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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1959

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (15:41): I stand with my colleagues today to pay my respects on the passing of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ascended to the throne as an 18-year-old in 1946 in the wake of World War II and who, over seven extraordinary decades, shaped modern Thailand unambiguously for the better. I note my colleagues, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, have articulately set out his achievements. The UN Development Program award that was given to him was emblematic of the enormous good that he did for the people of Thailand in terms of agricultural development and of development generally.

For a man who did not intend to be king, I note with admiration that King Bhumibol served as the longest-reigning monarch in the world, the longest-serving monarch in Thai history and the ninth king of the Chakri dynasty. His reign began in difficult times. His majesty took the throne after the Second World War. He oversaw the development of Thailand for the next 70 years, during a period of rapid growth and many challenges, into a vibrant, dynamic nation that all Australians, I believe, have a great affection for. His majesty rose to those challenges and embraced his role as a symbol of national unity, particularly in times of crisis. Twice he successfully mediated tense national disputes—first in 1973, when he allowed protesting students to shelter in his palace, and again in 1992 when he summoned his Prime Minister and the leader of the protest movement opposing him to kneel before the king on national television, where they were asked to put the national interest first. The potent symbolism of this moment and its stabilising effect was quite remarkable.

As a ruler, King Bhumibol proved to be a brave and wise leader, a man grounded in principle and a just adjudicator, who delicately balanced competing interests always in the interests of the greater good of the Thai people. With his passing at age 88, these qualities cement King Bhumibol's legacy as an extraordinary monarch, devoted to his people and to his country. I note that his son, the Crown Prince, who will succeed his father to the throne, has postponed his coronation to allow him to grieve for his late father. It is a very touching gesture. When he does succeed his father, I sincerely wish him every success as he follows in his father's footsteps. To the people of Thailand who have lost a much-loved father figure, a wise monarch and a force of unity, I extend my deepest sympathies.