65th Anniversary Awards Dinner
Monday 27 November 2017
‘A Taste of Australia in Laos’
Remarks by John Williams, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR
Ministers Sengdeuane, Khemmani and Bounkong,
Vice Ministers, Members of the Lao National Assembly, senior officials, business leaders, other distinguished guests, friends and colleagues.
Thank you all for joining us this evening for a special event to celebrate the close friendship between our two countries.
I am delighted Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was able to share that video message with us this evening. She has been busy with things Lao this week – hosting Foreign Minister Saleumxay in Canberra today, and shortly announcing a new Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR!
Over the 65 years of our diplomatic relations, there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the strength of Lao-Australian ties.
Longevity and continuity do, I believe, count for something.
Australia is proud to be the Lao PDR’s longest unbroken diplomatic partnership at Ambassador level, and ASEAN’s first dialogue partner.
But I am proud too of the very positive impact Australia and Australians have had in this region, and in this country, over many decades.
Committed development personnel, for example, helping the Lao PDR in its war on poverty.
Quality Australian companies, bringing the highest of international standards, and investing heavily in Lao skills by training and empowering their staff.
Many generations of Australian diplomats and officials, who have recognised the great synergies and common interests we share in a peaceful and prosperous region, where all countries, big and small, respect the rules.
And, of course, a Prime Minister in Bob Hawke, who recognised back in the early 1990s the immeasurable value for Laos, and the region, of the first friendship bridge across the Mekong, and who made it happen.
We’re celebrating more tonight than a few moments in history.
We’re celebrating the personal stories, the friendships, the struggles against adversity, the triumphs and the setbacks…. the stories of each of us who have played their part in 65 productive and memorable years of Laos-Australia relations.
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, in the company of good friends, and with the help of some of Australia’s best gourmet food and wine, we’re also conferring awards on two special people to mark their outstanding contribution to the relationship between our two countries over many years.
These 65th anniversary awards, in my view, not only serve to recognise these extraordinary individual contributions to bilateral ties.
They also help personalise our relationship. To help remind us that the heart of Laos-Australia relations is not just the formal interaction and architecture put in place between our two governments.
The real strength, I believe, are the diverse networks of contact and collaboration between the people of our two countries across so many areas of work and life.
In presenting these Awards, we are therefore also honouring the contributions of many – including each of you in the room with us this evening – to the substantial, positive collaboration and friendship Australia and the Lao PDR enjoy today.
We conferred four individual 65th anniversary awards at our Australia Day reception in January. Welcome to those recipients who were able to join us this evening, Richard Taylor and Saman Aneka, recognised for their outstanding contribution to commercial ties.
Sadly, Professor Bounthaphany, the Director of Mahosot Hospital, has been called away on urgent business and can not be with us this evening. He received the award in January on behalf of the Interplast team, for their outstanding medical collaboration to deliver plastic and reconstructive surgery to many needy people across Laos.
In January, we conferred awards too on the late Dr Grant Evans, one of Australia’s finest scholars on Laos and South-East Asia, and on a remarkable woman in Savannakhet, Dr Phoudalay Lathvilavong, Director of the Thasano Centre, for her many years of close work with Australian agricultural experts to support small holder farming families in Laos.
Both our recipients this evening could not be with us on Australia Day.
And it shows how busy they both are, that it has taken us until the end of November to find an evening when both Ministers were in Vientiane and otherwise uncommitted.
Ladies and gentlemen, in conferring these awards, we are recognising the leadership, personal commitment and technical strengths both recipients have brought to their work. As well as the powerful legacy they will have, both in terms of the Lao PDR’s socio-economic development and Laos-Australia relations.
Our first awardee this evening, an alumni of Deakin University, has been working closely with Australia for many years to help strengthen education outcomes for children across the Lao PDR.
Australia’s current basic education program, BEQUAL, our most substantial development program in the Lao PDR, is today implementing a number of the ideas our awardee pioneered as the head of Teacher Education many years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating H.E. Sengdeuane Lachanthaboun, Minister for Education and Sport, on her 65th anniversary award.
Thank you, Minister.
Ladies and gentlemen, I should have mentioned the 65th anniversary awards were designed and produced in Australia, out of pure optical crystal.
Our second awardee this evening has also had professional links with Australia that go back many years, with our international trade experts, in particular.
These links intensified through our close collaboration in support of the Lao PDR’s bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation.
The energy and drive the Minister demonstrated at that time, to secure that important benchmark for Laos, has been a feature of our ongoing partnership with her in support of Laos’ trade and business climate reform agenda, and in helping Australian companies navigate the Lao market.
[I should have noted too that this awardee had the excellent judgment and foresight to send her two children to study in Australia!]
For her support in all this work, and for her leadership across the sector and nationally, I am delighted to invite H.E. Khemmani Pholsena, Minister for Industry and Commerce, to come forward to accept a 65th anniversary award.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you don’t mind if I end my comments on a personal note.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to serve as Australia’s Ambassador to the Lao PDR this past four years.
I know I speak for Annemarie too, when I say we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here.
It’s been an extremely rewarding time in our lives, both personally and professionally, marked by many good friendships, and many wonderful and vivid memories.
Thank you to each of you for your support and friendship over the past four years.
If you are able to provide my successor, Jean-Bernard, with even a fraction of the professional support and courtesies you have afforded my family and I, then I am confident he will enjoy a successful, productive and enjoyable term as Australia’s Ambassador.
And finally, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in putting your hands together to help me thank my wonderful staff at the Australian Embassy, and our friends here at the Crowne Plaza, who have worked so hard to make this evening a success.
Thank you again, enjoy the Australian wine. And please stay for a Lam Wong or several.