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Memoranda of Understanding Tasmanian and Chinese Governments

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Tags: Antarctica, Chinese Communist Party, Facial Recognition, Foreign Influence, ASIO, Taiwan

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -


That the House orders the Premier to lay upon the Table of the House a copy of each Memorandum of Understanding between the Chinese Government, or Chinese Government controlled entities, and the state of Tasmania or Tasmanian state entities, since March 2014 on or before 27 September 2018.


We have the implacable view that the House and therefore the people of Tasmania should be able to see the detail and the content of any memorandum of understanding signed between the State of Tasmania or its entities and the Chinese Government and its entities. I understand the Acting Premier will be putting forward some amendments which would weaken our motion.

This is a simple matter of transparency. If the Premier of Tasmania or any other minister or the chair of a government business enterprise signs an agreement with any government, that agreement should be made public. In the context of the current debate, there is a heightened level of awareness in the community about the foreign influence operations being undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party and its propaganda arm, the United Front Work Group. If people think this sounds like something out of a fantasy film, they need to look at the evidence that has been presented to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which details comprehensively the influence campaigns and propaganda work of the Chinese Communist Party in Australia. It lays out the member organisations of the United Front Working Group, which is the primary entity in China and around the world that spreads the message of the benign intentions of Xi Jinping's Chinese government.

For anyone interested in educating themselves on these issues, those submissions are available on the Parliament of Australia website. They should be read by members in this place because you would have to have your head deep in the sand not to acknowledge that the Chinese government has taken a very acute interest in this island, its resources and its geographical proximity to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

We believe it is time that the people of Tasmania were given access to the memoranda of understanding and that they be tabled in the parliament. The reason we felt we had to bring this on as a motion is that in the last term of parliament no memoranda of understanding that was signed on any one of the numerous delegations that were sent to China by the Liberals in government was made public. Indeed I recall that we requested them and in relation to the MOU between Hydro Tasmania and Entura, I lodged a right to information request on behalf of the Greens. The head of Hydro, rather than provide that information in hard copy form to us to retain, brought a delegation down to brief us on the content of the MOU with Entura, which gave majority control to a Chinese state-owned energy entity.

This should not have to be like pulling teeth. These are agreements that are signed for and on behalf of the people of Tasmania by the Premier of Tasmania. It is a legitimate question and a matter of public interest that we should know what the Premier of Tasmania or the head of Hydro, or indeed the Vice-Chancellor of UTAS as the case may be, is signing up to for and on behalf of the people of Tasmania.

There are many positives that can come out of a shared agreement or memorandum of understanding between two parties who have mutually beneficial goals and who are working in the public interest. It can increase cooperation and collaboration in areas of science. It can deepen dialogue and understanding between nations and between institutions. We acknowledge that they can be very important and positive documents. We are not saying that every MOU that has been signed is something to be concerned about, all we are saying is let us see them.

We have a heightened awareness of how secretive this Government is. We still do not have information on the developers who want to exploit the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and indeed, as was revealed in the Mercury late last week, proponents who want to get into the World Heritage Area or other protected areas or public lands are legally required not to talk about their proposals without the approval of a government minister. We are talking about public assets here, public places - the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Tasman National Park and Crown lands all around this island - and a private developer-

driven expressions of interest process which is being conducted entirely behind closed doors, entirely without scrutiny, transparency or any measure of accountability.

The issue with the MOUs sits alongside those concerns we have about how secretive and arrogant the Liberals became once they got their hands on the levers. We see it through the abuse of the Right to Information Act 2009, where ministers knowingly delegate decisions in a manner that they are certain will obstruct internal review mechanisms and therefore referral to the Ombudsman and review by the Ombudsman.

We have another example of it in budget Estimates this year when it became clear that the Minister for State Growth had delegated to the secretary of State Growth, a decision about whether or not to release information on one of the expressions of interest for developments inside the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, despite the fact the Greens raised this loophole in the act. It was only revealed as a loophole because it was being so mercilessly exploited by Liberal Government ministers.

