Talofa lava. Thank you for coming to a celebration of Australia Day in Samoa.
Every year on 26 January, Australians at home and abroad celebrate this day, not so much as to mark the arrival of the First Fleet into Botany Bay in 1788, but to celebrate the highly developed and multicultural nation we have become.
In doing so we particularly acknowledge the first Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It has become our tradition at public meetings in Australia to acknowledge the traditional custodians on whose lands we meet, and pay respect to them and their elders: past and present.
The tradition of marking 26 January began in the early 19th century when some immigrants - especially convicts - began holding an anniversary dinner to celebrate their new home.
It was not until 1994 that we started celebrating Australia Day as a public holiday.
On Australia Day, the nation comes together to celebrate what is great about our country and our people. It is a day to reflect on what we have achieved, what we can be proud of and how we can make Australia an even better place for the future.
An important part of Australia Day is the Prime Minister’s naming of the Australian of the Year. This year, the honour went to Professor Mackay-Sim, a biomedical scientist who has been conducting ground breaking research giving many people with spinal injuries hope.
His work led to the first paraplegic in the world to recover mobility after the complete severing of the spinal nerves. Professor Mackay-Sim puts a human face on how Australians are making a difference to improve the lives of others. We honour individuals such as him because helping others is a core Australian value.
One role of the Australian Government, and more specifically the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is to advance Australia’s values and internationally-held human rights and values around the world.
This year, Australia is seeking a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2018-20. Our campaign is built on five pillars:
• gender equality; good governance; freedom of expression; the rights of indigenous peoples and strong national human rights institutions and capacity building
These five pillars represent where Australia can advance human rights in practical, sensible ways that will have far reaching effects over time. They are also areas Australia is supporting in human rights efforts around the world, particularly through our aid program.
As I embark on my fourth year as Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Australia Day in Samoa for me is not just an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful country I am so proud to represent, but also an occasion to recognise the strong and broad-ranging relationship that we enjoy with Samoa.
The past year has seen many highlights.
One I am particularly proud of was our close cooperation in co-hosting last month’s very successful meeting of the Green Climate Fund Board. This was the first meeting of the Board in the Pacific and the largest climate finance meeting to ever be held in the Pacific. It was no small undertaking, involving over 300 officials and making decisions on allocating large amounts of money. The meeting was a resounding success. The Board approved 98 million US dollars for Pacific proposals. At its conclusion, Board Members agreed it was the most successful meeting ever.
I congratulate the Samoan Government not only in holding the meeting here in Apia but also in having their 131 million tala proposal approved. The proposal, for Integrated Flood Management to Enhance Climate Resilience of the Vaisigano River Catchment, will increase the resilience of infrastructure and reach vulnerable communities.
At last year’s Pacific Island Forum, Australia’s Prime Minister announced a package of $300 million for climate change in the Pacific, recognising that building resilience to climate change and disaster impacts is essential to achieving good development outcomes.
In 2017 we will continue to work in partnership with Samoa to achieve further good development outcomes. A number of important joint projects are scheduled to be completed.
We are pleased to be helping to rebuild Samoa’s Maota Fono - a new home - for the Samoan Parliament. The building will be purpose built for the Parliament and people of Samoa: for now and in the future. At this stage, construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
We are all awaiting, with much anticipation, the arrival of the TuiSamoa submarine internet cable later in the year. Australia is working closely with Samoa to see that Samoa is ready to seize the opportunities that will open up when the cable arrives.
Another joint project to be completed this year is a new Leone Bridge. An important key access point that has been out of action since December 2012. The bridge’s single span design, a first for Samoa, will ensure the bridge is more resilient during times of heavy rain and flooding. Also this year Australia will provide Samoa with a series of emergency ‘bailey’ bridges. These bridges are quick and easy to install. They will ensure important transport links are preserved following severe weather events.
As we are literally building bridges, we are also building closer people-people links and human capacity.
Our long running and valued volunteers program continues with 24 Australian volunteers to undertake assignments in Samoa this year.
We are pleased to be supporting 50 new Samoan scholarship students to join the 109 already studying in Australia and the region. More Samoans are participating in Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme.
These endeavours are only achieved by working closely together: good cooperative relationships and productive team work. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my team at the Australian High Commission for their work and dedication to take forward Samoa-Australia relations. In particular, I would like to register my thanks and appreciation for the work and commitment by my Deputy High Commissioner and Counsellor Development, Rosemary McKay. Rosemary completes her posting in a few weeks. I thank her for her hard work and dedication in taking forward our Development Program. We have been a good team and importantly, I think, learnt a lot from each other. Thank you Rosemary.
2017 marks an anniversary year for the Australia-Samoa relationship. It is forty years since the Australian Government announced it would open a diplomatic mission in Samoa.
The proposal was discussed and warmly welcomed by then Samoan Prime Minister and today’s Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, during a visit to Canberra in March 1977 when he met then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
Mr Fraser said that the opening of an Australian High Commission would be a further step in continuing efforts to intensify Australian relations with the countries of the Pacific.
Over the past forty years, our relationship and our partnership has certainly intensified. As the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said during her visit to Samoa just last month: ‘you (Samoa) have in Australia a true friend and together Australia and Samoa will continue to ensure our people live in peace, stability, security and prosperity.’
In the year ahead, I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Government and people of Samoa and to further intensify our successful partnership.
I now propose a toast: please join me in raising your glasses: to the Government and the people of Samoa.