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UTAS protests

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Tags: Freedom of Speech, Foreign Influence, Taiwan

Pro-Democracy Protests at UTAS: O'Connor, 7 August, 2019


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise to speak about Hong Kong and the wave of students standing up for a free Hong Kong against the Chinese government. For any member of the House who has not been to the University of Tasmania's student lounge I highly recommend it. Just go in there for a quiet moment and have a look at the 'Lennon Wall'. Some students at UTAS will be from Hong Kong, some of them will be from Taiwan, some may even be from mainland China and there will be a whole range of students from other places, but they have created a 'Lennon Wall' in the student lounge at the University of Tasmania. It is simple, it is moving and it is inspiring.

As we know in this place, democracy is a beautiful and fragile thing and too rarely do we talk about democracy in the context of Asian countries and south-east Asian nations, but the big battles for democracy in this century will take place in the Asian subcontinent and South East Asia. Hong Kong is now a powder keg, there is Taiwan sitting there on the island of Formosa just off mainland China, a thriving democracy which is under threat from the Chinese government. I want to talk about some of the protests that have been happening in Hong Kong.

These protests started about nine weeks ago and have become increasingly large. Increasingly we are seeing violence seeping into these protests that has been perpetrated against the protestors by Hong Kong police, and now we have threats of violence by People's Liberation Army generals from China who are threatening to crack down on these kids. For people who want to see something that is poignant and brings home what these young people in Hong Kong are fighting for and how hard it is and how frightening it must be, I invite you to go to my Facebook page where there is a short two-minute video. It is one shot of a street scene in Hong Kong at night and it is played to Louis Armstrong's song What a Wonderful World. We see these young people standing there facing a wall of Hong Kong police officers and you can see their fear and how they run away from police officers who are now firing rubber bullets and tear gas at these protestors.

What is one of the most amazing things about this protest is it was originally student led but those students have been joined by their parents and grandparents, by pop stars, civil servants and business operators. It began as a protest against an extradition bill that the Hong Kong administration had tabled in the parliament there which would have allowed for the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China for trial. As we know, mainland China has black prisons, trials are a farce and invariably end up in a guilty verdict and incarceration for those people.

One of the things that is so amazing about this protest movement is that it is leaderless; it is an organic protest movement. It is organised through encrypted apps, there are supply chains set up for protestors on the front line and the call that goes out to the protestors when the Hong Kong police come and them is 'Be like water'. They move like water and have managed to sustain this inspiring protest to stand up for a free Hong Kong against a totalitarian regime which is marshalling the troops at Shenzhen on the border of Hong Kong.

I want to reinforce that it is critical that democratic nations stand with peoples who are standing up for democracy. What happens in Hong Kong will have powerful symbolic repercussions and geopolitical consequences. Every member of this House, as part of a democratic parliament, should make a commitment to stand with Hong Kong, to speak up for Taiwan and to speak up for every fragile state and democracy to threats. The biggest threat faced by the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan right now is a totalitarian regime which, as we know, 30 years ago sent the tanks into Tiananmen Square and killed thousands of young Chinese people who were simply standing up for a freer China. The young people of Hong Kong are right to be fearful of what is being incorporated into the Chinese government's sphere of toxic influence and we as members of a democratically elected parliament should stand with Hong Kong.