Three years ago we started asking these questions about abuse of the Right to Information Act. Three years ago across the Estimates table the Premier said they would not be doing that anymore. That is certainly the strong indication he gave. Then in Estimates this year, we see that they have done it again to hide from scrutiny and to deny the people of Tasmania, who put us all here, who pay our wages, an understanding of what of their public assets and treasured places are being hawked by the Liberals in government. There is a flavour to this whole Government which raises alarm with us because they are secretive by nature.

I do not know if anyone saw Foreign Correspondent last night. If you did, you will be as horrified as my children and I were, and if you did not see it, I recommend you watch it on ABC iView. Phillip Williams, who is one of the ABC's most outstanding correspondents, put together an extraordinarily powerful documentary piece for Foreign Correspondent which examined the surveillance state that is modern China. He spoke to Chinese people who are now being rated through a social credit system that is gradually being rolled out. It determines their rating, whether or not they will be allowed to travel, and what kind of jobs they will be able to apply for. One of the gentlemen Phillip Williams interviewed last night was very brave. I have thought about him a lot today. This courageous Chinese journalist spoke to the ABC about what has happened to his life. Because he is a good journalist and he investigated corruption within the CCP, his entire life is restricted; he is essentially under house arrest. He cannot access social media; he is blacklisted by the CPP; he is watched and he is subject to facial recognition technology. His life is broken, Madam Speaker.

Phillip Williams then went into Jinjiang province which, according to Human Rights Watch and the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, has become a mass concentration camp for more than 1 million Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims in a region of northern China known formerly as East Turkestan, until the CPP came to power in 1949. There are some 13 million souls suffering there under a surveillance state. The images of cameras arrayed across every available surface, of people who are having their phones searched; of a broken people. That is the reason we are raising concerns in this place about the activities of the Chinese government.

Liberal ministers, particularly the Treasurer who this morning was quite vile in his language, can bandy around words like xenophobia and racism. It is like water off a duck's back because they are the talking points of the Chinese Communist Party, the United Front Work Department.

It is clear that it shuts down legitimate criticism of the influence operations of the Chinese Communist Government, of the way it is conducting itself in the South China Sea, in the South Pacific region, in Africa. When legitimate criticisms are raised about this ham-fisted debt diplomacy, the word 'xenophobia' comes out first. Racism is an easy word to throw around and it has worked to shut down debate in part.

No-one who cares about people and believes in the diversity of the human species wants to be called a racist or a xenophobe, but these are matters of national security and the way the Chinese Government is conducting itself in the world at the moment is raising hackles right around the planet.

In Sri Lanka there are protests because the Chinese Government lent so much money to the Sri Lankan Government they cannot pay it back. There is a question over who will own the port in the end.

All through the Pacific region, countries like Tonga, Samoa, poor nations, vast sums of money have been lent to build important infrastructure creating debts they cannot repay. The Chinese Government is getting these small countries into debt traps and is throwing its weight around in the region. It is bullying small countries.

It is not only bullying small countries though. It is bullying in universities. It is trying to shutdown academic discourse, to some effect. It is bullying in the markets where it is saying to airline companies, for example, if you refer to Taiwan as Taiwan and not as Chinese Taipei, we will tell Chinese citizens not to visit your country.

Qantas buckled on this one. Certainly Google has buckled. In China, when you go into the Google search engine, the special Chinese Google search engine, it is on the map as Chinese Taipei but we all know in this place that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign democracy.

We are concerned about the increasingly close, unhealthy and opaque relationship between the Tasmanian Government and the Chinese Communist Government. It is a matter of concern that the Tasmanian Government has not sent a trade delegation, for example, to Taiwan, our second biggest trading partner in living memory. What is that about? It is about fear.

