Uyghur Australians

Uyghur Australians

Speech to the House of Representatives, 23 October 2019

Tonight I rise to speak on behalf of those who are vulnerable, persecuted and separated from their loved ones. Tonight I speak for Uyghur Australians who have family and friends facing systematic persecution and internment in Xinjiang province in the People's Republic of China. But first I want to say a few words about the role of Australian investigative journalism and its importance for a free, democratic society.

As this House is aware, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is conducting an inquiry into freedom of the press. As the chair, it would be improper for me to make remarks about committee deliberations or what conclusions we might reach in our report, but I do want to say that we all agree that public interest and investigative journalism is vital to a thriving liberal democracy, particularly when it comes to national security or human rights issues.

A superb example of good investigative journalism is the July Four Corners episode 'Tell the world' by ABC reporter Sophie McNeill. The program detailed the plight and suffering of more than one million Muslim minorities who have been rounded up, detained and forcibly indoctrinated by the Chinese communist regime. Australian citizens or permanent residents have been targeted and jailed. Others are trapped under state surveillance, their passports seized. I was deeply moved by those who courageously shared their story on the program. I was moved by those who have been separated from their loved ones. I think of Sadam Abudusalamu, who is separated from his wife and child—a child he has never met in person.

These individual and personal stories helped us understand and humanise the greater tragedy that is unfolding in Xinjiang province, China. I, along with many other Australians, am very troubled by the repressive surveillance state and how the Uyghur people are being banned from practicing their religious faith and how they are being oppressively monitored in their homes, in their communities, 24/7. I am very troubled by the way that Uyghur culture and identity is being systematically assaulted, deconstructed and scrubbed out by the authorities. I am very troubled by the clear evidence of re-education camps, where one million Uyghurs have been forcibly detained and indoctrinated into communists thinking. The ABC, along with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have managed to identify 28 detention camps using satellite imagery. Most of those detained have never committed a crime. I could go on. It was a heartbreaking episode that we all needed to watch and absorb. I congratulate the ABC for running it and for the work that went into it.

Last month, I met with members of the Australian Uyghur community in my parliamentary office. That delegation was led by Nurmuhammad Majid. It was my great honour to host them and hear their personal stories. Every single one of them sitting in my office had family and friends interned or trapped in Xinjiang province. They have shown great courage and perseverance despite the tears, heartache and pain. I made a commitment to them that I would raise their plight in this House, and tonight I fulfil that commitment. I say to them: we might not see resolution soon, but we will continue to work with you and make sure your loved ones are not forgotten.

Finally, the Four Corners episode identified a range of Australian businesses that were sourcing cotton from Xinjiang province, potentially using Uyghur forced labour. Cotton On and Target Australia were two of them. Subsequent to the program, both businesses conducted internal reviews of their supply chains and have ceased sourcing cotton from Xinjiang province. I want to note the actions of Cotton On and Target Australia in this House and applaud them for the action that they have taken. Australia is a country that lives by the values of freedom and fairness, and so it is right that we acknowledge when our businesses do the right thing. I thank the House.