Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
27 January 2015
Welcome ladies and gentlemen.
I am pleased that you were able to join us this evening.
As part of the Embassy’s annual celebration of Australia Day (yesterday) we thought it would be valuable to gather you together to reflect on the state of the relationship between Australia and the Philippines.
The relationship is broad and covers many areas of cooperation and collaboration.
I have invited senior officers of the Australian Embassy to join me this evening to help demonstrate the diversity of work that we undertake here in the Philippines, and perhaps to help assist in elaborating on any queries you might have.
Allow me to introduce my colleagues:
David Dutton, Deputy Head of Mission, who could not be present tonight
Anthony Weymouth, Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner
Col Bruce Murray, Defence Attaché
F/A Paul Hopkins, Australian Federal Police
Ken McArthur, Immigration
Steve Burnett, Infrastructure and Transport
Robyn Biti, Education program
Geoff King, Governance program
Daniel Featherston, Economic and Trade
Bruce Cowled, Consular and Administration; and
Richard Rodgers, Political and Public Affairs.
And of course many of you will know our Public Affairs Team – Mariel, Willa, JP and Merlie – assisted by our interns.
So there are a number of colleagues from the Embassy here representing a range of Australian agencies.
This is very much a reflection on the vitality of the government-to-government relationship, and the importance we place on building our trade, development, security and other relationships.
So broad are our interests in the Philippines that the Australian Embassy in Manila is one of Australia’s top ten overseas diplomatic missions by staff numbers.
So allow me to touch on some of the elements of the bilateral relationship.
Business and Trade
We have just finished a separate briefing with some Australian businesses operating in the Philippines which are generously supporting the Embassy’s Australia Day events this year.
The diverse commercial activities of these companies reflect some of the strengths of the approximately 200 Australian businesses operating in the Philippines, and, I might add, employing more than 15,000 Filipino staff.
I don’t want to single out individual companies here but suffice to say Australian business know-how is being brought to the fore in the Philippines in areas such as building and construction, mining and energy, professional services (banking and insurance), education, and food and beverage.
This range reflects the strength, openness and diversity of the Australian economy more generally.
Australia has one of the strongest and most competitive economies in the world, with an estimated GDP of US$ 1.5 trillion (2013).
With 23 years of consecutive economic growth, Australia has been able to withstand two global financial downturns and consistently ranks amongst the top five most resilient global economies.
The Australian economy has been growing faster than most advanced countries, and has particularly benefited from its trade linkages with Asia.
Our two-way trade with the Philippines was valued at approximately A$ 3.9 billion in 2013-14, and is underpinned by the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA).
While this is a good figure there is certainly scope to increase the volume and value of our trade.
Australia’s two-way investment relationship with the Philippines was valued at almost A$ 8.5 billion in 2013. There have been some significant Philippine investments in Australia during 2014, developments that show the increasing maturity of the Philippine economy and the growing strength of our economic bond.
The Philippines and Australia both have an interest in a strong and sustainable trade and investment relationship.
The Philippines is an important market for Australian businesses so my team and I will continue to work on ways to strengthen the trade and investment relationship.
Defence and Security
Our long history of defence ties with the Philippines dates back to World War Two, when over 4,000 Australian personnel fought alongside their Philippines and Allied counterparts to help liberate the Philippines – 92 of them in fact losing their lives in the process. It was an honour on 19 October last year to participate in the unveiling in Palo, Leyte of a memorial to commemorate that contribution. We were very honoured that all four Philippine service chiefs – Generals Catapang, Irriberi and Delgado and Vice Admiral Millan, were present on that occasion. All four chiefs also share the distinction of having undertaken defence studies in Australia. We were delighted when on 20 October His Excellency the President visited that memorial.
Today, our Defence Cooperation Program includes high level policy talks, training of Philippine defence personnel in Australia and visits by senior officials.
Australia and the Philippines have also signed a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) which entered into force in September 2012.
The SOVFA is envisioned to provide a more comprehensive legal framework to enable both our nations to enhance ties and lay the foundation for stronger Defence cooperation in the years to come.
