2020 Australia Day Speech
26 Jan 2020
On behalf of the Australian Embassy, my wife Gill, my deputy Jane and all embassy staff, welcome!
It is wonderful to see so many friends and supporters of Laos-Australia relations here tonight.
As you know, Australia has had a difficult start to the New Year as we continue to battle bushfires that have had a devastating impact on our country.
And I’m sure it has been hard for all of you, as it has been for our Embassy staff, to watch the crisis from afar.
I would like to thank everyone who has expressed their concern, and acknowledge the support that the Lao Government and the Lao people have shown.
The Australian Government is focusing on supporting Australians in this difficult time.
The Government has created a new agency – the National Bushfire Recovery Agency – to coordinate the national recovery effort to rebuild communities and livelihoods.
An initial budget of $2 billion will help families, farmers and businesses affect by these unprecedented fires, and help restore the local environment and impacted wildlife.
But it is in difficult times like these that the strength of our friendship with Lao PDR, becomes so clear.
Over the last 12 months, I have seen disasters in both Lao PDR and Australia confirm our Governments’ mutual ties.
Australia was saddened by the droughts in northern Laos and the most recent flooding in the south, which continue to impact on the lives of affected communities.
I am pleased Australia gave additional assistance to help recovery efforts in affected Provinces this year, building on our assistance to Attapeu in 2018.
And in turn, Australia has received expressions of condolence and support from the Laos Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as well as many other senior officials.
The Australia and Lao PDR people-to-people relationship is also strong.
The embassy has received hundreds of expressions of sympathy from Lao people, and there have been grassroots efforts to mobilise and support Australia’s recovery.
These strong Government-to-Government and people-to-people links are vitally important to us, because national disasters are not the only challenges Australia and Lao PDR tackle together.
Our shared neighbourhood is an increasingly dynamic Indo-Pacific region.
Over the decade ahead, we will need to grapple with changes in economic growth, shifts in strategic power, new ways of working as technology evolves, and trans-boundary issues such as climate change.
Neither Australia nor Lao PDR are large countries compared to some in our region.
On our own, and without rules and structures that promote shared prosperity and stability, both Laos and Australia may struggle to overcome the challenges and make the most of the opportunities.
Australia is committed to shaping our own destiny, and supporting other countries in our region to do the same.
We are leading regional collaboration on issues at the frontier of a changing world, like e-commerce, cyber security, infrastructure development, innovation and technology, and maritime security.
We are close to finalising the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an agreement that includes 15 economies, including Laos, and accounts for about one-third of global GDP.
And we remain a leading security, economic and development partner for South-east Asia, ASEAN, and Laos.
In 2019, Australia marked the 45th anniversary of becoming ASEAN’s first dialogue partner and continued our support for the Mekong River Commission on sustainable water and hydropower development.
Together with Laos and Thailand we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge – an enduring demonstration of Australia’s longstanding support for connectivity and economic growth in the Mekong region.
At the bilateral level, Australia continues to support Laos with the building blocks it needs to achieve its long-term potential.
Improved education outcomes are vital if Laos is to compete in an increasingly integrated labour market, and ensure girls, people with a disability and ethnic groups are not left behind.
That is why improving primary school education, particularly for disadvantaged children, remains a key area of our bilateral partnership, and one where we encourage the Lao Government to invest in more as part of the 9th National Socio-economic Development Plan.
Last year, together with the European Union and the United States, we supported the Lao Government to roll out a new Grade 1 primary curriculum that will give the next generation of Lao learners the foundation they need for success.
Congratulations to the Lao Government on this huge achievement – involving production and delivery of 856,000 textbooks to more than 8,700 schools and training of over 9,660 teachers nationwide.
I am glad that I will be here to see the new Grade 2 curriculum begin implementation this year.
However, our support for building human capital is not limited to young Lao learners – it extends to future Lao leaders as well.
With our broad range of scholarships and training, we are helping strengthen workforce capacity in many sectors.
We are also making sure that Lao women, people with a disability and people from diverse ethnic groups have equal access to development opportunities, and receive special support where needed.
Diversity and gender equality has given Australia resilience and creativity.
We have gained enormously from the contributions of Australians with different cultures, languages, religions, genders, and sexual orientations.
We want to help Laos achieve the same benefits, and ensure its economic growth reaches all citizens, including the most disadvantaged.
With 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australia has many lessons to share – and we are a committed partner on trade facilitation and private sector development in Laos.
One of the key factors in Australia’s success is our open, transparent and rules-based trading and investment regime.
The Lao Government is making some positive steps in the same direction, but it needs to maintain momentum on improving the ease of doing business and trade facilitation in the future.
I was pleased 2019 brought opportunities for our two countries to exchange knowledge and experience on common challenges.
Last August, Australia hosted the 6th Lao PDR-Australia bilateral Human Rights Dialogue, and showcased the important role of civil society and freedom of expression in Australia’s vibrant economy and diverse society.
We were also very glad to exchange other high-level visits including Her Excellency Mme Pany, President of the Lao National Assembly, and His Excellency Mr Alounxay, President of the Lao Youth Union to Australia, and the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, the Hon. Sharman Stone, to Lao PDR.
In the area of defence and security cooperation, the Deputy Head of the Australian Federal Police and the Deputy Chief of Australia’s Army visited Laos, to explore how our security cooperation might grow.
In 2020 we are looking forward to even more bilateral milestones – including welcoming His Excellency Foreign Minister Sal-erm-say and Her Excellency Mme Boun-kham Vor-a-chit, the Vice Minister for Natural Resources and Environment.
I was lucky over the past year to see more of Laos’ diverse and scenic country, from the historic caves of Vieng-sai District in Houapanh, to remote schools implementing the new primary curriculum in Xiengkhouang, to rapidly developing Special Economic Zones in the north and south.
These travels illustrated the significant progress that has been achieved but the challenges that remain if Laos is to further improve its prosperity and stability.
I hope our two countries can continue to face those challenges head on, and build a strong and sustainable future for Lao PDR, together.
This will only be possible with the ongoing support of each of you here tonight, and your hard work to keep our bilateral relationship strong and successful.
I am looking forward to another year of collaboration with you - our partners.
Please allow me to thank you all again, and especially Ministers and Vice Ministers for doing us the great honour of attending tonight.
And I would also like to thank three generous sponsors who have supported our national day event two years in a row: ANZ, Linfox and Dominion Mining, and also two new sponsors of tonight’s event: Mekong Timber Plantations, and Ortus.
I would like to highlight these five, high quality Australian businesses who are making important contributions to Lao PDR’s development and economy.
I wish everyone good health, and success in their endeavours for 2020.
And to all Australians here tonight - Happy Australia Day for the 26th!