March 30, 2023, 7:53 am

Diplomatic correspondent

2023-01-26 02:50:29 BdST

Australia looks forward to strengthening defence co-op with Bangladesh: Envoy

Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer has said that his country is looking forward to strengthening our defence cooperation with Bangladesh to promote a secure, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. 

“We have established a Defence office in Bangladesh with a resident Defence Adviser to strengthen relationships between the defence forces of our two countries. This development was followed by Bangladesh’s participation in Indo-Pacific Endeavour, one of Australia’s key regional defence engagements, and Australia’s participation in Bangladesh’s International Fleet Review in 2022,” he said.

In a message on the occasion of Australia Day 2023 that falls on January 26, Bruer said Australia is proud to have been one of the first countries to recognise the newly independent nation of Bangladesh, in January 1972. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries. 

“Today, I recall with considerable satisfaction that Australia assisted Bangladesh’s admission to the United Nations in December 1971 and with bipartisan support in our parliament. In January 1975, our then prime minister, Gough Whitlam, visited Bangladesh and met his Bangladeshi counterpart, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation,” said the Australian envoy.

“Our friendship will endure because of its strong and authentic foundation,” he said adding that the only foreigner ever to have received the Bir Protik — one of Bangladesh’s highest awards for bravery — was an Australian citizen, William Ouderland.

“Ouderland organised and trained the guerrilla fighters of the Mukati Bahini and provided them with food and shelter and medicine.”

The Australian High Commissioner said links between Australia and Bangladesh, including sporting links, go back a long way before Australia’s support for Bangladesh’s independence. In 1877, one of the players in the Australian team playing the first Test match in history, Bransby Beauchamp Cooper, was born here in Dhaka, when it was part of British India.

He said Australia and Bangladesh enjoy close people-to-people links, nurtured over many years of migration, and through sport and education. About 80,000 people of Bangladeshi origin have settled in Australia, and we have welcomed thousands of Bangladeshi students studying in Australia’s world class institutions. 

“Our Australia Awards program, which provides scholarships for Bangladeshi students to undertake master’s degrees in Australia, has produced over 3,000 Bangladeshi alumni. Many of them today are occupying important and influential positions, and making great contributions to Bangladesh’s development. Each year about 200 Bangladeshi nationals receive Australian Government scholarships to study masters degrees and short courses at Australian institutions.”

Bruer said Australia and Bangladesh are both active members of multilateral institutions such as the UN, WTO, the Commonwealth and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the only ministerial-level forum in the Indian Ocean.

“Australia continues to support Bangladesh in its role as IORA chair. We remain committed to the aims and purposes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the promotion and protection of human rights.”

He said Australia is supporting a range of development investments to support Bangladesh’s transition to a middle-income country. This includes support for inclusive education, skills development, poverty alleviation, social protection and private-sector engagement. 

Supporting and providing economic opportunities for the most disadvantaged and marginalised, including women and girls and people with disabilities, is a priority in all our programs. Bangladesh has a young population.  So investing in an educated and suitably skilled workforce is crucial to maintaining economic growth and recovery from the pandemic, reads the message of High Commissioner Bruer.

The long-standing Strategic Partnership Arrangement (SPA) with BRAC means that Australian aid reaches a large number of people throughout Bangladesh.

“We are contributing $85 million from 2021 to 2026 to the third phase of the SPA. Our Social Security Policy Support program is supporting the Bangladesh Government’s reforms to strengthen the social security system.”

Additionally, Australia supports more than 50 national and international NGOs through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), focusing on inclusive development across the country. “We’re also supporting viable private sector opportunities through Australia’s Business Partnerships Platform and the forthcoming Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund.”

He further said Australia recognises the impact on communities hosting over 919,000 displaced Rohingya, who rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. Australia will continue to work to find a durable solution and to pursue accountability and justice for the Rohingya as a result of the abuses they have suffered.

In the meantime, “we remain committed to helping Bangladesh and humanitarian actors to meet the needs of Rohingya and host community members in Cox’s Bazar.”

In 2022-23, Australia will provide AUD135 million (building on AUD480 million provided since 2017) to address humanitarian crises in Myanmar, as well as to support Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh, providing essential protection, education and health services for those most in need, including women, girls and people with disabilities.

Highlighting the bilateral trade, the High Commissioner said two-way trade between Australia and Bangladesh has grown substantially over the last decade, reaching AUD3 billion in 2021-22, with balanced imports and exports. 

Bangladesh’s exports to Australia are largely ready-made garments, leather accessories, processed food and jute, and Bangladesh is Australia’s largest chickpea market.

He said the Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA) signed with Bangladesh on 15 September 2021 was a significant achievement that recognised the strength and depth of the economic relationship. Under the TIFA, both countries are working together to grow and diversify trade and investment opportunities.

Bruer said Australian businesses are increasingly interested in Bangladesh as demand rises for our high-quality products and services. 

Australian businesses see further opportunities to diversify trade and investment with Bangladesh in textiles and apparel, agricultural products such as wool, agribusiness, fisheries, food and beverages, minerals, manufacturing, information and communications technology services, skills development and education services. Australia is also well-placed to supply energy resources, such as LNG, to help fuel Bangladesh’s growing demand for electricity.

“Our nations also share a love of sport, especially cricket, and many Australians have played with, trained, coached and befriended Bangladeshi players. Our cooperation in arts and culture is also growing, with participation by Australian artists in arts and literary events in Bangladesh, and by Bangladeshis in Australian events,” said the Australian envoy. 

“We are proud of our shared history and of the warm, multifaceted and mutually beneficial relationship that exists between our two countries. I look forward to the next 50 years of friendship between Australia and Bangladesh.”

On Australia Day 2023, he said Australians around the world unite to mark Australia. It is a chance to acknowledge the past, recognise the present and look optimistically towards the future.

“Today, we reflect on what it means to be Australian, to celebrate contemporary Australia, to acknowledge our history and connect with other Australians. We reflect on our diverse society, including our landscape, our resilience and innovation, and our bright future.”

Australia Day is a day to acknowledge, interrogate and reflect upon our history.  Australia doesn’t date back merely to 1788. For more than 60,000 years, Australia was cared for by the Aboriginal people, who represent one of the oldest continuing cultures on earth. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the traditional custodians of our lands and waterways. They occupy a fundamental position in Australia’s story. 

For many indigenous Australians, Australia Day represents the complexities and hardship caused by European settlement. We recognise this history, and we respect and honour our first Australians on our national day.

Today, Australia is an outward-looking country, strongly connected to the rest of the world. It is also the most successful multicultural society in the world, a country built on migration. People from over 200 countries, including Bangladesh, have chosen to call Australia home. And, as a multicultural country, Australia has benefited from its belief in diversity, inclusion and tolerance – values we hold dear.

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