29 Mar 2007

AUSTRALIA: Controversial visit by Singapore's founding father

Last Updated 29/03/2007 2:44:38 PM

Singapore's founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, says Australia has outgrown the dark future he once predicted, that Australians would be the "poor white trash of Asia". Mr Lee was speaking in Canberra after receiving an honorary law doctorate from the Australian National University.

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Presenter/Interviewer: Graeme Dobell
Speakers: Singapore's founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew

DOBELL: Lee Kuan Yew is 83, but he still knows how to throw a political punch, at protesters or questioning journalists.

LEE: I'm quite accustomed to a hostile group of questions, it's not going to change me and I'm not going to change you. We are going to prosper, you are going to prosper. But if I allow you to run my country it will spiral downwards and will hit rockbottom.

DOBELL: The protests from university staff and students were about Singapore's human rights record and whether Lee Kuan Yew should be honoured. Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has acknowledged some concerns about Singapore's record, but emphasised Mr Lee's role as what he calls a great regional leader. The citation for the honorary doctor of laws describes Mr Lee as the father of modern Singapore, a statesman of unique standing in the Asia Pacific and an honest friend of Australia.

After the receiving the award, Mr Lee gave was asked about the protesters, outside the hall, who described him as a dictator. He replies that Singapore meets every governance standard as set by the World Economic Forum in its global competitiveness report.

LEE: Run through every single item, rule of law, transparency, integrity of the system, efficiency of the civil service, confidence of the courts both domestically and internationally.

JOURNO: Would you have allowed a similar protest when you were prime minister to occur in your country?

LEE: Well you know I have protests of about 100 to 100-thousand people, communist-led, and in the 1950s and 60s if I didn't have the kind of robust energy to counter them in a huge heckling exchange I wouldn't be here today.

DOBELL: The university citation describes Singapore's founding leader as a long standing and candid friend of Australia, who hasn't hesitated to tell Australia when it's in error. Most famously, nearly 40 years ago, Lee Kuan Yew warned Australians that they could become the poor white trash of Asia. Today, he says, Australia is different.

LEE: No you have changed, I mean the Australia I came to in 1965 was a very different Australia, you were a white Australia, there was the Asian exclusion act, and in 1960s the US changed their rules and in 1967 or 68 you changed yours, and Canadians followed suit and we lost a lot of talent. And today we've not only lost Malaysians and others who used to come to Singapore, in your last census there were 50-thousand Singapore born persons now in Australia, and more will come over time because they find when they can't make the top jobs and it's easier living here.

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