Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the Sydney Opera House

University dignitaries and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Sydney

University dignitaries and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Sydney (Photo by Louise M Cooper)

In summary: 
  • Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at the Sydney Opera House on 27 November in her first official visit to Australia
  • Along with the University of Sydney, UTS presented Daw Suu Kyi with an honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) in recognition of her outstanding role as a leader of the Burmese democracy movement
  • We publish Daw Suu Kyi's Sydney Opera House address in full here

In her first visit to Australia, Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Sydney Opera House and spoke of the importance of democracy, rule of law and the need to resolve conflict peacefully in Burma's journey on the path to national reconciliation.

Before Daw Suu Kyi's formal address, UTS and the University of Sydney presented Daw Suu Kyi with an honorary Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from both institutions, in recognition of her outstanding role as a leader of the Burmese democracy movement.

Here we publish Daw Suu Kyi's discussion with MC Hamish Macdonald, including her formal address and a Q&A with the audience.

Hamish Macdonald: There are very few humans walking on this planet who have the moral authority of the woman that we're about to begin a conversation with.  Please welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Thank you so much.

I was listening to an interview that you did not that long ago and you said that you didn't really like melodrama and I reflected on that and I thought for someone that doesn't like melodrama you've led a pretty melodramatic life.  How do you reflect on that?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Perhaps because of that, I don't like melodrama, besides I find it very embarrassing.  I think I just like to be an ordinary human being.

Hamish Macdonald: The reality is though, nobody in this room sees you as an ordinary human being.  How do you put that in the context of your own life and your own ambition?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I suppose I take life as it comes.  I do have my goals.  I have my ideas and I have very, very firm principles but I hope I am flexible enough not to be bound by them, not to be shackled by them.  But when I say I take life day to day it doesn't mean that I don't have long-term plans but that I accept that things can change from day to day and that brings it perspective.  You're always aware of the fact that nothing is forever. 

For example, as a politician some are very much swayed by popularity, by public applause but I think one also has to understand as a politician that this might not last forever and that helps you to keep things in perspective.

Hamish Macdonald: I'm interested to understand your views on leadership and power.  As someone that has exercised enormous leadership without tangible formal power, how necessary is formal power?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Formal power is necessary if you want to change the course of a country's history and we have to be practical.  There are things that a government can do which the opposition cannot do.

Hamish Macdonald: But you have exercised great power and authority in your home country without being in that position.  How have you managed to do that?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I think simply by being honest with the people.  When I say we I mean my party, the National League for Democracy and we've never tried to win the support of the people by making false promises or by distorting facts.  We've always tried to be as honest as possible.  Some people think that honest politics is a contradiction in terms but I think it's an absolute necessity.

It's just the simplest way to do things in the long run.

Hamish Macdonald: Does it surprise you that so much of politics has an air of dishonesty about it?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, I'll tell you something. During my visits abroad - I won't mention the names of the countries - but during my visits abroad I have been told by journalists and by others that they were surprised because I answered their questions.   So I said, well if you ask questions I answer them.

Hamish Macdonald: We're very grateful for that.

Aung San Suu Kyi: But they said, no politicians don't do that.  They come with answers that they've already decided to make and whatever the questions, these answers are the ones you get.

Hamish Macdonald: I'm interested in your relationship with your father.  You were I think two years old when he was killed but you do have a relationship with him today.  His picture adorns the walls in your office.  Can you describe that relationship that you as an adult have with your father?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I think I'll have to start with how it was when I was a child.  I think my mother was anxious that I should not forget him.  I was also his favourite child, you know, that meant a lot.  Everybody knows that and I was always told that I was his favourite child, that he loved me best and that was always a great strength to me although I couldn't remember him at all.  The conviction that I was my father's best loved child was a great source of strength for me and the fact that I was not allowed to forget him, not in a nasty way.

I think my mother just did not want me to think that I never had a father so he was very, very alive for me throughout my growing years and so he remains alive to this day but now not just as my father but as my political leader.

Ann Mossop: Before we continue with this delightful conversation, I know that Daw Suu has some formal remarks that she was going to make.

Hamish Macdonald: I'm terribly sorry.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Oh it doesn't matter, I'm quite happy not to make formal remarks.

Hamish Macdonald: I should have pointed you in that direction I think.

Aung San Suu Kyi: All right, you'd better tell me how many minutes I am supposed to devote to these formal remarks.

Ann Mossop: Absolutely as you wish.

Aung San Suu Kyi: I can't do that, there is the audience as well.

Hamish Macdonald: Would you prefer to give more time to the question and answer?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Now, how much time do you want for your questions and answers?

Hamish Macdonald: I think they want a lot, so…

Aung San Suu Kyi: How much time do you have left?  Let's do it the democratic way.  How much time do we have left?

Hamish Macdonald: Well, let's make this a democratic process. Let the audience vote.  We've got 57 minutes left.  Would the audience be happy with say 10 minutes of formal speaking and then we'll return to the conversation? All those in favour?  I think that's democracy in action.

