Thank you, to you Permanent Secretary, to the Ambassadors, and to the many distinguished guests here today.

And of course to the ANU students; this is the next generation of ANU students, as opposed to the old generation of ANU students!

But thank you very, very much – a great university and I am very, very pleased to be one of its graduates.

I am very pleased to welcome you all here to the inaugural Australia-Myanmar Strategic Dialogue.

Can I congratulate the team from the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies led by you, Ambassador, and also by the team from the Australian National University and to you, Professor Wesley, for co-convening this important Strategic Dialogue.

A warm welcome to you all – a literal warm welcome to you all!

The Australian Government values the leadership that each of these institutes provides,  both here in Myanmar and of course Australia, in the study of international relations and foreign policy is very important.

This is my first trip to Myanmar and I am looking forward to, obviously, my formal meetings with Governments, and also launching of the 2017 High Level Consultations on Development Cooperation.

But also, getting out and about and seeing first-hand some of the work on the ground that our overseas development assistance is bringing and the benefits that we hope that it is bringing to the people of Myanmar.

This will include the teacher training at the Yankin Education College; we are going to an agricultural project at Maubin Township tomorrow, followed by this snake bite project which I am really looking forward to seeing – I hope I am not going to be asked to touch the snakes… and then some electoral support at the Union Election Commission.

Ladies and gentlemen, 2017 marks a truly fascinating point in Myanmar’s history, and it is a challenging stage in the development process.

The world has watched, over the last few years, as Myanmar’s political process has taken its first tentative steps from military rule to an emerging democracy.

These steps are never an easy process.

Wherever it emerges, democracy is a unique process and often comes from the ground up.

Myanmar’s new democratic approach and reforms demonstrates that its leaders have heeded their people’s desires for change and participation in an evolving global order.

In fact, we have all had to recognise and adapt to the fast growing economies and dynamic political shifts across the Indo-Pacific region.

For centuries, part of the world has been defined, in large part, by decisions on either side of the Atlantic.

In the last half-century or so, that power relationship has been put to one side, as countries from across the Indo-Pacific have asserted their independence, both politically and economically.

Given this context, Myanmar’s embrace of greater openness is an important step: one that is in tune with the times, and has the potential to benefit every citizen of this beautiful country.

The Australian Government is keen for Myanmar to succeed in its peace process, in its democratic development, and in its economic reform.

We see great potential for our two countries to draw closer, as we work together to promote a region that is open, stable, prosperous and, above all, peaceful.

This Dialogue is an opportunity to share our perspectives, to improve our understanding of one another, and to promote greater cooperation between our two nations.

It will help us define the next steps we can take together in pursuing our shared interests.

Now, one of the common grounds that is a particular passion of mine is cultural diversity.

Myanmar is a country that is a very diverse one.

We are in Australia one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth. 

We are an international and unique model for tolerance, respect, inclusion and integration. 

We are home to people from about 300 different nationalities.

We speak hundreds of different languages, including our own Indigenous languages.

Indeed, 20 per cent of Australians do not speak English at home.

And, per capita, we have one of the most generous humanitarian and immigration programmes in the world. 

Over the past 70 years, we have welcomed 7.5 million migrants to Australia, including 825,000 under our Humanitarian Programme.

Almost half of us were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.

Indeed, I am one of those; my parents migrated to Australia from Italy,  I was born in Australia, but the day that I went to school, I did not speak a word of English.

My heritage and my upbringing is a very common one in Australia today, as many, many children migrants have that same experience.

And we have welcomed people – we welcome every year people to our shores.

And we welcome about 190,000 people who move to Australia every year, which is a significant number for a country of 24 million people.

Our annual intake of humanitarian and refugee visas has risen from almost 14,000 to almost 17,000 and to almost 19,000 by 2018. 

In addition, we are progressing a permanent settlement of an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria and Iraq conflict.

And we are consistently ranked in the top three countries for permanent resettlement under UNHCR.

Now, this longstanding record is underpinned by Australia’s core values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In essence, opportunity for Australians to have, what we say, is a fair go.

