Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honour to welcome to Australia His Excellency Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, Prime Minister of Vietnam and Madam Trần Thanh Kiệm and to celebrate the friendship between our two peoples.
It is a friendship that speaks of hope, of renewal and of the capacity of two peoples from two different systems to work together and to find their shared humanity.
Australia is grateful for the Vietnamese influence on our country – a quarter of a million people who are woven into the fabric of our land and have added their own beauty and traditions to ours.
Indeed, for much of our history, the most common surname here in Australia has been Smith, reflecting our English heritage, but demographers say that within 10 years, the most popular surname, at least in Australia’s biggest cities, will be Nguyen.
Indeed, without the life, the times and the passion of the people who have come here from all four corners of the earth, modern Australia is unimaginable. Vietnamese Australians are characterised by their love of family, by their respect for education, by their participation in small business, and by their devotion to their adopted country.
In so many fields of endeavour, we are seeing the contribution of Vietnamese Australians. Most recently, Hieu Van Le was sworn in as Governor of South Australia – the first Vietnamese person appointed to a Vice-Regal position anywhere in the world.
So, Prime Minister, Australia is honoured by your presence and by the presence of such a significant delegation. It speaks of the trust and the respect that our nations have for each other.
The Enhanced Comprehensive Partnership declaration that we signed today testifies to the depth and breadth of the relationship.
I congratulate you, Prime Minister, on the remarkable economic growth Vietnam has seen over the past two decades, lifting more than 35 million people out of subsistence and into the middle class.
Australia continues to contribute to Vietnam’s economic development, because with economic growth comes demand for the high-quality goods and services which we here in Australia can provide.
Our two countries have already enjoyed growth in our two-way trade of some 16 per cent a year over the past decade and that two-way trade is now approaching $10 billion every year. But we can do even more, and our Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, will later this year lead a trade mission to your country to explore further opportunities.
Prime Minister, our shared prosperity depends on the continued peace and stability of the region. We all depend upon freedom of navigation on the sea and in the air for our continued prosperity.
We also share a belief that disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, and that’s why Australia welcomes the efforts of Vietnam, its fellow ASEAN members and China to agree on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
Now, one of the striking characteristics of the Vietnamese people is their love of education, and as a primary school teacher, Madam Kiem, you – more than most – know how education can change the trajectory of a life.
The educational links between our two nations are deep and abiding. We have Australian universities operating in Vietnam. At the end of last year, there were about 26,000 Vietnamese students studying here in Australia.
And this year, Australia will offer some 200 scholarships to Vietnamese students to pursue higher education opportunities here, and at the same time, over 160 Australian undergraduates will live, work and study in Vietnam under the Government's New Colombo Plan. Indeed, four of them have joined us tonight and we make you most welcome.
Prime Minister, as you pointed out during your 2008 visit, it is the exchange of students that are, and I quote, “the excellent bridges connecting our two nations.” We’re good at building bridges – not just metaphorical ones.
We are working together to build the Cao Lãnh bridge, which will connect communities and promote economic growth in the Mekong Delta and this is a welcome addition to the first bridge across the Mekong River which our two nations partnered to build back in 2001.
One of the remarkable but little known stories of our two countries is our collaboration in timber. The Acacia tree that you planted today at the Arboretum represents that successful collaboration.
Together, we are reforesting rural areas using this hardy Australian native, so the environment is being repaired and at the same time, local economies are being helped to flourish.
Just as the relationship between our two countries has flourished, the Australian Acacia tree is creating a brighter future for small farmers in Vietnam and in the same way that the culture and traditions of Vietnam are growing here in Australia, an Australian native tree is taking hold in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a good friend to Australia and an important member of the regional and international community of nations. Our common bonds are a desire for peace, stability and prosperity in our region, a commitment to promoting economic growth and a devotion to the welfare of our people.
There is a Vietnamese proverb that says, ‘the hard work in moulding a piece of iron will one day result in a precious piece of metal’.
Prime Minister, half a century ago, we were on different sides of a savage conflict. But times change, attitudes mellow, perspectives shift and common ground emerges where none was once apparent.
We are now collaborators, partners, friends, and that’s what we celebrate tonight: people of different values and backgrounds working together towards shared goals and appreciating better what we have in common.
Thank you for visiting us, Mr Prime Minister, Madam Kiệm. You are most honoured guests and most welcome friends in our country.