Speeches

AUSTRALIA'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PHILIPPINES

December 07, 2020

I rise to proudly speak on and second the motion moved by the member for Fremantle about human rights in the Philippines. Australia and the Philippines have a warm and mutually respectful relationship. It is a relationship with many dimensions—economic and industry dimensions through to trade and investment and the close links between industry sectors like education and tourism; and political and diplomatic dimensions. There is close bilateral engagement between our two governments and we work together cooperatively in regional and multilateral forums. There is also a strong development relationship. Australia will provide $80 million in development assistance to the Philippines in 2020-21 and support programs to improve the health, education and economic welfare of the people of the Philippines. Of course, there are also the extensive people to people links between Australia and the Philippines. The richness of Australia's multicultural society has been enhanced by the presence of a large, vibrant and hardworking Filipino community in this country. This motion reaffirms the importance of this relationship and the need for continuing close cooperation between Australia and the Philippines. But the motion also expresses concerns about the human rights in the Philippines, particularly the treatment of workers and trade unionists.

I acknowledge the efforts of the government of the Philippines to promote economic development and reduce poverty. In recent years these efforts have included the passage of legislation for universal health care, the adoption of a Magna Carta for the poor and new policies to provide emergency relief and protection for children. But despite these gains in fighting poverty in the Philippines there have been several deeply concerning issues around human rights. In recent years we've seen extrajudicial killings associated with the war on drugs, attacks on civil society and human rights defenders and moves to reintroduce the death penalty. We've also seen a deteriorating situation when it comes to human rights for workers and the labour movement in the Philippines.

The right of workers to organise, to bargain collectively, to come together in trade unions and to be represented by their trade unions are fundamental legal, economic, social and human rights. That's why it's so distressing that the Philippines was listed as one of the world's 10 worst countries for workers by the International Trade Union Confederation earlier this year. The ITUC's 2020 global rights index report found union members in the Philippines were at risk of violence, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and even murder. The report highlighted two cases from last year. On 2 June 2019 Dennis Sequena, a union organiser, was shot while meeting a group of workers in Bunga in the province of Cavite. Dennis was shot by a gunman riding on a motorcycle. He tragically died in hospital later. On 4 November 2019 another union organiser, Reynaldo Malaborbor, was shot several times in the head while walking with his wife near their home at Banay-Banay in the province of Laguna. These are two profoundly disturbing cases. Even more shocking is the fact that these are just two of a total of 46 killings of union members and officials in the Philippines since 2016.

It is clear that the rights of Filipino workers have been under attack in the most extreme way. These issues were raised at the International Labour Organization's annual conference in Geneva last year. In June 2019 the ILO's Committee on the Application of Standards received information about harassment, intimidation and violence against union officials and activists, assassinations of union leaders and so-called tagging of union and labour organisers as 'Reds' by the Philippines military. The employer, union and government representatives from a number of countries expressed concern over these cases. The ILO committee asked the government of the Philippines to carry out immediate investigations into the violence against unionists and to introduce effective measures to prevent violence in the future. The committee also requested that the Philippines accept a high-level tripartite mission from the ILO. The motion we're debating today supports these efforts and calls on the Australian government to support the push for a high-level ILO mission to investigate the labour rights situation in the Philippines.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the Philippines is a valued and respected partner for Australia. I'm proud of my Filipino Australian community in the Hunter. The FASHVI community is incredibly important to my region. I'm proud of the fact that it's the only Filipino community in the country that owns its own hall. The roots between Australia and the Philippines are deep and abiding and go beyond any one issue, but the violence, intimidation and denial of workers' rights that we've seen in recent years are unacceptable and not in any way consistent with a prosperous future for the people of the Philippines. I commend this motion to the Chamber.

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