The Cambodian people deserve free and fair elections

November 09, 2016

I take the opportunity today to rise to celebrate the 25th anniversary a couple of weeks ago of the Comprehensive Cambodian Peace Agreement, known as the Paris agreement. Australia, as people know, played a very significant role in bringing the parties together to conclude this agreement, and it ended one of the most brutal and shocking periods in human history, particularly the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was followed then by a war with Vietnam.

The first and most obvious example of the benefits of this agreement was to bring peace to this terrible conflict. But there was also in the agreement a very clear promise of free and fair elections, a flourishing civil society and economic development for the Cambodian people. Tragically, those promises have not been met. There is very widespread concern at the lack of political freedom under the Hun Sen regime and at the ongoing abuse of a range of human rights. Just one indicator is that Cambodia continues to languish at 128th in the World Press Freedom Index, with the regular abuse and sometimes killing of journalists in that country. There are also significant bans on public protests and ongoing prohibitions against industrial action. The 2013 election was universally condemned as heavily rigged in favour of the Hun Sen regime, and there is very significant focus on the prospects for free and fair elections in 2017 at the local level and 2018 at a national level.

Twenty-five years on from the agreement, it is beyond time that the Cambodian people were delivered the promise of the Paris agreement and able to vote and participate in free and fair elections. There is, as you know, Deputy Speaker Bird, a vibrant Cambodian Australian community living in Australia including in my electorate of Port Adelaide. Some 30,000 Australians were born in Cambodia. They have obviously given birth to many others who form part of a very vibrant community. I am proud to have worked very closely with the community in Adelaide, a vibrant active community that is still focused on what is happening back home in Cambodia.

I met recently with representatives of the Cambodian Australian Federation and office holders of the official opposition, the CNRP, including the president in Adelaide, Mr Someth Lem, as well as a number of his colleagues. We discussed what the Australian government could do to encourage free and fair elections in Cambodia, as well as the very disturbing case of the murder of political activist Dr Kem Ley, as well as the situation of his widow and his children. I have written to the government on both of these matters. I am very pleased to say I received a detailed reply from the Minister for Foreign Affairs outlining Australia's work both bilaterally and within the United Nations to ensure free and fair elections.