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Australian Youth Ambassadors: Partners for a Better Future



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Address by the

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Minister for Foreign Affairs The Hon Alexander Downer MP

Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development

Launch of Program at National Partnership Forum

Australian Youth Ambassadors: Partners fo r a Better Future

Sydney, 27 August 1998 (Check Against delivery)

EMBARGOED UNTIL 8PM 27 AUGUST

Australian Youth Ambassadors: Partners fo r a Better Future

Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Launch of Program at National Partnership Forum, Sydney, Thursday, 27 August 1998

One of the joys of Ministerial life is to be able to develop a new idea, and see it through to reality. Tonight is an occasion to mark the commencement of the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program.

The program has been put together in response to several calls to increase the number of young Australians who have an opportunity to live and work in the Asia Pacific region.

It stems from my long held belief that young Australians - their energy, their skills and commitment - can make a major contribution to the development of the Asia Pacific region.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn and several of my Parliamentary colleagues have also contributed to the development of the idea.

Indeed it matches international commitments, such as the proposed expansion of United States and Canadian programs which allow their young citizens to gain overseas development experience.

There are many levels to this program - many reasons to support it and many valuable outcomes for Australians and to our neighbours in the Asia Pacific region.

Initiatives which promote people to people exchange and relationships across the region have played a major part in the development of Australian diversity and tolerance.

These initiatives include our immigration program, which has seen us welcome 5.6 million migrants since 1945. This program has transformed Australia for the better.

Other initiatives, such as the Colombo Plan, were effective in building the foundations of our close ties throughout the region. Former Foreign Minister Sir Percy Spender, speaking in 1970 about the Colombo Plan, remarked:

"The flow of Asian students . . . is bringing Australians and Asians into direct personal, day by day, contact. They are mingling at work, in private homes, in sport, in social gatherings and in community activities of many kinds, and, in so doing,

changing social attitudes."

Our commitment to personal engagement is also shown through our existing volunteer programs, run by such organisations as the Overseas Service Bureau, Australian Executive Service Overseas Program and the Paulian Association since the 1960s. Over 5000 qualified Australians have taken part in these programs since the 1960s.

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The generosity of Australians in the field of humanitarian aid continues to be proved. Most recently this was demonstrated by the response to appeals for assistance to Papua New Guinea after the Tsunami.

Close to $2 million dollars has been raised in contributions from Australians. This is in addition to the rapid response through the Government’s aid program involving the Australian Defence Forces and AusAID, which clearly helped save many lives.

Last month, it was heartening to see solid research demonstrating Australians generosity. A major national opinion poll showed that some 84% of respondents approved of Australia giving foreign aid. 78% either approved of the amount the Government spends, or believed that we should spend more.

This new program, Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, comes at a time when some Australians are uncomfortable with the pace of change in our society and in particular, technological change and the economic impact of increasing globalisation. Taking refuge in simplistic, isolationist and unworkable solutions is not a phenomenon unique to Australia -

but one we have a responsibility to argue against.

Providing opportunities for at least 500 young Australians, in the early stages of their careers, to work in the region on development projects, has three main benefits.

Firstly, it allows for a transfer of skills and understanding, while making a positive contribution to addressing development issues.

Secondly, it allows a much clearer public face for the Australian aid program - 500 Australians from across the country and all walks of life will be able to project powerful messages about the value of development assistance programs. They will also be able to promote positive messages about Australia as a whole.

And thirdly, the way the program is designed, there will be lasting networks formed between individuals, business, educational and community organisations across the region.

In addition to these benefits, it is, of course, an exciting opportunity for the outstanding young Australians that will be involved, and will no doubt provide them with an experience that will be personally and professionally rewarding on a number of levels.

Australian Youth Ambassadors will serve from three to twelve months, but generally around five months. Assignments will be with government, private or community organisations through the region. The first intake will depart in February next year.

Skills provided by Australian Youth Ambassadors will range from trades such as mechanics, carpentry, and hospitality to professions such as health, engineering, education, natural resources and management. The involvement of partner organisations in Australia that nominate youth and/or potential assignments ensures that the Australian Youth Ambassador

experience is a strong learning opportunity that is recognised and encouraged.

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Two key elements in the program’s design are the partner organisations and the alumni association.

Partner organisations, such as private companies, educational institutions, government agencies, professional and trade associations, business councils and a range of other organisations will be invited to nominate outstanding young Australians for placement under the program.

These organisations are well placed to identify skill gaps in developing countries of the Asia- Pacific region. They will be encouraged to use their networks to identify placements in government and community organisations, and in small- to medium-sized local enterprises, for their nominees.

The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program will also feature a strong alumni base that will provide an exciting and powerful network. An annual national conference that brings together hundreds of Australian Youth Ambassadors and their partner organisations, all with a commitment to and understanding of the Asia-Pacific region, will be of great benefit to our neighbouring countries in the region, Australian youth and their partner organisations.

The program structure has been developed through market research and consultation with a variety of business, education and community representatives. Many of you here tonight provided input to the program design. Your initial enthusiasm has been appreciated, and promises great things for the program.

Tonight I look forward to signing the first partner organisation agreements with groups who have already indicated their commitment to the program.

Building links and understanding with Asia and the Pacific through our youth, is an investment in Australia’s future. The benefits for Partner Organisations, include providing opportunities to build links with other organisations, and new expertise within the organisation itself.

The assignments that these young ambassadors will undertake will lay foundations for a continuing strong and cooperative relationship with our Asia - Pacific neighbours. I therefore encourage your involvement.

Advertisements calling for Australian Youth Ambassador nominations, and for Partner Organisations, will feature in capital city and national newspapers this Saturday.

The first round of application packages for volunteers will be made available in September 1998, with the first batch of volunteers expected to be in the field by February 1999.

By harnessing the networks and skill base of the corporate and institutional sectors, the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program will significantly broaden the base of Australia’s overseas volunteer effort. At the same time, it will strongly complement the

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community-oriented Australian Volunteers Abroad scheme and the more specialised Australian Executive Service Overseas Program.

I am pleased to say that the establishment of this program represents a 50 per cent increase in the level of Government handing for overseas volunteer programs. A total of S17 million will be spent on such programs in 1998-99.

This initiative has been made possible by the allocation of additional funds to Australia’s aid program. No other element of the aid program has been reduced to accommodate it.

As the program develops, the Government will review it to ensure it is meeting its objectives. With good management, the experience of being an Australian Youth Ambassador will develop a status equivalent to a Rhodes or Fulbright scholarship, and be the foundation of many outstanding achievements.

The dynamic nature of the program is well represented in the corporate identity we are displaying tonight for the first time.

I am committed to Australia’s aid program playing its role in creating a better future both for the poor of the region and for Australia, whose future is bound up with that of our neighbours. Australian Youth Ambassadors will make a tangible contribution to this goal.

It gives me great pleasure officially to launch the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program, and to sign the first Partnership Agreements tonight.

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