The Westin, Sydney


First of all can I just thank you very much for your kind invitation to join you here this evening.

This is a friendship that does go back 66 years. It’s a long marriage Prime Minister, in fact it’s one of those marriages that’s going into – way beyond Golden, we are almost at 70, at Platinum if my memory serves me correctly. But, what has been really interesting has been the exchange we have had at the recent high level visits. Taking heed of the comments I think that were made as part of the panel discussion, I am actually hoping to visit Laos this year. It’s in my forward program. (Applause)

 And I am sure my DFAT staff are all going to jump up and down and think oh my god what is the Minister saying and what is she doing.

 But I think we might actually, Ambassador, explore the opportunity of maybe taking a business delegation with us, and we might have a discussion with our trade minister and see if  that is at all possible, because as has been correctly said, 92 million dollars is not a lot between countries that have known each other for a long, long time and I think that the scope there is certainly possible for us to expand on that trade.

 Can I just say, Australia though, in what I do, particularly as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I am particularly focused on our Overseas Development Assistance, our aid and we continue to be very pleased in our support and to be assisting Laos across a number of different areas in the Aid for Trade, and some of the work that we have done in that space, and can I particularly congratulate the Government of Laos for it’s very ambitious target of wanting to graduate from least developed country status by 2020. Prime Minister, we wish you and your government all the very, very best and certainly in the work that we have tried to do particularly in our Aid for Trade, we continue to support you in those endeavours.

 On the education front, we have been very, very pleased to support our flagship basic education quality and access in Laos which has really assisted and supported the government of Laos to strengthen the national education system and provides targets in 66 districts in Laos particularly targeting disadvantaged young people.

 Again, on the human development side our scholarships and the support we have been pleased to give in that space, we hope, as the Foreign Minister said to me, AUSAID scholarships when we met in Canberra in November last year, AUSAID scholarships are really something that lots of people want, so we are very, very pleased about that.  But, of course we are also pleased with the fact that Colombo Plan students will be studying in Laos and we think that is very, very good.

Can I just touch on a couple of areas where I am particularly pleased about the relationship, and that is the work that’s done by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

 ACIAR has done quite a bit of work in Laos particularly in relation to Teak seedlings;  helping small land holders in terms of generating income, looking at fish passage technology to help overcome some of the man-made obstacles that fish find and problems that they find in terms of migration, and also looking at ways we can assist in terms of mechanical drilling – mechanical drill seeding.

 So, those things, also the work we are doing as part of the cooperation that we have with the Mekong River Commission – that Commission is very, very valued. So, there’s a lot there to work on, there’s a lot that we are doing together, but there is a lot more we can do together and I look forward to furthering those relationships and hopefully move forward to visiting Laos later this year. Thank you.