Australia And Nepal Two Distant Countries But Closer

I am relative new comer to the Australia-Nepal relations. I have only experienced three of 60 years.

Feb. 19, 2020, 3:17 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 13 No. 13 ,Feb.21-Mar.12,2020(Falgun.09, 2076) Publisher: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

It was on 15th of February 1960, Australia and Nepal formalized our diplomatic relationship. That was the age that my grandfather, a farmer in North East Victoria, gave up citrates. Australia and Nepal were very different places 60 years ago.

In the 1960's, we were two distant countries in an era of propeller planes and snail mail. Government to government messages were delivered by diplomatic pouch over periods of months. For diplomats at least, it was more sedate and reflective time. A time before 24-hour news cycles, social media and the Twittersphere.

Two Countries, Different Paths

And during our 60 years of partnership, we have shared very different journeys. For Australia, the 1960's saw large-scale protest and campaigns for independence, for equality of women in the workplace, fairer ages, a free accessible system of education, and the recognition of rights for our Indigenous Australians.

It is sad reflections of the time that until 1960s Australian governments were still removing Aboriginal Children- or the stolen Generation, from their parents to be educated.

It would be further 48 years (12 years and two days ago) before we would formally apologize for this.

In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to allow Indigenous Australian the right to vote in federal elections. In May 1967, 90.8 percent of Australian voters chose 'Yes" in a national referendum to include Indigenous peoples in census counts.

Australia continues to debate constitutional recognition of our indigenous people and there are ongoing calls for an inclusive Australia Day date we can all celebrate.

Connection

I am relative new comer to the Australia-Nepal relations. I have only experienced three of 60 years. But in those three years, it is clear to me there is common connection between our people and deep mutual desire to engage.

Beyond the impacts of climate change, our shared challenges also include navigating an increasingly complex international environment of rapid technological change.

It includes threats to a rules-based order that was established to provide a voice to all, not just those are economically and politically powerful.

The Corona COVID 19 Virus has highlighted the potential threat of pandemics, and the need for coordinated international responses.

Australia and Nepal, with our economics, shared reliance on tourist, trade and movement of people, appreciate this more than anyone. We both enjoy robust democracies, a federalist system and strong civil societies hat offer an important and alternative voice on a range of issues. We both share the strength derived from diversity. Neither of us are immune to a disconnected and at times less than constructive political discourse that speaks to political opportunism rather than national interest.

Is Australia impacted by climate change? Yes. Will Australia benefit from a transition to renewable energies? Clearly yes. But there are those who still press for publicly funded new coal-fired power.

Does Nepal need electricity infrastructure to deliver on its energy needs and to meet its power purchase agreement obligation? Yes. Is the transmission infrastructure offered under the MCC in Nepal's national interest? Clearly yes. But debate goes on.

Moving on, other, more positive points of connection. Both our countries have vibrant indigenous communities with their histories and rich cultures. Our indigenous communities provide important reference points of who we are, where we have come from and what it means to be Australian or Nepali.

Neither of our countries are immune to corruption. In recent years, Australia has demonstrated its readiness to use the investigate powers of royal commissions and its anti-corruption agencies to shine a light on poor and illegal behaviors. Former politicians have been jailed. Companies have been fined.

Accountability is critically important to our democracy, our prosperity and to ensure that all Australians enjoy opportunities to advance themselves, their families and their communities. As it is for Nepal, we share with Nepal the need for trade and investment.

What we can offer is our experience. Not all may be applicable in the Nepali context, but is offered to Nepal to draw on as required, in the spirit of partnership. And Australia has a long standing and demonstrated commitment to partnership. Whether it be a more than 50 year history supporting community forestry, a 15-year commitment to micro enterprises development through MEDP/MEDPA or a 25 collaboration with the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology through ANCP Partners the Ford Hollows Foundation.

Australia will never be among Nepal's largest international donors. Our investments are typically small, targeted and by necessity, adaptive to Nepal's changing needs. We also recognize there are limits to what donor programs can deliver on their own.

The private sector must have a role. That is why we are working to deliver NSW TAFE accredited hospitality course through local institutions here in Nepal. If Nepal wants to meet the ambitious targets set in its Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, human capital and skills development will be important. The Nepal Government's own support for an enabling environment for business and access to technical expertise is key. A group of Nepali MPs and business people have just completed a visit to Adelaide to look for opportunities to bring Australia's horticulture expertise to Nepal . They will be returning to Nepal soon to apply what they've learned.

