Akimoto, Excellences, Ministers, Members and Senators, distinguished guests, friends of Australia, friends of Japan.
I’m absolutely delighted to be here this evening to pay tribute to the Ambassador for his time here representing Japan. Ambassador, judging by the calibre of the Canberra crowd you’ve collected here this evening, including Madame Speaker, I can say that you have made quite an impact in our diplomatic circles. My only concern is that when you return to Japan you will give credence to the belief that we play politics pretty rough here and we’ve sent you home with a broken arm!
You can be proud of your achievements as Ambassador during your time since your appointment in November 2012. The relationship between Australia and Japan, already so strong, has become even stronger, broader, deeper. During your time here we have seen some significant milestones in the development of this truly remarkable relationship. Indeed, the Free Trade Agreement with Japan is a milestone, unprecedented since the 1957 Commerce Agreement and I believe that history will show it will have a similar impact on the economic ties between us, the trade and investment between our two countries.
Defence cooperation has increased dramatically, finding expression in the signing of the transfer of the Defence Equipment and Technology Agreement and of course we’ve seen a Cooperation Agreement for Australia and Japan in the Pacific Region where we both have an influence, it’s our neighbourhood, it’s our region and we cooperate so strongly in the Pacific.
My personal favourite of course is the New Colombo Plan and you have been a great supporter of first the pilot that we undertook in 2014 when we asked Japan to take part in a test of this program whereby Australian students would live and study and work in countries in our region and Japan was very keen to sign up to the pilot with three other countries.
Indeed, there has been a long history of student exchange between Australia and Japan and the New Colombo Plan builds on that experience. I want to thank you for hosting a function for our New Colombo Plan students. Indeed when the Prime Minister went to Japan in April of 2014 he was delighted to meet a number of the young Australians who were part of the student experience under the New Colombo Plan. In this way, we will ensure that this very special relationship endures as generations of young Japanese and young Australians get to know more about each other, understand our different cultures, understand our language, our political sector, our economic and cultural backgrounds.
You have been able to achieve some very high level visits - Prime Minister Abbott to Japan, Prime Minister Abe to Australia for a bilateral visit and again for the G20 last November and I have to say that photograph of our two Prime Ministers with their RM Williams boots on the enormous tyre on one of those massive pieces of machinery in the Pilbara is indelibly imprinted in my mind. Now that is my idea of a bromance!
So Ambassador this special strategic partnership has grown from strength-to-strength over your time here. You will be missed. You are a special friend of Australia and we look forward to you maintaining contact, and the fact that your lovely wife had a photograph of herself taken outside the Embassy to me is karma! This was all meant to be and I’m sure you’ll continue to be a strong and great friend of Australia.
May our connection ever endure and thank you so much for the contribution you’ve made to the betterment of both our countries.
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