Thank you Mr Speaker
Labor joins the Government in offering Australia’s condolences to the people of Thailand on the death of their beloved King.
For so many, the only monarch their lives have known.
For 70 years the King of Thailand bore on his shoulders the hopes of his people, their affections and 800 years of tradition.
He was a unifying force in moments of division, a calming influence in times of tension and a voice of compassion in an era of change.
At the age of 23, when the young King was returning from his studies in Switzerland to take the throne, a military coup stripped the monarchy of its constitutional powers.
An inauspicious start – but as some have speculated, a blessing in disguise – moving the Crown above politics.
It set the pattern for the next seven decades:
Different groups of citizens swearing different loyalties to a rapidly-shifting political order - but the King, commanding enduring and universal respect.
Yet there was more to this man than the stern visage in the portraits which hang in almost every shop in Thailand.
One of the few journalists to ever interview the King, Denis Gray from Associated Press, penned an obituary which spoke of the qualities, and the paradoxes of the man:
“There was his rigid adherence to tradition, and his modern informality…
…the severe demeanour and ready humour…
…the simple lifestyle and his reported status as the world’s richest royal.”
In Bangkok, surrounded by marble and silk, in golden robes or a uniform bedecked with medals, the King embodied the ritualised, impassive formalities of his ancient court.
But he would also play jazz on the radio –and lend his sponsorship to charity.
In the hills upcountry, in army boots and open-neck shirt, he would enthuse with locals about dams and irrigation, soil quality, crops and fertilisers.
In Bangkok, courtiers would, as is custom, come seeking an audience on their hands and knees.
But in the villages, the King would sit in the dirt with the locals, poring over maps.
This Thailand – a place of farmers and forests, of simple huts and small villages – people tending their crops and caring for one another, this was the country the King idealised.
And yet in his reign, so much of this gave way to industrialisation, to urbanisation, to a new generation of entrepreneurs capitalising on surging tourism.
But through all this change, the respect, the affection, the regard in which the King was held by his people never dimmed.
This is a solemn time for the people of Thailand as they mourn a loss they have long feared.
I would urge Australians who are in Thailand, or headed there soon, to be mindful of the national mood and to pay all due respect to the dignity and solemnity of the occasion.
We salute the King of Thailand’s long life, we offer our sympathies to his family and to his people.
May he rest in peace.