Australia Day Speech for Lao National TV
26 January 2019 by Jean-Bernard Carrasco, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR
Ka-pah-jow dye hab giad, ma hab nah-tee pen tarn-tood Austalie
pah-jum sa-ta-la-na-lat pah-sah-tee-pah-tie pah-sah-sone (or Saw paw paw) Lao, ma gao saan-ouay-pawn, one saad Austalie, tee thor-lah-paab heng saad Lao nigh meu nee.
[It is my honour, as Australian Ambassador to the Laos Peoples’ Democratic Republic to address you on Lao National TV today on the 26th of January - Australia’s National Day.]
Around the world, the 26 of January each year is the day that Australians reflect on what it means to be Australian, celebrate modern Australia and acknowledge our history.
And there is no other country quite like Australia.
Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Our population of 25 million consists of more than 300 different ancestries.
The oldest of these are the indigenous Australians.
They have lived on the Australian continent for more than 60,000 years, and they keep one of the world’s oldest civilisations alive, enriching our contemporary society.
But we are also a young country in many ways. 28% of our population were born overseas — that is nearly 7 million people who have moved to Australia to make a new home.
For me, it is easy to see what makes our country such an attractive place to live.
Australia is a young, robust democracy, with an open, competitive economy that has enjoyed 26 years of continuous growth.
Like Laos, we have a beautiful and diverse landscape and a clean environment.
We welcome innovation, and creativity. We do not mind a good debate, and we respect the opinions of those with whom we do not agree.
We are constantly striving for greater equality of opportunities, and greater protection for our most vulnerable citizens.
And like Laos, we are a country that values highly our partnerships with our neighbours, and our close connections with all peoples and cultures across Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.
Among these connections, our relationship with the Lao PDR is one of the longest enduring.
This year, we are celebrating 67 years of uninterrupted and friendly diplomatic relations – a significant milestone.
I believe this strong and unwavering relationship between our two countries could not be possible without the strong people-to-people links we share.
There are around 12,000 Australians of Lao heritage living in Australia.
It might be our shared love of a good cold beer, or maybe our similar ‘bor pen yang / no worries’ approach to life, that drew around 20,000 Australian tourists to Laos for Visit Laos Year 2018.
And our links are further strengthened by the hundreds more Australians that have made Laos their place of business, or their home.
I have now spent one year as Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR. During that time I have travelled to 10 provinces, learning more about the diverse Laos culture, landscapes and history.
During these travels I constantly uncover more and more connections between our two countries
Over 2,400 Lao professionals have had a formal education or training experience in Australia, most of those with the support of Australian Government scholarships.
In fact there are around 450 Lao students studying in Australian schools and universities right now.
Each of them will learn important skills that they will bring back to Laos, but will also enrich the Australian community with Lao traditions, culture, food and language.
Every week I am meeting wonderful Australian alumni in government, civil society and the private sector where they are making invaluable contributions to the development of the Lao PDR.
Australians love to travel and volunteer overseas and since 1986 more than 500 Australians have volunteered their time to help Lao organisations meet their goals.
And almost 200 Australian students have visited the Lao PDR since 2015 under the New Colombo Plan program – eager to learn from Lao experts.
With so many links between us, our two countries and two peoples have developed a truly strong bond. One that becomes crucially important in times of great need.
Last year, Australians were shocked and saddened by the tragic dam collapse in Attapeu province, and the flooding that affected thousands of people across the nation.
Immediately, Australia was ready to support the Lao Government in its response to the disaster.
I am proud we were able to deliver emergency supplies to Sanamxay District within four days of the incident, and our ongoing assistance totalling AUD3 million is helping the affected families, especially women and children, to rebuild their lives.
We could act quickly because Australia has spent decades working in cooperation with the Lao PDR, particularly to support Laos’ development.
We are committed to using our expertise to assist the Lao PDR in reaching its national socioeconomic goals, and our projects work to improve the lives of those in need all throughout the country.
We are a world leading country in mining, tourism, and agribusiness because of the ease of doing business in Australia, and our fair and open trade regime.
We can tap the potential of a diverse and skilled workforce, because we have invested in quality education for people of all backgrounds, including women, people with disabilities, and ethnic minorities. T
And we can sustain a successful farming industry in Australia despite our dry climate, because of our global expertise in water management.
