The overarching message heard by the Committee was enormous community frustration regarding the Government’s slow, reactive and inadequate response to the coup and resulting crisis in Myanmar.
There has been no sense of urgency at any point from Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister.
Evidence has been consistent and strong that the Government has at every step been far too slow to act.
In March Minister Payne said that sanctions were being considered.
In April at the public hearing DFAT said that sanctions were being considered.
Then at the May public hearing DFAT advised that after three months of inaction the Minister finally decided not to implement sanctions.
The Government needs to re-consider the imposition of appropriately targeted sanctions, including against key figures behind the coup and significant Tatmadaw linked commercial entities.
At the first public hearing in April, more than two months after the coup, it was astounding to hear that the Government had had no contact with diaspora communities or the democratically elected members of the legislature represented by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) or the National Unity Government, and that there was no advice for Myanmarese citizens resident in Australia.
It was only after public pressure – public shaming in effect – that DFAT claimed to have made contact with diaspora communities or the CRPH. However, diaspora groups have told Labor MPs that they know of no-one who has been contacted or spoken to by DFAT which raises questions about how genuine the Government’s stakeholder engagement effort actually is
It took months for the Home Affairs Department to provide any advice to Myanmarese citizens regarding visa extensions. Yet still there is no firm, reliable commitment that no one will be forced to return to Myanmar and that people who can’t safely return will be able to stay and build a life in Australia if they wish.
The Government’s slowness to act sends precisely the wrong message to the brave people of Myanmar, the region and to democracies around the world. The slowness to act is just like the government’s ongoing failure to introduce legislation to enable ‘Magnitsky’-style sanctions.
The Government must be proactive in delivering for Australia’s interests in the region, which include substantive support for democratic values, freedoms and human rights. The Government must do more than just react to committee hearings or public pressure.
Australia needs to stand up for our values, human rights and democracy by supporting ASEAN and international efforts as well as taking independent actions where warranted – these things are not mutually exclusive as the Minister appears to think.
Meryl Swanson MP, Deputy Chair JSCFADT
Julian Hill, Deputy Chair Foreign Affairs & Aid
Senator Tim Ayres
Joel Fitzgibbon MP
Patrick Gorman MP
Chris Hayes MP
Peter Khalil MP
Senator Kimberley Kitching
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy
Senator Tony Sheldon
Warren Snowdon MP
Maria Vamvakinou MP
Senator Deborah O’Neill