It was an honour to be invited to deliver a speech at the Campaign Launch of Kyinzom Dhongdue, the House of Representatives candidate for Bennelong. Kyinzom is the first Tibetan-Australian woman to run for public office.
Saturday 26 March, 2022
Epping Community Centre
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the Dharug Nation and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. This land was never ceded. Always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
I first met Kyinzom around 15 years ago, at a time I worked closely with what was then an emerging community of exiled Tibetan refugees in Dee Why, and second (or third) home to the majority of Tibetans resettled in NSW, most of whom have survived torture and trauma.
Kyinzom and I were first connected through our work on the committee of Tibetan Voice – a community led project by NSW Tibetans. Its purpose was to give a voice to voiceless Tibetans inside their homeland, which is today described by Freedom House as “one of the least free countries in the world, second only to Syria.”
Among such successful community led advocacy initiatives by Australian-Tibetans in Exile, since she arrived here, Kyinzom’s work has been driven by an unmistakable motivation to ensure that Tibet is not forgotten. As a proud Tibetan woman and the product of a Tibetan school established to ensure a future for young Tibetans in exile by the Dalai Lama and his sister Jetsun Pema, Kyinzom has lobbied tirelessly on behalf of Tibetans inside Tibet as one of the most skilled human rights activists and politically astute campaigners I know.
As the first Tibetan-Australian woman to run for public office in Australia, Kyinzom has successfully forged a path as a woman of colour with a refugee background which makes me immensely proud. She has been a leading example for the next generation of Tibetan youth and Tibet’s future leaders.
It was in my initial meeting and connection with Kyinzom, that I learned much about the true history of Tibet and what were then (and still are) poorly understood facts and misinformation about the Tibet-China relationship. As a graduate of peace and conflict studies, my work with Kyinzom over the years also inspired me to undertake research about the Tibetan women’s movement and struggle.
During that time, as both colleague and friend, I’ve witnessed Kyinzom inspire women in and beyond her own community, displaying courage in public life in all endeavours and on all platforms availed to her.
This most distinctive quality of courage I recognize in Kyinzom (a term borrowed from Sydney Peace Foundation’s founder, Emeritus Prof. Stuart Rees AM), was demonstrated by Kyinzom’s Tibetan sisters and pioneers of the Tibetan women’s movement during one of the most significant events in world history.
On March 12, 1959, Tibetan women rose up together to protect the life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan way of life, after China’s brutal military invasion and illegal occupation of their country.
Today Kyinzom fearlessly continues this tradition, channeling the unbreakable spirit of these women.
She uses her refugee background as a meaningful voice and has built her strength around it, all the while encouraging representation of women from minority backgrounds in all fora, including politics.
This is what stands out about Kyinzom. And despite what at times I imagine would have seemed like insurmountable challenges, she forges ahead only becoming more and more resilient, both entirely committed and sure of what she’s trying to achieve.
I have had the pleasure and honour of working with Kyinzom on a number of projects and initiatives (too many to name here) and our friendship has been tied to milestones for the community she continues to serve. Along the way, our friendship has been enriched by our shared commitment to the advancement of human rights, social justice and peace.
Having witnessed threats to my Tibetan friends for many years, I know from the facts that the gravity of the threat China poses to our own way of life here in Australia and those we are witnessing as we speak with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be the final wake up call. As a Tibetan friend conveyed to me this week, if China really care about human rights, they have the power to stop the war in Ukraine today. As such, we should learn from Tibetans understanding of China and how the same methods used in Tibet and elsewhere are being used here in Australia.
I have been witness to these methods myself. For one, I recall the outrage how China threatened the University of Sydney after the Dalai Lama – a Nobel peace prize laureate (1989) and recipient of the Sydney Peace Foundation’s human rights medal, was un-invited to speak on campus in his capacity of a spiritual leader and global advocate of education.
Such intimidation and China’s long arm of surveillance also extended to the 2008 Olympic torch relay, where Tibetan-Australians and their supporters were outnumbered by student protesters paid by the Chinese Government, and who violently assaulted several of my close Tibetan friends protesting non-violently (some of whom I see are here today). Never before have I witnessed such a level of infiltration so publically and aggressive display of hyper-nationalism here on Australian soil.
These examples are contrary to what I believe to be Australian values.
As an Australian, some of the current threats that concern me the most at both the local and global level, are the immediate and catastrophic effects of climate change, our resilience as a nation to shocks and also the pervasiveness of China’s influence, our economic dependence – trade and profits before people and our hard fought human rights.
For too long we’ve turned a blind eye to the degree of foreign influence by China that Tibetans have long warned us here in Australia from their lived experience inside occupied Tibet under draconian and genocidal policies. This level of Influence has extended into our media, our universities and infiltration by spies at the community level. Monitoring and threatening Australian citizens who dare to criticize the Chinese government.
Therefore, Tibetans are not truly free.
Through the shared experience as minorities with indigenous brothers and sisters, Tibetans also understand the importance of supporting a First Nations Voice enshrined in our Constitution. The unfinished business of decolonization and the right way towards a better future for all Australians.
As the House of Representatives candidate for Bennelong, Kyinzom is inspiring women to come forward and take up leadership skills in politics and bring integrity and diversity into politics and be a voice for everyday Australians. With her years of experience working closely with politicians lobbying for Tibet she understands how the Australian political system works.
I am immensely proud of Kyinzom’s achievements and her qualities of character we’ve heard today that make her an unmistakable candidate for Bennelong.
With her track record of successful campaigning, Kyinzom will stand up and defend basic human rights here in Australia we too often take for granted here in a free country. She will also take action on what are some of the biggest challenges facing our country at a critical time in history and in the national interest.
I wish you every success on this stage of your journey Kyinzom. You are the embodiment of strength and an ambassador of courage. With all the experience and profound insight you have to offer to tackle the challenges we face in Australia today, we need exceptional candidates like you in politics now more than ever before.
With deep understanding about the lived experience of refugee trauma by Kyinzom’s own family and the Tibetan people collectively, I can stand here before you today alongside my respected colleagues with our full confidence in Kyinzom Dhongdue at this historic moment for the electorate of Bennelong.
The right candidate at the right time.
In closing I would like to share this quote:
“Today, when there is a new understanding among the women in the Tibetan community, and the assumption of new responsibility among them, leading to the gaining of a new experience, there is a new determination and fruitful results in endeavours undertaken in every aspect of public life. When, thus, the term ‘Tibetan women’ becomes a recognized force on the world stage, I am gladdened by a new sense of happiness and pride; and I have a new sense of confidence.”
This is a quote attributed to Tibet’s beloved spiritual leader, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 1995.
And in sharing his words with all of you, I feel truly proud witnessing the force of one Tibetan woman and my dear and brave friend on this stage here and now and in this lifetime of the Dalai Lama.
Recommended reading: OpEd: How we deal with China not a left-right issue in The Australian