SINGAPORE - Over 800 Singaporeans in Australia and a contingent from the Singapore Armed Forces based in Perth gathered on Wednesday at a memorial event for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Organised by the Singapore Western Australia Network (SWAN) and supported by the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (Western Australia), the memorial event was the largest gathering so far of Singaporeans in Australia who converged to pay their respects to Mr Lee.
Students from the four universities in Perth, Univerity of Western Australia, Murdoch Univerity, Curtin Univerity, and Edith Cowan Univerity also supported the event.
Dr Mike Nahan, the Treasurer and Minister for Culture of the State Government of Western Australia and the Deputy Lord Mayor of Perth attended the event and conveyed the condolence of the Western Australian government.
Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor also delivered some remarks at the event.
Here is Mr Burhan Gafoor's full speech:
We are gathered here to pay tribute to a man we all knew; a man we all respected, admired and loved.
I would like to start by reading an excerpt from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's biography, entitled "The Singapore Story". I will start by quoting the first paragraph in the first chapter of his book. And I quote:
"It was like any other Monday morning in Singapore until the music stopped. At 10am, the pop tunes on the radio were cut off abruptly. Stunned listeners heard the announcer solemnly read out a proclamation - ninety words that changed the lives of the people of Singapore"
What were the ninety words that changed the lives of the people of Singapore? Let me quote the famous 90 words. And I quote:
"Whereas it is the inalienable right of a people to be free and independent, I, Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people and government of Singapore that, as from today, the ninth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five, Singapore shall be forever a sovereign, democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society".
The ninety words that I have just read are from the Proclamation of Singapore's independence. It was the Proclamation that Mr Lee Kuan Yew negotiated with Malaysia. It was the Proclamation that marked the birth of an independent and sovereign nation. It was the birth of our nation, our home, our very own Singapore.
What happened after the Proclamation of Independence? Well, something dramatic happened. You probably have seen television images of this. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was overwhelmed by his emotions. Mr Lee Kuan Yew could not contain his tears. As he put it, it was a "moment of anguish" for him. To put it plainly, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was crying on national television on the day Singapore obtained independence.
Recently, I saw a phrase making its rounds on social media:
"Fifty years ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wept for the nation. Fifty years later, the nation wept for him".
Indeed, in the last week, a lot of tears were shed in Singapore, in Australia and around the world. Last Saturday, I caught a plane from Canberra to Singapore to attend the funeral service on Sunday. I made it in time to pay my respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House. What struck me was the lines and lines of people at Padang waiting to pay their respects, even thought it was past midnight. The outpouring of public sympathy, sadness and grief was beyond what anyone had expected. This spontaneous reaction from the public showed that there was a special bond between Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the people of Singapore. There was a social compact between Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the people of Singapore.
As many of you would know, it was raining heavily last Sunday. But nearly a hundred thousand people lined up the streets to say their last goodbye. Nearly half a million people visited the parliament to pay their respects. And more than a million people went to pay their respects at 18 different community centres around Singapore. Indeed, one of the amazing things about last week is that Singaporeans of all races, of all religion, of all ages and of all classes came together as one single nation.
What began as a week of national mourning became a week of national bonding. On the streets of Singapore, there was a palpable sense of unity, a sense of community and a distinct feeling of pride in being Singaporean. At about 4pm on Sunday, Singaporeans all over the country observed a minute of silence. And they said the pledge with their hand on their hearts. And then they sang the national anthem. For many Singaporeans, last Sunday was one of the most powerful, poignant and patriotic moments in our nation's history
For overseas Singaporeans too, last week was a powerful moment to show their feelings for Singapore and for Mr Lee Kuan yew. In Australia, hundreds of Singaporeans signed the condolence book in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. There were memorial activities in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane and today in Perth. The reaction from the Singaporean community in Australia was truly heart-warming.
