Australia Day 2016: speech by Ambassador McCourt
- Honorable Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Representatives from Government, Parliament and political parties
- Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps
- Representatives of the business community, civil society, churches and international organisations
- Friends of Australia gathered here today
Thank you all for being here to celebrate Australia Day.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the presence of the Indian Ambassador. India and Australia share January 26 as our national day, and the Ambassador has graciously agreed to host his event tomorrow to ensure there was not a clash.
I would like to thank the Dzikwa Trust children for their beautiful rendition of the anthems. The Embassy is very pleased support the Trust though our small grants program.
I would like to also thank all the staff at the Embassy and Residence who have worked so hard to make today’s event a successful one. I’m very lucky that I have such an excellent team.
Every year on 26 January, Australians at home and abroad celebrate this day, not so much as to mark the arrival of the First Fleet into Botany Bay in 1788, but to celebrate the highly developed and multicultural nation we have become.
In doing so we particularly recall the special place of Australia’s indigenous people. It has become our tradition every time we have a major public meeting in Australia to acknowledge the indigenous inhabitants on whose lands we meet, and pay respect to them and their ancestors.
Now I know that every Ambassador likes to talk up the similarities and linkages with their host nation, but this is something that I truly believe.
I remember the first time I came to Zimbabwe, some 26 years ago, being struck by the geographical similarities between our two lands. I recognized the fauna, the landscape, the jacaranda blooms. We in Australia are also all too familiar with water shortages, the beating heat, and the effects of climate change. Our two economies are grounded in agriculture and mining.
But there is much more than just physical similarities connecting Zimbabwe and Australia – because our countries have strong people to people connections and we know, Minister, that it is these links that are the bedrock of good, strong, enduring bilateral ties.
There are around 1,400 Australians living here in Zimbabwe, many of whom are with us today. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank them, on behalf of the Government of Australia, for their contribution to the development of Zimbabwe, in many and varied ways.
There are also many Zimbabweans here doing a great job in ensuring the Australia-Zimbabwe relationship continues to deepen, including through their participation in groups such as the Zimbabwe Australia Alumni Association and the Zimbabwe Australia Business Council.
But there are a group of people who are not here who I would like, Minister, to acknowledge. That is the over 30,000 Zimbabweans who have made Australia their home.
Zimbabweans have thrived in Australia. Statistics show they have higher incomes, higher employment rates and higher education levels than the average Australian. I am proud that Shona and Ndbele are among the over 200 languages that are being spoken in Australia, as well, of course, as that distinctive Zimbabwean style of English.
As well as supporting these people to people linkages, the Embassy is also engaged with the government, and other stakeholders, in discussions about how we develop relations at an official level, including on how we can bring more Australian investment into Zimbabwe.
We do this by:
- encouraging respect for human rights, the rule of law and property rights;
- encouraging certainty and clarity of policies;
- encouraging the promotion of Zimbabwe as a competitive investment destination, and
- and encouraging implementation of the new Constitution;
Australians, on the whole, are a practical bunch, and our work in Zimbabwe has also had a very practical focus.
Our development cooperation program has delivered real, life-changing results for the people of Zimbabwe. For example, we have provided clean water and improved sanitation in major urban centres and smaller towns, and provided support to many thousands of small-scale farmers. We provide scholarships to increase skills, including in government offices, and we work with local NGOs on a range of projects, in urban and rural settings, to improve peoples’ lives.
Our small grants program has had a broad reach, supporting projects from Muzurabani to Hwange. One of the projects I am most proud of is our recent purchase of furniture for Harare hospital, enabling mothers to stay with their sick children - directly impacting on infant mortality.
We look forward to continuing to play our part in supporting the Zimbabwean people and society reach their full potential, economically, socially, and, even on the sporting field.
Indeed, while I may represent Australia here, probably the Australian most Zimbabwean’s know is national cricket coach, Dav Whatmore.
In conclusion, thank you again for joining us to celebrate Australia Day. Without further ado, I would like to propose a toast to the People and the President of Zimbabwe.
I would now like to invite the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honorable Edgar Mbwembwe to say a few words.