Zacki Jabbar, in The Island, 18 February 2016
Australia is to give a boost to the Sri Lankan private sector by assisting in the creation of jobs. The Australian High Commissioner Robyn Mudie who concluded her stint in Sri Lanka recently, in an interview with The Island prior to her departure said that trade in services was where she saw the real breakthrough taking place, particularly in tourism and education. In the future, “Australian development cooperation will be used to help create job opportunities in the private sector for unemployed women and men”, she revealed adding that her government would continue to support women’s economic empowerment through better access to training and work as well as by helping to tackle gender based violence, which would not only address inequality but generate significant economic and social dividends.Excerpts of the interview
Q – How would you assess the state of bilateral relations between Australia and Sri Lanka?
A – Over the last four years, it has been reaffirmed to me time and again that Australia and Sri Lanka are more than just partners, we are both friends and partners. Our close relationship is based on strong historical ties, shared values, shared membership of the Indian Ocean region, shared love of cricket and other sports and perhaps most importantly, shared understanding and engagement between people across many fields.
On many occasions I have spoken about the core elements of the relationship, which include robust political dialogue, support for reconciliation, strong cooperation in combating people smuggling, growing trade and investment cooperation, enduring ties formed through education exchange, shared membership of IORA and the Commonwealth and many other areas.We, finished up 2015 with the inaugural session of Senior Officials Talks which is an important development in our relationship. I, feel very confident that this connection will continue to go from strength to strength in the coming years.
Q – What are the prospects for improving investment, trade and tourism ties?
A – This is a particularly exciting time for Sri Lanka’s economy and a number of Australian companies are exploring opportunities for trade and investment here.There are many opportunities in areas such as agribusiness, hospitality and tourism and infrastructure, not to mention the booming trade in education, with 6000 Sri Lankan students in Australia.
Over the past year, two-way trade grew by 9.5 percent and now exceeds 900 million Australian dollars, and we’re aiming to reach $1 billion in the next few years. Sri Lanka’s traditional trade in tea, textiles and other primary products to Australia and Australia’s exports of dairy and pulses to Sri Lanka continue to grow. But it is trade in services where I see the real breakthroughs taking place, particularly in tourism and education. Our investment relationship also holds much promise, with one of our key objectives in coming years to see new investments in areas such as agribusiness, infrastructure and education.
These figures will continue to improve as Sri Lanka’s economy grows and diversifies and the government works to implement its economic reform agenda.Australian business will look with increasing interest at Sri Lanka as progress is made to improve governance, transparency and access for foreign investors and traders.
Q – What has Australia’s contribution been to post war reconstruction and rehabilitation in Sri Lanka and future plans if any?
A –We have contributed to reconciliation efforts since 2009 by providing more than 250 million Australian dollars in development cooperation encompassing substantial support for reconstruction in conflict affected areas. Australia has helped to de-mine large parcels of land in the north and east, to construct roads, bridges, and economic infrastructure such as market places.We, have helped thousands of families to build new homes and to start new small businesses.Australia has also supported local governments to re-establish the delivery of fundamental services and to generate new sources of revenue.We’ve partnered with local organisations which are providing much needed disability and psycho-social support and with international organisations such as The Asia Foundation which is helping to develop the bi-lingual capability and legal unit within the Northern Provincial Council.Australia has contributed technical support to the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs for the development of a resettlement action plan and have offered our expertise and experience in other areas to the national government.
In the future, Australian development cooperation will be used to help create job opportunities in the private sector for unemployed women and men. We,will continue to support women’s economic empowerment through better access to training and work as well as by helping to tackle gender-based violence,which will not only address inequality but generate significant economic and social dividends.
As the Sri Lankan economy continues to grow, opportunities for greater two-way trade and investment will also increase.The combination of development cooperation and increasing trade with Australia will help Sri Lanka to continue to develop as a secure and stable country where growing prosperity can be shared by all its people.
Australia has a long-standing partnership with Sri Lanka and the relationship is a long-term priority for us.We,will continue to encourage the Sri Lankan Government to maintain its commendable commitment to democratic reform, good governance and reconciliation, and to support these agendas through practical contributions where we can.
Q –How successful have your efforts been in combating human smuggling?
A –Measures under Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders Policy that includes offshore processing, turnbacks and temporary visas have successfully stopped people smuggling to Australia, from Sri Lanka and other countries in 2014 and 2015. Every attempted Sri Lankan boat venture to Australia failed as a result of these measures and our close cooperation with the Sri Lankan government. This success shows to both the people smugglers and potential customers that if you try to enter Australia illegally by boat, you will never be settled there. We will continue to work closely together to detect, disrupt and return people smuggling ventures.
Q – What would you say is your biggest achievement in your role as High Commissioner to Sri Lanka ?
A – I have been very proud to make my own contribution to Australia-Sri Lanka relations and to see us move from strength to strength in important areas of cooperation.In particular I have been very pleased to oversee the transition in our relationship from one government to the next. Australia has had a deep and positive partnership with Sri Lanka across successive governments and it has been very rewarding to see that maintained and strengthened even further in the past year.I have also been very pleased to make a positive contribution to the promotion of women’s economic empowerment in Sri Lanka, both through our development program and engagement with communities and stakeholders around the country.I, have always been impressed by the resilience and determination of Sri Lankan women, and men, to overcome challenges and build a positive future. I hope that my contact with communities has offered encouragement and support.
It has been a source of great pride to me to represent my country at a time when we have been able to support Sri Lanka as it tackles significant challenges such as economic development, economic reform and reconciliation. Well after my time Australia will continue to contribute where it can to these agendas. I, feel very confident that the relationship will continue to go from strength to strength in the coming years. My successor, Bryce Hutchesson, will bring fresh energy and vision for the next phase of our engagement in Sri Lanka and I know you will welcome him as you have done me. I, would also like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere appreciation to all those who have worked with me and offered their support, advice and insights over the past four years. I feel privileged to have known such a broad spectrum of people across government, business, civil society and the broader community.All of you have helped me to maintain and build on Australia’s strong relationship with Sri Lanka. My family and I have enjoyed a fascinating and rewarding time in Sri Lanka and will take many fond memories of this country and its people