Charting our future together: Australia-Philippine relations

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson - The Philippine Star

Australia places great importance on our longstanding bilateral relationship with the Philippines. It was important to both our countries that amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia and the Philippines held the fifth Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) virtually this week.

This brought together Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, and Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Dan Tehan MP with their Philippine counterparts, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Hon Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Secretary of Trade and Industry, the Hon Ramon Lopez.

The PAMM is a strategic dialogue that charts the direction of, and sets out a vision for, our bilateral relationship. The PAMM began as the Philippines-Australia Dialogue in 1997; it has evolved over time to a Joint Ministerial Meeting. This high-level forum provides an opportunity for our ministers – department secretaries for the Philippines – to discuss with their counterparts various initiatives and activities that would further strengthen the comprehensive partnership we have with the Philippines.

This year the PAMM marked and celebrated the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Australia.

As regular readers of this column will be aware, Australia’s relationship with the Philippines over the last 75 years has developed into a wide-ranging friendship based around strong political, economic, defence, security, development and education partnerships. These partnerships are underpinned by strong people-to-people links that continue to grow. The PAMM provided the opportunity to continue this cooperation and commit to strengthening our bilateral relationship.

During the PAMM, our foreign and trade ministers and secretaries agreed to an ambitious program for increased collaboration and to work towards an Australia-Philippines Strategic Partnership in the future. I am looking forward to working with our Philippine friends to take forward this exciting agenda.

An important part of this work involves building on Australia’s longstanding and extensive development cooperation with the Philippines, which we have targeted to strengthen health security through support for COVID-19 response and recovery. This includes assistance with vaccine procurement, delivery support and the provision of technical assistance.  During the PAMM, Foreign Minister Payne announced that Australia would immediately provide oxygen concentrators to the Philippines.  These will arrive tomorrow and I intend to be there to hand over this critical support to our partners at the Department of Health.  This is our mateship and bayanihan in action.

Australia will also continue to support peacebuilding efforts in Muslim Mindanao – we are committed to seeing stability in the southern Philippines. As part of this commitment, I was in Marawi City just two weeks ago to see how reconstruction is progressing. I discussed with our partners how best Australia can help respond to the current needs on the ground and to see how Australian support is helping rebuild communities and promoting peace and stability.

The PAMM recognized the importance of an economic-led recovery from the pandemic and agreed on steps to further enhance our current commercial engagement. There are already over 300 Australian companies in the Philippines employing around 44,000 Filipinos. Increasing our trade and investment will create jobs and enhance livelihoods in both our countries.

As I have touched on previously in this column, a key linkage between Australia and the Philippines has always been our people-to-people ties which have been increasing steadily over the past decade. The PAMM discussed how to build these further, including through working on a proposed work and holiday visa program.

At the PAMM, ministers and secretaries reaffirmed our countries´ vision for a secure, free and prosperous Indo-Pacific, underpinned by ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN principles of openness, transparency, inclusivity and respect for international law. They highlighted the importance of our defence, law enforcement and counter-terrorism cooperation in addressing traditional and non-traditional security threats, including transnational crime.

In the area of maritime security, our ministers and secretaries reiterated the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight and that all disputes should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They reaffirmed the final and legally binding nature of the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award.

As close friends and partners, Australia and the Philippines have reaffirmed these areas of interest and will work closely to respond to the challenges of our current times. I’m excited to work to progress the outcomes of the PAMM and continue building our relationship.

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

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