Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Speech in Parliament - Condolences: Mr Lee Kuan Yew GCMG CH - 25 March 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (11:13): I rise to join fellow members in paying tribute to Lee Kuan Yew and to speak on the condolence motion moved by the Prime Minister yesterday. As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, Lee Kuan Yew was one out of a box. For a nation the size of Singapore, as previous speakers have said, a very small nation in a very unstable area, at the time of independence there was no reason to expect it would survive as a nation, let alone thrive in the way it has.

The economic figures tell the success story, as the Prime Minister said yesterday. In 1965, Singapore's gross domestic product per head was about a third of Australia's, and today it is almost double Australia's. It has been a stunning success as a society and as an economic powerhouse in the region. As speakers have pointed out, through his leadership, Lee Kuan Yew set Singapore on an individual path. He did so by maintaining a British based common-law legal system and ran an utterly clean and corruption-free administration. He was also very flexible in his approach to Singapore's future economic development. We look at Singapore today as the world's fifth busiest port, the world's fourth largest financial centre and one of the best places to do business and to start a company.

Australia's ties with Singapore have always been strong, and they have grown stronger over the years. This is epitomised by the member for Moore, born in Singapore and now sitting in this parliament. Lee Kuan Yew was a towering figure and, as all significant leaders are, he was, as an editorial pointed out today, a product of his time. And his time was the experience of British colonialism, Japanese occupation, postwar Cambridge and the London School of Economics. As I said, he was flexible. He had, as we are reminded in an editorial today, the flexibility of mind to abandon his early socialism when free-market capitalism seemed to offer a better future for Singapore.

His biography is a very telling book. It tells the story of Singapore's success. It tells of the great historical decisions that were made in those early days. It is not a universally held view—and I know my friend and colleague the member for Kooyong, who follows foreign affairs very closely, will understand why I make this point with respect to the Vietnam War, a very controversial war—but Lee Kuan Yew made the point in his autobiography that the US and Australian involvement in that war, while controversial and difficult, bought Singapore time and breathing space. He also made it to countless world leaders in the decades ahead. When you think of the fragility of Singapore at its formation, that decade or so of breathing space where so much of the development occurred was a point that Lee Kuan Yew felt free to make at every opportunity because, as we have heard, in so many ways he was prepared to call things as he saw them and to do so in a very straightforward and blunt fashion.

Singaporeans are mourning the loss of their most significant leader, but they can look back over 50 years on the success that they have become. They can look ahead 50 years to all that they can achieve because of the foundation that Lee Kuan Yew laid.

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