Opening of the permanent Australian chancery to the Holy See

Holy See

16 October 2010

Check against delivery

This is a good day. It’s a good day for our relationship with the Holy See. It is a day which we should celebrate.

It also represents the completion of some unfinished business.

In 1973 Australia established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, but for a long long time we had no resident Ambassador and as a consequence we discharged our business with the Holy See through non resident Ambassadors often in Dublin, sometimes elsewhere.

But if I’ve heard one and continuing representation from the Catholic community over many many years in Australia it was that this piece of unfinished business should be completed. And so we chose to do.

I remember thinking that at the time that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visited Australia for World Youth Day, that an opportunity arose to complete that unfinished work.

And it was with great pleasure that we were able to confirm that decision as His Holiness departed Sydney, having spent a marvellous week with the people of Australia for that great celebration.

What the people of Australia weren’t expecting at the time was that we would appoint Tim Fischer as Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See.

Tim Fischer was as surprised as anybody else when I telephoned to offer the job. He took some time to reflect and then with the great Australian spirit of having a go, said he wanted to have a go and he really has had a go.

One thing about Tim Fischer is, here is a man that doesn’t just have a big hat, he has a big heart. And when you see the akubra working its way methodically across the halls of the Vatican, there doesn’t just go a piece of Australian iconography, there goes a living embodiment of the Australian spirit.

Tim Fischer, a bloke that knows no door which can’t be knocked on, no door which can’t be eventually torn down in order to obtain access to the matters that are near and dear to our heart.

So Tim, what I would like to acknowledge here on behalf of the Australian Government is the work that you have done and continue to do, and we have every confidence will continue to do a first class job for Australia.

We are of course here as a bipartisan delegation, and I acknowledge Julie Bishop who is here as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Barnaby Joyce and Senator Ursula Stephens.

That reflects, of course, the sentiment which the Australian people have to our relation to the Catholic Church and our relationship with the Holy See.

The decision to establish this resident Embassy and a resident Ambassador of the Holy See that we took in 2008 reflected first and foremost our mark of respect and high regard to the role of the Catholic Church in Australia.

As was just referred to by Archbishop Mamberti, the Catholic Church has been part and parcel of the Australian story since almost the first days of European settlement.

If we look across our charitable institutions, we look across the formation of hospitals, the formation of schools, the formation of other charitable works, the Catholic Church together with the wider Christian Church has been there from the jump, doing the right thing, in the most arduous and difficult of circumstances.

And one part of that story and a magnificent part of that story is the Mary MacKillop part of that story.

Extending education services to girls, to the poor, to the far flung parts of Australia; often those who would not see a visitor for months and months if not years on end because they had gone to settle into remote outback.

That was one decision, one reason for the decision we took to establish this resident mission: respect for the contribution of the Church to Australia’s life and its history and its future.

The second of course relates to the great challenges of our time with which we, the Government of Australia and the Government of the Holy See face together in the international community today.

These are great challenges of all humankind. They go of course to the great questions of war and peace, of disarmament, of nuclear weapons reduction.

I noticed the other day when I was in New York co-chairing a meeting of a new cross regional group on non-proliferation disarmament with the foreign minister of Japan, that there sitting in from of me was the representative of the Holy See, reminding me afresh that the Holy See’s voice is heard in many many of the forums of the world.

Of course the great challenge of religious freedom in countries where there is none or there is only partially such freedom is also a mission which we share in common with the Holy See in the work we seek to do through our diplomacy in various capitals in the world.

Also the work of interfaith dialogue where the Church and the Holy See have been so active in bringing about a profound recognition of the contribution of many faiths including Islam to the wider community of faith across the world.

It is interesting and important that in recent days our Ambassador to the Holy See received a communication from the peak body of Muslims in Australia congratulating the Roman Catholic Church on its decision through the Holy Father to have Mary MacKillop canonised, reflecting the holiness of this person’s life.

It says something about Australia and it says something also about the importance of our interfaith dialogue that such a letter was written.

Of course beyond interfaith dialogue and beyond religious freedom there are the great challenges of food security, the great challenges that we all face with the wider task of development and the realisation of the millennium development goals.

These are very much the mission statement we have left with our mission here to the Holy See, to prosecute with our friends and our partners in the various offices of the Vatican and of Offices the Secretariat of State.

So this is the second reason why we have made this decision to establish this resident mission and appoint this resident Ambassador to the Holy See, to prosecute these two great challenges, these great series of challenges that we face together as people of compassion who respond to the great challenges of our age across the world.

And this, this is a good day for all those who are in pursuit of peace, of justice, and of the common causes of humanity across the world. And I think one small part in that story can be written by the work which, we, the people of Australia through our mission here in the Holy See, write together with the Holy See itself.

With those remarks it gives me great pleasure to officially declare opened the Australian diplomatic mission to the Holy See.

END

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