The fraught question of whether Prime Minister Helen Clark would meet the Dalai Lama was solved by serendipity yesterday morning when the two chatted in the departure lounge of Brisbane airport.
The Prime Minister and her staff had known for several days that there was the chance of crossing paths with the Tibetan spiritual leader, but nothing was certain.
After meeting Queensland Premier Peter Beattie in Brisbane the previous day, Helen Clark had declined to comment at all on the possibility of a meeting, because of the extreme political sensitivity of the Dalai Lama's visit to Australia.
Both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd had initially declined to meet him but later changed their minds as domestic political pressure grew. China had warned Mr Howard against a meeting.
For Helen Clark, the problem was solved by briefly converging itineraries as she flew from Brisbane to Sydney on the same flight as the Dalai Lama.
The PM was flying business class and the Dalai Lama was in economy, but Qantas was not about to force an international celebrity of such stature to wait in the concourse with the rest of the plebs.
"It was pure chance we were on the same plane together," Helen Clark said.
"I've been aware of this for several days now but there was no pre-arranged meeting because one doesn't know whether people are going to be in the lounge, or what time other passengers are boarded ...
"It so happened there were around 10 minutes to be taken with the discussion.
"So I did sit down with him ... and had a discussion of the kind which is appropriate with him as a religious and spiritual leader."
Helen Clark said she had told the Dalai Lama of New Zealand initiatives on interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue.
"He was very interested in that.
"He also said to me that the way in which New Zealand was working as a country with reconciliation between indigenous people and other New Zealanders showed that we practised at home the kind of cultural dialogue which enabled us to take a leadership position. I thought those were encouraging words."
Helen Clark said they did not discuss any political issues and she was not concerned at the meeting's potential to anger China.