And that has been an ethos that we have abided by.

We have created unity from our diversity.

Like Australia, as I said, Myanmar is a country with great ethnic diversity.

Your many ethnic groups and varied languages are an important part of your country’s past, of your present, and of your future.

That is not to say that cultural diversity is not without its challenges.

From decades of lived experience – and I have spent over 30 years involved in the multicultural space – what is today mainstream Australia.

We are here to support the Myanmar Government to build sustainable peace and unity in your diverse country.

We welcome your Government’s commitment to peace and reconciliation, building on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

We appreciate the Government’s continued efforts through dialogue to encourage armed organisations, which have not yet signed the Agreement to do so, and to join the formal talks with the Government.

We are pleased to support the peace process as a development partner and as Chair of the Joint Peace Fund – something I look forward to discussing in our high-level consultations on development on Wednesday.

We have been a good partner to Myanmar, and we will continue to be a good partner.

But good partnerships are the ones that are honest, and that are based on honesty.

We are deeply concerned by reports, and evidence, and allegations of abuses in north Rakhine State, as it is a violence, as we also are concerned about violence against Myanmar’s Government and security forces.

We are engaging and encouraging your Government to deal directly on these issues.

But we are doing so in private.

We are keen to know more and to assist where we can, including through the development program that we provide to both Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities.

We do not want this to be a barrier to closer ties between our two countries, nor do we view this in isolation from all the positive links between our two countries.

I hope we will discuss this issue too, and offer some thoughts that Governments can consider.

Australia maintains a significant program of development cooperation with Myanmar, supporting the Myanmar Government in areas, most predominately in education, inclusive economic growth, as well as peace and reconciliation.

Since Myanmar’s national elections, our defence ties have strengthened modestly, focused on non-combat related training, and English language skills.

Our law and security cooperation continues to further our mutual interests in preventing international trafficking of drugs and people.

This is an important element in our broader partnership on regional peace and security, which naturally is a frontline national interest for both our countries.

The Australian Government’s fundamental interest is Australia’s security and resilience.

In a maritime region undergoing so much change, working for peace and stability is a never-ending task.

For Australia, our alliance with the United States is a strategic cornerstone.

We also have a very close alliance with Japan, and we work closely with other countries in our region, notably Singapore.

Like other countries in the region, Australia is paying close attention to developments in the South China Sea.

We urge Beijing to use its increasing influence in international affairs to support the international rules and norms that have served us so well.

We encourage the countries concerned to resolve disputes peacefully, in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Regional responses, as individual countries and collectively, can shape China’s decisions about how it chooses to pursue its strategic goals.

This is one reason why Australia believes a strong and unified Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN, is so vitally important.

As we mark its 50th anniversary, we recognise the critical contribution ASEAN has made to peace and stability, which has been characterised by close consultation and cooperation.

ASEAN is at the centre of the East Asia Summit, where leaders of some of the world’s major powers discuss strategic challenges.

Last year, Australia and Myanmar worked closely together in the East Asia Summit, and led the adoption of a Leaders’ Statement on Non-Proliferation.

The important work that we do together in the Summit is supported by our practical cooperation on security issues in the ASEAN Regional Forum.

ASEAN’s centrality in the region’s diplomatic architecture gives the Association a unique responsibility.

Australia and many other nations look to ASEAN to reinforce a stable, rules-based order that protects the interests of all states, large and small.

We are also keen to have our own voice heard, and to support ASEAN’s work.

Australia is part of the South East Asia neighbourhood.

That is why we appointed a resident Ambassador to ASEAN in 2013.

ASEAN agreed to elevate our relationship to a Strategic Partner in 2014.

In 2016, we began our biannual Australia-ASEAN summits.

Australia is grateful for Myanmar’s assistance, as our ASEAN country coordinator, 2016 to 2018.

We appreciate Myanmar hosting the officials level ASEAN – Australia Forum in Nay Pyi Taw last week.