Aung San Suu Kyi: The shorter the speech the better.

Now, first of all I'd like to thank all of you for your tremendous support.  I would like to say that throughout our years of struggle we have been encouraged by friends from all over the world.  The honorary degrees which were presented to me earlier, these were not just honorary degrees.  These were signs that the world was with us, that we had not been forgotten in our struggle and for this I would like to thank all of you - all of you in Australia and all over the world.

Now, the subject I had chosen to speak on formally for the next 10 minutes, is Burma's future.  Not Burma's future as predictions or even Burma's future as hopes but for Burma's future as choices - the choices that we have to make for the future of our country.

Now, as I said earlier, I'm a politician.  I am practical I hope and pragmatic and I try to be honest so I want to talk about the choices that we have made - we the National League for Democracy and our supporters with regard to the future of our country and to ask for your support to help us make sure that these choices can be made as soon as possible.

The very first choice that we made with regard to our future was more than 20 years ago when we opted for democracy.  Even when there was a very, very brutal - one has to be honest - military regime in power, we never let go of that choice.  We were going to opt for democracy, the kind of democracy that was rooted in strong institutions and in respect for human rights but along with our dedication to democracy and human rights we never forgot the need for national reconciliation.

So these were the three pillars of the National League for Democracy - democracy, human rights and national reconciliation - because we did not want either of those three pillars to be built up at the expense of any of the other two.  These three we need that our country might be the kind of union of which we had dreamed for very many decades.

Those of our leaders who fought for independence, including my father, dreamt of such a union.  They wanted to see Burma as a union of many peoples who were strong in their dedication to the idea of a nation that worked together for its people, that was bound together by dedication to the best principles of nationhood.

We decided to follow that path.  This was a choice we made.  I have often said that I find it embarrassing when people talk about the sacrifices that I have made and I always try to point out that those were not sacrifices but choices.  Throughout my life I feel I have made the choices that I thought were best and we have been wrong and we have been right.  But those choices were mine and I would bear responsibility for them and accept whatever consequences came thereby.  So those are the choices we made back in 1988.  In 2012 last year we had to make another choice.  We had to make the choice to contest the by-elections and to work as far as possible together with the existing system to carry on with our quest to realise democracy, human rights and national reconciliation. 

When we contested the elections we had an election platform built on three main planks which were rule of law, eternal peace and amendments to the constitution.  Rule of law because for very many decades Burma had been under authoritarianism which knew nothing about rule of law.  It knew a lot about law and order but that is quite different from rule of law.  Especially as law and order translates very unhappily into Burmese.  

Now the literal translation is [spoken in foreign language] which means quiescent, crouched, crushed and flattened. 

[Laughter]

I don't want our people to be crouched and crushed and flattened.

[Laughter]

I want them to be able to lift up their heads in the security of rule of law.  So rule of law is very important for our country especially because we have hardly any judiciary to speak of.  We have a judiciary which is totally limited by the constitution which places it under the authority of the executive.  

The second plank of our election platform was internal peace.  That is see an end to ethnic conflict, eternal conflict.  I think that I hardly need to explain why we want peace, why we want an end to all internal conflict.  That is necessary if ours is to be a truly peaceful and strong union.  

Then the third plank was amendments to the constitution.  Some may ask why.  Because this constitution is preventing our country from becoming a truly democratic nation.  Those of you who think that Burma has successfully taken the path to reform would be mistaken.  If you want to know why you are mistaken you only have to study the Burmese constitution.  Not a pleasant task I can tell you.  But if you read it carefully you will understand why we cannot have genuine democracy under such a constitution.  

I usually mention just one point about it because that drives home it's lack of democratic principles far more effectively than going through a number of other sections.  The provision for amendments to the constitution is I'm told about the most rigid to be found anywhere in the world.  In order to make any major amendment more than 75 per cent of the members of the legislature must vote for it.  That's just the first step.  

Now I don't know how many of you are aware that 25 per cent of the members of the legislature are from the military.  That means that in order for the constitution to be amended the members of the military, I always say at least one brave soldier but actually more than one because we don't have the full quota of seventy five per cent civilian electorate representatives.  So the military must support any amendment of any consequent for it to go through.  

This is not all.  All the military members are appointed by the Commander in Chief.  He alone decides who the members are going to be.  Not only that, they can be changed at any time.  They are not appointed for the lifetime of the parliament.  So the Commander in Chief at any time can decide who represents the military in the legislature.  That means in effect that the Commander in Chief decides whether or not the constitution can be amended.  Because if he says yes then the military representatives will vote yes.  If he says no then they will vote no.  

So I put this to you very simply, how can you call a constitution democratic when it can be amended or not amended in accordance with the will of one man who is in an unelected post.  Because the Commander in Chief is not there by election.  Now this is just the beginning of a series of sections in the constitution which make it totally undemocratic. 

