Remarks by Ambassador Rod Smith
Annual Journalists’ Reception
25 January 2010
I’d like to welcome everyone to our Annual Journalists’ Reception. This gathering is intended to acknowledge and express appreciation for the contribution of our media partners in maintaining and strengthening ties between Australia and the Philippines, and building understanding of Australia in the Philippines.
Media in the Philippines, as in most other countries, like to report some of the quirky off-beat stories about Australia. In fact here you seem to have a particular fascination for some of our unusual fauna – stories like the coconut-carrying octopus; the koala rescued from a bushfire that recovered, only then to succumb tragically to a sexually transmitted disease common amongst the promiscuous koala community; and the kangaroo that tried to drown an Australian sheepdog in a billabong; all seem to get a lot of coverage in the papers. There were also human interest stories like the Australian medical team that separated Bangladeshi conjoined twins. That’s a good thing – we’re certainly happy for stories like these to be told – it’s a big and diverse country and there’s always plenty going on.
But beyond some of these quirky stories there is a substantial bilateral relationship between two countries that are important neighbours in the most dynamic region of the world – the Asia-Pacific. In my remarks this evening I would like to focus on some key milestones and achievements: our development assistance, security and trade relations.
In the last 64 years of diplomatic relations, our relationship has grown to encompass a broad range of areas including development assistance, defence and law enforcement cooperation, border security capacity building, trade and investment, people to people and political exchanges. We have much in common, being geographically proximate and sharing perspectives on many international and regional issues and many economic and security issues.
Australia and the Philippines are both active participants in the UN and in regional councils ASEAN plus, APEC, EAS and so on. This cooperation is important to Australia, as it is for the Philippines. Australia in fact is a country that has long been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen international and regional organisations. Some of you will be aware of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposal for dialogue on an Asia-Pacific community intended as a way to deepen and enhance cooperation across a range of security, economic and political issues.
Underpinning the bilateral relationship are the people-to-people links between our countries which continue to grow through trade and investment, cultural exchanges, growing education ties, tourism and migration. More than 200,000 people of Philippine descent have made Australia their home, where they make a welcome contribution to Australia’s vibrant multicultural society.
In 2009 the Philippines was the largest source from South-east Asia, and the fifth largest source overall, of new migrants to Australia. The Philippines is also currently the third largest source of overseas skilled temporary workers, providing workers with a wide range of skill sets including IT, management, manufacturing trades, motor mechanics, hospitality and health care.
2009 was a tough year; a year in which both our nations experienced their share of tragedy and natural disasters. Bushfires in Victoria in early 2009 and in Western Australia last December caused an unprecedented loss of life and property. In November, parts of New South Wales were hit by extreme rainfall and severe flooding while other parts of Australia continued to suffer from extreme drought, heat waves and water shortages that adversely affected farming communities.
Natural disasters had an even more tragic and profound impact in the Philippines during 2009. As a neighbour, it was only right that Australia has been at the forefront of international efforts to assist in both the immediate humanitarian response and long-term recovery efforts following the recent typhoon disasters.
Australia contributed Php440 million (A$11 million) in emergency funding for food, shelter and basic services to people affected by Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoons Pepeng and Santi. This assistance provided water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and health services and supplies; food including rice, oil and beans; and a supplementary feeding program for children and mothers in stricken areas. Australian technical experts worked on the ground to provide logistical and communication support to the response and relief efforts. Our assistance helped rebuild classrooms in flood-affected areas of Metro Manila earlier in the year. We also provided Php20 million to the Philippine National Red Cross to provide food aid to 20,000 families on Panay Island and shelter reconstruction for 300 families in the Province of Iloilo in the wake of Typhoon Frank.
Australia and the Philippines have also worked successfully in partnership over a number of years on disaster risk reduction and mitigation.
Last year Australia assisted in improving the capacity of the Philippines’ weather bureau, PAGASA, to accurately forecast weather disturbances. A new Tropical Cyclone Early Warning System, developed with the support of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, is now in place which will improve the tracking and accuracy of tropical cyclone forecasting.
