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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1274

Senator KIRK (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Faulkner. Can the minister advise the Senate on the most recent developments in Tibet, and Australia’s position in relation to the situation? In addition, what is the government’s attitude to the call by the Dalai Lama for an end to the violence in Tibet? What role has the Department of Foreign Affairs played in ensuring the safety of Australians in Tibet during this time?

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Kirk for her question. The government is of course monitoring events in Tibet and neighbouring areas very closely. We understand the current situation on the ground is quiet but tense. The government reiterates the calls it has made in recent days for calm and restraint by all parties and for the unrest to end quickly and without further casualties. Obviously the violence and loss of life that has occurred is greatly regretted. I certainly do note that the Dalai Lama has, overnight, also called for an end to the violence.

We urge China to allow free access to Tibet and other affected areas so that the international community may gain an accurate understanding of what is occurring there. The government welcomes the Dalai Lama’s call overnight for an end to the violence. The government believes that constructive dialogue offers the best prospects for peaceful resolution of the issue and certainly the long-term stability of the affected areas. As I have said before in this chamber, Australia recognises China’s sovereignty over Tibet, but we believe it is in China’s best interests to implement policies which will foster an environment of much greater respect and tolerance. Officials in both Canberra and Beijing continue to discuss developments in Tibet with Chinese authorities.

Senator Kirk asked me about the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is monitoring the welfare of the 10 Australians who we know or understand are in Tibet. The department and embassy in Beijing have already assisted 12 Australians, who have departed Tibet. The government continues to advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Lhasa and to exercise a high degree of caution in the rest of Tibet and in the Tibetan areas of bordering provinces. It has been clear from the government’s statements over recent days that we remain concerned about persistent and serious inadequacies in the protection of Tibet’s religious, civil and political rights and cultural and environmental heritage. These concerns are not new and have been raised directly by the government with the Chinese, including by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, with the Chinese foreign minister, Mr Yang, during his visit to Australia on 5 February. The government will continue to raise human rights issues with China.

Finally, I mention the issue of the Olympics and Australian participation in the Olympics. It is the government’s position that there is no reason for Australia to reconsider our commitment to participate in the Olympics. We believe the most effective way to influence human rights in China positively is through engagement. I note also that the Dalai Lama himself has dismissed calls for an Olympic boycott.