Thank you everyone for joining us here this evening to celebrate the official opening of the new Australian Consulate-General premises in Ho Chi Minh City.
I am delighted to be in the commercial centre of Vietnam, a hub of entrepreneurship and economic growth for the nation, on my first visit as Foreign Minister.
Tonight is an opportunity to gather with our most valued Government, business and Australian friends to celebrate this important occasion.
From modest beginnings, the Australia-Vietnam relationship has prospered over 39 years of diplomatic relations.
Our two-way trade has been at the core of the remarkable growth in our relations, with Vietnam now one of Australia's most important and valued trade partners in the Asia Pacific region. Our combined goods and services trade stands at around $6.1 billion per annum.
There are many examples of Australian investment in a diverse range of commercial sectors here. For instance, banking and finance (ANZ and Commonwealth Banks); education (RMIT); oil and gas (Santos and BHP Billiton Petroleum); manufacturing and ship building (Strategic Marine); steel (BlueScope); and food processing (CBH, Interflour).
Education links between Australia and Vietnam are strong. Australia is a leading study destination for Vietnamese students with 25,000 students studying in Australia and a further 16,000 studying Australian programs here in Vietnam.
And Australia remains the leading provider of scholarships to Vietnamese students, last year providing over 400 scholarships to Vietnamese students.
This afternoon I visited the RMIT Campus in Ho Chi Minh City. RMIT is a flagship for international education in Vietnam and is a wonderful example of Australia's determination to help build a stronger internationally oriented education sector in Vietnam.
Tourism numbers continue to increase with 290,000 Australians visiting Vietnam last year and increasing numbers of Vietnamese visiting Australia.
The number of high level Australian Government visits to Vietnam last year also demonstrates the strength of the Australia-Vietnam relationship. At the official level, last year marked the first State Visit to Vietnam by an Australian Governor General. In addition to the Governor-General there were also visits by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade and a number of Australian state ministers.
Australia is working hard to help Vietnam build the infrastructure it needs to reach its potential. Following on from our funding of the My Thuan bridge completed in 2000, we have committed to our biggest aid project yet in Vietnam — a $160 million contribution to the design and construction of the Cao Lanh bridge due to commence construction in 2013. This bridge will link five million people to markets across the Mekong Delta and into greater South East Asia.
Southern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City are also on the front line of a critical global challenge: that of climate change. It is well known that this region is one of the five most vulnerable in the world to sea-level rise.
Vietnam has long been vulnerable to the impacts of floods and storms but sea-level rise and the impacts of drought on river flows create new challenges.
So I am very pleased to announce today, as part of our wider climate change assistance through our aid program, that Australia will invest over $2 million to support a partnership between Australian and Vietnamese climate scientists to better understand and plan for the impacts of climate change at the local level.
More localised projections will help identify the people and sectors at risk and support Vietnam in the challenging task of prioritising its climate change response.
As the Australia-Vietnam relationship has expanded, both at the government-to-government and commercial levels, so too has the Consulate and its services.
The Consulate's work in Vietnam now covers a very broad area — consular assistance to our citizens; trade facilitation, trade promotion and investment; visas and immigration; police liaison; the promotion of Australian education; and cultural events.
These new premises will assist us to provide not only better links with the Government but also an improved service to the Australian and local business community and the growing number of visitors travelling between our two countries.
Next year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Australia and Vietnam. There is a very clear correlation between the growth of the Australian Government's presence in Vietnam and the strengthening of the relationship between our two countries.
Again, thank you very much for your presence here this evening to mark this important occasion in our relationship.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555