One illustration of its successful implementation was Australia’s ability to quickly respond to Typhoon Yolanda relief operations, in close cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Education and training remains a cornerstone of our defence cooperation program – over the past two years approximately 170 defence personnel have undertaken training in Australia.
Training is also a focus of our law enforcement cooperation in the Philippines.
In October, we were pleased to commemorate 30 years of law enforcement partnership between Australia and the Philippines.
During that time more than 1,200 Philippine law enforcement officers have undertaken training by the Australian Federal Police, in Australia and all over the Philippines.
Our law enforcement partnership has grown to encompass a range of activities from combatting terrorism, serious and organised crime and child exploitation, to training and assistance programs.
Australia and the Philippines will continue to value the law enforcement links between our two nations which significantly contribute to reducing transnational crime which affects both our countries.
This reflects the importance of regional and bilateral partnerships in addressing security challenges and disrupting criminal activity
The strong Australia-Philippines partnership in development cooperation spans more than 50 years.
The program has grown to be one of our largest bilateral aid programs (fourth).
Australia is currently one of the Philippines’ three largest bilateral grant aid donors.
The Philippine Government's development priorities are to improve governance, combat corruption and reduce poverty.
The Australian aid program has set out five objectives to help achieve these goals:
Effective Governance – enhancing institutions, policies and a market enabling environment
Improving infrastructure, connectivity and aid for trade
Building human capital through better education
Improving conditions for peace and stability, and
Bolstering resilience through disaster risk management and response.
Allow me to highlight some milestones achieved during 2013-14:
Building 1,540 classrooms and early learning centres and supporting the operations of 1,460 alternative community learning centres in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao;
Supporting the Philippines Public-Private Partnership program to achieve the signing of seven infrastructure projects worth at least USD1.57 billion;
Assisting the Philippine Government implement the treasury single account resulting in savings of $10 million through the rationalisation of dormant bank accounts; and
A key focus for the Embassy during the next twelve months will be the management of our aid program, and the successful implementation of our development projects.
Building a better understanding between our two countries should not be the exclusive domain of politicians, diplomats and officials.
There are many more people with a stake in the relationship – students, business people, academics, scientists, athletes and artists.
Nearly a quarter of a million Filipinos have made Australia their home, and in 2012-13 the Philippines was the fifth largest source country for migrants to Australia (after New Zealand, India, China and the UK).
Students are increasingly looking to Australia as an education destination.
This is a wise choice as, in addition to the lifestyle benefits we offer to students, Australia has a world class education system and is ranked highly in worldwide academic research and development surveys.
And in 2015 we enter a new phase of collaboration with the commencement of the New Colombo Plan in the Philippines which will see young Australian scholars study in your educational institutions.
The inclusion of the Philippines in the New Colombo Plan program was announced by the Foreign Minister, Ms Julie Bishop, in August.
This program will help young Australians to gain invaluable insights and experiences in the region.
Our first scholar [Emily Pritchard] arrived in country this month and will commence study at the University of the Philippines.
The year ahead
2015 will be a big year for the Australian Embassy in Manila.
In April we will commemorate the Centenary of Anzac – 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War.
This will be a special time for all Australians – the first Anzacs helped forge our national identity and define our national character. They left a strong and enduring legacy.
During the Anzac Centenary we will remember not only the original Anzacs, but commemorate more than a century of service by Australian servicewomen and men – including those who served to help liberate the Philippines.
In addition, 2015 is importantly Philippines’ host year for APEC. This will be a very busy time for our colleagues in government. We currently have Maria Vu here in the country as secondee to the Philippines for APEC.
We look forward to welcoming our Trade and Investment Minister (Mr Robb), our Foreign Minister (Ms Bishop) and of course our Prime Minister (Mr Abbott) to the Philippines.
And with the importance of the policy issues at hand we hope we can show to our visitors that it really is more fun in the Philippines.
Thank you for your attention – I hope you have gained some insight into the richness and depth of the Philippines-Australia relationship and the role of the Australian Embassy in Manila.
There are of course many other things we could delve into but we wanted to ensure there was some time available for questions, and Embassy colleagues and I can help fill any gaps.