I am very pleased to be here because the Singaporean community in Perth is a very special one. Many of you have close links with Singapore. In fact, you are in the same time zone as Singapore. The geographic proximity between Perth and Singapore means that many Singaporeans feel at home in Perth. In fact, the Singapore community in Perth is almost an extension of Singapore. I have always been impressed by the strong Singapore spirit in Perth. I want to thank the Singapore community in Perth for coming together to organise this memorial. And it is very heart-warming to see a diverse and multi-racial crowd here this evening. I know that you have a special place for Singapore in your hearts.
Today, we gather here to pay tribute to a man who made and shaped Singapore. We honour a man who devoted his entire life to making a Singapore a better place.
A favourite quote of mine from Mr Lee Kuan Yew is something that has been played again and again on Channelnews Asia in recent days. In a speech to the Singapore Press Club in 1996, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said and I quote:
"To the young and not-so-old, I say, look at the horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it".
I like this quote, because it is about following your dreams. It is an inspirational quote because it encourages Singaporeans to follow their passion and their dreams.
As a young Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew had big dreams for Singapore. But he was not just a dreamer. He was a pragmatic and action-oriented man. He translated his dreams into clear visions. He translated his visions into clear policies. And he translated his policies into clear actions and concrete results.
And what exactly was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's dream? In 1965, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said in a speech he gave to the Sree Narayana Mission; and I quote:
"Over 100 years ago, this was a mudflat or swamp. Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear."
This is also one of my favourite quotations from Mr Lee Kuan Yew because it has two of the most important ingredients for national building, which is vision and courage. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had both. He had a clear vision to transform Singapore into a metropolis. And Mr Lee not only had courage; he also gave courage to Singaporeans, at a time when Singaporeans were fearful about their future.
To this day, the phrase "never fear" is deeply imprinted in the minds of many Singaporeans. And he said it with such courage and conviction that he gave all Singaporeans hope for the future. That, to me, is a sign of a great man, of a great leader.
In a recent tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, one of his closest friends, Dr Henry Kissinger, said: "A great leader takes his or her society from where it is to where it has never been; or indeed where it cannot imagine being".
That is what Mr Lee Kuan Yew has done with Singapore. He provided the vision for Singaporeans to reach a level of development that many could not even imagine. Fifty years ago, very few people outside Singapore believed that Singapore would succeed. Even Singaporeans did not imagine that they could become a first world country within one generation. But we did, thanks to the leadership, determination and drive of one man who wanted Singapore to succeed and who wanted Singaporeans to have a good life.
In yesterday's edition of The Straits Times, a young Singapore journalist by the name of Janice Heng wrote an interesting article. She described how the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a "coming of age" for many young Singaporeans, who have grown up enjoying the good life in Singapore. The article quoted another young Singaporean who said: "When Mr Lee Kuan Yew was around, we just didn't grasp what he had done. But his passing made us more curious about him and made us realise how much he did."
Over the last few days, a lot has been said about Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy. There have been hundreds of articles and blogs by Singaporeans on Mr Lee Kuan Yew legacy. I think every Singaporean is reading and reflecting on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's contributions. I want to share with you my own view of what I consider to be Mr Lee Kuan Yew's three greatest contributions to Singapore.
The first important contribution is the creation of a multiracial society based on the equality of all Singaporeans, regardless of races, language or religion. In Singapore, no ethnic group is superior and no ethnic group is inferior. All Singaporeans stand as equals. The law of the land is not designed to protect any specific ethnic group but to protect the rights of every Singaporean.
The second most important contribution is that he made anti-corruption a core part of the Singapore system. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had zero tolerance for corruption. To this day, what makes Singapore special is that we do not tolerate corruption by anyone. And I hope that this commitment to anti-corruption will always be a part of Singapore.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew's third greatest contribution is the principle of meritocracy. What matters in Singapore is your talent, not the colour of your skin or your religious beliefs or your family background. The principle of meritocracy has allowed Singaporeans of all backgrounds to rise up high in society, in business and government, through education, through hard work and through individual merit.
In many ways, Singaporeans today are a product of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. My own experience reflects the experience of many Singaporeans of my generation.
