That this House:
(1) recognises the insidious nature of foreign interference and the threat it poses to our democracy, businesses and to individuals;
(a) ongoing reports of attempts by Cambodia’s Hun Sen regime to infiltrate and monitor activity within the Australian community, particularly in the diaspora communities; and
(b) reports of potential money laundering in Australia by key figures of the regime; and
(3) expresses concern about these activities and calls on the Government to ensure that appropriate and thorough investigations occur into these concerning reports.
It’s important that we remain vigilant to all threats to our national security and our sovereignty. The director of ASIO has described foreign espionage and interference as the major security concern to our nation, ranking even higher than terrorism in terms of the threat it poses. Australia has been a world leader in combatting foreign interference, but the fact is that authoritarian states continue to pose a serious risk and are actively working to divide our society through targeted disinformation campaigns, harassment, coercion and, in some cases, threats of violence. Russia and China have attempted to meddle in US and Canadian elections, with US and Canadian intelligence agencies assessing that these governments were behind online influence activities designed to undermine electoral processes and exacerbate social divisions.
But these two nations are not the only potential threats, and I’m sure that all members of this place were deeply concerned when it was revealed in August last year that Cambodia’s Hun Sen regime had divided Australia into seven zones, each controlled from Phnom Penh by a high-ranking military officer or official in the regime, in which Cambodian Australians are rewarded for allegiance to the dictator or singled out for punishment as traitors. The network reportedly conducted surveillance and provided reports to the regime on local opponents of Hun Sen, including directly threatening violence against Cambodian Australians. This includes former Labor state MP for Clarinda, Hong Lim, and other elected representatives. Reportedly, the death threat list included the president of the Cambodian Association of Victoria and any Australian member of parliament or member of the Khmer community who opposed Hun Sen or his decision to hand over power to his son, Hun Manet.
When Australians are fearful of voicing criticisms about a foreign regime, we have a serious problem—one that cannot be allowed to stand. Mr Lim has called on the government to use its visa powers to restrict entry and use Magnitsky laws to target human rights abusers and super-rich cronies of the regime who use Australia as a haven. I have written to the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs, asking them to ensure that every step is taken to investigate the ongoing claims of money laundering as well as the foreign interference threats.
I have brought this motion forward because I know that the diaspora community here in Australia has very genuine fears and concerns. As a nation, Cambodia has a tragic past, and the hope of democracy ran high at the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991. However, what has resulted is a form of play-acting democracy, with Hun Sen consolidating power in Cambodia over the past 38 years. Just eight days ago, the Cambodian People’s Party claimed a landslide victory in national elections which have been described by critics as the country’s least free and fair vote in decades. There were reportedly quite high levels of spoiled ballot papers at the recent election, despite the threat of legal action against anyone found to be spoiling their ballot in protest. The only party that was capable of challenging Hun Sen’s rule, the Candlelight Party, was banned from the election on a technicality in May. A similar situation occurred with the then opposition party just before the last election. In February, Cambodia’s Voice of Democracy, a local news outlet run by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, was shut down by the Prime Minister. This sort of violent crushing of opposition, deliberate silencing of dissent and planned transfer of power is anything but democratic.
It would take more time than I have today to outline the long list of concerns that have been raised with me about the conduct of the regime and the impact on the community here in Australia. Through this motion, I implore the government to ensure that claims of foreign interference, criminal activity and money laundering are all thoroughly investigated. Australia must stand firm in its commitment to fair elections in the region and our insistence on the upholding of basic human rights and freedoms.