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Speech in Parliament: North Korea

I rise to second the motion by my colleague, the Member for Reid, on the appalling situation in North Korea.

I would like to echo his concern at the horrendous violations of human rights that are occurring. The widespread nature of these violations is as shocking as the incidents themselves.

Living life in a 1984 simulation, with fear and rumour of the fates that have befallen your compatriots, is a concept too awful to contemplate.

However, dwelling on the injustice and terror of this regime achieves few results. Thanks in part to the United Nation’s excellent report, and the Australian Government’s work to bring this to the Security Council, the entire world now knows the depravity of life in North Korea.

Now I firmly believe that the conversation needs to swing towards the hope for the future and an aspiration for change. Negativity can only reinforce the status quo; positivity can aspire to change it.

This is a view shared by a number of my constituents. Bennelong has one of the largest Korean communities in the country, and I have spoken with a several community leadersin the last few days to prepare for this debate.

I am grateful to Jason Koh of the Korean Chamber of Commerce, Agnes Shim of the Korean Women’s Association, and particularly Mr Kim who shared memories of his time in the North.

All have informed me of the ‘tentative hope’ that they hold for the future and their cousins across the border, yet in a sign of the sad reality, Mr Kim did not want me to use his full name in this speech for fear of reprisals on his family that remain behind.

  1. Deputy Speaker, unfortunately time is not on our side. Many people in my local Korean community are 70 or above. They remember the days of an undivided Korea and have relatives on the other side of the border.

Reunions, when they are allowed by the North Koreans, see no more than 300 people to connect with each other for 24 hours. Even for this paltry time, there are over 70,000 people on the waiting list.

The current rate of reunions is unworkable and many families will not have the chance to be reunited before it’s too late. I join the Government in calling for the North to allow more of these reunions, as a matter of urgency.

On behalf of the Korean community in my electorate of Bennelong, I join the Government in welcoming the UN’s report. It is essential that everybody be aware of the terrible things happening in North Korea, and I commend the Foreign Minister and everybody else who helped get this into debate in the Security Council.

What happens next will be critical.

My constituents have told me of the genuine determination of many in the North to stay the course that they have set themselves. As such, threats don’t work.

But as one of them said – “it is the soft rain that soaks in.”

This motion ends by calling for dialogue between the Koreas, and a demonstration of good faith through participation in inter-Korean family reunions.

I am sure that this dialogue and openness is the way forward. Family reunions must be one of the central objectives of negotiations.

The good faith garnered through these, not to mention the connections created, will surely help to gradually open up relations and access to this closed nation.

Other soft power tactics are also welcome. Perhaps one day the North can even send a team to join my Bennelong Cup International Table Tennis Tournament, as the South does? Anything is possible.

And if this soft power can lead to meaningful discussions on human rights or other subjects, we are half way there.

North Korea is one of the world’s last pariah states. One by one, détente has crept across the diplomatic world, opening up closed states to the point where even Iran has started communicating with the west.

I do not know how this will change for North Korea. I hope it will be through a ground swell of opinion perhaps started from growing openness following Family Reunions. We can hope.

However it comes about, I am hopeful that very soon, the Korean community in Bennelong, and across Australia, will be able to relax in the knowledge that their cousins back home are not threatened by tyranny and have all the benefits of a free society that we are so lucky to enjoy in this country.

  1. Deputy Speaker, I congratulate the Member for Reid for raising this important motion and I commend it to the House.