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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1860

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (21:15): First of all, I would like to pay tribute to the moving speeches by the members for Berowra and Fowler, amongst others, for the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, probably the most influential Buddhist leader this country has seen. He came originally from Vietnam and had a tremendous influence on his new country of resettlement, Australia. Unlike other people who have contributed to this debate, I have almost no Vietnamese Australians in my electorate, but I have had an interest since university in the Indochinese refugee movement, as it was known then, and I supported Indochinese migrants and refugees coming to Australia in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

Tran Van Canh, as he was then known, was born in a farming village in the My Thuy province, near Saigon, in 1921. He was ordained as a Buddhist priest at the age of 20, became a teacher of novices and laypeople and, in his early 40s, he was taken to Saigon to join the leadership of the national Buddhist clergy. That is an indication of the potential his religion saw in him.

The 1960s and 1970s, as we all know from the footage of those times, were troubling for Vietnam. Buddhism was under attack by the communist authorities. Thich Phuoc Hue had to leave his home, firstly as a refugee in Hong Kong and then as a sponsored migrant to Australia in 1980. He became the first resident monk of Vietnamese background in Australia. There was certainly a great need for him because, in the five years between 1976 and 1981, the Vietnamese population in Australia grew from 2,500 to more than 41,000. It is now 158,000. In 1980, he opened his first Buddhist prayer hall in Fairfield. This grew into what has been described as the Phuoc Hue Temple in Wetherill Park. He did a whole number of things to educate his community about Buddhism in Australia, which I will go through in more detail.

I wanted to particularly focus on something I find absolutely fascinating about what has happened in Vietnam since the fall of Saigon in contrast to here in Australia amongst Vietnamese people. The 2006 census in Australia indicated that 59 per cent of Australian residents born in Vietnam were Buddhist and 26 per cent were Christian. This compares with only nine per cent of people living in Vietnam identifying as Buddhist. What that indicates to me is that the life mission of the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was very successful and that the Vietnamese people in Australia had access to their own religion and because of his great intellectual and religious contribution they were able to express their own religion, which, as we know, including great leaders of Buddhism, is suppressed in Vietnam.

The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was an internationally respected dharma master and one of the few Australians to be mentioned in The Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism. His obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald was fittingly titled 'Leader advocated social harmony'. His memory lives through the multicultural and interfaith connections he sought so assiduously and which have been spoken about so knowledgeably by the previous speakers.

The Buddhist temple has many functions—a shelter for society, a meeting place for people of goodwill and a spiritual refuge. In Vietnam and in so many other Asian countries—and now here in many places in Australia—the temple stresses the faith not only as the path to enlightenment but as the core of the Buddhist people's spiritual and cultural life. Vietnamese Australians have contributed so much to Australia, and the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was essential in shaping those contributions. He reminds me very much of the legendary rabbi of the postwar generation Rabbi Chaim Gutnik, who revived belief in the Jewish refugees who came to Australia in their own background and faith. I think that Australia was a better place for him and his activities—religious, cultural and interfaith. We thank him and we will miss him.