Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP110125- Remarks by HOM Journalists Reception 2011

Australian Embassy Journalists’ Reception
Remarks by Ambassador Rod Smith
25 January 2010

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Australian Embassy’s Annual Journalists’ Reception.

First of all, let me extend my full appreciation to all of you joining us tonight, along with the representatives of the Australian Embassy particularly on an evening when clearly there is at least one significant breaking story in the news. Our gathering tonight has a dual purpose: firstly, to thank you, the eminent members of the Philippine press corps, for your work with the Australian Embassy throughout 2010. And secondly, to launch the celebrations for Australia Day 2011, to which I’ll return in a minute.

In 2010, the constructive relationship between the Australian Embassy and the Philippine media is something we greatly appreciate. Over recent weeks, terrible floods in the Philippines and Australia have taken lives and destroyed property in both our countries. I have been heartened by the level of support and sympathy expressed to me privately by Filipinos, and publicly through the Philippine media. Likewise I want to convey Australia’s sympathies to the families of the victims and others whose lives have been affected in floods across the Philippines. I want to thank you also for the interest you have shown throughout the year in stories about Australia and about the very positive relationship between Australia and the Philippines.

We have great admiration for the work done by the media in the Philippines. One of the great strength of this country is the open, robust, and independent nature of the Philippine media. A free media is an essential element of a free society, and although sometimes taken for granted, an independent media does not arise of its own accord. Rather it is the result of hard work by dedicated and committed people, under often trying circumstances.

The Maguindanao massacre—a little more than a year old—is a tragic reminder of the perilous conditions under which journalists labour in the Philippines. As I said on the anniversary of the massacre, the credible and expeditious conduct of the trial will be critical in demonstrating the Philippines’ commitment to protecting human rights and upholding the rule of law.

The second reason we are gathered we are gathered here tonight is for the launch of Celebrate Australia 2011, a week of events celebrating Australian arts and culture, centred on our 26 January Australia Day national holiday.

We are pleased that we have with us tonight, The Idea of North who have travelled from Australia to participate in Celebrate Australia 2011. The Idea of North is an acapella jazz vocal quartet with a world-class reputation and a number of prestigious international awards under their belts. To the singers of The Idea of North, Andrew Piper, Nick Begbie, Naomi Crellin, and Sally Cameron, thank you for joining us, and as professional singers, welcome to a country in which singing is a national obsession. You are likely to find many willing participants ready and able to turn your quartet into a quintet, or a sextet, or an octet. There are few places where your talents will be as well-appreciated as they will be in the Philippines.

I also welcome Eliza Roberts, here as Arts Program Coordinator of an Australian exhibition titled ‘Face to Face: Portraiture in a Digital Age’. The exhibition, showing at Ayala Museum, showcases some cutting edge work by Australian artists, and as well as her talk tonight, Eliza will present a number of talks and tours of the exhibition.

I intend to return to our program of events for Celebrate Australia 2011 in a few minutes, but first, I’d like to say a few words about Australia and the Philippines in 2010.

2010 was a year of political change for both Australia and the Philippines. The successful conduct of the Philippines’ first nationwide automated elections should be recognised as a milestone, not just in the Philippines but world-wide. Just three months later, Australia’s closest federal election in decades led to a hung parliament and a minority government for the first time since the 1940s.

Despite these shifts in the political wind, in 2010 the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and Australia remained rock-solid. Despite occasional differences it has remained so because it is a relationship that is built on a foundation of mutual interests: peace and security, sustainable, equitable development, respect for human rights, and care for the environment. And these mutual interests shape many of the areas in which we work together.

On peace and security, our police and armed forces continue their long-standing cooperation. Through the Australia-Philippines Defence Cooperation Program, Australia is the Philippines’ second largest counter-terrorism and defence cooperation partner. The Philippines continues to face entrenched insurgencies in Mindanao, and with the NDF, and it is in the mutual interest of both our countries that those conflicts are brought to a swift resolution. We welcome President Aquino’s recent steps to reinvigorate the peace processes with both the MILF and the NPA.

While offering our encouragement to these processes, Australia will also continue to make a strong contribution to Philippine national security capacity especially in the key areas of counter-terrorism, maritime security and assistance to the Philippines Defence Reform program. In 2010, around 120 Philippine armed forces personnel studied in Australia, supported by scholarships under the Defence Cooperation Program.