If Burma is truly to be on the road to democracy we have to amend this constitution.  Now that has taken me…

[Applause]

Now my time is almost up so I will just conclude by saying that in recent months my party has been conducting public meetings all over the country to acquaint our people with this issue.  First of all what a constitution is.  Secondly how it affects the lives of every one of its citizens.  Thirdly the history of our constitutions, we've had three, this is a third one.  How this one was adopted.  How this one was written up and why it is not democratic and why we want it amended.  We have found that the moment our people understand what is really at stake the great majority of them - I would say that at the public meetings we find that more than 80 per cent of them are very much in favour of constitutional amendment. 

Now don't think that the remaining 20 per cent or so are against amendment.  What those people want is a total rewrite of the constitution. 

[Laughter]

So this is our choice for Burma's future.  A genuine democratic constitution that will help us to uphold democracy, human rights, and we want to achieve these amendments through national reconciliation.  Never forgetting that all our citizens belong to our country and the whole country belongs to all our citizens.  It's not just the military that owns a country and we do not want the military to be left out either.  We want everybody in our country to be part of the process that will take us forward to genuine democracy. Thank you.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Thank you very much Daw Suu.  Can I pick up on the point of the military?  You also have as well as this relationship with your father that we were just discussing a relationship with the military.  You said that you love them.  They're part of your family.  You're part of their family.  Can you explain that a little further because I suppose given what we know of what the military has done to you it's difficult for many of use to understand.  

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well first of all the Burmese family was founded by my father back in 1941 and it was first founded as the Burma Independent's Army to fight for Burma's independence.  So my father is recognised as the father of the Burmese army.  Difficult for them to forget that.  

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: So I don't think it came as something particularly pleasant to them when I decided that I much preferred democracy to military dictatorship.  But this is not because I do not love the army.  I was brought up to love the army in the same way in which I was brought up to love my father.  I always knew that my father was the founder of the Burmese army.  In fact most of the existing photographs of him are of him in army uniform.  So I've always thought of him as a soldier, as a member of the military. 

Because of that it was difficult for me not to love the army.  Besides which my mother always said that all soldiers were my father's sons and therefore my brothers.  This is how I was brought up. 

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Is it difficult though to love somebody or an organisation that sees you as a threat?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well what is more important is that they should love me. 

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: It's not difficult for me to love them.  I hope they find it a little easier to love me. 

[Laughter]

Hamish Macdonald: Can I ask about your views on sacrifice.  Everybody here is aware of the enormous personal sacrifices that you have made.  How do you explain that on a personal level?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well as I said earlier I don't think of them as sacrifices.  These were choices I made.  Because what exactly do you mean by a sacrifice?  It's giving up something.  But if you are giving up something for something that means more to you then it's not really giving up is it?  It's a choice. 

Hamish Macdonald: Did you talk about that with your sons today?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I talked about them a long time ago.  Not with my youngest son who was a little bit young then but I did say to my older son, my eldest son, when I was about to go into politics in Burma I did discuss this with him.  At that time he said yes it was a good thing to do because he thought that Burma needed politicians like me. 

Hamish Macdonald: But I suppose many of us grow up thinking, believing, maybe knowing that we're the most important thing in our parent's world.  You're essentially saying to him you're not.  So can you explain that for us?  How do you tell that to a child?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I just put it to him very straight that I think I should be involved in politics because we were all trying to achieve something that was greatly needed for our country.  A change in regime, a change from dictatorship to democracy, a change from a repressed society to one where the people were free to shape their own destiny and that I thought I should be involved because I was a citizen of this country.  

Hamish Macdonald: Does that involve a degree of single mindedness?  Do you have to be completely focused on that in order to not let the emotion get in the way of it?  Or is there a big pool of emotion around all of these issues?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I think you do have to be single minded under the circumstances and if we are to work.  Because well it isn't exactly like Australian politics, we…

Hamish Macdonald: It can be pretty nasty here too. 

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well I didn't say that. 

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: But you have to be single minded.  I think it's not just me.  I think in many ways I had it easier than many of my colleagues because, going back to the army, when all is said and done I don't think they ever forgot that I was my father's daughter.  Because they treated me well.  Yes they placed me under house arrest but that's not the same as being put in prison and I think there are many people here in Australia, many from Burma who have been in prison.  In fact I've come with a team of three, four altogether with me, and out of the four of us three of us have been in prison because of our political views. 

So many of my colleagues who were in prison suffered terribly.  Suffered physically hardship, suffered a lot of mental cruelty and they had it much, much harder than I did.  So I really don't have much to complain about.  I think if they can be single minded and they were single minded, they could be single minded, I don't see why I couldn't have been. 

Hamish Macdonald: Was there a moment - were there moments where you thought maybe the choice, or the sacrifice as we might interpret it, is not worth it?  I miss my children so much. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: No I never thought that it is not worth it.  I always used to think that if only one other person remained in Burma who wanted democracy I would remain. 

