Opinion pieces

China’s Belt and Road Initiative a threat we must awaken to

Originally published in The Examiner 2nd June 2020 (Available here)

The insidious tentacles of the Communist Chinese dictatorship need to be reined in. And quickly.

The world has witnessed and experienced the ugliness and reach of the dictatorship with the devastation of COVID-19. Hundreds of thousands killed. Millions of livelihoods destroyed. All the while it ensured the World Health Organisation was its ventriloquist doll – run by a Marxist from Ethiopia whom it helped get appointed.

The denials, belligerence and obfuscation by the dictatorship’s ambassador in Australia were yet another display of the ugliness.

Five days ago Beijing unilaterally passed draconian oppressive rules against the people of Hong Kong through the so-called National Security Act in direct breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This fundamental breach of the Declaration calls into question the regime’s commitment to stand by any agreement it has signed. The heavily armed crackdown and arrest of people (including children) protesting these draconian laws should send a shiver down the spine of freedom-loving people throughout the world.

And in the mix is the dictatorship’s approach to our barley and meat – slapped with a huge tariff after Australia had the “audacity” to ask for an independent enquiry into COVID-19. Their bully tactics unashamedly put on display for all to see and observe. Stand up to the dictatorship and there will be consequences.
All this is part of a disturbing trend that aims to suppress freedom and exert control over other nations.

The conversion of the South China Sea Islands into a massive and aggressive military base is yet another blatant example of the regime’s disregard for international law and sensitivities of other nations.

Its human rights record toward its people is just as reprehensible. Ask the Christians, the Uighurs, the Falun Gong, the Dalai Lama or any dissident. Not to mention the forced human organ transplants from prisoners of conscience. A matter on which the China Tribunal under Sir Geoffrey Nice QC recently made some damning findings.

The best, indeed only, way to defeat a bully is to stand up to them. The longer you leave it the harder it becomes because they become emboldened by each unchallenged act of aggression.

The bullying is so much more difficult to counter when mixed with charm and largesse. China’s outreach program, along with its Belt and Road Initiative, has seen numerous nations ensnared by indebtedness to the regime. They wake up when it’s too late, like Sri Lanka with its port.

How did all this come to pass? Too many believed that with China’s emergence from isolation and its economic liberalisation there would follow personal and democratic reforms as well. For a while, this was the case and many (including myself) were lured into a too trusting attitude toward the regime.

Some of us woke up earlier than others. Former Minister Senator Fierravanti-Wells (responsible for Pacific Island affairs) called out China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its provision of loans that severely compromised the independence of the Pacific Islands. At the time she was repudiated by her senior Minister Julie Bishop.
Similarly, I recall telling the Party Room in Canberra I would cross the floor if an extradition treaty with China (as advocated by then Prime Minister Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop) was to proceed. Similar repudiation and retribution followed. Our views are now mainstream.

In the face of all this overwhelming evidence, how can Labor in Victoria sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative, the details of which are hidden from the public and flies in the face of our national interest?

Freedom is fundamental. Advocates for freedom cannot sit idly by as a dictatorship breaches not only widely accepted standards but repudiates its own written agreements. Only a multi-lateral approach can rein in such a rogue regime. It was done with the Soviet Union. It can be done again.

We need freedom-loving countries and even some of the not so freedom-loving ones to unite to rein in the ugly repressive Marxist regime under which the Chinese people suffer. There is no time to waste.

Abetz joins call to protect Hong Kong from Communist China



24th May 2020

Abetz joins international call to protect Hong Kong from communist China

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has added his weight as a former Senate leader and current Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee to a list of international signatories calling on the Chinese Communist dictatorship to honour its agreement to protect the freedoms and liberties of the Hong Kongers.

The 201 Parliamentarians and policymakers from 23 different countries around the world (of which Senator Abetz is one) have publicly called on the Chinese Communist dictatorship to honour the Sino-British Joint Declaration which was part of the arrangement of China regaining control of Hong Kong from Britain. 

The unilateral introduction of national security legislation in Hong Kong is a fundamental breach of the Declaration and calls into question the Chinese Communist dictatorship’s commitment to stand by its agreements, Senator Abetz said.

This latest action by China is part of a disturbing trend that aims to suppress freedom and exert control over other nations. We must remain vigilant to the increasingly insidious influence that China tries to exert domestically here in Australia (as seen with Victoria’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative) and on the international stage. 

Freedom is fundamental. Advocates for freedom cannot sit idly by as a dictatorship breaches not only widely accepted standards but repudiates an agreement to which it is a signatory. 

Having met with pro-democracy representatives from Hong Kong, I have heard firsthand their inspirational and principled commitment to protecting the freedoms which they were promised by China. China needs to honour its commitments if it is in any way concerned about its standing as a keeper of its agreements.