Last year we also launched three new projects worth Php123 million to support Philippine disaster risk reduction efforts. Australia will work with the National Economic Development Authority and UN Development Programme to develop and implement local land use plans so that physical infrastructure and communities are protected from, and less exposed to, natural hazards such as landslides, floods and sea level rises. We are also assisting the National Mapping and Resource Information Agency (NAMRIA) to help produce more accurate and timely information to emergency stakeholders and threatened communities. And we are providing support to Oxfam to identify best-practice community-based initiatives to share with at-risk regions, and to inform national policy.
Australia’s contributions to disaster relief occur in the context of an expanding bilateral aid program. Australia’s official development assistance to the Philippines increased about 12 per cent to an estimated Php5 billion (A$123 million) last year, placing Australia among the top three grant aid donors to the Philippines.
Australia’s aid program in the Philippines is Australia’s fourth largest globally, with the Government investing nearly Php20 billion in official development assistance over the last five years.
Providing access to education continues to be a key focus - and success story - of Australia’s development assistance program. The BEAM program or Basic Education Assistance in Mindanao has contributed in significant ways to improvements in education outcomes in Mindanao. Regional assessments in maths, science and English conducted in Regions 9, 12 and the ARMM have revealed that student learning outcomes have improved by 21 per cent over the last five years.
The introduction of the Australian-funded Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) Program has likewise enabled more than 54,000 Filipino Muslims to access culturally-appropriate education.
Australia has offered an extensive scholarships program for Filipino college students and professionals since the 1950s, to enhance their skills and qualifications which will enable them to make positive contributions in their respective fields and overall, to their country. In 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched a new Australia Asia Awards initiative that will provide scholarships to the best and brightest in the region to help build a new generation of leaders. This, together with other Australian initiatives such as Prime Minister Rudd’s Asia-Pacific community concept, are a tangible demonstration of Australia’s commitment to ensuring that the Asia Pacific remains one of the most dynamic regions in the world.
Last year, in partnership with Australian mining companies and mining service providers, we added a new undergraduate scholarship to the program that will enhance the Philippine mining industry by supporting development of professional expertise.
The Philippines-Australia Resources Education Excellence Program (PAREEP) began last October and will provide Filipino college students with access to scholarships for studying mining-related courses like mining engineering, geology, metallurgy, mine safety, environmental management and community development.
This scholarship resulted from the 2008 Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting where both our countries acknowledged the potential of the mining sector to generate significant economic and development benefits for the Philippines and agreed to develop professional expertise to ensure the sustainable growth and effective management of the mining sector.
Last year we commenced a significant five-year program with the Department of Interior and Local Government, worth Php3.8 billion (A$100 million), to assist the Philippine Government manage and maintain more than 1000km of provincial roads in up to 10 provinces in Mindanao and the Visayas.
This assistance will result in an estimated four million people having better access to rehabilitated and maintained road networks/economic activity and public infrastructure and services that will improve their livelihoods. Better roads will also improve access to jobs, health services and essential social and education facilities in rural and regional areas.
2009 also marked a significant milestone in our security partnership, with the 25th anniversary of the Australian Federal Police presence in the Philippines.
During the last 25 years the Australian Federal Police have worked closely with Philippine law enforcement agencies providing facilities, equipment and training to assist in combating terrorism and transnational crime and in providing security for local communities. Last February, Australia and the Philippines opened the Mindanao Area Police Intelligence Office in Davao which houses a Forensic Explosives Laboratory and Bomb Data Centre. This facility will complement the Philippine Bomb Data Centre at Camp Crame, established through Australian support in 2005. We also constructed and renovated training facilities at the Philippine Public Safety College in Davao which will assist in the education and training of Philippine National Police and other uniformed law enforcement services.
Another significant outcome of our security partnership last year was the culmination of the five-year Philippines Australia Port Security Project which reduced the vulnerability of Philippine port facilities to security threats. The project was part of Australia’s Php400 million (A$10 million) Counter-Terrorism Assistance Package to the Philippines which aims to strengthen the capacity of Philippine agencies to prevent terrorist threats with a particular focus on law enforcement, border control, port security and regional cooperation.
