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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 931

Senator PAYNE (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. I note Minister Smith’s recent media statement outlining the government’s concern over the current situation in Tibet, which the opposition shares. Can the minister indicate what information the government has received on how many people have died, been injured or been arrested in these recent events? Can the minister also indicate what the Prime Minister will be doing specifically to address the issue of human rights abuses in Tibet when he visits President Hu Jintao on his upcoming 17-day world tour?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I thank Senator Payne for the question and acknowledge her long interest in these issues. The Australian government, along with everyone in the Senate, greatly regrets the violence and the loss of life in Tibet and neighbouring areas. The Prime Minister has urged all parties to show restraint, and I notice that the US government has done similarly. We made our position very clear, and we will continue to take any opportunities that we can to reinforce those points, as Senator Payne intimated.

While Australia recognises China’s sovereignty over Tibet, we remain very concerned about the human rights situation there. Those concerns about human rights in Tibet have been raised with the Chinese government and the Australian charge d’affaires in Beijing raised our concerns directly with the Chinese government over the weekend. We also raise these concerns through the human rights dialogue. We urge China to take this opportunity to implement policies which allow greater freedoms of religion, expression and association in an endeavour to create an environment of greater respect and tolerance. In response to these issues, we have also recently updated Australia’s travel advice, which encourages Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Lhasa at this time and to exercise a high degree of caution in the areas affected by the unrest.

In terms of the specifics—through you, Mr President, to Senator Payne—I do not have a reliable update on the numbers who may have been killed or injured. The best that I have at the moment is what you would have heard in the media. I am happy to see if we have anything more reliable from official sources, but at this stage I cannot provide you with anything beyond what has been covered in the media, where there seems to be quite a variance, as always, in these things. But the bottom line is that the violence and loss of life are greatly regrettable. We would urge all parties to show restraint and hope that peace and order are restored as quickly as possible.

Senator PAYNE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that information and for undertaking to provide an update on those specific numbers. You said that you will take any opportunity you can to reinforce the concerns. Can the minister indicate whether the Prime Minister will be specifically reinforcing those concerns when he visits and meets with President Hu Jintao in the next couple of weeks? Can the minister also advise the Senate whether, as reported, it is the case that protestors against the government in Tibet can be executed for that offence?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I thank Senator Payne for the supplementary question. As I indicated, the Prime Minister made it clear this morning in his press conference that he will take all appropriate opportunities to reinforce our concern and urge China to show restraint. No doubt he will do that as the opportunities arise in his discussions with the Chinese government. I am not aware of the particular laws regarding execution for protester engagement. Clearly, there is serious concern about the violence that is occurring there currently. We join with all senators and urge the Chinese government to show restraint and hope that order is returned as quickly as possible.