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Can you articulate for us where in the democratisation process Burma, Myanmar is today?  Because I think by you being free and being here many people interpret that to mean that Burma now has democracy.  But that's not really the case.  

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well I think people have very short memories.  You must remember that in 2003, I think many of you will have forgotten so I will have to remind you.  But in 2003 when I was travelling in upper Burma, in central Burma, my motorcade was attacked by I suppose I could only call them thugs.  Because they were armed with staves and knives and they attacked our motorcade and then we were arrested.  It was a rather unusual situation.  Those who were attacked were arrested and the attackers got away, I don't know where.  Scot-free anyway.

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: So after that I and others in the motorcade were imprisoned and there was a great international outcry.  I think because of that, because of the indignation of the international community in - this happened at the end of May 2003.  In August a seven step road map was declared by the then military government.  Now it included such things as drafting the constitution and then having the national referendum to adopt it and then holding elections.  Then the elected government would bring democracy to the country. 

Now we are now at number seven.  The elected government elected through elections in 2010 and with all these questions the freeness and fairness of that election - and I have to say that even the United Nations which is very, very cautious about what it says admitted that those elections were deeply flawed.  So this present government which is in part through the 2010 elections is carrying out the seventh part of the road map which is by which the government will bring Burma to what they described as disciplined democracy.  Now that's very suspect.

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: So what we want is genuine democracy.  Not one that is imposed by the government but one that comes up from the people. In order to do that we need the constitution amended and let's…

Hamish Macdonald: Specifically in what way?  Because you can't beat a president at this…

Aung San Suu Kyi: No not just that.  As I said to begin with how can you call a constitution amended democratic that can be amended only by one person.  One person against all the elected representatives of the people can decide whether or not amendments can be made.  Now, but whether or not I can be President.  It's not whether or not I can be president but because the constitution is written specifically to prevent me from being president I object to this.  Because no constitution should be written with one person in mind. 

[Applause]

Aung San Suu Kyi: That's not democratic. 

Hamish Macdonald: Let's be very clear though, you do want to be the president after the 2015 election. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: Oh yes. 

[Laughter]

Hamish Macdonald: How do you…

Aung San Suu Kyi: I would like to say why I want to be president. 

Hamish Macdonald: [Laughs].

Aung San Suu Kyi: I've explained that often enough but there's one point that I usually forget to make but it's important.  My wishing to be president is very simple.  It's so that we can do what our party will be able to implement the policies that we think are necessary for the country.  But I also want to be president for the sake of all those who have really sacrificed everything including their lives for democracy in Burma.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: The increasing level of responsibility that you have, you are now an MP, you're engaged in this process, that does bring about or force compromise.  How do you go with compromising with these people?

Aung San Suu Kyi: There's nothing wrong with compromise provided it's principled.  I've often said that we need to build up a culture of democracy.  It's not just democracy as a political system.  We need to build up a culture of democracy.  That involves negotiated compromise and we are very weak at that because we have had too many years of dictatorship. 

Hamish Macdonald: I'm interested in this because I heard an anecdote from you where you talked about having friends around for dinner in the UK in Oxford and you wanted to make Peking duck.  You got the hairdryer out to crisp the skin.  Now to me that's someone that's a perfectionist.  Are you a perfectionist?

[Laughter]

Aung San Suu Kyi: Yes I suppose so.  I would quite like perfect democracy for Burma.  As perfect as it is possible in this human world. 

Hamish Macdonald: Yeah.  So you go into this political process…

Aung San Suu Kyi: But actually it wasn't a hair dryer it was a fan. 

[Laughter]

Hamish Macdonald: Are you already having to make compromises though?  I know you're saying that you can do them in a principled way but are you having to make those compromises?

Aung San Suu Kyi: But I've always made compromises.  I think that's what democracy is all about.  The NLD when it was first founded, it was founded on compromise because it was founded by three different groups.  So I don't think there's anything wrong with compromise as long as, as I said, it's principled compromise. 

Hamish Macdonald: You've been in Singapore.  You've met global CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the world.  What do you say to them?  Do you say come and do business in Myanmar.  Come and do business with the military leadership.  Or do you say come, try and do business but tell them that you want change to. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: We've always said that what we believe in is responsible business.  Now I was discussing this with the Burmese community earlier and they talked about the fact - there was a question in which it was said that everybody is talking about transparency in Burma these days, and is there real transparency.  I explained that transparency and accountability were first used by our party, the NLD, back in the days when it was highly unpopular  and almost considered high treason to talk about good governance. But we talked about transparency and accountability and we started talking about responsible investment very early on, in 2010 after the new government came into power I think the emphasis was on investment and there were no conditions that we were aware of attached to it. 

Whereas we always said, responsible investment. Which would be as much for the benefit of our people as for those who are investing. Of course we accept that investors come to invest because they hope to profit from the situation, but we want to make sure that our people benefit as well.

