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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1863

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (21:24): I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of this motion by the member for Berowra concerning the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue OAM. I associate myself not only with the former words of profound sympathy to the community and deep regret at his passing but also with the theme that went through the contribution of the member for Berowra. Here in the national parliament of Australia we are celebrating the life of a person who was born in 1921 in a village near Saigon, who fled his country, who was a refugee in Hong Kong in 1979 and who was then sponsored into this country to become the first resident monk of Vietnamese background in Australia. We are celebrating his contribution to this country, what he accomplished and the fact that this can happen in Australia.

At the age of 13 he renounced the life of other people, becoming ordained as priest seven years later. Along the road he built up an organisation, a series of institutions that were so important to the community. It is interesting to note that, when he referred to comparisons between Vietnam and Australia, I thought the member for Melbourne Ports was going to go on a different theme. In the 1980s in New South Wales a large amount of excess land was owned by the Department of Main Roads, the Water Board, the railway department et cetera. In that day and age state governments actually contributed this land to pioneering ethnic communities that did not have property or institutions and did not have a way to obtain such properties. That land, like other land in that region, was donated to the Buddhist faith, just as around the corner, also on donated land, is an mosque owned by the Turkish community. It is a reality of this country that we can celebrate the long and distinguished life of a person who not only came from another country and was able to help meet the spiritual needs of his fellows in this country but, with government assistance, could form institutions that were so crucial to them.

It has been remarked upon and it is worth noting that, from 2,400 people in 1976, the number of Vietnamese speakers in this country has grown to 174,000. Back then, of course, it was crucial that they had a monk who could give them counselling and leadership. As others have noted, he played a wider role. It is no accident that Prince Charles went to the Phuoc Hue Temple and rang the bell on a visit that encompassed not only the Buddhist community but other religions. That was typical of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue's contribution in this country. It is also not surprising that the Dalai Lama visited the temple twice. It is also worth noting that his efforts went not only to the temple at Wetherill Park but to premises in Sunshine and that he played an instrumental role in establishing a variety of organisations in this country, including the Vietnam Buddhist Association of Australia and New Zealand and the Buddhist Church of Vietnam Reunification Australia-New Zealand, and a range of school and religious buildings in Vietnam.

Last Friday, the member for Berowra and I were present at a hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade into the question of human rights. It is no accident that the Unified Buddhist Congregation, of which the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was a member, was there giving evidence about religious freedom in Vietnam. Quang Luu, who was mentioned by the member for Berowra, was there in another capacity.

We are celebrating not only the individual and the leadership he provided the community but the fact that in this country people with this kind of integrity and ability are there providing evidence before committees in this country and making sure that we as a country learn more about other societies and are aware of what is happening. I take great pleasure in being part of this motion by the member for Berowra.

Debate adjourned.