Monday, 19 March 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Carr. I refer the minister to his hurtful and tactless comments regarding the Dalai Lama and human rights in Tibet, comments which do not bear repeating here, comments which the minister has since removed from his blog, admitting that they may have been be better expressed. Now that he is the foreign minister, will the minister commit to meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama when the opportunity next arises?
I am very happy to have the opportunity to announce an initiative I concluded on Saturday night with our ambassador in Beijing. As a result of our consultation, I can announce that our ambassador will be seeking today to travel to Tibet to see for herself the grievances which have given rise to the self-immolations. Moreover—
Honourable senators interjecting—
I would have thought you would have been struck by the directness of the information conveyed in this answer. Moreover, I can convey that that request for a visit by our ambassador is being made today, possibly while we debate this matter in the Senate. Secondly, I can reveal to the Senate that the deputy head of mission, who today is visiting Sichuan Province, is making today a request to the Sichuan Foreign Affairs Office to inspect Tibetan establishments in that province, again to investigate the grievances that have given rise to these extreme and distressing forms of protest. Moreover, I can reveal to the Senate that our ambassador in Beijing is making an application today to have permission granted for a delegation of our Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to go to Tibet to investigate these things themselves. I am very grateful for the question because it has given me an opportunity to share these recent initiatives with the house.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his information, although I bring to the chamber's attention that he did not answer the question about meeting the Dalai Lama. I would like to know, Mr President, knowing that there have been 30 Tibetan monks, nuns and ordinary citizens, such as mothers, farmers and teenagers, who have self-immolated in protest since 2009—17 this year alone—does the foreign minister agree with his counterparts in Beijing that these people are nothing but criminals and have bad reputations in society?
I am astonished by that question. As if anyone in this Senate would hold that view. We deplore the circumstances that would force people to give rise to this extreme, to this tragic, form of protest. The Dalai Lama, with whom I have met twice, is a significant religious leader for Tibetan Buddhists. Any suggestion, however, of independence for Tibet conflicts with the position taken by every Australian government since December 1972 when Australia recognised China's sovereignty over Tibet with the establishment of diplomatic relations. In statements—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The question from Senator Hanson-Young, repeated in the supplementary question, was: will the foreign minister take the opportunity next available to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
Having met His Holiness the Dalai Lama on two occasions, I will make a decision about future meetings when I consider them timely, appropriate and relevant. But let me make the point that when supporters of the Dalai Lama imply that Tibet's borders be stretched to take in parts of other provinces— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister has previously likened calls for freedom in Tibet to Western Australian secessionism. Given the constitutional and democratic rights enjoyed by Western Australians, how does the minister explain his comparison with ongoing oppression in Tibet and China, including high military presence, arbitrary arrests and detention, media blackouts and a lack of democratic right?
The Australian government has recognised that Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China. That has been recognised by every Australian government. When supporters of the Dalai Lama imply that the borders of Tibet be stretched to include parts of the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, they make it far more difficult for any Chinese government to do the sorts of things we want when it comes to response to human rights. That is provocative policymaking in the extreme. We hold concerns for human rights in Tibet and in other parts of China. Promoting improvements in human rights in China is an Australian goal. It is a high priority for the government. I have, of course, as all senators have, been nothing less than appalled by the self-immolations. I have a list here of the occasions on which our embassy has raised the matter with the Chinese.