Hamish Macdonald: But are you - how honest are you being with ECOs, you must know about how rife corruption is, you tell them…

Aung San Suu Kyi: I don't - they should know, if they don't know that Burma is corrupt they have no right trying to invest there.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: I know you've been here today, are you aware of the number of Burmese or Rohingya refugees coming to Australia?

 

Aung San Suu Kyi: Yes, we - I know this is a big global issue these days, and it's a difficult one for us and I would like to echo what Bill Clinton said - the retired President of the United States - when he was in Burma recently, that the world has so much goodwill towards our country but they were sickened by the resolution of differences through violence. I feel that he's very right. What we want is a society where differences can be settled without violence. 

My party is totally dedicated to non-violence. Violence has been committed against us again and again, repeatedly, not over a year not over two, but over nearly thirty years. But we never retaliated with violence. So I'm unhappy that there should be those in my country who believe that differences can be settled only through violence:

Hamish Macdonald: But you know only too well the impact of violence on people's lives. Some people have chosen to try to come to Australia, do you think we have an obligation to accept those people, to offer them a new home. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: That is your policy but what I would like to say is that the government of my country has an obligation to protect everybody in it. That they must make sure that there is rule of law that will give everybody security. We cannot have peace without security .I have said repeatedly that unless our people all feel secure you can't expect to them to sit down and sort out their d differences. 

People who are afraid of being killed or who are people who are afraid of their property being attacked are not going to sit down and talk sensibly to one another, and I do not think the government has been responsible enough in establishing rule of law.

Hamish Macdonald: I think you're referring to the situation in relation to the Rohingyas particularly…

Aung San Suu Kyi: All over the country I think there's a tremendous lack of rule of law. We do not have an independent judiciary it is very much under the executive in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, and we do not have the kind of independent - independence amongst the difference departments and at the local level and independence and transparency and accountability. We do not have these, and without that we can't have rule of law, and without rule of law we cannot expect our people to settle their differences peacefully and sensibly.

Hamish Macdonald: There are those in recent months that have expressed criticism towards you, and have expressed disappointment that you have not been more vocal in relation to the Rohingyas, in defending them.

Aung San Suu Kyi: I have always defended those whose human rights have been attacked, but what people want is not defence but condemnation. Particularly they are saying why am I not condemning this group or why am I not condemning that group, and it also applies to the military. Why am I not condemning the military. I don't - I'm not condemning because I have not found that condemnation brings good results. 

What I want to do is to achieve national reconciliation. It's very interesting in those days back from 1988 until a year or two ago when the military regime was very, very severe and when we talked about national reconciliation everybody agreed because they thought it was not achievable. 

But now when we talk about national reconciliation in very, very simple, practical terms of trying to work out our differences instead of condemning one another, then people don't like it.

So there's an inconsistency. When they thought national reconciliation was just a pipedream they were ready to support it but now many who supported national reconciliation as a goal do not seem to be very keen on practicing national reconciliation which means as I've said, trying to sort out our differences without resorting to condemnation or violence.

Hamish Macdonald: Do you think that reconciliation requires offering the Rohingyas citizenship as Rohingyas?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Reconciliation requires talking to both communities, finding out what their fears are. I believe that hate and fear are linked. They are opposite sides of the same coin, and as long as there's hate and fear there cannot be reconciliation, there cannot be a sorting out of their differences without violence. Violence comes out of hate and fear.

Hamish Macdonald: The citizenship laws are an important though…

Aung San Suu Kyi: Of course, this is why I say that these should be discussed sensibly with cool heads and not out of fear or not out of hate.

Hamish Macdonald: In relation to Australia, there is this young child Farus, a boy that was born a short time ago, he was separated from his mother a few days after his birth and the family we understand may be sent to Nauru, or to Papua New Guinea - countries that we have agreements with for accepting asylum seekers. 

Do you think that's appropriate for Australia to send this child away when he's ill, when the family has come and tried to seek asylum here?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Do you have rule of law in Australia?

Hamish Macdonald: We do.

[Applause]

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well in that case you must sort out these problems within the framework of rule of law, but always remembering that justice has to be tempered by mercy. 

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: I think in a moment we'll take some questions from the audience, so if you do have a question please move to one of the six microphones around the auditorium. I'll give you a few moments to do that, so please get your questions ready. 

Audience Member: We need some light.

Hamish Macdonald: We need some light? The lights will come up in a moment. I suppose, we talked about your readiness, potentially, to become the President. Do you think that the military is ready for you?

Aung San Suu Kyi: They'd better be. The sooner the better.

[Laughter]

Hamish Macdonald: Alright, let's take some questions. I'll go to microphone one first. I'll take three questions please keep them brief so we can get through as many as possible. So we'll listen to the first three questions and then answer them all at once.

