Page 1507 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 7 May 2008

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Can the Chief Minister explain how his strong commitment to human rights, and specifically the right to free speech, is consistent with his view that this was “peaceful” and “an outstanding success”, and can he advise the Assembly if he has raised any concerns regarding the behaviour of the large red-flag-waving crowds with the embassy?

MR STANHOPE: I do regard the Olympic torch relay as a significant success. I spent the entire day at the start, at the finish and on the course. I spent the day amongst the tens of thousands of Canberrans, Australians, international students and human rights activists and protesters. I am well aware of the passion and the heat of the protest, the passionate nationalism of tens of thousands of Chinese students and the passion of those who were there protesting at human rights abuses and concerns around human rights in China generally and in Tibet.

I saw a number of exchanges of aggression. I must say that I did not see any actual physical violence but I certainly was witness to a number of very ugly—I think that is an appropriate description—confrontations between Tibetan and Turkistan protesters and supporters and large groups of young, proudly nationalistic Chinese students. I saw acts of aggression by people demonstrating against human rights in China. I saw acts of aggression by young Chinese students.

I think, Dr Foskey, in relation to any discussion around freedoms and an abuse of freedoms, such as abuse of a fundamental freedom, the freedom of expression or speech, we really do need to be aware of the extent to which in relation to any contest where there is a contest of views it is perhaps unfortunate to suggest that all of the blame or all of the conflict was generated by one side of an argument. Dr Foskey, I am sure you would be the first to agree that it beggars belief that, of the thousands of pro-Tibet anti-China demonstrators, there was not one who did not act in an aggressive or regretful or unacceptable way while only Chinese nationalists behaved in an aggressive or unacceptable way. If that were the case, one would ask the question: why did the police do five arrests that were undertaken on the day? Three of those arrested were Chinese nationals and two of those arrested were people demonstrating against China on behalf of Tibet and in relation to human rights abuses.

I saw acts perpetrated of aggression, of assertion, by both Tibetan supporters and Chinese supporters. Each of us can take a particular perspective, but I would have thought, in relation to the context of abuse, it would be remarkable, Dr Foskey, as we embrace our support for human rights and the right to freedom of expression, that we adopt an attitude that, because there were two groups of people with diametrically opposed views, each wishing to express an opinion, we somehow suggest that those who were the largest and the loudest on the day were in some way preventing or inhibiting the right of others to freedom of expression.

Certainly, some of the behaviour was unacceptable, but there were two points of view, Dr Foskey. There was a proud, nationalistic, Chinese expression of a point of view. I do not have to believe, in the context of my right to defend the right to freedom of expression, the truth or otherwise of the views that were being expressed. Isn’t that what freedom of expression is all about? Isn’t that what inalienable human rights are

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