Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Daw Aung San Suu Kyi MP, AC

7:27 pm

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I feel like finishing that for Senator Stephens because it really was an extraordinary experience and an opportunity that we both commended very much. But it is not that that I rise to speak to tonight.

Last week, one of the world's most inspiring and courageous leaders visited Australia. Many Australians had the opportunity to meet and listen, either in private meetings or in public audiences, with the remarkable Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This is a leader to whom no other leader in modern history can be compared. She is a leader who has been oppressed physically, mentally and emotionally and yet has raised herself beyond the limitations that were forced upon her and now leads the opposition party in Burma as a member of parliament.

Whilst there are many heated and dynamic exchanges across this chamber and in the other place—impassioned speeches reflecting our ideological beliefs and even fuelled passions that are tempered only by the firm hand of the President or the acting president in this place—the one thing that unites us all is democratic freedom. Too often we take what we have for granted, with little appreciation for the fundamental rights and privileges we enjoy as Australians—so long as we respect the rule of law, of course. We are privileged to live in such a fair, open and peaceful democracy, and so it is salient to be reminded of what we have when in the presence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. As the chairperson of the National League for Democracy party in Myanmar, this extraordinary leader continues her passive but relentless struggle for human rights, dignity and democracy for the people of Burma. Her election to the Burmese parliament in April 2012 was a further advance in a lifelong struggle. A decade or more of home incarceration would challenge, I would suggest, the stamina of most of us. Yet her determination and inner strength saw her turn that into a remarkable positive fight for her country.

Myanmar is a nation that covers 677,000 square kilometres, with a population of 63.7 million people. It is a complex ethnic and religious mix, governed under a traditionally strict military regime. It is a testament to the power of democratisation that their GDP has grown from US$31.4 billion in 2008 to $57.4 billion in 2013. Sadly, though, there are still many who live on the poverty line. Positively, the inflation rate has decreased from 22.5 per cent in 2008 to 6.5 per cent in 2015. This nation's transformation has been quite remarkable, but it is not as remarkable as Aung San Suu Kyi's non-violent campaign, which is a testament to all humankind of the power of the word and, I have to say, the power of a woman.

As the recipient of more than 130 international honours and awards, including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi is a fabulous example to us all and anyone who wants to make a difference in life should take a little time out and reflect on what she has done, what has been inflicted upon her and the way she has turned that around to hopefully change the lives of many in her country. I am very pleased that the Commonwealth of Australia made her a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1996. The values that she advocates for are those values that we hold very dear and they were certainly the values that we were championing when we were observing the election in Nepal—that is, the values of freedom, democracy, transparency and the ability to have a fair go at whatever you seek to do. I wish Aung San Suu Kyi the very best as she continues initiatives to advance and encourage constitutional reform, establish the rule of law and promote national reconciliation along with the many humanitarian projects and causes that she pursues.