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Australian Consulate General opening, Ho Chi Minh City, 8 September 1995: opening remarks.

Mr Le Minh Chau, Vice- Chairman of the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, Mr Nguyen Hau, Chief of Cabinet of the People's Republic Committee, Ambassador Bong, Director of the Office of External Relations, Distinguished Guests.

It gives me great pleasure to be in Ho Chi Minh City today for this significant occasion in the relationship between Australia and Vietnam, the official opening of the Australian Consulate- General.

The opening of the Consulate- General adds a new and important dimension to the growing links between our two countries. It comes at a time when those links are stronger and more diverse than ever, and when the opportunities for cooperation between us in a wide variety of fields have never been more apparent.

The establishment of the Consulate- General is evidence of the Australian Government's continuing commitment to the development of our relationship in the years ahead: it recognises the important and growing interests Australia has in Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces of southern Vietnam and Vietnam's increasingly active role in the affairs of our region as demonstrated by its recent membership of ASEAN.

Australia was one of the first to invest in Vietnam following the implementation of the policies known as 'Doi Moi' by the Vietnamese Government. The majority of that investment has centred on Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding provinces.

Australian companies such as BHP and Telstra were among the first foreign investors in southern Vietnam: they invested in sectors such as telecommunications and resource development which are vital to the future economic prosperity of this country.

The lead which was set by these major Australian companies has been followed by may others and Australia is now the seventh largest foreign investor in Vietnam with projects valued at over six hundred million US dollars. In terms of the implementation of approved projects, Australia's role as a foreign investor in Vietnam is even more significant: there are now over thirty Australian companies with a permanent base in Ho Chi Minh City.

The diversity of Australia's commercial engagement in Ho Chi Minh City is demonstrated here today by the presence of representatives of Australian companies active in a wide variety of sectors such as resource production, telecommunications, manufacturing, banking and financial services, legal services, construction and building materials, infrastructure development, environmental technology, tourism and food processing.

I would note that it is appropriate that the building which houses the Consulate- General was constructed by one of the Australian companies to which I have just referred - Transfield.

The success of these companies is evidence of the ability of Australians to work together with their Vietnamese partners to the benefit of both countries.

The Australian Government attaches great importance to expanding our trade and investment relations with Vietnam: through the establishment of the Consulate- General, and including the upgrading of our Austrade representation, the Government will be providing even stronger support to Australian companies doing business in Ho Chi Minh City and other areas of southern Vietnam.

The relationship between Australia and Vietnam is, of course, broader than just our trade and investment ties.

Australia has a long standing commitment to assist Vietnam achieve its development objectives through the bilateral aid program.

In 1995/96 this program will be valued at over fifty million dollars as part of the Australian Government's four year commitment of $200 million which was announced by Prime Minister Keating during his visit to Vietnam last year.

The Consulate- General will play an important role in working with the Vietnamese Government to ensure the successful implementation of development cooperation projects in southern Vietnam such as the construction of a major bridge at My Thuan (pronounced Me Twan) in the Mekong Delta, the development of the southern economic zone master plan, and the design and installation of major water supply projects in the Mekong Delta provinces of Tra Vinh (pronounced Cha Vin) and Vinh Long.

These projects and others are concrete examples of the way our two countries are working together to build a better future for our peoples.

For most Australians, Ho Chi Minh City is the gateway through which they enter Vietnam and an increasing number of Australians are visiting each year. These growing people- to- people links are an important part of the process of developing closer understanding between our two countries.

The recent signing of the bilateral air services agreement paves the way for a significant increase in the number of Australians visiting Vietnam and for Vietnamese people to visit Australia.

The Consulate- General will facilitate these people- to- people links through the provision of the full range of consular and passport services to Australians in Vietnam and visa and other immigration services to the people of southern Vietnam.

In conclusion, Australian interests in Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces in southern Vietnam are broad and growing, covering trade and investment, foreign affairs, development assistance, consular and passport services, and visa and immigration matters.

The opening of the Consulate- General will mean that both the Australian and Vietnamese communities in southern Vietnam will be able to access easily a range of high quality services in all of these areas.

I am sure that the opening of the Consulate- General will lead to even closer ties between Australia and southern Vietnam in the years ahead.

I would like to thank the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City for the warm welcome they have given me and my delegation. My visit has been short but I am impressed by the dynamism of your people and the achievements you have made. I look forward to visiting again in the near future.

I would also like to congratulate the staff of the Consulate- General for their efforts in establishing this office, which I am confident will serve Australian interests well in the future.

I now take great pleasure in unveiling the plaque to officially open the Australian Consulate- General in Ho Chi Minh City.