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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1859


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (21:10): I rise tonight to support the motion moved by the member for Berowra, that this House expresses its deep regret at the death on 28 January 2012 of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue OAM, the spiritual leader of the Thich Phuoc Hue Buddhist monastery and the leader of the Vietnamese Buddhist community in Australia. This House should also place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tender its profound sympathy to the Vietnamese Buddhist community in their bereavement.

The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue's is an inspiring story of his challenges and achievements in war-torn Vietnam and then in peacetime Australia. Born Tran Van Canh in 1922 in the small farming village of My Thuy in Gia Dinh province near Saigon in what was then French Indochina, he would become one of the most influential Buddhist leaders, not just in Australia but internationally. The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue learnt about Buddhism at a local temple and at the age of 13 he began his education and training. By 16 he had become a novice priest and by 20 he was ordained. His talents were spotted in the early 1960s and he was taken to Saigon to join a leadership group of the national Buddhist clergy. He became a commissioner on the executive committee of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. However, following the fall of Saigon, when the South Vietnamese army surrendered on 30 April 1975, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam was threatened and later banned by the communist authorities. In 1979 he decided to leave his homeland due to religious oppression by the communists and ended up as a refugee in a Hong Kong camp.

We take religious freedom for granted in Australia and we should note that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam remains a one-party state, where religious leaders who protest at the regime's control of religions are arrested and imprisoned. The current head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam has been jailed several times over the last 25 years; and today remains under house arrest.

Back in Australia, the Most Venerable arrived in 1980 from Hong Kong and became the first Vietnamese resident monk in Australia. He aspired to rebuild Vietnamese Buddhism in Australia, not only to serve the religious needs of the Vietnamese Australian believers, but also to contribute to our multicultural society. This was a consistent theme in the life of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue. He had an innate ability to draw together people from different backgrounds and cultures, promoting harmony and social cohesiveness. Undoubtedly this is why he found his second home in Australia. 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 his resignation in 2008 because of ill health.

Internationally he was a high-ranking member and elder of the World Sangha Council and the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Through his drive and persistence, he built, or was instrumental in the building of, Vietnamese temples in Sydney, Melbourne, other capital cities of Australia, and in New Zealand. He was the founding abbot of the Phuoc Hue monastery in Sydney, which has become the central focal point for the Vietnamese Buddhist community in Australia and is a place for reflection, worship and contemplation. The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was awarded a medal of the Order of Australia on Australia Day 1995. He passed away peacefully on Saturday, 28 January 2012 in Sydney. The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was a strong advocate for peace, social harmony and inclusiveness. His achievements are evidenced by the success of the Vietnamese community in Australia, despite their difficult and challenging beginnings. The late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue OAM will be remembered for his many years of dedicated service to the local community and his outstanding achievements, which were gained through his devotion, intellectual energy and wisdom. He has left an outstanding example of selflessness which was admired by both the Buddhist community and the general community at large and he has provided an invaluable example for people of all religions to learn from. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Australian Vietnamese Buddhist community at his passing.