The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) referred an inquiry into certain aspects of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2019-2020 on 24 February 2021 to its Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-committee.
As part of this broader inquiry, the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-committee announced on 26 March 2021 that it would examine recent developments in Myanmar in greater depth, and would hear from concerned sectors of Australian society about the troubling events in Myanmar since 1 February 2021.
The Sub-committee sought to provide an opportunity for a wide range of stakeholders, including members of the Myanmar diaspora across Australia, to contribute to the discussion by putting their views on the public record. The Sub-committee also sought an opportunity for the Parliament, and through it the public, to be informed of the Australian Government’s foreign policy response to this situation.
When planning its activities, the Sub-committee was keenly aware of sensitivities around this issue. The Sub-committee was approached by several stakeholders who wished to offer their expertise but did not wish to speak publicly. The Sub-committee thanks those who provided evidence in confidence.
The Sub-committee sought expressions of interest on 26 March 2021 to participate in the public hearing. Longer written submissions were also welcomed, but not required for those seeking to participate. To guide discussions for this hearing, the committee invited the community to respond to the following questions:
Why did the military coup in Myanmar occur?
How long is military rule in Myanmar likely to last?
What have been the regional reactions to the coup in Myanmar?
What are the implications for Australians in Myanmar?
What are the implications for Australians doing business in Myanmar?
What is the impact on bilateral cooperation, such as military, human rights and international development support?
What can or should Australia do to support the return to stability and democracy?
Expressions of interest were received by 6 April 2021, and a program was prepared to best accommodate a range of views in the time available.
A public hearing was held at Parliament House, Canberra on Tuesday 13 April 2021, with invited representatives from government, diaspora and community groups, experts, academia, and non-government organisations.
A second public hearing was held on Thursday 13 May 2021 to follow up with government departments on evidence received by the Sub-committee and to hear an update on the government response to fast-moving events.
Following the April hearing, where permission was provided by inquiry participants, 47 documents were accepted as submissions and published. Other correspondence has been retained with the records of the Committee and will not be published.
The Sub-committee was grateful for the level of engagement and expertise of participants, particularly in the short timeframes. This report does not seek to repeat the content contained in the transcripts and submissions published, and instead seeks to provide a thematic overview that may assist the reader when reviewing the inquiry evidence.
In addition to the recommendations and formal report the Committee strongly recommends that any interested stakeholders review carefully the information and detailed suggestions raised in submissions and hearings; not all of these have been captured in the report.
This activity focusing on Myanmar has formed the initial part of the Committee’s broader inquiry into the annual report of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Committee’s questions sought to elicit information about the facts of what had occurred in Myanmar, and also what actions Australia should next take. While the seven questions posed by the Sub-committee provided a useful starting point for discussions, this report is structured in the following manner.
Chapter 2 discusses the details of what the Committee heard is occurring in Myanmar. A consistent theme of the evidence was that inquiry participants called for the Australian Government to step up its efforts.
Bilateral cooperation with Myanmar, and the question of recognition of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), and Australia’s relations with the Tatmadaw is examined in Chapter 3. The foreign policy principle of recognition of ‘states, and not governments’ arose as a central item of discussions at the hearing, and it is in this context that the Committee heard views as to how Australia should respond to events in Myanmar.
The regional reaction to the coup was of interest to the Committee. Participating in multilateral advocacy to apply pressure to the Tatmadaw was raised as a key action to support the return to stability and democracy in Myanmar, and ASEAN was seen to adopt a greater role in the multilateral response. These matters are discussed in Chapter 4.
The Committee asked about the impact on bilateral cooperation, including human rights and international development support. Suggestions for visa, asylum and international development support by the Australian Government are discussed in Chapter 5.
Other measures to affect change in Myanmar are discussed in Chapter 6, including arms embargoes and sanctions.
Questions on Notice
At the time that the Sub-committee had completed its work and its draft report, answers had not been received for 7 questions on notice from the Department of Home Affairs, and 6 questions on notice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Committee notes its disappointment, and considers that this is an undesirable practice when agencies know that the Committee is trying to complete its report in a timely fashion.
The Committee still expects answers to questions on notice. Once received, the Committee will publish these on its website.
Once received, if issues arise from responses to questions on notice, the Committee reserves the right to ask further questions.