Wow. I wasn’t living in Australia for The Dismissal. I wasn’t in Canberra when Gillard rolled Rudd and then vice-versa, nor when Turnbull dispatched Abbott.
The tension, the excitement, the adrenalin rush, must have been palpable.
I wasn’t there for all those political dramas, but I’m pretty sure the atmosphere in the Senate chamber yesterday as we counted down and finally passed the law to make same sex marriage legal in Australia, was right up there with them.
The emotional tears, the conscience-vote tension, the weird sensation of sitting with Liberal ministers, Labor leaders and fellow crossbenchers as the Yes army closed ranks and routed the No conservatives amendment after amendment after amendment. And then it was done.
I was honoured to co-sponsor Dean Smith’s private member’s bill and also to play a small part in getting this through the Senate this week without the threatened marathon sitting through Friday night and possibly the weekend.
With Labor, Greens and crossbench support I managed to get government agreement to bring sitting hours forward on Tuesday from 12.30pm to 10.30am which gave us an extra two hours for the long list of speakers.
Now to get it through the other place next week and wedding bells can ring for Christmas.
After giving Dean Smith a “hero hug”, I walked past teary Labor and Greens senators (and some brave Libs) on my way to my office — still wearing the rainbow scarf that caused some chamber angst earlier on this historic day. In an Express Post envelope on my desk was the first copy of my new book, Hinch vs Canberra. It capped one of the most extraordinary days in my life.
Beneath the breathtakingly soaring, snow-capped Himalayas last week, right on the Indian-Chinese border near the roof of the world, I thought of Malcolm Turnbull.
Word filtered through about the House of Reps (the House of Rest) being “parked” — as Mathias Cormann would say — amid rumours of an anonymous disaffected Lib getting ready to sit as an independent and bring his own government down.
I was leading a delegation on a visit to the Tibetan Government in Exile and thought the beleaguered PM was probably starting to see his own government in that vein these days.
I’ll get to the current lower house schmozzle shortly, but first an explanation about why I was in Dharamsala and Delhi.
The Australia Tibet Council invited me to meet with the Dalai Lama in Delhi and then travel north to visits schools, the Tibet Children’s Village, hospitals, a nunnery, museum, and the parliament now called the Central Tibetan Administration. That’s to assuage Chinese sensitivities. But I stood on the floor of the Tibetan Parliament and met the charismatic Prime Minister in Exile, Lobsang Sangay.
You’ll get no public objections to the One China policy in official Tibetan circles, spiritual or legislative, these days. From His Holiness down, they are pushing for the Middle Way Approach which would see Tibet remaining in China but as an autonomous Buddhist state that protected ancient Tibetan culture, language, religion and the few remaining artifacts and monasteries that weren’t destroyed when the Chinese communists invaded and ransacked the country after World War II.
My travelling companions were Liberal Kevin Andrews and Labor Senators Kimberly Kitching and Meryl Swanson – and, no, the taxpayers did not pay for the trip.
It was my fourth meeting with the Dalai Lama over the past 25 years. As always, he was full of good humour, humility and optimism.
I questioned that optimism which also permeates his religion and those thousands of Tibetans in exile who still dream of returning to Llasa.
A pessimist would point out (as I did) that is nearly 60 years since he fled to India on a mule through the snow-packed Himalayas in 1959. It’s nearly 30 years since he won the Nobel Peace Prize and more than 40 years since he first came up with The Middle Way Approach that could ultimately satisfy both the Chinese and the Tibetans.
The biggest 21st Century fear for Tibetan leaders is the threat to the survival of their traditions: their language, their craft skills, their music, their artwork, their clothing styles. It is something the Chinese have deliberately targeted.
I mentioned to the Dalai Lama an old Australian saying from back when our country was large in size and light on people: populate or perish.
The Chinese Government has moved thousands of regional people, especially Han, into Tibet. I told him, “They want to populate Tibet, swamp Tibet, so you perish.” There are now 100,000 Tibetans in the capital of Llasa and 300,000 Chinese.
His response: “There are now more Chinese meals being served there than Tibetan”.
Significantly, the Tibetans have developed a weapon to stop the rot. Every week, at home and abroad, they now celebrate “White Wednesday”. On that day, they make sure they wear traditional clothes, perform traditional rituals. It is even more dominant in Tibet than overseas and especially with young people.
To me, it has a two-pronged meaning: It helps preserve tradition but also is an “up yours” to Beijing. We will not perish.
One interesting fact I gleaned that proves Buddhism is still a strong, even growing, religion. Even in China. There are now more than 300 million Buddhists in China – even President Xi Jinping’s mother.
I did suggest to the Dalai Lama that maybe the president might grant that elusive autonomy “just to impress Mum”.
The Indian Government generously, and bravely, gave the Dalai Lama protected permission to set up in exile in Dharamsala, about 7000 feet above sea level and reached by the most tortuous and steep skinny road that makes our hair-pin bends look like gentle curves.
It has become a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists across the globe but also a tranquil holiday spot for others.
At Norbu House they informed me I was “staying in the Richard Geer suite”. No pretty woman dropping in for a makeover. But it was a monastic trip, remember.
Back home to the brutal religion of politics after a kangaroo-hop series of flights from Delhi, to Sydney, to Melbourne, to Canberra.
A strange week with the panicked cancellation of this week’s House sitting. Still a lot of lower house action though with Nats threatening to cross the floor next week for a banking inquiry. Even Barnyard Barnaby, with an eye on disgruntled farmers and his by-election, warmed to it mid-week.
The latest, and truly sad, DualCitz news reached me in Dharamsala: Xenaphon Team senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore had resigned because her mother was born in colonial Singapore.
I said in the chamber this week, “Senator Kakoschke-Moore was one of the more diligent, committed people I have met in my short time here. In committee, she was well-prepared and well-researched. She will be missed.”
I was in the grandstand of the most beautiful cricket ground in the world (forget Lords or the MCG) with the snow-capped Himalayas a backdrop, when she returned my call.
To use cricketing lingo: Skye went to a dubious LBW in the first innings. She’ll be back at the crease and hit a ton in 2018-19.