Analysis

Address by Peter Budd, Australia’s Ambassador to Nepal, on the occasion of Australia Day

Peter-Budd

Address by HE Peter Budd, Australia’s Ambassador to Nepal during celebration of Australia Day Reception at the Ambassador’s Residence in Kathmandu on 25th January 2018

Australia Day, 26 January, is a day for Australians to reflect on what it means to be Australian and to celebrate our cultural diversity. Through pure weight of numbers, Nepalis are also playing an increasing role in this celebration.

On Australia Day Australians typically celebrate all the things we love about Australia: our great outdoors, our sense of a fair go, our lifestyle, democracy, and the freedoms we enjoy.

Most of all, we celebrate our people.

This includes our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have inhabited our island continent for more than 65,000 years. It includes those who have lived in Australia for generations, as well as those more recent arrivals who have come from all corners of the globe to call our country home.

By the afternoon of 26 January it will also include an estimated 16,000 new Australians who will have become citizens on Australia Day. Australia is a country of migrants.

As part of this celebration, we will also announce the winner of our Australian of the Year Award. This award is unique in that it is sponsored by a national government and commands broad public support since its introduction in 1960.

It also offers an insight into Australian identity, how we perceive ourselves and the values we hold important. Sports people have loomed large, including our indigenous athletes. The award has also had its fair share of Australian cricket captains (three in fact). Although the Award is generally for work both on and off the cricket field.

Often the award goes to an everyday person who has made a remarkable contribution. For example, over the past 5 years, awards have gone to:

In 2013, Ita Buttrose, an Australian journalist, business women, activist and founding editor of Cleo magazine (a publication which was famous for its tongue-in-cheek male centrefolds back in the 1970s);

In 2014, Adam Goodes, an Australian rules footballer and indigenous community leader;

In 2015, Rosie Batty, a brave and remarkable campaigner against domestic violence following the tragic death of her young son at the hands of her estranged husband;

In 2016, Lt Gen David Morrison, for his commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion in the Australian Defence Forces;

In 2017, Alan Mackay-Sim, a biomedical scientist recognised for his work on the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

Everyday Australians are making a difference in their respective fields.

Of course, we don’t always get it right. In 1978, a businessman named Alan Bond was awarded Australian of the Year. By 1992 he had been convicted of fraud.

As part of our celebration of people, Australia Day also represents an opportunity to celebrate our cultural diversity. This diversity includes a growing number of Nepalis.

I emailed Shesh Ghale earlier this week, the former President of the Non-Resident Nepali Association, to get his gauge on the number of Nepalis living in Australia. I figured if anyone knew, he would. He made some informal
soundings and gave me the startling figure of 300,000, including a large and growing contingent of Nepali students.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of that figure. When I first saw it, I wondered if it were a typo. After all, Shesh had messaged me from Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, between sets at the Australian Tennis Open. He may have been
distracted. But the figure does suggest that, on any given Australia day, there will be a significant number of momos consumed.

While Australians overwhelmingly believe it important for Australia to have a national day of celebration, this is not to say that the date of 26 January isn’t contentious.

26 January relates to the arrival of Australia’s First Fleet, the formal colonization of the Australian landmass and the dispossession of our first inhabitants. It is therefore difficult to disassociate the date from the appalling treatment of our indigenous people, spanning generations.

It’s an unfortunate point of historical record that our indigenous Australians had to wait until 1967 to be recognised as Australian citizens. Until 1992 for recognition of native land title. Until 2008 for an apology to its stolen generation, those indigenous children who were forcibly removed from their parents by the state.

Australia, like Nepal, has elements of its history we may not be proud of, but which we can both harness as a motivator to do things better in the future.

Given the historical context of 26 January, it is not surprising that a growing number of Australians are increasingly willing to engage in conversations about changing the date of Australia Day. To engage in discussions about whether we should seek a more unifying date we can all celebrate.

A Research Now survey conducted in December last year indicated that, while 84 percent of Australians believed it important that our country have a national day of celebration, more than half (56 percent) didn’t mind when the day
occurred. Only 38 percent could even correctly identify what event the 26th of January marked. Talk about casual and easygoing!

Any move to change the date of Australia Day will be contested, as it should be. Alternative dates will be floated. My obvious preference would be 30th September, the day when my AFL football team, Richmond, broke its 37 year premiership drought (Go Tiges!). But I am sufficiently objective to recognise that this date could struggle for support.

Respected Australian Fairfax journalist, Mark Kenny, has identified 9th May as a date that conveniently coincides with a number of important steps on the path to modern-day Australia.

This includes the day in 1901 when Australia became a self-governing federation; the day in 1927, when the Australian Parliament shifted to Canberra (from Melbourne); and finally, the day in our bicentennial year of
1988, when the current Parliament House was opened.

Mark Kenny asks what better way to celebrate the great milestones of Australian nationhood than its formalisation as an institutional democracy empowered to make its own national laws under its own constitution?

All good points. However, the big question, particularly for Australia’s Southern States, would be whether the month of May, featuring the last few weeks before the onset of winter, offered sufficiently favourable weather conditions for an Australia Day BBQ or game of beach cricket?

So let the debate take its course, as with the one over an Australian republic, as with our flag, even our national anthem. As with the guaranteed family Christmas spoiler, that great debate of Violet Crumbles versus Crunchies, and is there really any difference? (They are both chocolate-coated honeycomb candies, for the unindoctrinated.)

Contestation is seemingly part of Australians’ DNA, with no topic sacred. This is a mild nationality defect that I believe is not such a bad thing.

Last year, Australians overwhelmingly voted in favour of same sex marriage. This demonstrates that when a strong case is made for change, Australians will embrace it.

The freedom to debate, to test, to question is vital for a society to progress, evolve and move forward. (At this point I should note the interesting fact that both animals on Australia’s national coat of arms – the Emu and Kangaroo – can only move forward. They cannot move backward. Which means both animals are also horrendously poor at reverse parallel parking.)

The freedom to debate, to test, to question will be just as important for the people of Nepal, as you transition to your new federalist structures, and as the new government embarks on its responsibilities to govern for the people and to deliver on the stability, national development and pathways to prosperity that Nepalis so emphatically voted for.

Delivering on the community’s expectations of change will require new systems, new approaches, new policies, and new ways of doing things.

Fundamental to this will be the contest of ideas, and perhaps the challenging of old behaviors. It’s an exciting time.

We recognize the immense challenges ahead. We offer our support, where we can, to the Nepali people to meet those challenges, to share our knowledge and, hopefully, to avoid our mistakes.

Australia will never be the largest donor in Nepal. Which is why we place such value on partnerships – with government, institutions and NGOs – and why we work closely with government to identify those areas where we are
best placed to add value.

With our modest levels of investment we want to make a difference, to enable Nepal to better leverage its natural resources and build its human capital to meet its development ambitions.

Happy Australia Day.

Pete Budd

Australian Ambassador to Nepal

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