The below article was published by The Islander | Photo credit: Senator Rex Patrick / Commons
Rex Patrick has put forward legislation to prohibit the importation of goods from Xinjiang.
Australia must stand up to China’s bullying and call out the superpower’s widespread use of forced Uighur labour, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
Every Uighur in Australia has suffered the anguish of having relatives imprisoned or go missing over the past five years, Australian Uighur community representatives told the hearing on Tuesday.
“Genocide is unquestionable and is happening as we speak,” Uighur Association of Victoria president Alim Osman said.
The foreign affairs, defence and trade committee is considering an import ban on products and components produced using Uighur forced labour, under proposed laws put forward by independent senator Rex Patrick.
Australian Uighur Tangritagh Women’s Association president Ramila Chanisheff said people were afraid of speaking up about relatives being forcibly coerced, separated from their children and sent to mass labour camps.
Ms Chanisheff said China was bullying countries like Australia not to speak up.
Carolyn Kitto, national co-director of the Be Slavery Free organisation, said without the protection of national action and legislation companies also feared economic intimidation.
“What they’re looking at is not to put their head above the parapet on their own,” Ms Kitto said.
She cited the boycott of H&M in China after the global clothing retailer voiced “deep concerns” about buying cotton produced in Xinjiang province.
Nike, Adidas and Burberry faced similar campaigns.
Responding to criticism the proposed bill was a “blunt instrument”, Senator Patrick cited ongoing genocide and rejected calls to avoid calling out a specific country.
“It’s helpful in resolving the problem and sending a very strong message,” he told AAP.
Analyst Vicky Xu said the Chinese government regards any investigation of labour conditions of Uighur workers as “crossing a red line”.
She co-authored the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s 2020 report that found more than 80,000 people were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019 linked to almost 100 global brands.
Committee chair Eric Abetz slammed Australian National University academic Jane Golley’s plans to “debunk” reports of one million Uighur Muslims working in concentration camps in Xinjiang province alone.
“Golly gosh,” Senator Abetz said, calling out Professor Golley in the face of “overwhelming evidence”.
Dr Darren Byler, a researcher at the University of Colorado, said Professor Golley’s advocacy was an example of the “seeding of doubt or disinformation” by China.
He gave evidence of Uighurs being placed on a “trustworthy” list if they used “long-term birth control” including sterilisation.
Immigration lawyer and East Turkistan Australian Association president Nurmuhammad Majid has had two sisters imprisoned for more than 10 years, two brothers taken to an unknown location, and 58 people in his extended family lost since 2016.
“Australia has not made any significant contribution to stop the atrocities against Uighur people,” he said.
“Australia is now being the victim of China’s economic expansion policy.”
He said Australian Uighurs have also been wrongly listed as terrorists by China for sending money to family members.
Several witnesses said amending modern slavery legislation could put the onus on governments and companies to act across all jurisdictions, not just China.
“If the government were to modify the slavery legislation that dealt with not just Xinjiang but all jurisdictions, I’d be very happy,” Senator Patrick told AAP.
Founding director of charity Slavery Links Australia Roscoe Howell said the Australian government had not looked effectively at trade exposure and the “taint” of slave labour across the Asia-Pacific region.
He called for the Attorney-General’s Department to work with foreign affairs officials and take action.
“Slavery is a serious crime,” he said.
Australian Associated Press