Australian Ambassador Rod Smith
Statement to the 14th Congress
House Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Relations and Diplomacy
Tuesday 3 June 2008
Congresswoman Silverio, chair of the House Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Relations; honourable members of Congress; ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee to speak in support of House Resolution 533 to establish a Philippines-Australia Parliamentarians’ Friendship Society.
As many members of Congress who have participated in bilateral visits before will know, the Philippine Congress and the Australian Parliament have had a long history of fruitful exchanges. In 1993 a visiting delegation of Australian parliamentarians signed a Memorandum of Agreement with members of Congress to formalise a bilateral friendship society and this was reaffirmed in 1996. This is a clear demonstration of the enduring nature of inter-parliamentary cooperation and friendship between our two countries.
Madame Chair, allow me to make some broader comments about the Australia-Philippines relationship to put this in context. It is a close relationship, founded on a long history of cooperation and on our shared commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
It is a relationship that grows stronger each year as we continue to build on our many common interests. People to people links are expanding rapidly as more and more Filipinos are finding Australia a welcoming country of education, employment and migration. The 200,000-strong Filipino-Australian community contributes to Australia’s strong economic growth and enriches our vibrant multicultural society. And we estimate that about 110,000 Australians visited the Philippines in 2007, making Australia the fifth largest source of tourism into the Philippines.
We share important economic, trade and security interests. We are both members of key regional bodies, such as APEC, the ARF and the East Asian Summit, and Australia is an ASEAN dialogue partner. Two-way trade amounts to over PHP80 billion, with considerable potential for growth. The opening up of the Philippine mining sector to foreign investment offers opportunities for Australia’s world-class mining and mining services companies to bring their expertise in sustainable and environmentally sensitive mining.
We have a common interest in regional security. Australia is the Philippines’ second largest defence cooperation partner, with Australia investing some PhP114 million annually in its defence cooperation programs, focused on training and capacity building. Every year about 120 Philippine military personnel undertake study courses in Australia, and we play a strong contributing role to the Philippines defence reform (modernisation) program. We have a practical and effective program of cooperation on counter-terrorism.
Australia is a major development partner. In the coming fiscal year (2008-09) Australia will contribute PhP4.4 billion in grant aid, making us the second or third largest grant aid donor. We focus our aid in the areas of education, economic growth and governance, rural poverty alleviation, and peace and stability. Some 60 per cent of our aid is directed to assisting communities in the southern Philippines, including Mindanao.
Madam Chair, as the Australia-Philippines relationship continues to grow we see value in more frequent exchanges between our two legislatures. Australian parliamentarians have visited the Philippines 12 times since 1991. During the last official delegation to Manila, the presiding officers of the Australian Parliament invited members of the 14th Congress to make a reciprocal visit to Canberra. We hope that members from the Philippines-Australia Parliamentarians’ Friendship Society will take up this invitation in early 2009.
High level visits are, indeed, an ongoing and important part of the fabric of our relationship. Australia was honoured to receive two visits in 2007 by Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Later this year, in October, the Australian Foreign Minister, the Hon Stephen Smith, and Trade Minister, the Hon Simon Crean, will visit the Philippines for the second Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM). It is worth mentioning that at the first meeting of the PAMM, in Sydney in August 2005, Ministers from both sides made this statement about parliamentary cooperation: “The possible institution of a regular exchange between the parliaments of the two countries would be a welcome addition to the bilateral agenda and would further deepen the already good working relationship between both governments.”
Madame Chair, allow me to conclude by noting that the Australian Parliament recently renewed the membership of its own Philippines Parliamentary Group following the Australian federal election last November. The newly appointed chair of the Australia-Philippines Parliamentary Group, Mr Chris Hayes MP, has asked me to convey this message in support of the resolution before the Committee today:
On behalf of the Australia-Philippines Parliamentary Group I write to support the resolution before the House of Representatives Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Relations and Diplomacy to establish the Philippines-Australia Parliamentarians’ Friendship Society.
From our experience we have found that an association of parliamentarians with a special interest in the relationship between our two countries has done much to foster and strengthen our close ties.
Australia and the Philippines share ongoing close ties forged over many years through our common perspectives on regional, economic and security issues. Since the formalisation of diplomatic relations in 1946, the relationship has continued to grow at a rapid pace. In the areas of trade, investment, cultural exchange, tourism and migration we share common goals and aspirations. The formation of the Philippines-Australia Parliamentarians’ Friendship Society will do much to further the bonds between the parliamentarians, and indeed the people of our two great nations.
Thank you for the opportunity to address your Committee this afternoon. We look forward to the House passing this resolution, taking bilateral parliamentary exchanges to a new level.