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Dalai Lama

Motion
Sarah Hanson-Young 24 Feb 2010

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (4.04 pm) - I, and also on behalf of Senator Xenophon, move:

That the Senate -

(a) congratulates the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, for meeting His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in December 2009 and February 2010 respectively;

and

(b) calls on the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to meet His Holiness, the Dalai Lama at the earliest possible opportunity.

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland-Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (4.04 pm) - I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator LUDWIG - The Australian government cannot support the motion in its current form. The Australian government again places on record its objection to dealing with complex  international matters such as the one before us by means of formal motions.

As I have indicated in the chamber a number of times now, such motions are blunt instruments. They force parties into black-and-white choices of either support or opposition.

They do not lend themselves to the nuances which are so necessary in this area of policy. Furthermore, they are too easily misinterpreted by some audiences as statements of policy by the national government.

We will not support formal motions in the Senate unless we are completely satisfied with their content. Australia's position on the Dalai Lama is clear. He is a respected religious leader who has visited Australia privately on several occasions over the years, most recently in December 2009.

During those visits he has had contact with members of the government of the day, and during his most recent visit he met Mr Garrett, the Minister for the Environment Heritage and the Arts.

The decisions that other countries take about the Dalai Lama's visits are a matter for them. The Australian government does not engage in a running commentary on such decisions by means of formal motions.

Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (4.06 pm) - I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator BOB BROWN - This is an extraordinary abuse, again, by the government of the Senate. The government says, inter alia, that it cannot make up its mind on a motion as simple as this one, which at once congratulates both President Obama and the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, for having met the Dalai Lama and encourages Prime Minister Rudd to do the same at the earliest opportunity.

That is pretty clear. It is pretty simple. It is not complicated. It will not confuse members of the public, even though the government might think that it will. It will be known that it came from the Senate. I also had the pleasure of meeting the Dalai Lama.

There is an enormous amount of concern that Prime Minister Rudd ducked the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama quite recently, but there was a terrific response to the President of the United States meeting with him, and there were congratulations from the Greens, but also from many other people, to Mr Abbott, the honourable Leader of the Opposition, on meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he visited Sydney in December.

The government can make its own decision on this, and the Prime Minister did make his decision. He did not have the courage to meet the Dalai Lama, but President Obama has now done so and I think a good many of us will congratulate President Obama, when becomes to this country, for showing a good deal more courage, common sense, courtesy and respect to this great world leader than has our Prime Minister.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Before I call Senator Parry, there is far too much audible conversation on my left.

Senator PARRY (Tasmania - Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (4.08 pm) - Mr Deputy President, I also seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator PARRY - The coalition will not be supporting the motion moved by the Greens and Senator Xenophon. This motion does not genuinely aim to promote or advance Australia's international relations.

As we have repeatedly said in his chamber - and we agree with the government on this count - these matters should not be dealt with in this way, through motions in the chamber. The coalition cannot support this motion, primarily for the reason that it is politically motivated and not with the interests of Australia's foreign affairs in mind.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (4.08 pm) - Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator XENOPHON - I endorse the remarks of Senator Bob Brown. I think this is not complex. It is a matter of fact that the President of the United States and the Leader of the Opposition have in the last few months met His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

I think there is a golden opportunity - this is one of the few times when the Australian Greens will actually be moving a motion congratulating the Leader of the Opposition! But it is important that we put into perspective the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, the President of the United States and many other world leaders have met the Dalai Lama.

I think it is very unfortunate that our Prime Minister has not taken that step, for whatever reason, whether for fear of offending the Chinese government -

Senator Conroy - He has met him. He's met the Dalai Lama.

Senator XENOPHON - As Prime Minister, Senator Conroy. Let's make it clear: I do not believe that the Prime Minister has met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his capacity as Prime Minister. This is an opportunity to make it clear that it is important that the Prime Minister follow the lead of both the President of the United States and the Leader of the Opposition.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Xenophon's) be agreed to. The Senate divided. [4.11 pm]

(The Deputy President - Senator the Hon. AB Ferguson)

Ayes............ 6

Noes............ 35

Majority......... 29

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