Keynote Address by Ambassador Rod Smith
Australia Awards Recognition Ceremony
21 April 2010
Commission on Higher Education Chairman, Emmanuel Angeles
NEDA Deputy Director General, Rolando Tungpalan
Governor Aumentado of Bohol
Counterparts from government and non-government partner organisations
Officers and Members of the Philippines Australia Alumni Association
Representatives of Australian universities
Returned scholars, ladies and gentlemen, magandang hapon sa inyong lahat, good afternoon
It is a pleasure to be with you today at this Australia Awards Recognition Ceremony.
I want to start by saying very clearly to you, the graduates: Today’s ceremony is really for you: to recognise and honour your hard work and academic achievement. Congratulations to all of you.
Australia-Philippines bilateral relationship
Australia and the Philippines enjoy a dynamic and multi-dimensional relationship as friends and neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a relationship built not just on over sixty years of formal diplomatic relations, but perhaps more importantly on people-to-people links that go back much further.
Students of history may know that Filipinos in fact can trace their roots in Australia back to the pearling industry in north-western Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – interestingly an industry that is still going strong in both countries today.
Education then played an important part in stimulating migration and broader people to people exchanges in the 1950’s, when significant numbers of Filipinos were beneficiaries of Colombo Plan scholarships to study in Australia.
Today Australia is home to a community of over 200,000 Filipinos, perhaps as many as 250,000, who make up around 1% of our population of 22 million. They are engaged in all walks of life and make significant contributions to our rich multicultural society.
Our bilateral relationship has many dimensions:
Strong Government to Government Links
Defence and Security Cooperation
Economic and trade links, which we hope will be given a further boost by our free trade agreement which entered into force at the beginning of this year, and by strong Australian interest in mining, infrastructure and services
And of course we work closely together in development cooperation and education, which are the themes I want to focus on in my remarks today.
Development and Education
Our development cooperation is one of the most significant aspects of our relationship. Australian aid to the Philippines has grown exponentially – more than doubling since 2006.
The program aims broadly to contribute to promoting economic growth, reducing poverty and enhancing national stability. But, without a doubt, the core of our aid program underpinning these three pillars is education.
The former US President, John F Kennedy remarked of the US 50 years ago:
“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said a little more recently
“Education will be the driving force of the 21st century.”
As scholars and emerging leaders of the Philippines, I am sure that both these remarks will resonate with you. Because without education there can be no development.
This truth certainly animates the Australian aid program in the Philippines.
While education is important for advanced industrialised countries like Australia, it is fundamental for developing countries like the Philippines.
High levels of investment in quality education contributed a lot to the rapid economic growth and development of many Asian countries, such as China, Malaysia and Korea.
Education holds the key to the Philippines’ development prospects.
The Australian Government recognises the education challenges confronting this country. That is why today half of Australia’s aid program is focused on education – both basic education and higher education through scholarships.
Our assistance to basic education is substantial. Australian aid is increasing access to schooling for children from remote, indigenous and Muslim communities, particularly in Mindanao.
Our support also ensures schooling is inclusive by adapting the curriculum and equipping teachers with new skills and competencies to make the classroom more relevant to young Filipino boys and girls.
For example, more than 50,000 students are benefiting from the Arabic Languages and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program. And nearly 30,000 teachers have gained new skills through our flagship Basic Education Assistance in Mindanao program.
But Australia’s support is modest given the education needs in the Philippines. Over the past decade, the Philippine government has sought to increase spending on education, but efforts have proven insufficient to meet the demands of a rapidly rising young population and cost increases in the education system. Unfortunately, as Chairman Angeles has reminded us, the Philippines spends less on education as a proportion of its GDP than most comparable countries.
So there is still much to do in getting children to school, keeping them in school and helping them perform better at school.
Australia has also invested heavily in the tertiary sector, through scholarships for study in Australia – as you yourselves are a demonstration.
This investment reflects our strengths. As you have seen, Australia boasts cutting-edge capabilities in the education sector. We are home to eight of the world’s 100 top universities and many others of world-class standard.
In delivering scholarships in the Philippines, we take an innovative approach. We seek out individuals like you who can use their studies and experiences in Australia to drive change and improvements in Philippine organisations on your return.
That is why the theme for today’s ceremony – “Scholars as frontrunners of change in organisations and communities” – is so appropriate.
Progressive change requires that you – as leaders – are willing to confront sometimes painful realities and have the ability to shepherd others through the difficulties that change inevitably brings.
You will need to challenge orthodoxies and find innovative ways of getting things done, whether in government, the private sector or civil society. And you must be prepared to hold yourselves to the highest ethical standards.
We hope that your experience in Australia has, to some degree, contributed to your ability to meet these responsibilities head-on.
Our hope is that continuing Australian investment in Filipino scholars will, over time, build a critical mass of new Filipino leaders with strong links to Australia.
Education and People-to-People Links
Apart from achieving development goals, education also serves as a platform for nurturing the people-to-people links between our two countries.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention your special role as Australian alumni.
As alumni, you embody the possibilities provided by an Australian education. You can raise awareness and provide firsthand information to other Filipinos on the real benefits from living and studying in Australia.
I am happy to note that the Philippines Australia Alumni Association has grown from strength to strength since its establishment not so long ago. It now includes 11 chapters nationwide.
I hope that all the scholars here, almost 300 of you, have signed up with PA3i and I strongly encourage you to be active members in your respective chapters.
Allow me to conclude with some final words of encouragement to you as emerging leaders of the Philippines.
First – continue to be active stakeholders in this country’s development.
We face a time when there are many uncertainties in the Philippines and around the world.
Australia and the Philippines share a belief that to alleviate poverty and achieve economic progress, we must harness and develop the intellectual resources of our people, especially people like you.
As you go to the polls next month to elect a new set of national and local officials, remember that the day-to-day hard work of making change happen in organisations and communities will fall to people like you – our scholars here today. You are the frontrunners of change.
Always remember that you have a crucial role to play in addressing the development needs of your country. Use your Australian education to serve your communities and to serve in the collective mission of building a better future for all Filipinos.
Second - be active promoters of our countries’ bilateral relationship.
The people to people links between Australia and Philippines provides a great opportunity to promote better understanding and cooperation.
Your years in Australia have given you a glimpse of what Australia can offer the world. As a product of an Australian education, all of you are now also ambassadors of Australia in your own right.
Today is a celebration and we honour each of you, our scholars, for your academic excellence, hard work and commitment to Philippine development.
Congratulations to all of you and I wish you all the very best.
Maraming salamat, and mabuhay.