Consideration of Committee reports and Government responses

7 February 2023

I also rise today in the Senate to speak on the report of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee entitled Human rights implications of recent violence in Iran. I was pleased to participate in this inquiry as the deputy chair.

I certainly echo the report and indeed the government’s condemnation of the violent measures that are being employed by the Iranian government against those who have been protesting its oppression of its own citizens, particularly against women and children. The Iranian security forces have been brutal in their attempted suppression of these protests. Hundreds upon hundreds have lost their lives and some have been executed without any access to a fair trial.

I acknowledge the extraordinary courage of those in Iran and abroad who continue to express their fierce opposition to the oppressive practices of the Iranian government, often at great risk not just to themselves but to their families, whether they are over in Iran or elsewhere around the world. I particularly thank those who made submissions and gave evidence to the inquiry. Many chose to do so on a confidential basis. Indeed, it’s a credit to the Senate’s committee processes that these witnesses felt comfortable enough to contribute to this inquiry, safe in the knowledge that their identities would not be made public. Of course, most of all, credit is owed to these witnesses, whose deep knowledge, lived experience and courage to speak out contributed so much to the inquiry’s work.

Since the death of Mahsa Amini—whose Kurdish name was Jina—in September of last year, the Australian government, along with many other like-minded states, has led international efforts to hold the Iranian government to account for its use of violence to deny basic human rights to its very own citizens—things that we take for granted every single day, like being able to protest and being able to speak your mind freely without the actions of a government. Australia co-sponsored and advocated for the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution to establish an independent fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran. Australian officials also engaged in the campaign to remove Iran as a member of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I do note with regret that this appointment was made at all. It occurred back in April 2021, with the endorsement of the Asia-Pacific grouping that Australia was part of.

The Australian government has imposed Magnitsky-style sanctions on individuals and entities in Iran that are connected to the violence perpetrated by the Iranian government against its citizens, and also on individuals and entities involved in the production and supply of drones to the Russian Federation. Of course, the Australian government has also put its condemnation of the actions of the Iranian government directly to Iran’s diplomatic representatives, both to the Iranian embassy here in Canberra and through Australia’s ambassador in Iran.

With all these actions in mind, the political narrative that is at times pervasive throughout the committee’s report is somewhat disappointing. All members of the committee—and indeed, I would think, all members of this chamber—are of the same view in their condemnation of the Iranian government and its recent behaviour. The past practice of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has been to ensure that, as much as possible, reports on such matters have been agreeable to members of both the government and the opposition. This is because Australians expect that, wherever possible, foreign policy is developed and executed in a bipartisan manner. As members of the Senate can see, government senators provided additional comments, and it is with regret that the practice that has been followed in the past was not followed in this case with respect to this report. The hope is that, in the future, the business of the committee when dealing with such matters will be conducted in a similar fashion as in previous committees.

With that in mind, I’ll turn back to the matter that has—and rightly so—been the focus of this place, as was the case earlier today in question time: the concerning conduct of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC. I want to make a few comments with specific regard to the recommendation from the report to list the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. The actions of the IRGC are unacceptable. They must be held to account, and so I understand why people, rightly, are seeking every possible option to take action against the IRGC. But, within the context of Australian law, the purpose of listings under the Criminal Code is to make it easier to prosecute individuals in Australia for supporting terrorist organisations. Australian law does not regard listing as a foreign policy tool to increase pressure on foreign governments.

That being said, the Australian government is very much focused on taking meaningful steps to increase pressure on the IRGC and to hold them to account. That is why the government has sanctioned 29 Iranians and eight entities under the Magnitsky-style and autonomous sanction regimes. These include designations on nine IRGC officials and five IRGC linked entities. Federal Labor’s concern about the conduct of the IRGC predates the ongoing protests, which is why the former Labor government sanctioned the IRGC as a whole in 2012. So let me be very clear: the only party in government that has so far put sanctions on the IRGC has been federal Labor. But unlike the previous government, who spent a whole decade talking about action, federal Labor is the party who has actually taken the decisive action whilst only having been in government in the last six months. Those opposite sat on their hands for a decade, and, unfortunately, it was this government that had to come in to clean up that mess and to correct the wrong. But we are very keen to see further meaningful action in the future against these types of organisations.

Again, I want to share and echo the remarks by the chair in her statement earlier about thanking those individuals and organisations who made a contribution to the inquiry. It is something that can be quite confronting. It does take a lot of courage, especially when you travel to Canberra and make very emotional public statements on the record. We did see quite a number of witnesses who found the whole process somewhat overwhelming, but it was really good to see their contribution. If they do watch over, or even read, our remarks tonight, I want to say thank you to each and every one of them for making the time to come to Canberra to make a contribution, because every part of their story has actually made a difference. It’s made a difference in terms of how we’ve presented our report and how we’ve drafted the report but also the attention that this issue deserves not just across the Australian media but the international media cycle too. The more focus and the more pressure we place on the Iranian government, the more there will be outcomes that are much more satisfactory for both individuals and their families.

I want to place my solidarity with the Iranian people on the record here in the Senate. Your cause is just, and your persistence is certainly something that we are all very much supportive of. This violent oppression is a disgrace, but remain focused on the course, because together we will be able to deliver good outcomes.