Audience Member: Good evening and welcome to Australia. I wanted to ask a question about sanctions. You may know that the - amongst all of the groups that were campaigning for democracy in Burma there was a lot of discussion and conflict about this issue of, whether constructive engagement was a way forward, or whether support for sanctions was the way forward. And that's still contested even today. Could you tell us what your views are on the role of sanctions and constructive engagement, and what role they played towards the liberalisation that we're seeing now in Burma. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well let me just concentrate on sanctions, because I supported sanctions. I didn't get them instituted because I didn't lobby for sanctions, but once the sanctions were in place I supported sanctions, and I do believe sanctions have had a role to play in the democratisation process as it is.

Now I say this because I'm sure many of you are aware of the [unclear] dictators end up always believing their own propaganda. In Burma for a long time we - the economy had been in a terrible situation, to begin with when sanctions were first instituted the military government - the then-military government said that sanctions had no effect whatsoever on the country. In fact I think there was a television program, every day they had some popular singer singing about how useless the sanctions were. But after some time when the economy started getting from bad to worse, they started saying that it was because of sanctions. Now if I remember correctly the IMF brought about several reports to the effect that sanctions had not really effected the economy much, it was because of mismanagement that it was in such a mess. 

But I think the military regime started believing their own propaganda that sanctions are responsible for the economic mess, and they became very, very eager for sanctions to be removed. And I think some of the positive steps they took where related to their desire to have sanctions removed. Now those of you who are worried because sanctions have now been removed, and think that this leaves them with very little with which they can exercise leverage, must be much more positive in their thinking. 

I think it was time for sanctions to be removed in order to give our people the best opportunities possible, and also for the government to understand that it was not because of sanctions that our economy was in trouble, but because of mismanagement and these things that needed to put right would have to be put right as soon as possible. So please don't worry because sanctions have been lifted, what is needed for us now is, as I said earlier, constitutional amendments and not sanctions.

Audience Member: [Spoken in a foreign language]. 

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Let's go to microphone two, and could I just ask you to introduce yourself at the beginning. 

Audience Member: Yes, my name is [Kerry Wright] and I'm an educator and I just wanted to say as an educator I have taught about you, spoken about you and thought about you every day for decades. What I would like to say, because you are a very practical woman, is that in our free land here with very privileged education, and like many people in this room I've seen many of your schools in Burma, I've spoken to many of your teachers - including teachers teaching in the most incredibly difficult circumstances but very nobly. What I would like to ask you is, in our free land where Australians, Burmese, Chinese, Tibetans and every other great nation represented here - and religion - what can we do every student, every teacher, every school, every institution to practically support the rebuilding of your whole education system. 

Aung San Suu Kyi: As I say to you, we have so much to do in our country. We have an education network set up by my party, which has set up free schools all over the country. Now when I say free schools some of you might be surprised, some of you who think that education is free - provided freely by the state in Burma. In fact, it is supposed to be free but it's not free. Students are required to make 'donations', and these 'donations' are beyond the reach of the poorer people, who therefore don't send their children to the state schools. 

So we need not just more money, which we do for education, but we need a more responsible government that will lay down a national education plan that will help us to, to start again from scratch almost. 

Because at one time we had the best education system in south-east Asia and now it's about the worst. The legislature is working on a national education scheme, and I'm the chair of the committee that is drafting the higher education law, but legislation is not enough. We need the Executive also to work hard at improving education in Burma, and what you can do as Australian teachers, Australian students, is to get as much in contact with our education networks as possible and to help in every way you can until the government to government relationship is established on a truly democratic basis.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Thank you.  Let's go to the far back corner there and microphone number three.

Dean Bialek: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, thank you very much for being here with us this evening in Sydney.  My name is Dean Bialek, I work with the diplomatic advisory group Independent Diplomat and my question for you is do you expect the elections in your country in 2015 to be free and fair, and what can the international community do to ensure that they are as free and fair as is humanly possible?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, there are two parts to it, free and fair.  Now, free in the sense that voting is free, on the day of polling itself, I think that we can depend on more than 90 per cent, but fair, we cannot have fair elections until the Constitution is amended, because the Constitution does not provide for a level playing ground.  Again, I don't want to go into the details but in that section which was written up with me in mind - it's very flattering actually, I must be the only person in the world for whom a Constitution was written.  

That section effectively rules out any woman, not just me, from becoming President because it requires the candidate to have military experience.  We do not have women in the Burmese Army at the moment though I understand that they are now going to start taking women into the Defence Service Academy.  So to begin with, a woman can't become a President and then of course I'm doubly debarred because of my sons who are not Burmese citizens.  

So how can you say that a constitution that does not give a fair chance to women, although it says in another section that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of gender.  How can you say that such a constitution would lead to fair elections?  Then also the Election Commission, as appointed under the terms of the Constitution is totally in the hands of the Executive.  It is the President who appoints the Chairman of the Commission and I suppose he selects the other members as well, since he's already selected the Chairman.  So we cannot have fair elections in 2015 if the Constitution is not amended, but possibly there could be free voting on the day of polling itself.  

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Let's turn to microphone four.  