This is not a relationship of equals between the Tasmanian Government and the Chinese Government. It is not a relationship of mutual respect. It could not possibly be, when we are such toadies to the CCP. When we send trade delegations, publicly funded, elected representatives to China like on a conveyor belt, every year. One, two or three delegations head over, yet we ignore Taiwan.

When you read, for example, deep strategic thinkers like Dr Rory Medcalf from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute [?], he reinforces the importance of having a mutually respectful relationship with the Chinese Government. Not being toadies, not going over there and hawking our public assets, not for example taking over an esky full of Antarctic ice, which is what I understand the Premier did on this trip.

Mr Rockliff - What?

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes. China has four and-a-half bases in Antarctica circling the continent in the areas of highest mineral prospectivity and our Premier on this trip took over an esky full of Antarctic ice. Tragic. They do laugh at us. They would be laughing at us because we have rolled over so comprehensively and the Treasurer, and I have heard the Deputy Premier and the Premier say it too, they run the CCP's talking points. Well, you do. Mr Rockliff you can faux laugh.

Mr Rockliff - I do not have access to the talking points.

Ms O'CONNOR - You can, but any even superficial assessment of the advice of strategic analysts will tell you that is true, Mr Rockliff.

It is clear there is enough, in fact there have been researchers working on the operations of the United Front work group for more than a decade and of course some of those researchers will be members of Chinese/Australian community, many of whom are terrified of the increasing aggression of the CCP under President Xi. But there are researchers who have been able to access key documents and translate them from the United Front work group and its various arms.

That body of evidence which is incontrovertible tells us that it is a clear rebuttal to criticism of the human rights abuses and the authoritarianism and the racism of the CCP to use the words 'racist' and 'xenophobia' towards critics of the regime. That is the talking point of the United Front work group. That is what they are doing to shut down legitimate criticism.

What struck me profoundly from all that I have investigated this issue and after reading Clive Hamilton's book and obtaining information from strategic experts and academics is there seems to be a world of difference between the Australian Government's position on foreign influence and interference coming out of the CCP and the Tasmanian Government's position. Again, if you listen to the strategic analysts they will tell you this is exactly what the CCP does. It picks off small island nations; it picks off weak, fragile or emerging economies. It uses the charm offensive and it creates vassal states. That is the risk here. That is because there is such an enthusiasm without question for growing the relationship with the Chinese Government that we are blind to how we are being played.

To be honest this debate is no fun for Dr Woodruff and me. We are not having a good time. It would be much easier to get up in here and talk about the environment, parks, and forests. It is very difficult. I am not saying that for sympathy. I am explaining this is not a choice to raise these issues that we have made lightly but we regard it as our responsibility to the people of Tasmania. It is our imperative to defend this island from threat - domestic and foreign - and we do our research. We speak to the experts. We listen to people who are within the Chinese Tasmanian community and the Chinese Australian community who are as confronted by the contemporary reality of China under President Xi as we are. That is a very important constituency that is ignored by people like the Treasurer when he accuses us of xenophobia for raising concerns about the activities of the Chinese government in Tasmania and in Australia. He is completely forgetting Chinese Tasmanians and Chinese Australians who know exactly what the threat is, people who came to this country to escape the oppressiveness of the CCP and who still live in fear, particularly if they have family back in China.

This glib, dismissive and dangerous response we get from the Liberal Government on this issue is doing Tasmania a disservice and it is doing Chinese Tasmanians a disservice. It is doing our Chinese Tasmanian community a terrible disservice pretending every person in the Chinese Tasmanian community wholeheartedly backs the CCP. They do not because it is in human DNA to strive for freedom and social justice. That is why thinking people and good people, informed people around the world in Australia and in Tasmania will speak truth to power. We will name up this authoritarian, racist, surveillance state. We will name up the United Front work group which, I remind the House, organised the launch of the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China in our Parliament House last year. That is brazen. The Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China is an identified arm of the United Front work group which is identified by itself as the propaganda arm of the CCP.

