Thank you very, very much for that kind introduction. Gary, can I just say thank you for your very, very passionate and thoughtful Acknowledgement of Country; I would like to also add my acknowledgement as well.
It is a great pleasure to be here with so many distinguished Australians.
Can I particularly thank Australian Volunteers International (AVI) and Paul Bird, and your corporate partners in this program – Glencore and Steel Blue.
Thank you - to you, Bruce Muirhead and the Edios Institute, and to you, Brendan Nasser, and to your Classic Wallabies.
Thank you very, very much - not just for your program, but for your vision in setting this up, for your leadership, and in making this exchange program into a successful program that it is today.
It is volunteering, and volunteers are a traditional part of what the Australian Government has been doing.
Our volunteer program goes back over 60 years, doesn’t it Paul?
One of the privileges that I have as part of being Minister for International Development and the Pacific is to travel overseas and just to see the different facets of how our overseas development assistance program, which is $3.8 billion per annum, is actually spent.
One of the most important things is our volunteers. We have volunteers from all walks of life, all ages. They range from very young, 18, right through to 80, doing all sorts of things in all sorts of different positions all over the world.
They are accountants; they can be doctors; they can be engineers; they can be teachers; they can be plumbers; they can be doing all sorts of things from big cities and from small towns across Australia.
But the thing that they all have in common is that they are all ambassadors for Australia.
Their work is respected, they are valued; and as they go out into those communities, they are our ambassadors.
As Indigenous Australians, it is particularly important that this program recognises the unique contribution that these eight young people will make to our nation, and to help us to tell our nation’s story, and that is really very, very important - to pick up from Gary’s point - to tell our story as a nation.
Our support for the Classic Wallabies Indigenous Exchange initiative, through AVI, is part of our increasing opportunities and commitment to increasing opportunities for our Indigenous Australians to participate in our international development program.
This is a commitment that we take very, very seriously.
The very design of this program – a short-term, group placement, rather than a long-term, individual program – was the outcome of research that was commissioned to find out and to break down barriers to Indigenous participation in international volunteering.
The volunteers we are celebrating today are very impressive young people.
They have been selected not just for their very high achievement in academic studies, but for their leadership qualities demonstrated through their performance in sport, in community activities, or – in most cases with these young people – for both.
It is our hope that the opportunity that you will be afforded to work with ‘Eco Children’ will be of immense benefit - not just to you, but to the community and to your communities when you come back to Australia, and sharing with other young people your experiences and, most importantly, to encourage them to participate into the future.
Eco Children is a non-profit organisation; it has a very hands-on approach to environmental education and educational development in South Africa.
Along with the Mphaku Primary School community and Eco Children, you will work to establish gardens, refurbish classrooms so students can learn conservation and sustainability at the same time.
It will be officially opened during the last week of the Classic Wallabies Indigenous Exchange program and we look forward to seeing the pictures and hearing your stories and your experiences.
Can I just say having also visited South Africa recently, your point, Gary, is a very valid one and I am sure that you will see parallels, you will also see differences, but whatever that you will do, you will benefit from this wonderful experience.
Can I conclude by wishing you all the very, very best; have a wonderful time and we look forward to welcoming you home with all your wonderful stories.
Thank you very, very much.
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