Audience Member: [Spoken in foreign language].  My name is [Osman Mau] and I'm from Burmese Muslim community here in Australia and apparently my question will be around the recent religious tension in Burma, particularly the religious violence against a Muslim minority group in Burma.  Do you think these recent violence and unrest and tension between these different religious groups are actually plots by the current government against you and your party to politically assassinate you, destroy your political cause?  

If you think so, what you and your parties are doing to do to defuse the situation?  And when you talk about national reconciliation, does this also cover reconciliation between different religious groups, because I think at the moment there are some fear against each other and mistrust against each other between the different religious groups?  What do you think a country like Australia can do to help calm the situation?  Sorry to ask too many questions, but…

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, Burma is not yet, as I said earlier, a country where transparency is overwhelming.  It's not totally transparent and it's not totally open and because of that there are always many conspiracy theories.  I know that there has been speculation with regard to why this communal violence has been taking place, the communal riots and the tension, whether these have been promoted by those who wish to derail the 2015 elections or to make sure that the NLD does not win the 2015 elections.  But these are just speculation, there is no solid evidence that any particular group is working towards such an end.  

On the other hand there's no evidence either that any particular group is not working towards such an end, so we have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  But what is important is that the government must take responsibility for any violence that takes place in the country, anything that happens that is contrary to the laws of the land.  As I said earlier, I do not think that the government has taken enough responsibility with regard to that, and certainly when I talk about national reconciliation, I mean reconciliation among all groups, among all peoples, among organisations, among political forces.  

This is why I say that when I think of national reconciliation, I include reconciliation between the military and the civilian political forces everywhere.  But in order to promote this kind of national reconciliation, we need not just Australia but the world to give us more understanding.  This is why I said earlier that behind all this communal tensions are great fears and hatred, and to remove these the government must create an atmosphere of security.  If people do not feel secure you will not be able to make them let go of their hatred and their fear.  

So I want our people to live in peace.  We have not forgotten - I have not forgotten certainly that we achieved our independence in 1948 through reconciliation between different ethnic nationalities with the involvement of different religious groups, with the involvement of different political organisations.  It was through national solidarity that we achieved our independence and I believe that it is only through national solidarity that we will be able to achieve true democracy for our country.  So Australia and the rest of the world must try to help us to achieve this reconciliation.  They must also remind the present government that it is responsible for peace and rule of law in our country.  If they want us to be responsible they'd better make us government.  

[Applause]

Audience Member: Further to that question, Human Rights Watch described that violence as ethnic cleansing.  Do you accept that analysis of it?

Aung San Suu Kyi: No.  I think these kind of expressions do not help because it does intensify fears and hatreds.  Yes, there has been violence and there is continuing violence and there is great anxiety in our country that these outbreaks of communal tension and strife should come to an end.  But when you use terms like ethnic cleansing, which I think is a little extreme, it just plays into the hands of extremists.  There are extremists on both sides.  They are very few.  It's usually the minority.  We only have very few extremists but they can exercise great power over those who are frightened.  

Hamish Macdonald: Let's turn around.  I think there's a microphone five over here.

Susan Banki: Susan Banki, the University of Sydney.  Thank you Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  I'd like to return to the question of women.  As you know, you are the best known of a number of remarkable women leaders from Burma.  Dr Cynthia Maung, Cham Tong and what we understand at least in the western world is that you come from a male-dominated society and yet we see this amazing number of women leaders.  I'm wondering if there is a reason that Burma has produced this wealth of women leaders despite the fact that it's a male-dominated society.  Thanks.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, the fact that it's a male-dominated society doesn't mean that our men are stronger than the women.

[Applause]

I think it just means that the women are kinder.

Hamish Macdonald: Let's go over to microphone six.  

Audience Member: Hello.  Sorry, I forgot.

Hamish Macdonald: Do you want a minute to think?

Audience Member: In Burma, in Burma we…

Aung San Suu Kyi: He's a man, he needs time to think.

[Applause]

Audience Member: Sorry.  In Burma we have conflicts between Buddhist majority of 96 per cent and Muslim minorities of four per cent.  So there are continuing conflicts and in a previous interview you said that there are fears on both sides and there are the lack of rule of law and the government is responsible and they need to implement it, but that's one side.  Your [unclear] and you are the only hope and inspiration for all our Burmese people.  May I ask that - have you been implementing or do you have any plan to promote peaceful coexistence of all people inside Burma, regardless of race or religion?  Thank you very much.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, we have been doing this over the last 30 years, because ask I said, we started out with three pillars, democracy, human rights and national reconciliation.  If all these three could be constructed strongly then we would have peace and harmony in our land, because human rights would be respected, everybody would enjoy their democratic rights and there would be understanding between different communities, in between different races.  

Now at the moment, as the Chair of the Committee for Rule of Law, I'm trying my best to build a harmonious society through rule of law.  And while I'm about it, could I say that we're trying to establish rule of law centres all over the country and that will require a lot of help in services as well as in funding.  So anybody who would like to help with the establishment of rule of law in Burma, please get in touch with my committee through the legislature.  Thank you.  