We will also continue our close and productive security partnership with the Philippines.
Australia is the Philippines’ second largest counter-terrorism and defence cooperation partner. The Australia-Philippines Defence Cooperation Program has grown significantly in the last two years, with Australia allocating approximately Php240 Million (A$6 million) for 2009-10.
Every year around 120 Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel receive training in Australia, including through postgraduate studies at Australian universities. The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) will lay the foundation for greater defence cooperation in the future. We continue to encourage Philippine ratification.
Trade and the relationship between us is strong at Php120 billion two-way, but has considerable potential to grow.
Looking ahead, we can expect to see increased trade opportunities arising from the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement which entered into force on the 1st of January, following conclusion of domestic processes by Australia, New Zealand and six ASEAN member countries, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam.
This agreement will give Filipino exporters enhanced access to a market of 12 economies with more than 600 million people and a combined GDP of A$3.1 trillion (Php131.8 trillion).
Under the agreement tariffs on major Philippine exports to Australia, including industrial products, motor vehicle parts, processed agricultural products, fruit juices, fish, garments, furnishings, furniture and wood products, and tyres and rubber items, were eliminated when the treaty entered into force. Tariffs on all Philippine products exported to Australia will be eliminated by 2020.
The AANZFTA also includes improved labour market access, particularly for Filipino nurses and tradespeople via new categories of contractual services suppliers, and full working rights for spouses of long-term entrants.
The AANZFTA sends an important signal to the world that Australia and the Philippines, as well as the other countries, are committed to keeping markets open in the face of the global economic downturn. The agreement will help keep trade in the region flowing, increase growth and give a much-needed boost to confidence.
In parallel to Australia’s work in the security sector is our very strong emphasis on, and support for, human rights.
As we all know, and as was brought home to us in the tragic Maguindanao Massacre last year, there are still human rights challenges in the Philippines. Last year, Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, European Union, New Zealand, Spain and The Asia Foundation set up a fund for human rights projects to maximise funding impact and avoid duplication of activities. The fund, Karapatan Sa Malikhaing Paraan (or KaSaMa) is supporting civil society organisations with innovative projects to promote and protect those basic rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled. KaSaMa has raised the profile of human rights, and identified innovative projects to address human rights challenges.
As you are aware tomorrow is Australia Day where Australians from all walks of life, at home and abroad, gather together to celebrate and recognise Australia's unique national identity, shaped by its multiculturalism and Indigenous heritage.
Let me take this opportunity to invite everyone to catch the Embassy’s Celebrate Australia 2010 activities for a taste of Australia’s rich and unique culture.
This year, we will feature performances by didgeridoo virtuoso and composer William Barton and the Orava String Quartet, whom you will hear shortly. Their music has been described as a fusion of Aboriginal and outback themes with western culture. The group will be performing at the Greenbelt 3 Park; Alabang Town Centre Town Plaza; and at the TriNoma.
We are also pleased to show a contemporary Australian glass exhibition - ‘White Hot’ - at the Ayala Museum until 26 February. This unique exhibition showcases the strength and dynamism of Australia’s creative glass industry as depicted by the artworks from eight internationally renowned and celebrated Australian glass artists. I am pleased to have here with us this evening Clare Belfrage, Curator and Creative Director, Canberra Glassworks, and Jessica Loughlin, one of the featured glass artists of the White Hot exhibition.
Celebrate Australia 2010 will also feature ‘An Aussie in Manila’ – a mixed media exhibition by Philippine-based Australian artist Henry Bateman at the Sining Kamalig Art Gallery in Gateway Mall, Cubao, until 21 February. The exhibit deconstructs Bateman’s adopted lifestyle in Manila as he examines and comments upon his experiences through his unique approach to photography.
Australian beauty and fashion accessory brands will be featured at the Australia Day Bazaar, at Podium 3, RCBC Plaza.
Details of all these events are contained in your media kits.
Thank you for your attendance. I hope you enjoy the evening and we look forward to working with you this year as we continue to advance the relationship between our countries.