While I would love and Australian-Nepal Business joint venture to be on the cards to deliver products made in Nepal to Australian standards, Nepal's current FDI settings do not allow it. At least for now.

Nepal is on its own transition journey, from monarchy to democracy, to a federalist system. Nepal has come through a terrible civil conflict and 14 years later is struggling to navigate a genuine transitional justice process.

The arguments against opening Nepal up to free trade and foreign investment are not dissimilar to arguments in Australia in the 70s and 80s and which still continue today.

Despite a very progressive constitution, there remains work to do for Nepal to derive the full benefits of gender, disability and social inclusion.

But after 65 years, Australia and Nepal now enjoy a level of unprecedented connectivity. More than 100,000 Nepalis are living in Australia. More than 52,000 Nepali students have chosen Australia to further their education, more than 36,000 Australians visit Nepal each year. And these numbers are increasing. In Melbourne we celebrated a Momo Festival. In Australia, Nepali cricketers are carving names out for themselves in Australia's Big Bash League.

In Kathmandu, Australian films are being shown on opening nights of the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival. In Nepal, institutional collaboration such as between Nepal Center for Molecular Dynamics and University of Queensland are advancing our mutual knowledge.

Globalization and our strong people to people links underpin our sense of connection, including our shared challenges. Australians have felt very keenly the impact of natural disasters here in Nepal. Australia stood side-by-side Nepal as it dealt with the devastating impact of the 2015 earthquake and then floods two years later. We were ready to provide the necessary lifesaving assistance.

Similarly, Australia has appreciated the messages of sympathy and support in response to our devastating bushfires including from your personal, Foreign Minister, and from our Nepali friends across the globe. Our exposure to natural disasters is something we both share.

Australians are sadly familiar with fire seasons during Australian summer. That said, the current bushfires are unprecedented and, as our prime minister has stated, climate change is contributing factor. This year's fire has been more widespread and more damaging than other years, exacerbated by record breaking temperatures combined with severe drought, strong winds and dry lightning storms.

In total, more than 12 million hectors have been burned across Australia's south, east and west; over 3000 homes destroyed and 33 lives lost. We are yet to assess our bio-diversity.

Australia is very large and much of the country has remained the same. Like Nepal and its citizens, Australia is resilient. It remains open for unique and innovative business, travel, education and adventure only Australia has to offer.

However, we have watched the Australian smoke have encircled the globe, it has spoken directly to the importance of global action on climate change.

Foreign Minister, I would like to acknowledge your own efforts. The Sagarmatha Saambad-Climate Change dialogue proposed for April seeks to highlight the impact on mountains and the implications for all of us. ICIMOD's HIMAP Report, supported by Australian funding, delivers the scientific evidence base for a call to action.

It has highlighted the impact on HKH glaciers upon which 2 billion people depended. At current rates of global warming, we stand to lose 2/3 of these glaciers by the end of the century, 2/3 of an irreplaceable global resource. This highlights the importance of us linking science with policy and regional/ global collaboration to address this real threat.

Bilaterally we have worked with Nepal to address the climate change threat. This includes successful mitigation efforts through our SDIP program, but also our support to Nepal's disaster risk reduction capacity through our Australian Awards short courses.

Australia also supports Nepal in many different ways: The delivery of education (including through Australian Awards) and health services. I should note that Australia Awards application for Masters courses are now open; investment in economic inclusion for the country's most vulnerable populations, supporting the implementation of Nepal's Peace process and transition to federalism; offering the expertise our our pre-eminent and world recognized institutions (CSIRO, ICEWaRM, ACIAR) to support sustainable agriculture production and improved water resource management.

Australia has no means go everything right, particularly in the water resources management space. We have made mistakes. Access to water resources within Australia's own federalist system remains highly contested. Managing the interests of various stake holders is difficult.

(Budd is the Ambassador of Australia to Nepal. Excerpts of the statement delivered at a reception hosted to celebrated sixty years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.)

Peter Budd.jpg

Peter Budd

Budd is the ambassador of Australia to Nepal

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