Julia Angrisano is the national secretary of the Finance Sector Union. She gave this speech at the Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA dinner on September 12, 2023. She was responding to Professor Sean Turnell, who gave the keynote speech recounting his imprisonment by the Myanmar regime.
Thank you, Professor Turnell. The people of Myanmar and Australia’s Burmese community are extraordinarily grateful for all that you have done. There was of course a global network of support and many people involved in ensuring your safe release, including the trade union movement. So we are thrilled to have you with us this evening.
Last week, [APHEDA Executive Officer] Kate Lee and I represented the Australian trade union movement at UNI Global’s World Congress and it was at the congress that we heard a message from Khaing Zar of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar – and she also expressed the views that we heard Professor Turnell outline tonight – that the state-owned banks are the vehicles through which the junta is funding the war against the people of Myanmar.
Tonight, Professor Turnell outlined the reasons we need targeted sanctions against Myanmar state-owned banks, highlighting the role the banks are playing in the procurement of weapons by the military junta.
And it’s for this reason that we – that’s all of us here representing the Australian trade union movement, must act and we will call on the Federal Government to escalate sanctions and target state-owned banks. And we will make sure that our global partners and sister unions also step up their activities and call on all governments to act.
Sanctions are an effective measure
My union got involved in the campaign to restore democracy in Myanmar when we saw that the ANZ bank was not heeding the call to withdraw from Myanmar. As the finance sector union, we felt an obligation to act, so in 2021 we urged ANZ bank to withdraw its operations from Myanmar. At the time the CEO called us “dangerous social justice warriors” and said that our demands put the safety of ANZ staff at risk.
Well, at the end of last year the bank caved to pressure and announced they would be ceasing operations. ANZ withdrew its operations when its dealings with Innwa Bank were exposed. Innwa Bank is a subsidiary of the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation – a key financial institution of the Myanmar military cartel. ANZ transacted with the United States, United Kingdom and European Union-sanctioned Innwa Bank and facilitated payments to the military junta – I highlight this beacuse it shows that sanctions are effective, but we must act swiftly – Innwa was sanctioned by the US, UK and EU while Australia lagged behind.
We’ve heard tonight that Australia again lags behind our friends and allies so let’s get behind the call and implore the Australian Government to escalate sanctions on state-owned enterprises and in particular the state-owned banks.
Message of solidarity
The three finger salute 3 finger salute has been a core symbol of the movement.
Let’s all stand and send a strong message of solidarity that we can share with the leaders of the Myanmar union movement to let them know that they are not forgotten and that we hear them.
We recognise the strength and courage of the people of Myanmar who are resisting the return to military rule and extend our full solidarity to the trade union movement and the people of Myanmar in their struggle for democracy to be restored.