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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1960

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:43): I rise to associate the Nationals with this motion and offer our condolences to the Thai royal family and friends and the people of Thailand on the recent passing of their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. As the world's longest-reigning monarch, we must all acknowledge King Bhumibol's contribution to the remarkable and rich history of Thailand over the last seven decades, most notably His Majesty's role in forging strong relationships between Thailand and overseas countries, including the longstanding and deep connection Thailand has with Australia.

Bhumibol was born in the United States but soon returned to Thailand with his parents. At the age of just two, his father suddenly and tragically passed away, after which Bhumibol's mother, Princess Srinagarindra, chose to move her young family to Switzerland. The young Prince Bhumibol was raised there. And it was whilst growing up and studying in Switzerland that Prince Bhumibol met and fell in love with his future wife, Sirikit, the eldest daughter of the Thai Ambassador to France. Prince Bhumibol and Sirikit married in 1950. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit was admired for her beauty and her eye for fashion. She is reported to have regularly preferred wearing Australian wool clothing by French designer Pierre Balmain. Australia's wool producers ought to be proud that Australia's wool is considered worthy to be worn by royals.

It is interesting to note that King Bhumibol was not born to be king. But he did become king of the people after taking his place at the throne in 1950. It was perhaps his almost regular upbringing that instilled his caring character and ability to reach out to ordinary people. This was certainly apparent in King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit's visit to Australia in 1962. That occasion, as one can imagine, was a most significant one. Newspapers at the time reported that there were cars lining the road between the airport and Government House, with Australians and Thai students and visitors striving for a sighting of the King and Her Majesty.

During a visit to the steelworks in Port Kembla, King Bhumibol diverted from the organised proceedings of shaking the hands of cleanly dressed workers who had been organised to greet the king and instead approached a gang of fitters and foundry hands who had paused from their regular work duties. It was reported by some of the workers, who were a bit embarrassed by their greasy hands, that the king carried through with the handshakes without a pause. I think this approach is reflective of the king's humble, caring and genuine persona.

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit completed their 18-day tour of Australia with the king taking part in a royal salute and an inspection of the Royal Australian Air Force guard of honour against the booming background of a 21-gun salute. Some have indicated that this Defence Force event impressed the king and may have in part influenced the decision by his son, Crown Prince His Royal Highness Maha Vajiralongkorn, to join the Australian Army's Special Air Service Regiment in Perth.

The Australian relationship with Thailand is inextricably linked. Prime Minister Turnbull recently said that the royal visit of 1962 inspired the formation of the first Australia-Thailand associations. Today, thousands of Aussies flock to Thailand to holiday—approximately 900,000 each year. More than 45,000 Thais live here in Australia and call it home. More than 21,600 Thai students were studying in Australia in 2013. We have a great friendship. It is perhaps the rich Thai history and the gentle nature and good ethos of the Thai people that appeals to Australians in choosing Thailand such a wonderful vacation destination.

The Nationals relate to the humility of King Bhumibol who, in his time, was known to have worn an open-necked shirt and boots while communicating with locals on their farms about tractors, dams, irrigation, soil fertility, crops and fertiliser. He was a very well read man. He often impressed his wider constituency, particularly in rural areas, with his vast knowledge of agriculture.

As the Prime Minister has acknowledged recently, Thailand has made major strides in economic and social development. We have King Bhumibol's heart and guiding influence to thank for aligning his country along this path. King Bhumibol was a strong advocate for regional development, to bring regional communities into the mainstream economy. He was well regarded for his visits to regional areas. His focus on growing the agricultural sector and developing communities is something that the Nationals would applaud.

Prior to my coming into the parliament I was lucky enough to have been in Korat and Kanchanaburi provinces in Thailand——on the occasion of the king's birthday in December. If you have ever been in Thailand on the king's birthday, it is quite clearly a special event. People wear yellow shirts. There are two or three approved symbols and it is basically 'Happy birthday to the king'. Wherever you go, there is this wonderful sea of yellow. Quite clearly, it is not only about people appreciating their monarchy. King Bhumibol held a very special place in the heart of his people. He was a good king and a friend to Australia. Vale His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Honourable senators having stood in their places—

The PRESIDENT: I thank the Senate.