Right now, obviously, the world is watching the war in Gaza, which has its roots in the illegal occupation of Palestine and the unjust oppression of Palestinian people. But Palestine, sadly, is not the only state in the world that’s occupied, with its people suppressed, and Israel is not the only oppressor.
Senator RICE (Victoria) (15:47): I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
I rise to speak about the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on their inquiry into supporting democracy in our region. In discussing Australia’s role in supporting democracy in the region, we have to discuss supporting the freedom and human rights of people who are living in occupied territories, where people are denied the right to self-determination, which is a basic cornerstone of democratic society.
Right now, obviously, the world is watching the war in Gaza, which has its roots in the illegal occupation of Palestine and the unjust oppression of Palestinian people. But Palestine, sadly, is not the only state in the world that’s occupied, with its people suppressed, and Israel is not the only oppressor. In our region, West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1969. The West Papuan national day is 1 December, when the level of oppression and lack of democracy for the West Papuan people will be highlighted by the fact that the raising of the Morning Star flag is illegal in West Papua. Indonesia is described as a democracy in the committee report, and yet its democracy doesn’t go as far as supporting self-determination for the peoples of occupied West Papua.
The report is very strangely very light on in its discussion on the influence of China on democracy in our region. The report notes that China is an authoritarian state and that there’s concern about the creeping influence of China on media freedom in the Pacific. If we are to be serious about supporting democracy in our region then we have to engage with the broader impact of China, an authoritarian state in our broader region. Specifically, I want to go this afternoon to the lack of democracy within occupied parts of what China claims as its territory—namely, Tibet.
Today, the Australian all-party parliamentary group on Tibet had the honour of meeting Kalon Norzin Dolma. Kalon Dolma is the Minister for the Department of Information and International Relations in the Central Tibetan Administration, which is the Tibetan parliament in exile. It runs as a democratic government for Tibetans in exile all around the world. I want to thank Norzin for coming to Australia and for speaking with us about the existential threat that Tibet faces under China’s occupation.
Since the occupation of Tibet and the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, it’s estimated that over a million Tibetans have been killed. With the Chinese government’s policy of resettlement of Chinese people to Tibet, Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. Over the last 60 years, the people of Tibet have endured an attack on not only their people but their culture, their expression and their freedom too. They have endured it in a non-violent way. I think, as the world looks at the horrific war in Gaza, it’s up to us to remember and think about what’s going on in Tibet. There is no war going on in Tibet because of the Tibetans’ commitment to nonviolence. But the world needs to pay as much attention to what is going on in Tibet as we do to what is going on in the unjust occupation of Palestine and in other states.
In our meeting with Norzin, she urged the Australian government to raise the plight of Tibet in China’s upcoming universal periodic review by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The last review conducted by the UN Human Rights Council was in 2018. At that time, Australia raised specific recommendations on Tibet, including recommending that China cease restrictions, including military and police measures, on Uighurs’ and Tibetans’ freedom of movement and allow access to Tibet and Xinjiang, or Eastern Turkestan, by human rights observers. These things have not occurred. Since that time, we’ve seen further crackdowns, with Tibetan children being forced to attend Chinese-language boarding schools and non-voluntary labour transfer and vocational training programs.
When we talk about supporting democracy, we have to be focused on what the impacts of that lack of democracy are in our region. One thing that we can do to support democracy is to apply whatever pressure we can to authoritarian states. In our relationship with China, we have to take every opportunity that we can to raise these huge attacks on people’s human rights. The Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet has written to our foreign minister to urge the government to raise these issues in January in Australia’s response to the next universal periodic review into China. I also urge the Australian government to oppose any effort by the Chinese government to interfere with the practices of Tibetan Buddhism and to raise these human rights violations directly with their counterparts at every level.
The Australian Greens believe that universal human rights are fundamental and must be respected and protected in all countries and for all peoples. We cannot be selective about whose human rights we’re going to stand up for. The Greens stand in solidarity with those living in occupied territories, in occupied Tibet, Palestine and West Papua, and with First Nations peoples living here in Australia. That’s why we are calling on the government to do all they can to stop the Chinese government from suppressing the rights of the Tibetan people and to support self-determination for the peoples of West Papua. It’s why we are demanding that we join the calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.