Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
I am honoured and delighted to speak to you this evening as the Chair of the new Council for Australian-Arab Relations.
You may recall that on 30 December 2002, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer and the Minister for Trade Mark Vaile announced the establishment of the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) with a view to strengthening ties and understanding between Australia and Arab countries. The formation of the Council is a significant initiative by the Federal Government: one which recognises the importance of a strong relationship between Australia and the Arab World. The Government has sent a clear message: Australia values the contribution of our Arab communities, and our relations with Arab countries are important to the national interest.
The decision to establish the Council is not a sudden or recent one. It had its genesis- almost three years ago - in a submission by the Australian Arabic Council to the Government's Inquiry into Australia's relations with the Middle East. That submission reflected the AAC's energy and commitment to building Australian-Arab relations, and was the main catalyst in the formation of CAAR. I applaud you in that effort.
The title of your submission - The Time is Right - has even more resonance today. There is now an urgent need to be active in encouraging dialogue between our regions. As Chairman, I will be focusing on creating a better understanding and appreciation among Australians of the extraordinarily rich and diverse Arab culture. At the same time, through the Council, we will make Australia and Australians better known and understood in the Arab world.
We have an excellent team on the Council to make this happen. I can see some fellow Council members here tonight - my friend Roland Jabbour, Fred Shahin and others. I am very conscious though that there are no women on the Council at present and I want to assure you that as Chairman, I will be looking seriously for women to join in the future.
I would like to see the Council for Australian-Arab Relations working to build greater understanding, trust and goodwill between Australia and Arab countries, and I hope this in turn increases Australian interest in tourism, trade and commerce across the Middle East and North Africa.
As a Council, we will work to realise the significant potential and mutual benefits that can be delivered through a closer working partnership between Australia and the Arab World. I propose to visit Arab countries in April to announce the formation of the Council, to outline its aims and objectives and to discuss future activities for the Council.
The Council's purpose is to advance Australia's national interest by enhancing our economic, political, social and cultural relations with Arab countries.
Some of our key objectives will be to:
- influence corporate Australia and assist in developing government policies to achieve this mission;
- lift the profile of Arab countries in Australia, and the profile of Australia in Arab countries;
- support Australia's broader diplomatic objectives in the Arab world; and
- promote understanding of each others' history, culture, religion and politics.
Supported by the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Council will pursue its objectives through a program of activities which will include: developing institutional links with academic, cultural and other bodies; business, academic and youth exchanges; promotion of Arabic language studies in Australia; media exchanges; and visits to and from the region.
The Council will consult widely as we develop a business plan of activities, and in this process we will encourage contributions from the Australian-Arab communities as well as from across the Arab World.
I see the Council working in partnership with other existing organisations that share our vision and goals, and which are already doing excellent work in the region. Our hosts this evening: the AACCI and the AAC (our sponsors this evening) are two such organisations. We will seek corporate sponsorship for our work and we will encourage large Australian companies to support and participate in our activities.
I have heard a great deal about the AAC's energy and commitment to building relations between Australia and Arab countries, and in this regard you have already established a sound benchmark. As Chairman of CAAR, I look forward to working with the AAC- in breaking new ground in Australian-Arab relations. Thank you.