I was born in 1965, the year of Singapore's independence. I am turning fifty this year, just like Singapore. I come from a humble family background. We grew up in a small HDB flat in Jalan Bukit Merah. As a family, we did not have much. But I had the opportunity to benefit from a first class educational system. And with education, I had all the opportunities open to me in Singapore.
I did not imagine that I would one day represent my country overseas, as Ambassador or High Commissioner. And I did not imagine that I would have the privilege to meet and work with Mr Lee Kuan Yew. As a diplomat for Singapore, one of my great privileges has been the opportunity to meet Mr Lee Kuan Yew on several occasions.
When I was posted to France as Ambassador, Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited Paris once or sometimes twice a year. I had the privilege of sitting next with him in many car rides, listening to him or answering his questions. And I learned much from watching him in action and listening to his analysis when he met foreign leaders.
Many people think that Mr Lee Kuan is not human but a mean machine. Of course, he does not suffer fools or tolerate incompetence. But if you do your work well, he respects you. I found Mr Lee Kuan Yew to be very human in his interactions, especially with younger staff. He is curious about you and wants to know what you have studied and where you have worked before.
I also found Mr Lee Kuan Yew to be very human in other ways. For instance, I found out that he enjoys eating desserts after a meal, especially when he was in France. He loves chocolate cakes. When he is in Singapore, I am told he follows a strict diet. But when he is travelling, especially in France, he loosens up his diet a little. I don't blame him because who can really resist French pastries and desserts, especially in a good restaurant?
Mr Lee Kuan Yew travelled around the world to expand Singapore's political space and increase Singapore's influence on the world stage. He was Singapore's number one diplomat. Because of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore became known and respected as a country. And because of our economic success at home, we were treated as a serious and credible country. Although we are a small red dot on the world map, we punched above our weight because of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's larger than life figure on the world stage.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew was particularly close to Australia. He made his first official visit to Australia in March 1965, as the Prime Minister of the State of Singapore. It was an 18-day visit that took him to Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Mr Lee Kuan believed strongly in engaging Australia and bringing Australia closer to Asia.
From the very beginning, Mr Lee believed that Singapore and Australia had a common perspective on regional security and stability. He therefore spent a lot of time meeting with Australian leaders and officials. He has met every Australian Prime Minister since Sir Robert Menzies, whom he met in September 1962 in London at the Commonwealth Prime Minister's meeting. Mr Lee Kuan Yew has also met many leaders from Western Australia.
Singaporeans have been truly touched by the reaction from our friends in Australia. On Tuesday, 24 March, the Australian Parliament adopted a motion to express its condolence and profound sympathy on the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In Parliament, both Prime Minister Abbott and Mr Bill Shorten paid tributes to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. We are also truly honoured that Mr Tony Abbott visited Singapore to attend the Funeral Service of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I know that Prime Minister Abbott made a huge sacrifice to attend the funeral service in Singapore because he missed the epic battle between Australia and New Zealand at the Cricket World Cup Final match in Melbourne on Sunday.
We are proud to have Australia as a friend. We thank Australian leaders and officials for the message of condolence and support. Many ordinary Australians walked into the High Commission to sign the condolence book. This shows that the ties between the people of Singapore and people of Australia are deep and strong.
My fellow Singaporeans and friends of Singapore
Let me say in conclusion that the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew marks an important milestone in the history of Singapore. After a week of national mourning, Singaporeans are resuming their normal lives. The Singapore flag is flying high again. We have every reason to be proud of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. We have every reason to be proud of Singapore. Mr Lee Kuan yew has given Singapore a strong foundation. We have built in Singapore a harmonious multi-racial society. We have a vibrant economy. We have a strong army, navy and air force to defend Singapore. Singaporeans have good jobs and good homes, a good health system and a good education system. As Singaporeans, we have every reason to be optimistic about the future. As Mr Lee Kuan Yew would have said: "never fear".
Let me end with a quote from Mr Lee Hsien Loong, our Prime Minister:
"The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won't see another man like him. "But even as we mourn his passing, let us also honour his spirit. Let us dedicate ourselves as one people to build on his foundations, strive for his ideals and keep Singapore exceptional and successful for many years to come."