Good afternoon. I’d like to thank Thailand’s Ambassador to Australia, HE Chirachai Punkrasin, Mr Andrew Park, Honorary Consul for Thailand in Queensland, and Governor Paul de Jersey for their words.
On behalf of the Australian Government and people, may I express my deepest sorrow and sympathy to the Thai Royal Family and the people of Thailand at the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
I would also like to extend my sympathies to the 50,000 or so members of the Australian Thai community.
King Bhumibol championed both modern ideals and ancient traditions and was a force for stability and peace. He was a unifying father of the Thai people.
Under his reign the Kingdom of Thailand grew from just under 20 million people to more than 67 million. During this time, Thailand made major strides in social development and enjoyed decades of sustained economic growth. Indeed, Thailand’s success and stability today owes much to the King’s tireless service and dedication to his people.
While Australia’s relationship with Thailand dates to before Federation, it was in 1952, under King Bhumibol, that formal diplomatic relations commenced between our two nations.
Since this time, Thailand has welcomed Australians, including some 900,000 in the last year alone. In turn, Australia has welcomed and been enriched by the many Thai people who have come here to study, work, holiday and live.
Many members of the royal family have been guests of Australia, including the late King himself.
In 1962, the late King and the Queen visited Australia as part of a mission to promote diplomacy, trade and goodwill between Thailand and the rest of the world. He was the first non-British monarch to undertake an official tour of Australia.
On that visit the late King and the Queen flew into Canberra on an icy winter day, and thousands of people were there to greet them, many waving the Thai flag. The relationship between Australia and Thailand was still relatively new, but beginning to burgeon, and the royal visit inspired the formation of the first Australia-Thailand associations in Sydney and Melbourne.
Then Prime Minister Robert Menzies was quite taken with the royal couple, as were the Australian people. Indeed, Menzies was quoted at the time as saying "The great pleasure, the great opportunity, for two or three days in Canberra, of having some of your own charm brushed off on us so that we might take it with us as a happy memory".
Menzies praised the King and highlighted the Thailand-Australia friendship. Thailand was not only a friend through the joint membership of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, but as Menzies said, “a friend of the heart, the spirit and the mind”, with “a profound love of peace”.
Wherever the King and Queen went, they were welcomed. Perhaps one moment that best represents the late King came at the steelworks in Port Kembla, NSW. A row of workers, wearing freshly-laundered, white overalls, were present to greet him – but instead, the King walked towards a group of fitters and foundry hands, with oily hands and dirty clothes. It was reported that some were “embarrassed by their hands being greasy from their work” – but the King shook each of their hands without pause.
After the visit, His Majesty wrote to the Government, saying he found the Australian people’s goodwill and friendship heart-warming.
That friendship continues to this day.
King Bhumibol was dedicated to his people and held in the highest esteem in the region and internationally for his significant contribution to the development of his country. He was a force for peace and for progress.
As the late King said some 54 years ago, for Australia, Thailand is not the ‘Far East’, as it was for Britain, but the ‘Near North’.
On behalf of the Australian Government and people, I express my admiration and thanks to His Majesty King Bhumibol for his life of service and dedication and to the Thai people, as neighbours and friends, I extend, my deepest condolences.