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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 5981

Mr DANBY (9:34 PM) —At the end of next week when the House rises for the winter break, I will have the great privilege of leading the first Australian parliamentary delegation to Dharamsala, in India. This is the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, headed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will be celebrating his 74th birthday. The delegation will consist of me, the honourable member for Fremantle, the honourable member for Fisher, Senator Ludlam, Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Xenophon. I must stress at the outset that this will not be an official parliamentary delegation. We will not be representing the parliament, the government, the opposition or even our political parties. The all party parliamentary group for Tibet, which I chair, is not even an official parliamentary group. In a parliamentary sense, we will be representing only ourselves. But we will also be representing a very large number of Australians of all political persuasions who care about the freedom and human rights of oppressed nationalities.

Ever since the Chinese invasion of 1950, the people of Tibet have been denied not only their national independence but also the freedom to practise their culture and religion—although I acknowledge that the situation has improved somewhat since the dark days of the Cultural Revolution in China. Yet, as we saw during the extensive disturbances in Tibet last year, the people of that country—particularly the younger generation—have not lost their desire for national and personal freedom. It is estimated that there are up to 500,000 Chinese troops in Tibet, a region with a Tibetan population of only two million people—although there are five million Tibetans who live in wider areas of the People’s Republic of China. There has been a systematic effort to settle Tibet with Han Chinese migrants in the hope of swamping the Tibetans and extinguishing their culture.

In Dharamsala, we will be meeting with the Dalai Lama, who is recognised by all Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, as their national and spiritual leader. We will also be meeting Professor Samdong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile, who was elected by the world community of Tibetans in exile.

I know that the Chinese Embassy in Australia told the Age last week that they had opposed our delegation’s visit to Dharamsala as it would be an interference in Chinese sovereignty because we are supporting Tibetan independence. Let me say to this House, as I have said to successive Chinese ambassadors: I am not anti China. This delegation’s visit to India is in no way an act of hostility towards China. I wish nothing but happiness and prosperity for the great Chinese people. But, just as the Chinese people fought for many decades to free their country of foreign invaders and to re-establish their sovereignty, I hope our Chinese friends would understand that the people of Tibet wish to do the same for their country. There are 1.2 billion people in China. I find it hard to understand why they feel it necessary to deny self-government to a minority population of only five million in a remote area of their vast country. Many Chinese feel that they liberated Tibet from feudalism and they cannot understand why the Tibetans are not grateful for that. I am not here to defend the system that operated before 1950, but the Chinese themselves do not welcome changes brought to China by foreigners, even if those foreigners are well intentioned.

When I was at university, I studied Marxism under a great professor, Dr Frank Knopfelmacher, who insisted that we read Das Kapital and the even more turgid Die Grundrisse. In those studies I learnt that one of the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism is atheism, which is the official state ideology of China. It is very odd that a country with such an ideology would insist on appointing the spiritual second-in-command of the Dalai Lama’s religion. The Panchen Lama—the authentic one—was ‘disappeared’ by agents of the Beijing regime when he was five years old. That is now many years ago.

The Dalai Lama has said that he accepts the Chinese assertion that China has historically exercised sovereignty over Tibet—although I note in passing that many historians in Tibet dispute this—and that he is willing to accept the same autonomous status that China has accepted for Hong Kong and Macau. I have to say that this seems a remarkably moderate position, given the sad history of oppression in Tibet since 1950. I hope that the Chinese leadership will eventually have the wisdom to accept the Dalai Lama’s proposal, although I do not expect it to happen soon.

Some people say to me that Tibet is a lost cause. My reply is that I am old enough to have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, the demise of fascism in Spain and Communism in the Soviet Union and the establishment of independence in East Timor. I do not believe that any just cause is truly lost. The cause of the people of Tibet is a just case and one that I am proud to support.