Australian Embassy
The Philippines

SP150707: Iftar 2015 Welcome Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell

Remarks at Iftar Dinner
by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
7 July 2015

His Excellency Major General John Gomes, PSC (ret), Ambassador of Bangladesh
His Excellency Dato’ Mohd Zamri bin Mohd Kassim, Ambassador of Malaysia
Hon Teresita Quintos-Deles
Mr Stephen Lysaght, Charge d’Aiffaires a.i., British Embassy
Mr Davut Ocak, Turkish Embassy
Hon Esmael Magundadatu, Governor of Maguindanao
Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Chairm, Philippine Government Panel for Talks with the MILF
Hon Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the MILF Peace Panel and Chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission

Assalaam Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakaatuh!
(May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you.)

On behalf of my family and my Australian Embassy colleagues, let me warmly welcome you all to our home here this evening for this Iftar: partners from the Philippine national and local governments; from the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF); from other embassies; civil society; academia; and international development organisations.

As the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, said in his Ramadan message this year, “Ramadan is the time for strengthening bonds between family and friends as Iftar dinners are shared to break the fast each day”. So, friends, I’m very pleased that you could join us tonight.

Muslims in Australia
Australia is home to nearly half a million Muslims. They come from over 70 different countries and make up one of the most ethnically diverse religious groups. The largest numbers come from Lebanon, Turkey, Bangladesh and Fiji.

History of Muslims in Australia
The history of Muslim contact with Australia goes back to the 1600s. This was by people from Makassar in what is now Indonesia. They traded with the Aboriginal people living along Australia’s northern coast for trepang (or, as it is less eloquently called sea slugs). This trade and contact influenced the aboriginal people’s language and culture.

Within the first decades of Sydney’s establishment, Muslims from as far afield as Oman and Bengal were active in the new town. From the 1860s Afghan camel drivers came to help in the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line, and provided an essential transport and communications network throughout much of remote Australia until they were superseded by road and rail services.

As Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop said in her Ramadan message; “More than 200 years later, Australia’s Muslim community remains diverse, tolerant and inclusive. Respect for one another, tolerance of our differences and celebration of our diversity are our great strengths as a nation. Muslims from all over the world have played an important part in developing Australia and will continue to play an important role in the years and decades ahead.”

Peace process
The Philippines also has a long Muslim history. This long history is inherently recognised in the two peace process agreements; the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Quite a number of you here tonight are heavily engaged in the peace process. I respect and honour you for that endeavour.

Australia has been a long-time supporter of peace in Mindanao – Australia has been providing funding to support peace since 1996.

As a strong supporter of peace, Australia would like to see peace and stability in Mindanao – to allow development and prosperity to take place in the region.

The Australia government remains steadfast in our support for the current peace process and for development in the ARMM and the Bangsamoro.

After many decades of violence and conflict in Mindanao, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro offers the basis for a durable political settlement for the people of Mindanao and the Philippines.

A successful peace process can create the conditions for stability and economic development in the region – bringing about an improvement of the lives of all people who live in the Bangsamoro, in Mindanao and indeed in the Philippines.

As I said at the Iftar here last year, and as many of you here will attest, the road to lasting peace is a long one. It’s important to stay the course; even when the road is difficult.

I think I can speak on behalf of many of us here tonight when I say that the international community is a staunch supporter of the process towards lasting peace in Mindanao.

Australian support to education in Muslim Mindanao
Australia’s investment in efforts to secure lasting peace in Mindanao involves a number of the seven Australian Government agencies represented in our Embassy. But tonight I particularly wanted to speak about Australian support to education in Muslim Mindanao.

Beyond our support to peace, Australia has been a long standing supporter of education in Muslim Mindanao. Our current program, which builds on its predecessors, is the Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao: BEAM-ARMM.

This program covers a wide range of education interventions. This includes: early childhood care and development, basic education access, training out-of-school youth in vocational and technical skills; improving sanitation and health in schools, and rolling out an alternative delivery model to get as many children learning as is possible.

We are very grateful to have dedicated partners for BEAM in both the Department of Education (DepEd) Central and DepEd ARMM. I would like to congratulate DepEd ARMM Secretary John Magno on his recent promotion to the post. Secretary Magno and I met recently and we in the Embassy look forward to ongoing cooperation with him and his team.

We are also fortunate to have a great team of implementing partners for this program in The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Bangsamoro Development Agency, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), Cardno and BRAC.

BEAM will continue until 2017. And I am pleased to let you know that we have just started the process of determining how we can continue to support education in the Bangsamoro to 2020 and beyond. My team in the Embassy is looking forward to working with all stakeholders on how we can best support the education needs of the Bangsamoro into the future.

We also do more than BEAM in education. Our Human Resource and Organisational Development Facility has been working closely with DepEd ARMM to modernise its workforce and build internal capacity.

We are pleased to have been able to support teachers and education staff from ARMM to study in universities around the Philippines. And we are extremely happy to have been able to send ARMM teachers to Australia under the Australia Awards program to study at our world-class universities undertaking Masters Degrees in education policy, administration and pedagogy.

It’s wonderful to know that through these opportunities your teachers are bringing back all of their new experiences, knowledge and understanding, to share with their students, their colleagues and their communities.

But why is Australia doing this?

Australia wants a peaceful and prosperous region—and peace in the Bangsamoro, and a solid education for its people, is central to this.

We cannot deny that measures of educational success in ARMM are amongst the lowest in the Philippines. There are many reasons for this, but chief amongst them is that decades of conflict have long denied communities access to a stable and productive education.

Without peace, we continue to engrave this lack of access into communities. The flow-on effects from a lack of education to communities is visible every day. A successful peace process will help children be kids, will help them access school, help them learn and help them develop.

Without education, we continue to deny communities the ability to help young people become more productive, to increase their employment prospects, and contribute to the peace-building process in their communities. We deny them the opportunity to use their education to break the cycles of conflict and of poverty.

Peace and education are like two pillars holding up the one bridge. Peace and education are intertwined and this is why Australia will continue to support both.

So in conclusion, may I wish you all Ramadan Kareem! (Blessed Ramadan)