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Delegation to Dharamshala

The electorate of Mackellar is very proud to be home to the largest Tibetan community in the country, and we really cherish our Tibetan Australian friends and what they bring of their very caring and kind culture to our community. As such, I was honoured and delighted to take part in a cross-party parliamentary delegation with the Friends of Tibet at the invitation of the official agent of His Holiness the Dalai Lama here in Australia, Mr Karma Singey, from the Tibet Information Office. In April this year, our cross-party delegation travelled to Dharamshala in northern India to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. The aim of the trip was to create a better understanding of the situation in Tibet and the plight of the Tibetan people. Our delegation consisted of the Deputy Speaker of the House, Sharon Claydon; Susan Templeman, MP and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet; and Greens Senator Janet Rice; along with Zoe Bedford, Executive Officer of the Australia Tibet Council; and Mr Karma Singey of the Tibet Information Office. Sadly, the Liberal Party representative was unable to travel with us.

Tibet was invaded in 1959, and many monks and nuns were able to escape from Tibet at that time with their lives under threat, but that escape through the Himalayas was an incredibly dangerous one not only because of the physical conditions with frostbite but also because they were faced with the loss of life from being shot. Currently there are about six to seven million Tibetans living in Tibet, and there are only 130,000 Tibetans living outside of Tibet. The growing challenge for these Tibetan people of the diaspora is that that diaspora is becoming increasingly dispersed around the world, so continuing to preserve and protect their culture is becoming more and more difficult.

We had an incredibly jam-packed week with many meetings. We met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who was very generous with his time and spoke about the oneness of humanity. He also spoke about his concerns for the Tibetan people into the future. We also met with the Sikyong, the Prime Minister of Tibet-in-Exile, and the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. We met with spiritual leaders. We visited the school of orphans and the old people's home. We went and visited the traditional medicine and healing institute. We went to a nunnery and arts and crafts preservation precincts. We saw performances of traditional song and dance. We saw how the documents on the history of Tibet in exile were being preserved by archivists, and we met with researchers and intelligence officers.

There were many issues that were brought up during our trip. One was the ongoing occupation of Tibet. One of the biggest issues was the mass surveillance and mass collection of DNA from within Tibet and how this was being used to control and basically keep tabs on the Tibetan community. Also raised time and again was a recent UN report which showed that there were around a million Tibetan children who had been separated from their families and mandatorily sent to boarding schools inside Tibet and, in this way, had lost touch. They were separated from their families, their culture, their language, their religion and their traditions, and this was a way of being assimilated into new culture and losing touch with their Tibetan heritage. This is of great concern to the people outside Tibet and to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

One of the other concerning issues was that we were told repeatedly about the incredible environmental degradation that is going on inside Tibet at the moment. Tibet and the Himalayas can be regarded as the third pole with the ice caps there, and there are so many river systems that actually are founded and formed in those mountains. There's a population of around two billion people that are supplied by river systems that actually flow out of the Himalayas, so reports that these river systems were being dammed with multiple mega-dams is an issue for water security into the future.

Another issue that was raised a number of times was the succession of the Dalai Lama and how that should be left to the monks and the religious people and should not be controlled by the Chinese parliament. The other thing I would like to say is about the immense gratitude that people wanted to portray to Australia for allowing political prisoners to come and stay in Australia.