With this experience, we can ensure our development cooperation focuses on the most important factors for Laos to achieve its economic and social goals:
- quality education for all primary school students;
- human resource development;
- developing the private sector;
- supporting the sustainable use of water resources; and
- promoting opportunities for women, girls and people with a disability.
This year we are also supporting the Lao Government’s dam safety review to ensure the hydropower sector can sustainably and safely contribute to the Lao economy, and funding UXO clearance in Sanamxay district in Attapeu.
But Australia’s cooperation with the Lao PDR is much broader than just development.
During our High Level Consultations with the Lao Government last year, our two governments discussed our strong history of high-level political exchanges, regional issues of mutual interest and ideas on how to strengthen our cooperation.
And we enjoy a strong relationship as regional partners, particularly through the Association of South East Asian Nations or ASEAN.
Ever since Australia became ASEAN’s first dialogue partner 45 years ago, we have known that a strong and independent ASEAN would be key to the prosperity and security of our neighbourhood.
So we value our cooperation with ASEAN, and its members like the Lao PDR, very highly.
2018 was a particularly exciting year in this respect as we welcomed His Excellency Prime Minister Thongloun and Ministers Saleumxay, Khemmani, Alounkeo and Somkeo to Sydney for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, where the Prime Minister managed to get up close and personal with a kangaroo and a koala.
While in Sydney, Prime Minister Thongloun also hosted the first Laos-Australia Business Forum.
This provided an opportunity for Australian and Laos businesses to network on possible investment opportunities in Laos, and to hear first-hand from Prime Minister Thongloun about the government’s plans to increase competition in Laos and attracted more quality investment.
Australian companies have a long history of high quality operations in Laos from tourism and hospitality to banking and natural resources.
As the Lao Government tackles difficult but necessary economic reforms, I look forward to seeing more of these valuable investments contributing to the Lao economy in future.
2018 was also a very significant year for our ongoing defence cooperation, as we celebrated 20 years of formal defence relations between the Lao PDR and Australia.
I enjoyed marking this milestone last month with over 100 alumni of our defence cooperation program.
And 2019 will also bring Laos and Australia many more special reasons to celebrate.
Firstly, 25 years ago, in 1994, Australia completed construction of the first Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River.
The opening of the bridge was a landmark moment for the development of Laos. I like to think of it as one of the first steps on Laos’ journey from landlocked to land linked.
I look forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Lao Thai Friendship Bridge in concert with the Lao and Thai Governments this year.
2019 will also see our strong cooperation in education continue. I am pleased to announce applications for the Australia Awards Scholarships will open next week on 1 February. And we will also supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports in 2019 to help roll out their new Grade 1 Primary School curriculum.
Another significant milestone for Laos and Australia will be taking place in August, as our two governments conduct our latest bilateral Human Rights Dialogue.
And finally, throughout 2019, the Australia Now - Connecting and Celebrating Youth program will be delivered in the Lao PDR and other ASEAN countries. Australia Now will showcase the vitality, diversity and innovative capability of our youth and connect future leaders across the region, through cultural events focussed on exchange.
If you would like to keep up to date with news and events being held by Australia in Laos throughout 2019, I encourage you to follow our Facebook page Australia in Laos.
And don’t forget for more Australian content you can always tune into the ABC Australia channel on Lao Cable TV.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Lao PDR for this year’s 70th anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Army.
I would also like to wish the Government and people of the Lao PDR the best of luck and great success for the confirmation of the Plain of Jars as Laos’ third UNESCO World Heritage Site this year.
An Australian research and archaeological team has been working with Lao counterparts to help uncover the hidden mysteries of this famous and significant site, and I am looking forward to my first visit to the Plain of Jars soon.
I would like to end this Australia Day message by thanking all of the friends and partners of Australia in Laos, and for your support for Australia, and for Lao-Australia relations.
Kah-pah-jow core ouay-pawn, high took tarn, jong mee sue-kah-parb keng-heng, lae pah-sob pon-sum-let nigh nah-tee wiak-ngarn, tah-lord bee-song-pun-sip-gow-nee.
May I wish you all the best of health and success in your endeavours for 2019.
Sohk dii le khop jai