MPs rally to defend Hastie and Paterson

MPs rally to defend Hastie and Paterson

Fergus Hunter – Sydney Morning Herald – Sunday 17 November

Federal MPs from across the political spectrum have rallied behind Liberals Andrew Hastie and James Paterson, questioning the Chinese government’s decision to bar the pair from visiting the country.

Mr Hastie and Senator Paterson, vocal critics of the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record and interference in Australia, were set to take part in a study tour organised by think-tank China Matters but it emerged on Friday that the Chinese embassy had refused to grant them visas.

The Chinese embassy released a statement criticising the duo’s “unwarranted attacks” and disrespect, urging them to “repent and redress their mistakes”. The MPs expressed disappointment with the Chinese government’s decision but promised to keep speaking out.

The MPs have now attracted the support of a range of politicians, from Greens leader Richard Di Natale through to Liberal colleague Tim Wilson.

Senator Di Natale said: “It is shocking that our largest trading partner would block elected officials from entering the country, simply for criticising the government of the day.

“We hope this doesn’t stop other members of our government from speaking up against escalating human rights abuses in China. If this chilling effect is allowed to work, we will see even less resistance to Beijing’s totalitarian grip on the Chinese people.”

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said free expression of ideas was intrinsic to Australia’s political system.

“We’re a democracy so freedom of speech, open dialogue and the exchange of ideas is part of who we are and I  would hope that all countries would expect that when dealing with Australia,” she said.

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, who has called for a wide-ranging inquiry into the Australia-China relationship, said China was working to suppress international criticism and queried the actions against the Liberal MPs.

“It shows either a lack of understanding of the way our system of government works or is a deliberate attempt to influence the dialogue here in Australia. And if I’m honest, I think it’s the latter,” he said.

Mr Wilson, who has also been outspoken in his concerns about China, said his colleagues had spoken out about detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun and the repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang while Labor figures had been silent on a recent study trip to Beijing.

“Which camp would you rather be in?” he said. “It’s a no brainer to me: respect doesn’t equal silence.

“When I read the embassy’s statement I first thought it was a parody, but it is actually insightful that the Chinese Communist Party sees themselves as above criticism and demanding repentance from critics. The greatest risk doesn’t come from speaking out, but allowing other nations to think we are prepared to be silent.”

This is not the first time Beijing has used visa denials as a tool against critical foreign politicians. Last month, it emerged that a United States congressional delegation was subject to the treatment seemingly because of plans to visit Taiwan. Earlier this year, a Greens politician from Germany was also denied a visa, apparently over her vocal support for Muslim minority Uighurs.

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