I am heartened so many have signed the statement from diverse countries and political persuasions which indicates the gravity of the breach of commitment by China. 

The senator calls on all freedom-loving countries and parliamentarians to add their name to the list and be counted.

The joint statement from 201 Signatories:

We, the co-signed, write to express grave concerns about the unilateral introduction of national security legislation by Beijing in Hong Kong. This is a comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms. The integrity of one-country, two-systems hangs by a thread. It is the genuine grievances of ordinary Hong Kongers that are driving protests. Draconian laws will only escalate the situation further, jeopardising Hong Kong’s future as an open Chinese international city. 

If the international community cannot trust Beijing to keep its word when it comes to Hong Kong, people will be reluctant to take its word on other matters. Sympathetic governments must unite to say that this flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration cannot be tolerated.

Albanese should rein in Labor's Chinese communist apologists

Labor’s growing conga line of apologists for the communist dictatorship in China needs to be brought into line by Labor leader Anthony Albanese according to Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz. 
Senator Abetz is the Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.
The antics in Victoria yesterday with yet another State Labor minister defending the indefensible and avoiding scrutiny of State Labor’s funny money deal with the Chinese communist dictatorship needs to be unequivocally repudiated by Mr Albanese.  
If Mr Albanese wants any credibility as a leader who will put Australia first, he needs to publicly disown and repudiate the ever-growing number of these apologists in his party. 
From influential former Premier Bob Carr and former Senator Dastyari in NSW to powerbroker Senator Kim Carr, State Treasurer Tim Pallas and Ministerial colleague Jacinta Allan in Victoria, not to mention Premier Andrew's unconscionable decision to embrace the communist dictatorship’s Belt and Road Initiative, the line is growing by the day. And it needs to be stopped.
The recent kowtowing, grovelling pro-communist China speech by powerbroker Senator Carr in recent times together with the Victorian treasurer's outrageous and unacceptable speech in effect backing China over Australia, over our, and indeed Victoria’s very own barley, exports have been met with a paralysed silence from Anthony Albanese.   
These are half a dozen highly influential Labor figures who seem to be more comfortable talking up the Chinese dictatorship’s interests in Australia than they are in promoting their own nation’s interests and its values. All the while Mr Albanese sits quietly by, seemingly impotent to deal with them. 
The Australian people are entitled to know where the Leader of the Opposition and his party stand. Do they stand with Australia and its interests or this group of severely misguided, yet influential Labor figures?

Teddy Sheean's sacrifice will live on longer than VC deniers

Originally published in The Examiner 19th May 2020 (Available here)

The story of Teddy Sheean is the stuff of folk-lore. It will continue to be celebrated, honoured and passed down to future generations with or without a VC. But future generations will be right to ask why and by whom the independent tribunal’s findings recommending a VC for Sheean were rejected.

The rejection of the tribunal’s unanimous recommendation is wrong. Wrong as a matter of process and outcome.

The public advocacy for a VC while well-motivated had the potential to demean the currency of the award. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest. It shouldn’t be determined by the mob. Such a highly regarded award needs to be carefully and soberly considered to protect its currency. Invidious comparisons, details determined and one assumes even confidential records scoured are all part of the process.

Given the public support and campaign for a VC for Teddy Sheean, it was right and proper that the matter was referred to an independent tribunal.

The issue needed to be elevated above a demeaning popularity contest. It was.

We were all therefore duty-bound to respect and accept the decision of the tribunal (irrespective of its finding) unless some egregious fault in procedure or determination could be identified. No such egregious failing has been asserted. Accordingly, the finding needs to be honoured and a posthumous VC awarded to Teddy Sheean.

In 1999 I read into the Senate Hansard the Teddy Sheean story as told in HMAS Armidale – The Ship That Had To Die by F.B Walker:     

"Ted Sheean, just 27 days short of his 19th birthday, could see his shipmates were being ripped to bits. His ship was being attacked by Japanese warplanes.

“He was himself unwounded and could have scrambled to some sort of shelter. He could have dived overboard and trusted to luck by duck-diving to escape the bullets.

“He did none of those things. Instead he scrambled back to the Oerlikon gun abaft the bridge, a distance of some 10 difficult and hazardous metres, thrust his shoulders into the semi-circular grips at the rear of the gun and strapped himself in.

“The ship was sinking fast. It was only three minutes since the first torpedo struck until she vanished. The moment Sheean fastened that strap he must have known he would go down with the ship.

“He poured stream after stream of 20mm shells at the strafing Japanese fighters and sent one cartwheeling into the sea. A Zero flashed in, its guns blazing, and slashed Sheean's chest and back wide open.

