The motion was brought by Greens leader Christine Milne, and supported by the Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.
It called on the Fiji interim government to publicly condemn the use of torture and establish an independent and transparent investigation into the events depicted in an online video.
Presenter: Bruce Hill,
Speaker:Christine Milne, leader Australian Greens
Radio Australia approached Foreign Minister Bob Carr for comment, but he has not responded.
MILNE: I had negotiations with Minister Carr in relation to this and a slightly amended motion has gone through the Senate, and I'm very pleased to say now that the Australian Senate has condemned the apparent torture and inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees in Fiji, and also has called on the interim Fiji government to publicly condemn the use of torture, and also to uphold international conventions protecting civil and political rights, and also to establish an independent and transparent investigation into the event. So I am very pleased that the Australian Senate has now done this. It is following, of course a successful motion in New Zealand, and hopefully that will start to shine a spotlight onto human rights abuses in Fiji.
HILL: What was the part of your motion that you were asked to amend by Foreign Minister Carr?
MILNE: There were some wording changes that suited the government's position more, particularly in relation to how the Fiji government is described, and I agreed that I would call it the Interim Fiji Government. But I don't think that's the point, the issue here is that Australia has at last taken a stand through the Senate to condemn the apparent torture and inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees in Fiji. And I think that's the really important thing and also that there is now a call from Australia to establish an independent and transparent investigation into what has occurred.
HILL: Now, I understand that the Foreign Minister Senator Carr actually supported this motion in the Senate?
MILNE: Yes, I'm very pleased to say that the Australian government supported it, in fact it passed unanimously in the Senate today, and that is important in the region. It's not enough for the Prime Minister to go to various fora in the region or the Foreign Minister to turn up and say how concerned he is about issues in the Pacific, if we don't take a stand on human rights abuses. And I've been extremely critical of the government's failure to take a strong stand on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and I was alarmed that no-one had said anything about what was going on in Fiji in spite of it having been public. So I'm really pleased, that the Senate has at last stood up in Australia and that the Greens have encouraging the government to come out and say something publicly.
HILL: Is there going to be any practical effect from this though?
MILNE: Well, I think it is important that Australia takes a stand. The Senate has now made it clear that we want an independent and transparent investigation, and Fiji to uphold its international conventions protecting civil and political rights. Having now done that, and with the government's support, surely that will embolden Senator Carr to actually take more of a leadership role in the region.
HILL: You say that you're pleased that it's passed, you sound slightly surprised? Were you not thinking that it would go through, that there might be some opposition to it?
MILNE: Whilst I had hoped that it would pass unanimously in the Senate, it is often the case that both the government and the Coalition defeat foreign affairs motions saying that without a full debate and without more consideration and without more information from countries etc., they just refuse to actually engage it, let alone pass it. So I'm very pleased on this occasion that the government has recognised, I think, that they were well behind the game, that New Zealand was leading the way, and that really Australia needs to take a leadership role in the region. And of course this is on top of the fact that Australia has withdrawn 50 million dollars from our aid budget that was destined for the Pacific aid, in order to put that money into offshore detention. So I think Australia is recognising that its Pacific Island neighbours are fairly unimpressed at the moment, and that really Australia needed to take a stand.
HILL: Was there a sense perhaps there was embarrassment that New Zealand was taking the lead on this and they had their vote way in advance of the Australian parliament?
MILNE: Well, I'm very pleased that New Zealand did take a lead on this and it in some ways has given a bit of backbone to the Australian government when you see that moral leadership if you're being offered. I have to say New Zealand often leads Australia, particularly in relation to fair and decent and compassionate treatment of people around the Pacific. And so I would like to think that Australia gets away from this very cautious position it has and actually takes a much stronger stand on human rights, and I'd like to see it not only in the Pacific, but particularly in relation to Sri Lanka.