Well thank you very, very much, High Commissioner.
Can I start by acknowledging Minister, other government, private sector and civil society leaders from Sri Lanka and guests from Australia.
Can I also particularly welcome our Australia Awards Alumni and some of our Australian Volunteers who have joined us this evening.
I am very honoured to be here this evening at the Lionel Wendt Art Centre.
For both creators and consumers, the arts make for a richer life.
Tonight is a very important occasion for our two countries.
We are celebrating the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations between Australia and Sri Lanka – our platinum jubilee!
Ambassador, I wonder whether you get a ring or something for platinum jubilee!
A major part of this relationship, or course, has been our development partnership.
This is a long-standing and enduring partnership, even through some difficult times.
Tonight, on the gallery walls, you are surrounded by images that tell the story of this partnership – a relationship that has always been based on mutual respect, cooperation and friendship.
Most of you will know that Australia formally established diplomatic ties with Ceylon in 1947.
Shortly after this, in 1950, Australia and Sri Lanka formed a development partnership.
The first joint activity was the Colombo Plan – and it is wonderful to see here the first and second recipient of the Colombo Plan, thank you so much for joining us – which of course involved other Commonwealth countries.
The Plan saw fifteen Sri Lankans travel to Australia on scholarships in 1951 and £300,000 worth of Australian wheat shipped to Ceylon.
The benefits of this early partnership, to both countries, became evident quickly.
The partnership steadily increased in value – from around one billion Rupees a year in the 1950s, to four billion Rupees a year more recently.
While student exchange and food security remained a core part of our engagement, cooperation in other areas evolved as both Sri Lanka and Australia grew and changed.
In the 1980s, agriculture, forestry, community development, health and private sector development became central.
In the 1990s, health and humanitarian assistance became an important focus.
This included, for example, funding for a temporary ferry service between Jaffna and Trincomalee when roads closed due to conflict.
And having just travelled up there today, I can understand just how important that ferry was – again we were thanked, High Commissioner, for the ferry today.
The MV Jaya Gold ensured medical supplies reached the North and patients in need of complex surgery reached Colombo in the 1990s.
When the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 tragically took the lives of 35,000 people in Sri Lanka, including the wife and children of an Australian High Commission staff member – Australia was there.
Dr David Young, a leading Australian orthopaedic surgeon arrived on the east coast to help in aftermath of the tsunami.
And I am pleased that Dr Young is with us this evening.
Returning to Australia, with Dr Nihal de Run, an Australian of Sri Lankan heritage, he raised USD 2 million towards the cost of a USD 6 million modern trauma facility in Batticaloa.
A new 60-bed complex with three operating theatres is now under construction, attached to the public hospital there.
Perhaps most importantly, from May 2009 – in the immediate aftermath of the civil conflict – Australia provided nearly nine billion Rupees of assistance over twelve months.
The focus was on providing food, shelter, water and sanitation to displaced families, education services for children, and demining land.
Australia has been one of the largest contributors to demining in Sri Lanka.
This included funding specialist equipment, helping the demining unit assess and release land ten times faster than manual demining.
This enabled thousands of displaced people to return safely and re-establish their communities and livelihoods at the end of the conflict.
I want, especially tonight, to acknowledge the de-miners.
It takes a special skill, a special resolve, to be a de-miner.
It is dangerous and painstaking work undertaken in searing heat.
These men and women are true heroes.
As is often the case, the best of the human spirit materialises amidst horror.
These stories I share tonight are just the tip of the iceberg.
The photographs explain not just the rich history of our development partnership with Sri Lanka, but also its impact on the lives of ordinary Sri Lankans.
The 70th anniversary of Australia and Sri Lankan diplomatic relations celebrations aim to strengthen the bilateral relationship, by promoting the extent, the longevity and the consistency of our partnership and the diversity and benefit of people-to-people links, including the contribution that people of Sri Lankan heritage have made to Australia’s rich tapestry of multicultural Australia, to the economy, and to our society.
I was pleased with Foreign Minister Bishop and Deputy Foreign Minister De Silva to be at the launch of a commemorative photo exhibition, including thirteen portraits of prominent Sri Lankan-Australians, to highlight their significant contribution to modern Australia, at Parliament House in February this year.
And as part of those celebrations, I understand that this exhibition travelled to several parts of Sri Lanka.
And so, to the future.
Our main aim now is to assist economic growth, to help build strong market structures that enable all Sri Lankans to participate fully in its benefits of growth, particularly the women.
And to provide practical support for reconciliation and durable peace.
I hope that the beautiful images you see this evening move and inspire you.
And now I invite you to raise your glasses and join me as I formally announce the ‘Better Together’ exhibition open.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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