"With blood pouring from his wounds Sheean kept fighting, forcing some of the Japanese planes to sheer away. The ship was now sinking fast and the water was lapping Sheean's feet but still he kept firing.

“The men in the water gasped in amazement as they saw the bloodstained, desperate youngster wheel his gun from target to target, his powerless legs dragging on the deck.

“Then came the most incredible sight of all. The ship plunged down and the sea rose up past Sheean's waist to his shattered chest. Still he kept firing. As the gun was dragged into the sea its barrel kept recoiling and shots kept pouring from it.

“Even when there was nothing left of the ship above water, tracer bullets from Sheean's gun kept shooting from under the water in forlorn, bizarre arcs."

It was, said author Walker, an act of sublime, selfless heroism.

"It was not the result of years of training and discipline—Sheean had been in the Navy only a few short months," Walker said. "He was not acting on orders. It was his decision and his alone. It was not a question of duty—the order to abandon ship had been given and he was free to try to save his own life.

He chose to try to save the lives of shipmates and to inflict as much damage on the enemy as he could. It was valour above and beyond the call of duty."

More recently I pursued the issue of the release of the tribunal’s funding’s at the last Senate Estimates in February.

It’s not too hard to understand why the tribunal found as it did. What is hard to understand is the decision to reject its findings. One suspects Sheean’s heroism and sacrifice will live on in our folklore a lot longer than those that denied him a VC.


Religious freedom laws are essential

Arguing against protection for religious freedom is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, given its overwhelming acceptance. Therefore resort is had to outright untruths and gross misrepresentations both of which were littered throughout Mr Croome's contribution along with the all too prevalent sneering and belittling of people of faith.

First, the pandemic rules of social distancing apply to all. The proposed Bill will not alter that for the future in any way shape or form.

Why the contrary is falsely asserted can only be based on gross ignorance or malicious mischief-making. To suggest anyone of faith could or would deny a COVID 19 vaccine injection is fanciful.

Suggesting a doctor of faith would tell a COVID19 patient they are "sinful or bound for Hell" is fanciful on steroids.

But these myths must be pedalled to try to justify the unjustifiable. A sure sign of the desperation of the campaign seeking to deny people this basic human right.

Secondly, the medical personnel in any hospital or aged care facility (faith-based or otherwise) are required to be fully medically qualified for their relevant role. This, of course, will not change.

To falsely suggest they will be chosen on religious belief and not competence has no basis. Newsflash ... you can be both qualified and a person of faith. They are not mutually exclusive.

Thirdly, to bizarrely suggest COVID19 sufferers would get lesser treatment at a Catholic hospital is an ugly throwback to the sectarianism which has thankfully long been discarded by mainstream society especially those who genuinely believe in equality and don't just virtue signal with the title while campaigning for the opposite.

Or to suggest "The people who will suffer most from derogatory and humiliating statements will be those who fall foul of traditional religious beliefs... like people with disability" is perhaps the most ignorant statement out of many.

Centuries ago it was people of faith that created hospitals and cared for the disabled and vulnerable when the rest of society would leave them to suffer and die. It took many years before the governments of the day started to provide this type of support.

The legacy of faith-based charities lives on today as they are amongst the largest providers in the world of healthcare, education and care for those with disabilities.

Fourthly, the derogatory descriptors employed against people of faith such as "more holy", "most pious" and "prejudice" exposes the ugly underbelly of so-called "equality" advocates. They disparagingly seek to divide Australians against people of faith.

"Diversity" was all the rage for the "equality" campaigners at one stage. Now it seems some diverse beliefs are more equal than others.

When an Archbishop can be dragged before a Discrimination Commission for promoting his Church's teachings which was accorded with the law of the land you know there is a defect in our laws - a major defect.

The recent increase in litigation against those expressing their religious beliefs is now becoming an alarming trend that spares no-one, whether you are a professional rugby player, medical worker or a school in Ballarat employing teachers who uphold the school's beliefs.

In the USA, Christian baker Jack Philips' case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court after he refused to bake a cake that supported same-sex marriage. Only last month he has been targeted and sued again, this time for not baking a cake celebrating a "gender transition." There is a clear and urgent need to protect freedom of religion.

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right guaranteed in our common law and more recently enunciated very clearly in a plethora of international human rights treaties. The fact Mr Croome failed to mention either is telling.

The lack of protections for religious freedom has been rightly identified by the Australian Human Rights Commission as a major gap in our laws. The Liberal Government is correctly committed to rectifying this omission in our laws.

A simple reminder to all... the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states very clearly in Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...and...to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Seeking to deny religious freedom is akin to denying freedom of thought and conscience as well. That is why protecting religious freedom actually protects all of us from authoritarian forces.


About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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