Former Vietnamese refugee's tenure as South Australia governor extended

By Jon Aspin   June 20, 2019 | 12:00 am PT
Former Vietnamese refugee's tenure as South Australia governor extended
Hieu Van Le and his wife Lan Phuong Le at South Australia's Government House, in a photo he shared on Twitter.
Vietnamese-Australian Hieu Van Le has agreed to stay on as the governor of the state of South Australia until 2021.

Le, 65, said last week that he was "honored" to be reappointed.

He became the first Asian in the Commonwealth country’s history and the first Vietnamese refugee anywhere to be appointed to a vice-regal position when he became South Australia’s Lieutenant-Governor in 2007. In 2014 he was promoted to Governor - a non-political role in Australia’s constitutional monarchy - accepting a five-year term to act as Queen Elizabeth II’s chief representative in the state.

He has proved himself popular in the role, which sees him welcoming dignitaries and championing industry and opportunity for South Australians.

State Premier Steven Marshall said on June 10 that the Queen had approved his request to extend Le’s term for another two years.

"There’s been lots of interest and speculation in different people for the role, but as soon as it became apparent that the Governor was prepared to serve for a further two years, Cabinet immediately authorized me to write to Buckingham Palace," he told ABC News.

G’Day mate

Le, from Quang Tri Province in central Vietnam, is a graduate of economics and business management from Da Lat University in the Central Highlands.

His father was killed fighting for independence from the French in 1954. In 1977, he left Vietnam by boat with his wife Lan Phuong Le, and, after spending several months in a migrant camp in Malaysia, set off with 40 others on a dangerous journey by sea to Australia.

Leaving with nothing more than what he describes as an "invisible suitcase full of dreams," they arrived low on fuel and water and was famously greeted with a "G’Day mate" (the most Australian of sayings) by two beer-drinking fishermen in Darwin Harbor, at the "top end" of Australia.

Le said at the time of his appointment, "When they came close they waved at us, and one of them shouted ‘G’Day mate! Welcome to Australia,’ before they moved on and left us be."

Since then, having been granted temporary permits to stay and subsequently awarded citizenship, he has built a life in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, with his wife and two sons (named Kim and Don after former Australian cricket captains) based on hard work, education and community service.

He returned to university, graduating from Adelaide University with a degree in accountancy and then a Masters in Business Administration.

His commitment to his community throughout his life has placed him in a position to be offered the role, even if it was "way above" his expectations.

Known as a huge supporter of not only the Vietnamese community in South Australia but also a patron to over 200 charity and community organizations across the state, Le retired from his career as a senior management accountant for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in 2009.

Since then he has been honored on several occasions for his public service, which he puts down to his and his wife’s natural curiosity for getting to know and helping ordinary people.

Most recently, during his time as Governor in 2016, he was awarded Australia’s highest honor, the Companion of the Order of Australia. Later that same year he was granted an audience with the queen at her home in Buckingham Palace, London.

Before that he was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia in 2010 for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of multiculturalism, and an honorary doctorate in 2008 for his service to society by Adelaide University.

Hieu Van Le (R, 2nd) with his wife and sons after receiving his honorary doctorate in 2008. Photo provided by Hieu Van Le.

Hieu Van Le (R, 2nd) with his wife and sons after receiving his honorary doctorate in 2008. Photo provided by Hieu Van Le.


In a statement released last week, Le told media that the appointment had filled him with "humility and honor."

"I will continue to discharge these constitutional, and together with my wife Lan, ceremonial and community duties with commitment and pride.

"We will continue to draw strength and inspiration from the stories of the South Australians we meet, from all backgrounds and walks of life."

Although now a proud South Australian, Le told Word magazine before taking up the role in 2014, of his pride in carrying with him what he believed to be the traits of the Vietnamese people.

"As a Vietnamese, I inherited the traits of our people from over 4,000 years of history.

"As a people, we have proven time and time again that we are very determined, very focused and very determined. We can endure hardship, adversity and keep working until we overcome it. The greater the challenge, the more we can motivate ourselves to overcome it, and for this I am very proud to have Vietnamese blood."

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall underlined his contribution to public life.

"His Excellency is an exceptional South Australian who, along with his wife Lan, has served our great state with distinction since he was appointed in 2014.

"He is an inspiration and role model for all South Australians and has made an incredible contribution, and I am delighted that it will continue."

Le’s term as governor will continue until August 31, 2021, taking his service in a vice-regal position to 14 years, the longest ever in South Australia’s history.

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