Police cooperation between Australia and the Philippines also marked a significant anniversary last year. 2010 was the 25th year in which the Australian Federal Police has maintained a presence in the Philippines. In that time AFP Operations in the Philippines has assisted local law enforcement efforts in a range of investigations including the Super Ferry 14 bombing in 2004, the Glorietta explosion in 2007, and support to local law enforcement operations in relation to a number of terrorist suspects in Mindanao. And over 25 years, the Australian Federal Police have facilitated the training of over 1000 Philippine law enforcement officers and provision of equipment and capacity building support.

The investment that both our countries have made and continue to make in the police to police relationship reflects a shared view of the importance of cooperation, regionally and bilaterally, in addressing the law enforcement and security challenges that our communities face. It reflects a shared recognition that transnational crimes in particular can only be addressed effectively through cross-border cooperation.

Our development cooperation program has continued to make a tangible improvement to the lives of Filipinos. Over the last five years, Australia has invested Php20 billion in official development assistance to the Philippines. And in the current fiscal year, Australia will invest close to 5 billion pesos in development assistance – placing it amongst the three largest foreign donors to the Philippines. That investment will focus on the three core areas of basic education, economic growth, and national stability and human security.

Of course these raw figures alone do not convey the human impact of the development cooperation program. The real value of development cooperation is not counted in dollars or pesos, but in the difference that development cooperation can make to peoples’ lives. Three of Australia’s flagship cooperation projects are worth looking at: one which came to an end in 2010, another which will continue for some years to come and a third which was launched in 2010.

Australia’s flagship basic education project, the Basic Education Assistance in Mindanao (BEAM) program has enabled more than 5,000 schools to implement school-based management and about 53,000 teachers to receive training to enhance their teaching skills and improve the learning outcomes for the children of Muslim and Indigenous communities in Region XI, XII and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

To improve the quality of Islamic instruction including in mainstream public schools, Australia has helped train about 2,000 Asatidz (Muslim teachers) and supported 30 madaris (Muslim schools) to enable them to become accredited to operate as private schools implementing the Standard Madrasah curriculum. Through the BEAM access program, over 35,000 children, parents and out-of-school youths from 253 remote and disadvantaged communities are now actively participating in the formal and non-formal education system. Though BEAM comes to an end this year, the Php2 billion (A$53.4M) program will continue to have positive developmental effects for many years to come.

A second core development program is the support Australia continues to provide to the Philippines build its capacity in disaster risk reduction and management. The terrible damage and loss of life inflicted by Typhoons Ondoy, Pepeng and Santi was a timely reminder of the vulnerability of Manila’s low lying suburbs, and other parts of the Philippines, to extreme weather events and other natural disasters.

Under this disaster risk reduction and management program, in November 2010, the Australian Government announced it would provide Php360 million(A$9 million) over the next three years to improve the capacity of Philippine technical agencies to assess vulnerability to disasters to inform preventive planning and action. Specifically, this will involve the generation of digital information and hazards maps in Metro Manila that will equip the government and communities with information that will help them prepare and respond better to natural calamities. This is on top of a number of other disaster risk reduction programs already underway in collaboration with the NDRRMC, NAMRIA and PNRC.

And thirdly, Australia also launched in November 2010 the Philippines-Australia Human Resource and Organisation Development Facility to assist Filipinos to pursue and achieve professional excellence. This is a five-year, Php2.7 billion initiative which supports human resource management, organisational development and institutional change in the Philippines. It can provide a range of support to select Philippine organisations, including Australia Awards (scholarships), customised short-term training programs, and advisory support.

Australian experts will work with a select group of Philippine organisations – public, non-profit, and private – to improve their human resource management, corporate planning, change management and business processes. Improvements in these areas will contribute to more efficient delivery of services and improved implementation of development programs.

I mentioned earlier the core mutual interests which bind Australia and the Philippines, including development. While aid is an important contributor to development, economic growth is vital to creating sustainable prosperity. One of the key milestones in the Australia-Philippines relationship last year was the implementation of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA). The AANZFTA entered into force on 1 January 2010.

