A reminder of the value of plural liberal democracy — Human rights abuses in Iran Matters of Public Interest

I too rise to support this matter of public importance, and I welcome the fact it is something that has brought all sides of this Senate chamber to a common position. Far too often, people are somewhat cynical about politics in Australia and even this establishment of the parliament.

But, for those who question the value of a plural liberal democracy, I say that ‘plural’ means that you’re allowed to have views that may differ from those of the party holding government or other people in society.

It means that you are allowed to gather together to express those views and that your rights as an individual are respected by law and by others in the society.

It means that you have the back of your fellow citizens and the best interests of your government.

A democracy—a true democracy—means that, if your government is not living up to those expectations, you and your fellow citizens have the opportunity to remove them. It may come as a surprise to many who have not carefully studied the actions of other forms of government, but that’s not the universal experience of people in all countries around the world.

When people talk about totalitarian regimes, you’ve just got to look at how they treat the individuals within their nation, their own people, to understand the difference between life here in Australia or another plural liberal democracy and life in a totalitarian state.

I will read from the foreword to the report of the inquiry that my colleague Senator Chandler initiated through the Senate foreign affairs and trade committee, in relation to what happened after the death of this young woman:

State security forces—

of the Islamic Republic of Iran—

have used live ammunition and seemingly indiscriminate force against civilians. Hundreds have been killed and many thousands wounded. Tens of thousands have been arrested. A number have been sentenced to death—some already executed—without access to a fair trial. Confessions are extracted through torture. Adults and children are subjected to horrific physical and sexual abuse in prison.

The evidence presented to the committee painfully illustrates the wholesale maltreatment of a nation by the very authorities whose job it is supposed to be to safeguard and protect the Iranian population.

We need to value and protect what we have here in Australia, but we also need to speak up for people who do not have the benefits and security of what we have here. That’s because that pattern of behaviour is not isolated to this one incident.

In 1999, in 2009, in 2017-18, in 2019, in 2020 and now in 2022, we have seen a similar pattern of people seeking to speak up for their right to hold an opinion, to gather together and to demand, for example, the basic things that we take for granted, such as freedom of the press, only to be attacked by their own government. The forces which are meant to be there to protect and enable are in fact used to oppress and to preserve power for the few, and to deny the people their rights.

The figures are that in this most recent round of violence over 500 people have been killed and more than 20,000 detained arbitrarily through this system.

This is a nation that should not be welcomed into the international community under the current regime. It’s disappointing to see bodies like the United Nations appointing representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran to bodies such as, for example, the United Nations Human Rights Council—to actually chair parts of that council. There is such contradiction in that action and we need to continue speaking out against that.

We need to continue speaking out against their overt support for groups such as Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and for those who would visit terrorism on others. A nation that will take hostages for diplomatic and political outcomes is not a nation that we should encourage or support in any way, and Iran’s support for Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine through provision of drones is something that continues to be condemned.