Audience Member: Thank you [unclear].  

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: I think that offer was well-directed at the faculty staff back there.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Not just that.  As I say, it's not just services, we want funding as well.  I don't think faculty staff are particularly rich.  

Hamish Macdonald: The politicians are down that way.

Aung San Suu Kyi: I look in their direction.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Let's return to microphone one.

Audience Member: Thank you very much.  My name is [Weiwei Hu], I'm a Chinese Australian who came to Australia when I was 14 years old.  I'm inspired by your story of your choices that you have made based on the strength and the humility that you have.  My question is, what kind of - what would you say to a young girl who is unborn at the moment and also to the people of your country to inspire them with the same level of humility and strength that you have inspired the rest of the world to reconciliate?  Because clearly this is the issue that came up so many times within this forum and also many people have the same question as well.  It's not just amongst the Muslims and the Buddhists but also amongst many other groups that have different interests.  

Aung San Suu Kyi: Well, this morning when I was meeting the Burmese community, there was a welcome to country performance of song and dance and I was presented with a little carving, I think of a crocodile if I'm not mistaken, and I was told that this was to wish me peace and love.  I thought well, this is all we need really in this world, peace and love if this is to be a world where we can be safe and happy. So what would I say to your unborn child if it's a girl, or if it's a boy? That peace and love is something towards which every human being should work. If we were all - if we all put peace and love as at the top of our list of choices, then I think we would all be very much happier, this world would be much happier.

Now, you may think that this is very idealistic, that this is not possible. But it is possible, because many of my colleagues have worked like that, they have put peace and love above everything else. Not love for themselves and their families. Now, love has to be a lot wider than that, and love has to be expressed in action. There are many people who say that they love somebody or some bodies or some country, but actually, their actions do not reflect their words. So you must teach your little girl - is this your little girl you're talking about?

Audience Member: Yes.

Aung San Suu Kyi: You must teach your little girl to work towards peace and love, not just for herself, but for the world in which she lives. It's not idealistic and it's not impossible. We have known people who put that as the most important part of their lives and successfully brought more peace and love to our world. That is how justice comes, that is how harmony comes, and that is how progress comes.

Audience Member: Thank you.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: We'll take one last question from microphone two.

Audience Member: Hello. [Spoken in foreign language] Daw Suu, probably for years, long time no see Daw Suu. We met...

[Laughter]

Audience Member: … we met one day student leader and your [unclear] leaders. [Spoken in foreign language]. And one thing I remember [spoken in a foreign language]. Dear my adorable, political adoptive mother and dear our [giant] leader Daw Suu.  I would like to say first thing, I have three things to propose and ask the question. Before I go further, I coming from...

Hamish Macdonald: I beg you to ask the question, because we've got two minutes before we finish.

Audience Member: Yes, I understand that, because we haven't met for 25 years, that's a long time.

[Laughter]

Audience Member: So that's a question, I will try to cut it short. I'm - I would like to say thank you for your scholarship support from [unclear] Burma. I am coming from former - I am from Rangoon Institute of Technology, so I left Burma [unclear] engineering. I completed my degree in Australia at Monash University in [unclear] electrical engineering and computer engineering degree for your support. Without support, I couldn't buy lunch box or I couldn't buy computer. By the way, I go to the point, I have three points to raise. 

Daw Suu, first thing, I would like to raise about the health system in Burma. My parents - two of my parents, they pass away by malaria disease, they live in Rangoon. My family impacted the way I'm involved in politics. My father was a bank manager deported to China by [unclear], caught malaria. Both of my parents passed away by malaria disease. My question is, what kind of health system - we also get the - a bit of experimental by [unclear] medicine, quinine, something like that in Burma at the border as well. What kind of health system we need to implement, what kind of support you need from them, for one.

Hamish Macdonald: Let's just leave it at the one question, then. So the health system for Burma, what's required?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Alright, first of all let me tell you that Uncle Oo Thein who is at 87 is hale and hearty and he saw me off at the airport. Secondly, about the health system. Of course the whole thing needs to be reformed, we need a lot more funding for health. We do not have enough - not enough of the budget is devoted to health and education. At the moment we as the NLD have a health network and we are - we go out to the people and give them the kind of help that they need as far as possible. But the whole system needs to be reformed. Again, as I must remind you, we're not yet the government.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Let's finish with two very brief questions. Some universals, what do you think is the greatest challenge facing the world today?

Aung San Suu Kyi: Greed.

[Applause]

Hamish Macdonald: Finally, what gives you hope?

Aung San Suu Kyi: I've always said that I don't believe in hope without endeavour. I think you have the right to hope only if you work hard to realise your hopes.

[Sustained applause]

 

Hamish Macdonald: Ladies and gentlemen, please thank Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Thank you so much, it's a real pleasure to meet you, thank you.

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