michael Hatton, the Federal member for Blaxland, I spoke by mobile phone to two of the original signatories who still live in Vietnam. Both Michael Hatton and I made a commitment to them that we would publicise their manifesto in Australia, and that is what I am doing today and what I will continue to do. The more the manifesto is published, the more the searchlight of a free world will focus on human rights abuses in Vietnam. The more the manifesto is promoted the more those brave dissidents in Vietnam will be encouraged, and the cause of freedom in Vietnam will grow. What a great and noble cause it is to publicise and promote the cause of a free Vietnam.