How foolish are we? We are sleepwalking into a very unbalanced relationship. As a parliament, we allowed the United Front work group to launch the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China in our Parliament House even though Taiwan is our second biggest trading partner and, like us, is a sovereign island democracy. That entity which launched here, down in the reception room last year, does not respect Taiwan's independence. Yet we let them launch their chapter here. There is a connection between the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Unification of China and the Liberal Party. The national chair of the council is Liberal Party donor, Mr Huang Xiangmo, an Australian citizen of Chinese birth who is identified by ASIO as being very closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party. When ASIO made that statement, it was in a briefing to the federal Liberal and Labor parties about the danger of accepting money from Mr Xiangmo and his Yuhu group of companies. Yet, not more than six months later the Tasmanian Liberal Party accepted $30 000 from the Yuhu group of companies and Jade Fisheries, owned by Mr Huang Xiangmo.

We should not be surprised that permission was granted for a propaganda unit of the United Front to launch itself in our parliament but we should be appalled. This is a sovereign democracy we live in. This parliament is the great symbol of our democratic freedoms, for all its dysfunction. We are here because we were voted into this place to represent communities on the basis of the values and the policies we hold. We are democratically elected into this parliament and our greatest responsibility always is to the people of this island, and it is selling out the people of this island to suck up to an authoritarian, racist surveillance state.

When I was watching Foreign Correspondent last night with Jasper and Stella I was just horrified by what is happening to those people. I thought, 'Our Premier's over there pretending everything is fine in China', because what matters more is money. It apparently matters more than the human rights of the Han Chinese who are being surveilled and the Uyghur and the Kazakhs who are being oppressed and subjected to cultural genocide. They cannot speak their own language or practice their faith. There are reports coming out of Human Rights Watch of Uyghur women being forcibly married to Han men. Children are disappearing. Our Premier is over there. Our Premier took a whole extra week off parliament - the first time in 30 years - and he is over there being feted by a government that has no respect for the international rule of law, none at all, and has no respect for human rights but in fact regards human rights as Western values.

This is just a little parliament, I understand that. I understand that this motion will not in the great scheme of things reset the relationship with the Chinese government, but it is intended to make sure that there is an understanding on the part of those who would sign these agreements that the people of Tasmania have a right to know what is in them. I simply say this to the Chinese government - and its agents will be watching today, I know that. I read the China Antarctic white paper and I recognise there is an enormous amount of good work scientists from China are undertaking in Antarctica. There is clearly a deep appreciation of the Antarctic continent and all the right words are said about respecting Antarctica as a natural place of peace and science.

I believe it was Martin Luther King who said, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends towards justice'. The message this parliament should be giving the Chinese government is not, 'We will take your money, come here and buy the place'. It is that we are a sovereign democracy which upholds human rights and believes in human freedoms. The renewable energy generation that is happening in China now is breathtaking and inspiring, but if China is to reach its destiny as one of the world's great powers and have the majority of the world's nations come along with it, it is going to have to have a deeper understanding of human nature, because human beings will not be oppressed indefinitely. History tells us that they will rise up.

I hope that this period of intense aggression and global bullying that is happening as a result of the direction President Xi Jinping has taken China in recent years will end and that China will set itself out there as a member of the global community on a planet of equals, respecting human rights and freedoms, harnessing the best capacity of humanity and respecting diversity. As Adam Ni of the Australian Defence Studies Institute at ANU wrote recently, 'For the CCP diversity is a disease', and that is why the Uyghur and the Kazakhs are being locked up.

It is the current government's view of Chinese exceptionalism in the world. I think China can do better under President Xi. They have a huge amount to give to the world and the future of the planet, but they will continue to meet resistance in little places like this. In Zambia there are threats to repossess the airport because Zambia cannot pay its debts. In Tonga and Sri Lanka and Cambodia, people are rising up and will continue to do so because the spirit of human freedom is irrepressible.