Well, thank you very, very much, Ambassador Larsen.
It is wonderful to actually be here, but before I get into the formalities, can I start by conveying our condolences on the recent passing of Azerbaijani’s Energy Minister, Mr Natig Aliyev, who made an enduring contribution to the development of Azerbaijan’s resource sector.
This is a sector where, obviously, we have a strong relationship, and so I particularly wanted to pass on the condolences of the Australian Government.
Can I welcome you, Professor Seyidov, Chair of the Foreign Relations committee of the Azerbaijan Parliament.
Allow me also to acknowledge the presence of the Chairman of the Azerbaijan Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group, Khanlar Fatiyev.
Thank you so, so much and thank you for welcoming me this morning at the airport.
I am delighted that you have all been able to join us here this evening.
You have made an enormous contribution to the development of the parliamentary and broader relations between our two countries.
I greatly appreciate your warm hospitality in welcoming me to Azerbaijan and the support that you have provided for my visit.
Thank you to the wider membership of the Parliamentary Friendship Group who have made the time to join us here this evening.
Can I also particularly welcome Aydan Rzayeva, Azerbaijan’s Honorary Consul to Perth - yes, she lives in Perth, half-half! - and she has joined us to support my visit here, and I was very, very pleased to meet with her and Eljan Habibzade last week in Australia.
And can I thank in particular the Australians who are here this evening from the business and the broader expat community who have gathered to celebrate 25 years with us.
Your presence in Azerbaijan working for companies like BP, Worely Parsons, the Formula 1 Grand Prix - and who could miss that there is going to be a Grand Prix here very, very soon, The International School of Azerbaijan, are a clear reminder of the truly global spread of the Australians and our Australian community.
As the Ambassador said, I am visiting Baku to celebrate 25 years of Australia Azerbaijan diplomatic relations.
It is an honour for me to be the first Australian Federal Minister to make an official visit to this beautiful country, and today I had the privilege of visiting the centre of Old Baku, the beautiful Maiden Tower, and the lovely city walls and the palace, and we just walked around and absorbed the wonderful atmospherics of this lovely town.
I am sure Finance Minister Sharifov will be pleased that I at least made some contribution to the Azerbaijani economy by buying some beautiful local carpets.
I now have to find the room in my suitcases to bring them back, so I and my Chief of Staff, Maxine Sells, and Carolyn Jack, also from my office, we all made our contributions to the economy this afternoon!
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Australia recognised Azerbaijan’s independence on 21 December 1991, and we established formal diplomatic relations in 1992, initially through the Australian Ambassador based in Moscow, and, since 2004, through our Australian Ambassador based in Ankara.
Relations have been particularly active in recent years; we have signed a memorandum of understanding on air services in December 2012.
And can I just say, having flown overnight from New York on Azerbaijan Airlines, can I commend you on a very, very good national carrier, we were looked after remarkably well.
Azerbaijan opened its Embassy in Canberra in June 2013, and there have been a number of parliamentary visits to both countries, sponsored by our respective Parliamentary Friendship Groups.
I know many Australians have been involved in the organisation of many events in Azerbaijan, including the 2015 European Games, the Formula 1 Grand Prix and recently-held Islamic Solidarity Games.
It is good to see that we are starting to see more Australian tourists coming to Azerbaijan.
Last year we had 16,000 come, but having seen your beautiful city there should be many, many more, you have a wonderful story to tell.
Members of the Australian Parliament visited Azerbaijan as official observers of your constitutional referendum in 2016.
Australia was delighted to be invited to participate in the fourth World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held in Baku on 5-6 May.
I would have so much liked to have come to the Forum as a Former Minister for Multicultural Affairs myself, but regrettably I was unable to do so.
But as a Former Minister for Multicultural Affairs, I am keenly aware of the important role of the Forum in bringing together countries to build collaboration and better understanding in the areas of faith, religion, migration, human security, sport and building trust and cooperation among cultures and civilisations.
In international affairs, Australia and Azerbaijan actively seek out areas for mutual collaboration in international fora, including the Human Rights Council, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, and the Asian Development Bank.
And of course Minister Sharifov and I met through the Asian Development Bank, and of course Australia and Azerbaijan - 2 A’s- are both part of the same constituency in the Asian Development Bank.
We know that the Bank has made a long standing contribution to your infrastructure, and one that I am sure will add to your economic development and your economic wellbeing to the future.
Can I say that Australia is a forthright supporter of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and strongly supports Azerbaijan’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh.
We support the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve that issue, and we urge all sides to continue to respect the ceasefire, show restraint and prevent any new escalation.
On trade and investment we have a modest but successful relationship, but we can clearly do much, much more.
In 2015-16, total merchandise trade was valued at a mere $5.1 million and total services trade contributed an additional $5 million, and I am confident that we can further expand our relationship in existing sectors such as mining and resources services and equipment as well as improve underdeveloped areas like education and agriculture.
We stand ready to work with our Azerbaijani counterparts to collaborate to our mutual advantage.
We also believe there is great potential in furthering our bilateral investment relationship.
And while Azerbaijan’s State Oil Fund invested heavily in Australia in 2014, we could do much more both ways.
Again the Australian Government stands ready to support you in whatever way we can.
And, once again, can I conclude by thanking you for joining us here this evening.
I have so much enjoyed the opportunity to explore this beautiful city and I am looking forward to my official talks with my Ministerial and Parliamentary counterparts tomorrow to lay the foundations of our relations for the next 25 years and beyond.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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