What Australia Day means to me

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

Every country celebrates its national day in its own way. For Australia, at this time of year, it is summer and a time for holidays. So Australia Day celebrations tend to be relaxed and fun. Australians enjoy celebrating all the things we love about the country – the unique land, the lifestyle, the freedom and the people.

Australia Day for us is about recognising the contribution that every person makes to our modern and dynamic country. From our Indigenous People – who represent the world’s oldest continuing culture – to all those who have come to make Australia their new home.

 Filipinos are among the largest groups of new Australian citizens. Readers probably have a family member or friend who calls Australia their second home. They will know modern Australia as a nation that isn’t defined by race, religion or a particular culture, but by shared values. It is a country that celebrates democracy and freedom, promotes mutual respect and equality between men and women, and has steadfast respect for the rule of law. 

 I’m proud to say that thanks to the efforts of generations past and of my fellow citizens, we have created a harmonious, peaceful and prosperous society. In a world that’s going through conflict and tension I know that many people still see Australia as a land of hope and opportunity; and a land of rare natural beauty.

 This remains the case despite the devastating images you have seen of bushfires raging across several states in Australia. The scale of the fires is unprecedented and tragically, 28 people have lost their lives. Several thousand homes have been destroyed and the loss of animal life is hard to comprehend. 

 But we are a resilient and practical people. So you will have seen communities rallying together, volunteer fire fighters risking all, and people from all across the country – and indeed, the world, coming to help.

 I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Philippine government, the provinces and their cities, and the extraordinary number of Filipino people who have offered their support, prayers and well-wishes. Considering the many natural emergencies this country faces, including most recently the Taal Volcano eruption, it shows again to me the seemingly bottomless well of empathy and goodwill that the Filipino people have for Australia.

 Rebuilding will take time but the Australian Government’s response is comprehensive and it is undaunted by the task ahead. This has already included deploying thousands of Australian Defence Force personnel and reservists on the ground, releasing millions of dollars in emergency payments to families and communities, and millions in new funds to preserve wildlife habitat. 

 Many Filipinos have asked, what can they do directly to help. The answer is simply – please consider Australia as your next vacation destination: come to Australia! We are open for business and there is a vast continent to explore, most of it unaffected by the recent bushfires.

 Despite the bushfire-affected regions, many coastal towns, parks and beaches want more tourists. Indeed, one of the most powerful things that our overseas friends can do is to visit and support the recovery of beautiful towns.

 There are also vast parts of Australia completely unaffected by fires which want to see visitors enjoying the best experiences that Australia can offer. And with more direct flights to Australia, it’s no wonder that of all tourists from Southeast Asia, the fastest growth was from Filipino visitors in 2018-19.

 As we celebrate Australia Day and all the stories that have contributed to our nation, I invite you to see my country for yourself so that you can tell your own story of Australia.  

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(Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.  Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH.)

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