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Australians mourn King Father’s passing

Australian Ambassador Penny Richards
Australian Ambassador Penny Richards

Australia Day is an occasion on which we reflect on the events of the past year and look forward to the challenges of the coming year.

Cambodians are currently mourning the death of the King Father, His Majesty Norodom Sihanouk. Prime Minister Gillard visited the Royal Palace on 19 November 2012 to express her condolences to Her Majesty the Queen Mother NorodomMonineath and His Majesty the King NorodomSihamoni upon the death of His Majesty the King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

The King Father was a towering figure in Cambodian history: he oversaw Cambodia’s independence and its development as a modern state.  He played a significant role in global and regional relations. He was integral to the negotiation of the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1991.

The King Father’s death reminds us of the warm historical ties between Australia and Cambodia. Australia’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gareth Evans, worked closely with the King Father and other Cambodian leaders to draft the Accords.  Australian General John Sanderson led the military component of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), which oversaw the election of a new National Assembly in 1993 and the promulgation of Cambodia’s current constitution.  Since then Australia has assisted Cambodia’s development in many fields.

Cambodia’s role as Chair of ASEAN in 2012 provided the impetus for a higher pace of activity in Australia Cambodia bilateral relations and regional cooperation. Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Bob Carr, visited Cambodia twice, in March and again in July. His visits highlighted the work Australia is doing to support Cambodia’s health sector, especially through our midwifery program, the avoidable blindness initiative and the anti-drug resistant malaria initiative we are progressing through the East Asia Summit. 

His visits underlined our cooperation with APSARA and UNESCO to build a sound framework for managing Cambodia’s cultural heritage, in particular growing tourism flows to the Angkor World Heritage Park. Senator Carr also reinforced Australia’s support for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, to which Australia has been the second largest donor, emphasising the importance of judicial independence.  

Australia’s Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson MP, also visited Cambodia twice, in August and again in November. As one of ASEAN’s six free trade agreement partners, Australia has joined negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which were launched in Phnom Penh in November. 

Australia will work with Cambodia and other partners to conclude a comprehensive, high quality agreement which will further deepen regional economic integration and trade liberalisation.

Dr Emerson is also Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy. Australia’s White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century sets out a blueprint for further deepening Australia’s already strong engagement with Asia, including through business, education and people-to-people links with Cambodia and other Asian countries.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard attended the East Asia Summit Leaders’ Meeting chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen in November. Australia considers the East Asia Summit to be the premier forum for discussion of political and security issues affecting our region. We were pleased that Leaders were able to engage each other in frank discussions with no issues off the table. Australia will also work closely with other EAS members to take forward practical cooperation in key areas: finance; education; energy and environment; disaster management; and pandemic diseases.

In her public remarks, Prime Minister Gillard acknowledged that Cambodia had made a great deal of progress on human rights since the days of the Khmer Rouge but said that more needed to be done, with a focus on extrajudicial killings, land disputes, electoral reform and freedom of speech.

Looking forward to next year, we will mark the 20th anniversary since the 1993 general election supervised by UNTAC, the military component of which was led by Australian General John Sanderson. In the context of the July 2013 National Assembly elections it will be important for Cambodia to defend and implement the rights enshrined in its 1993 Constitution, including the rights of freedom of assembly, association and speech.

Throughout 2013 Australia will continue to work with Cambodia in many fields: reducing poverty, promoting regional security and fighting transnational crime. We will strengthen our people-to-people links through our scholarship and volunteers program.  I would like to thank all our partners, both Cambodian and international, for your ongoing contribution to and support for those goals.

I would like to wish everyone a happy Australia Day, and a safe and successful 2013.

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