Philip Ruddock, who served as Australia’s immigration minister between 1996 and 2003 and now serves as the government’s chief parliamentary whip, has described Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government as a “one-party state,” and said that Australia is concerned about the shooting deaths of five strike protesters in January.
The comments came during a parliamentary debate on Monday over a motion to condemn the killing of the garment factory workers by Cambodian security forces on January 3 and to recognize that the official results of the July 28 national election, which Mr. Hun Sen narrowly won, remain in dispute.
Before making his remarks, Mr. Ruddock, who has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1973, noted that his history in Cambodia began with efforts to end the country’s civil war in the 1980s.
“My engagement with Cambodia goes back a long way,” Mr. Ruddock told the House. “I had the opportunity, in 1985, of visiting Cambodia at a time when the nation had suffered dreadfully as a result of the activities of the Khmer Rouge.”
Mr. Ruddock, a member of the conservative Liberal Party, also visited Cambodia in 1988 as part of a bipartisan fact-finding mission on the Cambodian civil war. The visit was organized by the World Vision NGO, through which Australia delivered indirect aid to Cambodians in the 1980s.
Mr. Ruddock met with Hun Sen, who was then prime minister of the communist People’s Republic of Kampuchea, in Phnom Penh, and Son Sann, prime minister of the resistance on the Cambodian-Thai border, in Bangkok.
“I can remember Phnom Penh when I was there; the Vietnamese were there, the Russians were there—it was a city devoid of Khmer,” Mr. Ruddock said Monday. “I cannot say Hun Sen is a close friend—I have only met him once or twice—but [opposition leader] Sam Rainsy and I had the opportunity of meeting on several occasions.”
“When I look at the way in which events have unfolded [since the 1980s], I understand that Cambodia is very much what I would regard as a one-party state, with the CPP being in government for such a long period of time,” he said, questioning Cambodia’s electoral processes. “I understand that elections are held, and they do not always look the same as ours.”
“The view of the Australian government is that we want to see democracy working,” Mr. Ruddock concluded. “The government is concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred but continues to urge all parties to exercise restraint and to work these issues through in open dialogue.”
Mr. Ruddock was an outspoken advocate of resettling Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees in Australia in the 1980s, before overseeing the introduction of harsh asylum-seeker determent policies in his role as immigration minister under Prime Minister John Howard in the 2000s.
Julie Bishop, Australia’s current foreign minister, requested during a visit to the country last month that Cambodia help resettle refugees seeking asylum in Australia.
Mr. Ruddock’s comments also come a week after Gareth Evans, who had maintained a close friendship with Mr. Hun Sen since serving as Australia’s foreign minister between 1988 and 1996 for the Labor Party, wrote an opinion piece scathing of the Cambodian government.
In the piece, Mr. Evans said he no longer held any hope for Mr. Hun Sen’s government after January’s killings of strike protesters.