Thank you Sheona and congratulations, that is very well done, you obviously do this very often, isn’t she very good?

Can I start by also adding my acknowledgement of country.

Can I acknowledge: Rhonda Piggott, our Director of the New South Wales Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office; members of the diplomatic corps, Australia Awards scholars, New Colombo Plan alumni ambassadors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s wonderful to be here to welcome our new Australia Awards scholars and also to bid farewell and good luck to our soon-to-be-departing Australia Awards and Australia Awards-Endeavour graduates.

Here in New South Wales there are currently over 600 Australia Awards Scholars from 44 countries, studying in 11 tertiary institutions.

It is wonderful that we have scholars from all of these institutions here today.

I am particularly pleased to see such a strong representation from the University of Wollongong, all of the ones from the University of Wollongong? [Members of the audience cheer] Okay, of course, it is one of the anchors of my hometown community.

I look forward to hearing about more of your experiences in Australia. I am so glad that you could have them here and it’s a pleasure for you to join us here this afternoon for this wonderful celebration. You are a remarkable group of scholars.

You are diverse, you are high-achieving, you are also adventurous. Your stories and achievements are no doubt inspiring, especially to those in your own countries.

We value your commitment to education, to success, and to advancing your country and your communities on your return home.

The Australian Government is very proud of our Australia Awards community. It has a history of great success.
And we are confident you will continue that tradition of achievement by doing great things with this opportunity.

This program is a vital part of Australia’s engagement with the world.

Our Australia Awards are about people. People meeting each other, learning from each other and understanding more about each other’s communities and countries.

Congratulations on being selected from tens of thousands of applicants. What set you apart from those others were your academic and leadership potential and your commitment to make a difference.

We encourage and support your aspirations to make that difference and to develop the potential in others to do the same.

While everyone’s journey is different, one important thing that you all share is an understanding that education is a powerful connector — to opportunity, to new friendships, to lifelong networks, but above all to a positive future.

International education exchange is also important to Australia’s future.

Last year we launched our Foreign Policy White Paper.

The White Paper highlights the importance Australia places on education, on training and research exchanges – including through our Australia Awards.

Educational exchange is important because it builds mutual understanding, knowledge and links between people, institutions and countries.

And that’s why Australian governments have supported the education of emerging leaders from countries around the world for more than 60 years.

Since the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, around 90,000 men and women have received an Australian Government scholarship to study in Australia.

Last year, I was in Sri Lanka and the first Colombo Plan Scholar and the second Colombo Plan scholar, both from Sri Lanka, were there at a function and I have to say it truly was a wonderful moment.

We must have some people here, anyone here from Sri Lanka? Yes, okay great! You’re following in very good footsteps.

The immense value of educational exchange is also why we launched our New Colombo Plan in 2013.

The New Colombo Plan is helping young Australians to learn more about countries in our Indo-Pacific region, by living, studying and gaining valuable work experience in those countries.

We are delighted to have here this afternoon one of our New Colombo Plan Alumni Ambassadors, Ruby Bhave.

Ruby studied and interned in Korea and Indonesia as a New Colombo Plan scholar.

If you’ve just arrived, we encourage you to meet with the New Colombo Plan students at your universities – before and after they go to your countries.

For those departing Australia, we would love you to connect with New Colombo Plan scholars and students as they pass through your homeland.

To our recently arrived Australia Awards scholars, we wish you all the best with your studies here in New South Wales.

I am sure it will be a very exciting and stimulating time for you – possibly even daunting at times.

But there is plenty of support available to help you navigate your Australia Awards journey. First and foremost, your university or educational institution is here to assist you.

And keep a look out for chances to extend yourself - there are many of those.

Can I particularly mention to our Pacific friends about the Australia Awards Women’s Leadership Initiative.

This initiative—which is open to men as well as women —is helping to build the capacity of Australia Awards scholars and alumni from the Pacific to fulfil their leadership potential, to drive big ideas and reforms, and forge lasting connections with leaders in Australia.

As new arrivals, you will no doubt be spending a lot of time going to class and studying hard.

But remember that some of your most abiding experiences in Australia will be outside the classroom. They will come from the people you meet, the friends you make and the opportunities that you choose to take up.

While you are here, please take time to learn about one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world—the indigenous people of Australia.

Their culture is rich and strong and is a fundamental part of our national identity.

Australia is also ethnically diverse—you will meet people from heritages from all over the globe.

Since World War II Australia has grown by 7.5 million migrants to Australia, including about 850,000 under our humanitarian program.

And we have people from just about every country in the world.

And you might be walking along one day in the street and suddenly hear your language and that is the wonderful thing that makes Australia one of the most diverse yet socially cohesive nations on earth.

You will never run out of things to see or do in New South Wales.

We have many iconic experiences.

You may have already gone to have a look at the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now they are going to double the climbs on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so you’ll have to do that while you’re here as well.

But there is a lot to do, in particular the beautiful beaches, particularly if you get the opportunity come up to my neck of the woods on the northern beaches of Sydney, which is an absolutely amazing place.

The beautiful national parks close to Sydney, near the Blue Mountains, and also our world-class art galleries, including the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Can I also recommend the Australian Museum? Particularly to our Pacific friends it has one of the best Pacific collections in our region and indeed the world.

And of course there’s sport—lots of sport – Australians love to play sport. Whether it’s in the water, on the netball court, on the football field, there is just so much to do.

So get involved, join a club, on campus or in your community to meet our friendly locals, and make the most of your time in this unique part of the world.

For those of you who are about to complete your scholarship, a very heart-felt congratulations!

Your journey may have been challenging and you have undoubtedly made sacrifices, but your hard work and determination has paid off.

You should be very proud of what you have achieved. We know your family and friends will also be incredibly proud of your success here in Australia and in your own country.

You will become a role model to many in your own community, and we hope your success will inspire them to seek out opportunities to learn and grow, including through our Australia Awards.

You are all now part of one of our most prestigious groups —the Australia Global Alumni.

You are joining a community of 2.5 million students who have studied in Australia.

Many Australia Awards scholars have gone on to become leaders in their fields, their communities and their government, including as Prime Ministers, ministers, senior public servants and business leaders in their country, just to name a few.

Our Australia Awards alumni have made incredible contributions to the development of their countries in areas such as disability-inclusion, education, innovative technologies, women’s economic empowerment and medical research, just to name a few.

We welcome their continued connections with Australia. We have been following the careers and achievements of our alumni through the Australia Awards Global Tracer Facility.

This Facility is providing evidence that the skills, knowledge and networks that our Australia Awards scholars acquired in Australia are contributing to sustainable development in their own countries.

Connecting with this Alumni community will help nurture and strengthen and continue your links with Australia.

We invite you to join the Australia Global Alumni LinkedIn. We’d love for you, not only to continue your stories, but to share your stories with others.

When you return home, please stay in touch with the Australian Embassy or High Commission representative in your country. They offer opportunities for alumni to attend events and activities.

Indeed, one of the highlights of my trips when I go overseas is the function that I usually have with Australian alumni and New Colombo Plan scholars who might be there and our volunteers in the country.

It is always the fun part of a lot of my trips.

Now, finally, to all the scholars here today— to those to whom we are sadly to say goodbye and those who have recently arrived on our shores—we are grateful that you have chosen Australia to be part of your personal and professional journey.

We trust this is the beginning of a wonderful, enduring friendship between you and Australia.

Thank you for your kind attention.

And I would now like to introduce you to the Australia Global Alumni through a short video.

Thank you.

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