Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples: 10th Anniversary, China: Human Rights

7:25 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to share my sentiment and support for Australia's first nations peoples on this day, the 10th anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations. Ten years ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd turned a new page for Australia. On behalf of the Labor Party, the parliament and the nation of Australia, he said:

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

His acknowledgement of remorse, regret and shame changed us. For the first time, the elected leader of the Australian people put it on record that the nation was stopping to ask: 'How would I feel if this were done to me? How would I feel if my children were taken from me and if I had no idea where they were taken, if I would ever see them again, if they got my letters, or if they would remember my face or where they came from?'

I want to pay tribute to the survivors of the stolen generations for their generosity and forgiveness, and I am proud of Bill Shorten's announcement yesterday that a federal Labor government would create a stolen generations compensation fund, provide $10 million in funding for the Healing Foundation, and establish and convene a national summit on first nations children. I also recognise the call today by the Law Council of Australia for justice targets to end the high imprisonment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This is the beginning of what Senator Pat Dodson has called for: a clear agreement of recognition—of recognition of the wrongs and the actions needed to right them.

The new page that the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd turned a decade ago was not an entirely new beginning for reconciliation, but it did mean the start of a new chapter. And today, 10 years on, we share the depth of that sorrow, we pay our respects and we remember.

I also want to raise a grave human rights issue tonight for a Tibetan man's peaceful campaign for language rights. Tashi Wangchuk has been detained in China since January 2016, after The New York Times published a video about his advocacy for Tibetan-language education. He has been held in secret detention for two years now and denied contact from lawyers and family members for months, being subjected to constant interrogation. He has been charged by the Chinese government with inciting separatism. Whilst the verdict is still pending, he could face 15 years imprisonment, and China's courts have a 99 per cent conviction rate.

The Chinese authorities on the Tibetan Plateau have slowly been eradicating the Tibetan language, yet Tashi Wangchuk believes prohibiting the study of the Tibetan language runs counter to China's own Constitution, which states:

All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages …

Voices around the world, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the US embassy in Beijing and the European Union, have publicly criticised the Chinese government and voiced their concerns to the UN Human Rights Council. So tonight I join them in calling on the Chinese government to release Tashi Wangchuk immediately and unconditionally and to take effective measures to ensure that Tibetans enjoy the right to learn and practise their language, as such a step is in accordance with China's own laws in its Constitution and its international commitments. I hope that Tashi Wangchuk, in his efforts to be able to speak his own Tibetan language, has the freedom to do it outside of being in detention and is freed.