Looking to the future, 2015 is already shaping up to be a busy year. We are hoping to continue our busy program of high-level bilateral visits. Another highlight will be welcoming the first group of Australian students to Cambodia through the New Colombo Plan’
In 26 January each year, Australians celebrate Australia Day. It is an opportunity for our diverse country to think about where we have come from and where we are all heading. Here in Cambodia, it is also an opportunity to reflect on Australia’s relationship with Cambodia and to celebrate with our friends and counterparts.
Over the past year, Australia’s relationship with Cambodia has continued to strengthen. Our Prime Ministers met in Myanmar in November. And Cambodia hosted a number of visits by senior Australian Ministers, including our Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, in February.
We have worked closely together on a number of important issues. Our police and immigration departments and defence forces have supported each other to fight transnational crime, including people smuggling, terrorism, child abuse and drug trafficking. We also worked with Cambodia to develop a refugee settlement program under the bilateral memorandum of understanding signed last year. We have had frank discussions on human rights, electoral reform and sustainable development. And together we supported initiatives on malaria and disaster risk reduction through the East Asia Summit.
Alongside these complex, and often challenging issues, our joint celebration of 2014 as the 40th anniversary of Australia-ASEAN relations was a highlight. In Phnom Penh, we hosted events with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace to mark the anniversary, and reflect on Australia’s close and longstanding relationship with our region. At the ASEAN-Australia 40th Anniversary Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, moreover, leaders agreed to elevate Australia’s relationship with ASEAN to the strategic partnership level, and to hold regular future summits. We are proud to be in the highest group of ASEAN’s external partners, along with our friends from China, Japan, Korea and India.
But that was not the only anniversary. In 2014, we also celebrated the 20th year of our scholarships program in Cambodia. I enjoyed meeting more of the 500 Australia Award alumni, and learning more about the impact they have made in Cambodia.
Of course scholarships are only part of our development assistance to Cambodia. In 2014, Australia funded vital infrastructure, supported Cambodian farmers and helped improve the delivery of health services. We also supported land-mine clearance and worked closely with the Cambodian Government to tackle violence against women, and to promote justice.
Australian companies also continued to make a significant contribution to Cambodia’s development. On the back of increasing garment imports, tourism and Cambodian students travelling to Australia, our two-way trade grew to over US$300 million in 2013–14.
Looking to the future, 2015 is already shaping up to be a busy year. We are hoping to continue our busy program of high-level bilateral visits. Another highlight will be welcoming the first group of Australian students to Cambodia through the New Colombo Plan.
Under the original Colombo Plan in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, tens of thousands of students from across Asia, including Cambodia, received scholarships to study in Australia. The scheme is fondly remembered in Australia and across the region. For many Australians it was an opportunity to study alongside people from all across Asia—many of whom went on to become leaders in their home countries.
Under the New Colombo Plan, the Australian Government is supporting more Australian students to study throughout Asia and the Pacific. Cambodia is a popular destination. In 2015, over 100 Australian students will come to Cambodia under the scheme. They will undertake projects including studying monkeys in Mondulkiri, teaching in Phnom Penh and researching soil science in Siem Reap.
By spending time here these students will gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia and the region—just as Cambodia’s Australia Award scholars learn more about Australia. They all help to build the close personal connections between Australia and Cambodia.
This is also what Australia Day in Cambodia is all about. Whatever your connection to Australia—expat, tourist, alumni, colleague or friend—I wish you all a happy Australia Day, and a safe and successful 2015.
Alison Burrows, Australian Ambassador to Cambodia.