Monday, 6 February, 2023

Australia eager to boost defence cooperation

  • Diplomatic Correspondent
  • 26 January, 2023 12:00 AM
  • Print news

Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer has said his country is looking forward to strengthening defence cooperation with Bangladesh to promote a secure, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. 

“We have established a defence office in Bangladesh with a resident defence adviser to strengthen relationships between the defence forces of our two countries. This development was followed by Bangladesh’s participation in Indo-Pacific Endeavour, one of Australia’s key regional defence engagements, and Australia’s participation in Bangladesh’s International Fleet Review in 2022,” he said.   

In a message on the occasion of Australia Day 2023 that falls on January 26, Bruer said Australia is proud to have been one of the first countries to recognise the newly independent nation of Bangladesh, in January 1972.  Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.        

 “Today, I recall with considerable satisfaction that Australia assisted Bangladesh’s admission to the United Nations in December 1971, and with bipartisan support in our parliament.  In January 1975, our then prime minister, Gough Whitlam, visited Bangladesh and met his Bangladeshi counterpart, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation,” said the Australian envoy.

“Our friendship will endure because of its strong and authentic foundation,” he said adding that the only foreigner ever to have received the Bir Protik -- one of Bangladesh’s highest awards for bravery -- was an Australian citizen, William Ouderland. Ouderland organised and trained the guerrilla fighters of the Mukati Bahini and provided them with food and shelter and medicine.”        

The Australian High Commissioner said links between Australia and Bangladesh, including sporting links, go back a long way before Australia’s support for Bangladesh’s independence. In 1877, one of the players in the Australian team playing the first Test match in history, Bransby Beauchamp Cooper, was born here in Dhaka, when it was part of British India.

He said Australia and Bangladesh enjoy close people-to-people links, nurtured over many years of migration, and through sport and education. About 80,000 people of Bangladeshi origin have settled in Australia, and “we have welcomed thousands of Bangladeshi students studying in Australia’s world class institutions.” 

“Our Australia Awards program, which provides scholarships for Bangladeshi students to undertake master’s degrees in Australia, has produced over 3,000 Bangladeshi alumni.  Many of them today are occupying important and influential positions, and making great contributions to Bangladesh’s development.  Each year about 200 Bangladeshi nationals receive Australian Government scholarships to study masters degrees and short courses at Australian institutions.” 

Bruer said Australia and Bangladesh are both active members of multilateral institutions such as the UN, WTO, the Commonwealth and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the only ministerial-level forum in the Indian Ocean.

He said Australia is supporting a range of development investments to support Bangladesh’s transition to a middle-income country, including inclusive education, skills development, poverty alleviation, social protection and private-sector engagement. “Bangladesh has a young population, so investing in an educated and suitably skilled workforce is crucial to maintaining economic growth and recovery from the pandemic.”

The long-standing Strategic Partnership Arrangement (SPA) with BRAC means that Australian aid reaches a large number of people throughout Bangladesh. “We are contributing $85 million from 2021-2026 to the third phase of the SPA. Our Social Security Policy Support programme is supporting the Bangladesh Government’s reforms to strengthen the social security system.”

Additionally, Australia supports more than 50 national and international NGOs through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), focusing on inclusive development across the country. “We’re also supporting viable private sector opportunities through Australia’s Business Partnerships Platform and the forthcoming Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund.”

He further said Australia recognises the impact on communities hosting over 919,000 displaced Rohingya, who rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. “Australia will continue to work to find a durable solution and to pursue accountability and justice for the Rohingya as a result of the abuses they have suffered.”

Highlighting the bilateral trade, the High Commissioner said two-way trade between Australia and Bangladesh has grown substantially over the last decade, reaching AUD3 billion in 2021-22, with balanced imports and exports. 

He said the Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA) signed with Bangladesh on 15 September 2021 was a significant achievement that recognised the strength and depth of the economic relationship. Under the TIFA, both countries are working together to grow and diversify trade and investment opportunities.

Bruer said Australian businesses are increasingly interested in Bangladesh as demand rises for our high-quality products and services.

“Australian businesses see further opportunities to diversify trade and investment with Bangladesh in textiles and apparel, agricultural products such as wool, agribusiness, fisheries, food and beverages, minerals, manufacturing, information and communications technology services, skills development and education services.”