The AANZFTA is Australia’s largest free trade agreement. At the same time, it is the most comprehensive that ASEAN has negotiated. It covers trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property, competition policy and economic cooperation. Under the agreement, Australia has removed tariffs on over 96 per cent of Philippine exports to our country, and the remainder will be eliminated within a few years. The agreement has given companies in both Australia and the Philippines the opportunity to export and import products with far fewer tariff restrictions. Early indications are that since the introduction of the AANZFTA, Philippine exporters have had a higher take-up of the opportunities presented than any other ASEAN countries. The positive effect on economic growth, in both the Philippines and Australia, makes a solid and sustainable contribution to prosperity in both our countries. There is strong business interest in the Philippines on the part of Australian companies, particularly in the mining sector, also in areas like infrastructure, agribusiness and professional services.

Another of the pillars of mutual interest in our bilateral relationship is respect for human rights. In August 2010, the Australian Embassy held the Australia-Philippines Policy Forum on Human Rights. The forum was attended by luminaries such as former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and now Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and the Hon Catherine Branson QC, president of the Australian Rights Commission. The forum coincided with the signing of a Declaration of Support which created a framework for significant and long-term joint projects between the Australian Embassy and the Commission on Human Rights.

Finally, education remains a vital aspect of the bilateral relationship. The Philippines continues to be among the top recipients of post-graduate scholarships to top Australian universities. In 2010, the prestigious Australian Leadership Award (ALA) scholarships were awarded to eighteen Filipinos recognised for their potential to assume leadership roles to influence social and economic policy reforms, and drive development in the Philippines and the Asia Pacific region into the future. Over the last five years, around 500 high-achieving Filipinos have been awarded Australian scholarships and have returned to the Philippines equipped with knowledge and skills acquired from Australia’s top education institutions. We expect a similar number of scholarships will be available to Filipinos over the next five years, which will put a world-class education within reach for many of the Philippines’ brightest students.

Scholarship recipients joined the thousands of other Filipinos who are studying in Australia. International students, including a significant number of Filipinos, have been choosing Australia as a preferred destination for education due to its reputation for excellence, value for money, proximity to the Philippines, Australia’s lifestyle attraction shaped very much by our vibrant multicultural environment and thriving cultural and arts scene—which The Idea of North will give a taste of. In 2010, just under 5000 (4,819) Filipinos enrolled to study in Australia, an increase of over 20 per cent from 2009. While these enrolment figures continue to rise, there is still much potential to strengthen our education relationship.

Looking forward to 2011, the bilateral relationship will continue to be robust and dynamic. We look forward to holding at some stage during the year the third bilateral Philippines Australia Ministerial Meeting, a conference between the foreign affairs and trade ministers of both our countries which institutionalises the bilateral dialogue between our countries at ministerial level. And it is also expected that following close consultation with the Philippine administration, 2011 will see the release of AusAID’s Philippine Country Strategy for 2011-2015, which will guide the delivery of Australia’s development cooperation program to the Philippines over the next five years.

Our defence and security cooperation will continue and we hope to see continued growth in trade and investment, building on the FTA. Note in this context that one measure of the strength of Australian business interest in the Philippines is that Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (ANZCHAM) this year celebrates its 30th anniversary and will later this year be organising a major business conference to promote trade and investment between the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand.

I promised that I would return to the schedule of events for Celebrate Australia 2011. In addition to The Idea of North and ‘Face to Face – Portraiture in a Digital Age’, the Embassy is supporting three innovative and exciting events over the next week. Firstly, Professor Rick Bennett of the University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts will present a lecture on ‘Social Development through Design and Art’ – you may have seen his college’s public installation of metallic flowers outside the Ayala Museum in recent weeks. Secondly, a collective of Manila- based Australian and Australian-Filipino artists will display and auction their artworks at the Filipinas Heritage Library on Makati Ave, with profits directed to the literacy outreach programs of the Filipinas Heritage Library. And finally, Austrade will be hosting a mini tradeshow on green building technologies. The tradeshow will feature PopovBass Architects.

PopovBass, incidentally, is a company whose story illustrates well the importance of the vibrant people to people links between Australia and the Philippines. PopovBass partner Brian Bass is joined in Manila by his Senior Associate architect Aya Maceda. Aya is an Australian-based Filipina making great contribution to innovative, energy efficient, environmentally sustainable Australian architecture.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your attendance at this launch of Celebrate Australia 2011, and I thank you for your constructive interaction with the Australian Embassy throughout 2010.

Maraming salamat and I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to hear that it is now time for the performance by The Idea of North.