Celebrating Australia Day 2021

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2021 - 12:00am

Usually at this point in January, I would be preparing to host a large Australia Day event. Last year, we celebrated our national day with over 870 distinguished representatives from the Philippine government, the diplomatic corps, the business community and civil society in attendance.

This year, necessarily, we will be hosting a smaller, more constrained, COVID-safe event. Yet I’m as enthusiastic as ever about commemorating Australia’s national day today.

Many of my fellow citizens in Australia will also be planning celebrations that are appropriate for the times. This will mean there will be fewer extended family gatherings around a barbeque or visits to the beach with groups of friends.

Nevertheless, however my compatriots mark Australia Day, they will all reflect on the collective contribution those who have called our magnificent country home have made to creating the modern, dynamic, peaceful and prosperous Australia of today. Importantly, this includes our Indigenous People, whose knowledge and understanding as custodians of our unique and beautiful land is unparalleled.

Filipino-Australians, of whom there are well over 300,000, are the fifth largest diaspora in my country. Like many other immigrants, generations of Filipinos have been attracted to Australia by the opportunities it offers. But it is also clear that many Filipinos have been drawn to Australia because of the depth of the long-standing friendship between our countries.

Australia was one of the first countries to establish a diplomatic presence in the Philippines following the Second World War. This year marks the 75th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship – a significant milestone which I’m determined to honor with a series of events and initiatives which serve to showcase our strong partnership.

Two years ago this month I presented my credentials to President Duterte at Malacañang Palace. It has been an honor being Australia’s representative in the Philippines. Over this time, I’ve witnessed the way in which Filipinos and Australians are so at ease in each other’s company. I’m sure this stems from the value that we both place on relationships and mutual support, something akin to the Australian concept of mateship and the Filipino spirit of bayanihan.

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with the admiration I’ve expressed for the resilience of Australians and Filipinos as peoples who live in lands prone to natural disasters. Resilience is a characteristic we both firmly share.

Since we last celebrated Australia Day, our resilience has really been tested as never before. COVID-19 has impacted all of us in ways that were scarcely imaginable just one year ago.

Through this challenging time Australia and the Philippines have supported each other. I’ve been deeply impressed by the fortitude of Filipinos during the lockdowns, as I have for my own citizens as they experienced similar lockdowns across some cities in Australia.

I have been very pleased Australia was able to redirect our development assistance programs to reinforce the Philippine response to the pandemic. Moreover, as Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced in October last year, Australia has committed $500 million to support access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and to promote health security in the Indo-Pacific, including in the Philippines. This includes a $21-million contribution to the new ASEAN Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, which will help combat COVID-19 and prepare the region for future pandemics.

I was also pleased Australia contributed significantly and swiftly to the emergency response following Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses last year. Over P35 million worth of assistance went to support the people most directly impacted by the typhoons.

Looking ahead to a period of recovery from COVID, I’m confident the Australian tradition of mateship and the Filipino spirit of bayanihan will continue to form the bedrock of the support we provide to each other.

As we mark Australia Day and the 75th anniversary of the Australia-Philippines diplomatic relationship, I’m pleased that the strong personal bonds between our people, our education links, our defence and security collaboration and our trade and commercial ties remain key to the enduring vitality of our Comprehensive Partnership.

Australia Day 2021 won’t be the same as in years past, but it will be no less important. For there’s so much to celebrate about Australia and the friendships it has created the world over, particularly with the Philippines.

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Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH. To learn more about the 75th anniversary of the Australia-Philippines diplomatic relationship, visit mateshipandbayanihan.com.

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