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'Fairytale': former refugee Governor bows out of office with thanks


Outgoing Governor Hieu Van Le has thanked South Australians for the “extraordinary honour” of holding the state’s highest office after arriving in Australia as a refugee with “nothing, just a shirt on his back”.

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Le, 67, today marked his final day in office as he did his first seven years ago – paying his respects by laying a wreath at the National War Memorial on North Terrace.

The Governor then walked down the Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk with a delegation of service chiefs and RSL members to lay another wreath at the Vietnam War Memorial at the Torrens Parade Ground.

Later this afternoon, the Governor and his wife Lan Le will farewell staff outside Government House and walk out to a guard of honour.

Born in central Vietnam in 1954, Le arrived in Darwin in December 1977 after fleeing his war-torn homeland in a wooden boat.

He settled in Adelaide and spent the three months at the Pennington Migrant Hostel before studying at the University of Adelaide and embarking on a successful career with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

In 2007 he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia, serving seven years in the position under then-Governor Kevin Scarce.

Le was sworn in as Governor on September 1, 2014, on the recommendation of former Premier Jay Weatherill.

Speaking outside the Vietnam War Memorial today, Le said it was an “extraordinary honour” to serve as Governor.

“Someone told me that if Hollywood tried to write a story, it wouldn’t be this one because it wouldn’t be that true or real,” he told reporters.

“Think about this: a young man, a refugee coming into this land at the age of 23 with nothing, just a shirt on his back.

“And this community embrace him, allow him to live in the democratic, free and peaceful country.

“And on top of that, they also offer the opportunity to do the best that they can … to rise up to the highest office in this state, it’s something that only the fairytale can [meet].

“I’ll greatly greatly appreciate that and say, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’”

The outgoing governor lays a wreath at the National War Memorial on North Terrace this morning (Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily).

Le was the first person with an Asian background to chair the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission and is a patron of more than 200 organisations.

He said he hoped his story would encourage all Australians to take a positive view on the contributions refugees can make to Australian society.

“I hope that the story will tell to all Australians how fortunate we are to live in this country, and we are able to embrace people from other parts of the world, from all walks of life, and give them the opportunity,” he said.

“And if they have the opportunity to thrive, they’re becoming the contributors to enrich our life in many many ways and then improving and continuing to make our country one of the best countries in the world and one of the luckiest countries in the world.”

He also said seeing the chaotic evacuation of people from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan “brings back so many sad memories”.

“We are relating back to the fall of Saigon on the 30th of April 1975 – I was there,” he said.

“I have a deep strong feeling of what the people there are going through, so I wish the world will look into this with a generous and receptive view – they need help.”

Reflecting on his time as Governor, Le said the achievement he takes most pride in is bringing Government House closer to the public.

“The proudest moment would be to see the Government House become the house of people,” he said.

“To see that we are able to demystify the role of Governor and demystify Government House … becoming the place where we welcome people of all walks of life is something that I’m most proud of.”

Le’s time in Government House was celebrated by both sides of politics today.

“He has served outstandingly as Governor since Sept 2014 and has demonstrated exceptional service to South Australians,” Premier Steven Marshall said.

“I wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.”

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas also commended the Governor and his wife Lan for serving with “distinction” during their time in office.

“I have enjoyed my many interactions with His Excellency during my time as a minister in the former Labor Government and during this term as Leader of the Opposition,” he said.

“On behalf of the State Labor Parliamentary team, I want to thank His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC for his service to the people of South Australia as Governor over the past seven years.”

Le will be succeeded by Adelaide-born Frances Adamson, who will be sworn in as the state’s 36th Governor in October.

Adamson is a career diplomat who most recently headed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Priort to that she served as ambassador to China from 2011-2015, held postings in Hong Kong and Taiwan and served twice in the Australian High Commission in London, including as Deputy High Commissioner from 2005-08.

She is just the third woman to be appointed Governor of South Australia, after Dame Roma Mitchell (1991-1996) and Marjorie Jackson-Nelson (2001-2007).

Asked if he had any advice for his successor, Le said: “Each governor has their own style, his or her own priorities or promises.”

“I don’t think my suggestion would be any help,” he laughed.

“I think we are so fortunate to have this excellent appointment in Frances Adamson, I have no doubt that she will work in this role with flying colours.”

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