Next year, in 2018, we will host the Australia-ASEAN summit in my home town of Sydney.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looks forward to welcoming State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to this important summit. 

There, we intend to showcase the importance of relations between ASEAN and Australia, and to deliver specific outcomes on trade and security.

Education and cultural ties between our nations are an important element of our relationship.

More than 30,000 Australians were born in Myanmar.

An increasing number of Australians are visiting Myanmar as tourists – we had around 17,000 in 2015.

A growing number of Myanmar students, more than 1,000 in 2015, are undertaking studies in Australia.

And having spent many years in the multicultural space, I have had the opportunity to have a direct link with the Myanmar diaspora and whilst the official figure is of 30,000, by the time you take the first and the second and potentially the third generation, we are talking the size of a diaspora of probably around 60-65,000 people.

The Australian Government funded 89 of the – we were talking about the growing number of students – we funded 89 of these students through the Australia Awards program, and three through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

We know that agricultural is so vitally important to the relationship between our two countries.

The private sector, of course continues to be the most important driver of economic growth that helps any country to prosper.

Nine out of ten jobs come from the private sector.

Australia has found that attracting international trade and investment has helped us to make the most of our natural resources.

We also know that our companies trading and investing here benefit both our countries.

There are significant opportunities for Australian companies in Myanmar as investors, and as suppliers of goods, services and technology – in resources, infrastructure, food manufacturing and agriculture.

For example, Myanmar’s health industry may benefit from further engagement with Australian service providers.

Australian investment to date, notably Woodside in offshore oil and gas – Woodside are everywhere as I travel around the world, so I am seeing them everywhere – and ANZ – of course I am also seeing ANZ predominately in the Indo-Pacific area – in the financial sector, and you have helped generate jobs and, through competition, productivity here.

Can I also add that one of the things that I have seen – and I believe that this will happen, as the transition takes momentum and gathers momentum – I think that you will increasingly find your diasporas around the world will also form very, very important people-to-people links that will often form the basis of the trade between those two countries.

I have found myself, from an Italian background, and the backbone of the relationship between Australia and Italy, has been the Italo-Australian community, because they are the traders.

They are the people that are often the dual citizens; they are the ones that have that vested interest, that passion, to develop the relationship.

So I am sure that that is going to happen between your diaspora in Australia and those doing business here in Myanmar.

The Government of Myanmar’s new regulations to improve the conditions for business and investment are important steps.

Business here can also benefit from timely approvals, such as for environmental safeguards, and tax laws being applied in a consistent and more predictable way.

Before concluding, I would like to highlight that the key ingredient for regional peace is mutual understanding.

One of the foundations for understanding between nations is represented by the International Agreement on Human Rights.

We greatly value Myanmar’s support with respect to our candidacy for the United Nations’ Human Rights Council for the term 2018 to 2020.

If elected, we will work with the Council members, other nations, and civil society to ensure the Council itself is strong and an effective institution, well placed to meet the complexity of global human rights challenges, particularly gender equality.

Now, we are going to focus on five themes, each representing an area that we believe requires global attention and where Australia has a proven experience and can play a constructive role.

One of these is gender equality and women’s empowerment, because we believe that when you empower a woman, you empower her family, you empower her community, and ultimately you empower her nation.

We will look to back up our words with practical assistance, through respectful partnerships, based on understanding of the complex local situations in question.

Nations, too, must work to understand one another.

At the moment, we are preparing a Foreign Policy White Paper, to be delivered in September, to guide Australia’s international engagement over the next ten years.

I expect that this will provide a strong basis for ongoing engagement with the region, including our relationship with Myanmar.

Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, Myanmar’s transformation is a great news story in a region full of progress and promise.

For Australia’s part, we are truly pleased to be part of that transformation, to see it up close, to be part of it in places, to contribute to its success.

I encourage you all to make the most of this opportunity to understand what more Australia and Myanmar can do to achieve peace and prosperity for our peoples, our nation and our region.

Can I once again commend you for the efforts in building this important relationship here today, and thank you for your very kind attention.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555