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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1856


Mr HAYES (Fowler) (21:00): I thank the member for Berowra for bringing this matter before the House and I acknowledge his genuine and longstanding commitment to the Buddhist community. The 28th of January this year was a very sad day for Australians but most particularly for the Australian Buddhist community. It marked the passing of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue OAM, who was more than just a religious leader; he was an inspiration to the community and a major contributor to the development of a multicultural society, particularly in south-west Sydney, an area I am particularly proud of.

I have had the opportunity of attending a number of events at the Phuoc Hue Temple since I became the member for Fowler. The Phuoc Hue Temple in Wetherill Park is one of the leading temples in Australia, largely due to the work of the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue and his drive and persistence, and it stands very proudly in Wetherill Park. As the member for Berowra indicated, he and I attended the temple on 22 January to celebrate Vietnamese new year, and that is where I learnt that the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was ill.

As the first Vietnamese resident monk in Australia, the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue's guidance, kindness and leadership shone like a beacon to many Vietnamese families who were trying to cope with the loss and grief inflicted by the Vietnam War. Although I did not have many opportunities to talk with the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, I did meet him last year and I hold him in great admiration and respect. I acknowledge his legacy of good work.

I would like to reflect on the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue's life. As one of the most influential Buddhist leaders in Vietnam, where he was born and educated, and in Australia—his adopted country—I am sure you would agree that his accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary. The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue learnt about Buddhism in a local temple just outside Saigon. He renounced life at 13. At 16, he became a novice priest and by 20 he was ordained. In Vietnam, the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was also credited with the establishment of several pagodas in the Mekong Delta and in some provinces around Saigon.

The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue arrived in Australia in 1980. He was sponsored from Hong Kong and became the first Vietnamese resident monk in this country. He aspired to rebuild Vietnamese Buddhism not only to serve the religious needs of Vietnamese Australians—mostly refugees—but also to make a genuine contribution to multiculturalism in Australia. On 1 November 1980, he opened the Vietnamese Buddhist hall of prayer in Fairfield. With the support of the Vietnamese-Australian community and the New South Wales government, the hall of prayer grew to become the Phuoc Hue Temple, which stands proudly in Wetherill Park. In April 1981, he was elected the first president of the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation at the inaugural Buddhist conference in Sydney. In 1987, he was re-elected president of the newly restructured national organisation known as the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand. He was the congregation's longest serving president until he resigned in 2008 because of ill health. The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was also one of the longest serving presidents of the Buddhist Federation of Australia. In 2009, he stepped down from the federation's presidency for the same health reasons.

Internationally, he was a high ranking member and elder of the World Buddhist Sangha Council and the World Fellowship of Buddhists. In 1984, the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue hosted an Australian religious elders meeting at the Phuoc Hue monastery, which was chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In his capacity as a senior executive of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, in 2001 the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue and the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation met in Sydney and organised the first executive conference of the seventh World Buddhist Sangha Council Congress and the third world general conference of the World Buddhist Sangha Council Youth Committee—essentially for people of all backgrounds to learn about Buddhism. This was a genuine attempt to promote tolerance and understanding by reaching out to the Australian community at large. The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue also advocated harmony among nations, which he expressed as the president of the Buddhist Federation of Australia at its first International Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation in Yogyakarta in 2004.

In recent years, the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue worked with institutions such as the Art Gallery of NSW, the University of Western Sydney, Victoria University, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the World Conference on Religions for Peace and the New South Wales and Victorian governments with the specific aim of promoting peace, harmony, mutual tolerance, multiculturalism and interfaith cooperation to the wider community.

The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was also the most senior Buddhist leader in Australia committed to working not only for the Buddhist community in Australia but also for the development of peace, harmony and wellbeing of all people regardless of faith and ethnic backgrounds. His contribution and hard work were duly recognised and in 1995 he was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the community. The Phuoc Hue temple is more than just a sacred place, particularly for Buddhist people; it is also a place of compassion and a place of giving. It is also an iconic feature in the fabric of multiculturalism as it stands in Western Sydney. It shows what can occur when there is commitment and goodwill. Over the years, the Phuoc Hue temple, under the guidance of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, actively fundraised for both Australian and international charities. Money has been raised for Westmead Children's Hospital and the Queensland flood relief, just to name two.

The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue achieved amazing thing is in his lifetime. Although his passing is a sad loss to the community, his legacy remains in the hearts and minds of so many and his achievements of a lifetime of good and noble work will not go unremarked. His teaching, guidance and leadership brought direction and comfort to the Vietnamese community, giving them strength to make the most of their opportunities and lives in Australia. His work has also created genuine appreciation for the good work and contributions the Vietnamese community as a whole has made to the Australian way of life in their very short history since coming here following the fall of Saigon. The passing of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue is not only a sad loss to the Vietnamese Buddhist community, but it is also a heartfelt loss to Australian society, particularly to those of us who genuinely believe in the tenets of multiculturalism.

The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was a great man and a holy man. I offer my most sincere condolences to all the followers of the Vietnamese Buddhist faith. I say to Thich Phuoc Hue's successor, Thich Phuoc Tan, that I will certainly be there at the temple whenever my assistance is needed, as is known by Thich Phuoc Dat, the manager of the Phuoc Hue temple. No speech can properly sum up the contributions that the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue has made. He will no doubt be remembered as an extraordinary man who has left an extraordinary legacy to his community and to the wider Australian community. In closing, I particularly thank Tanya Huynh and her family for all their efforts in the last 12 months to bring me into broader contact with the Vietnamese Buddhist community of south-west Sydney.