I last wrote in these pages about the long history of cooperation between Australia and the Philippines in March 2014. It is amazing that we will be celebrating the 70th year of our bilateral relations next year. This is a testimony to the deepening friendship between our nations based on common interests and shared challenges.
The first Australian Consulate-General opened in Manila in 1946. The Philippines was just being recognised as an independent republic. Australia has stood committed throughout the decades to assist the Philippines as it embarked on a journey of nation-building.
Nowadays, Australia and the Philippines enjoy a mature relationship. It is a partnership founded on reciprocity and a mutual desire for learning and cooperation. It encompasses a spectrum of engagements.
In short, we have together fostered a partnership of equals.
Education has always been a staple feature of our bilateral relations since the Colombo Plan in the 1950s. Back then, young Filipinos were given opportunities to study in Australia to enhance the knowledge and networks that they could bring back home. Today, the New Colombo Plan enables young Australian scholars to live and study in the Philippines and gain better understanding of the region. The Philippines as a host country offers valuable learning opportunities in culture and politics. We now enjoy a two-way flow of students learning from and contributing to our countries. My only regret is that nothing like the New Colombo Plan was available when my wife, our sons and I were in our student years. What a wonderful, enriching experience that would have been.
We are also seeing an increasing number of our Australian universities partnering with Philippine universities. Whereas before scholarship programs were limited to education in Australia, we now see joint delivery of post-graduate programs in education studies, industrial relations, civil engineering, and project management. Two research centers in Manila are being co-managed by Australian and Philippine academics. These partnerships facilitate research collaboration and faculty and student exchanges, generating an enormous wealth of knowledge.
In many occasions, the Philippines’ Department of Education has recognised Australia as a ‘partner of choice’ in development cooperation related to primary and secondary education. This recognition is premised on an approach through which we listen and demonstrate a genuine interest to work together as partners. We work as equals in achieving better education outcomes.
Our engagements as equals extend to policy dialogue. Within the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Area Economic Co-operation Work Program, an exchange program was jointly established to accredit institutions that will allow Australian and Philippine public education agencies together to develop a robust qualifications framework in the Philippines. This potentially increases mobility opportunities for students and labor within the Asia-Pacific region.
A matured relationship is also about clearly expressing the expectations we have of each other. Our aid investment plans provide a clear articulation of mutual obligations. This is not about the imposition of conditions but a candid conversation about joint commitments.
We also see a growing demand for twinning arrangements between public and private organisations in our two countries. Our Australia Awards Fellowships program was instrumental in linking the Philippines Civil Service Commission with the Australian Public Service. Other linkages have been established in health, gender, and disasterrisk reduction.
Both no stranger to disasters, Australia and the Philippines are also learning from each other about approaches to making communities safer and more resilient. Geoscience Australia works closely with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the technical agencies not only to analyse hazards but also to understand and communicate the risks. Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) collaborates with the Philippines’ Department of Interior and Local Government to enhance the structural resilience of local public facilities. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology previously worked with the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration in strengthening its tropical cyclone forecasting . In turn, Australian agencies learning on hazards and risks in the Philippines are now contributing to the development of regional risk analysis and modelling.
Our Australian Volunteers for International Development Program has also come a long way. Over 400 Australian volunteers have been mobilised to the Philippines in the last 15 years. Philippine host communities benefit from Australian volunteers’ expertise in health, education and human rights. At the same time, the lives of our volunteers have been deeply enriched in return. They complete their assignments invigorated by what they have learned and experienced as they build enduring linkages with the communities they have served.
These collaborations allow us to leverage knowledge, ideas and capabilities between our two countries. Even more importantly, they engender lifelong people-to-people links that allow us to learn from each other.
It is indeed an exciting time as I look forward to many more decades of positive cooperation between our two nations.
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(Bill Tweddell is the Ambassador of Australia.)