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Adjournment speech: Human rights and the Rohingya people

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Apr 2018

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:13): On another matter: Woodside Petroleum has been involved in Myanmar since 2013. This company is the largest occupier in the offshore Rakhine Basin with interests in nine offshore blocks. In 2017, the company announced its intention to expand gas drilling with three new wells. However, according to a 2015 Southern Cross University report, a gas and oil pipeline has been laid from the location to Yunnan province in China. Gas has begun flowing through this pipeline, and land has been confiscated from local communities to facilitate this process. That is from the university report.

While evidence is scarce, it appears that the production of gas will impact the Rakhine province through onshore support centres such as a helicopter pad and distribution pipelines that connect to international customers. These Woodside activities directly impact Rohingya communities. It appears most likely that the Myanmar military simply removed Rohingya communities and confiscated their land without compensation in order to facilitate the industrial development for Woodside. I acknowledge that there is no direct proof of these developments, but there are significant and believable anecdotal reports. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, meaning there is no official documentation of any of these actions within Myanmar. Foreign human rights agencies are denied access, as are the media.

Meantime, the Australian government remains mainly silent on the genocide taking place. The Australian government appears to be supporting Australian investment in Myanmar far beyond any deep concern for the Rohingya people. Woodside is getting particular attention. Several Australian companies, including Woodside, have formed bilateral agreements with the Myanmar government. They argue that it is better to encourage the government in Myanmar to be open to the world than to criticise their human rights abuses. Woodside remains focused on the interests of shareholders at the expense of international human rights obligations.

Woodside was among the first international oil and gas companies to enter Myanmar when that country first opened up for business. The bulk of the company's ground sits off the coast of Myanmar's Rakhine state, where most of the alleged atrocities have taken place. It is widely understood that any pipeline connecting Woodside's discoveries with Asian markets would most likely have to cross through Rakhine land. In 2017, Woodside Petroleum's chief executive, Peter Coleman, travelled to Myanmar. The public reason given by the company for the visit was to assess the humanitarian crisis. Such a high-profile visit at the time of the expulsion of Rohingya from Myanmar was also viewed as an attempt by the CEO to assess the local situation in terms of how best to protect the company's assets.

Myanmar is now being promoted as an investor's dream. This is from an ANZ report: Myanmar has 'the lowest unit labour cost market in Asia, average wages even lower than Africa'. The report judged was 'likely to remain so for a considerable period'. The report went on to find that Myanmar has:

… the "key to attracting foreign direct investment platforms to utilise the last untapped labour market in Asia". With abundant arable land waiting development, large hydrocarbon resources, and by harnessing "the mighty Mekong for hydro power generation, Myanmar can become a battery for industrialists" …

That's how it's being promoted to the international business world.

The more accurate way to describe this in terms of what is impacting the Rohingya people is in terms of exploitation, dispossession, violence, cruelty, death and, often, starvation. As well as ANZ and Woodside, the Australian company BlueScope Steel has been linked to bilateral engagements with Myanmar that discriminate against the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya people await a human-rights principled stand to come from Australia. Sadly, what we see, though, is that the Australian government continues to ignore the systematic and widespread abuse that's being inflicted on the Rohingya people. This has been detailed by the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights. In 2018, it really is time that the Australian government stood with the Rohingya people and put Australian business interests behind them so the Rohingya community can be restored to their land, have their dignity returned to them and ensure that their survival is absolutely guaranteed.

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