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Address at the opening of the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre for Excellence, Queanbeyan.

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Prime Minister of Australia


Address at the Opening of the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre for Excellence Queanbeyan

27 November 2008


I’d just to assure you, each and every one of you, that this morning’s events have been entirely planned.

We were setting a test for calmness and whether you’d respond with calmness under pressure, flexibility in response to direction and above all, a sense of good humour. And I’m pleased to say that all members of diplomatic corps have passed with at least 9 out of 10. And I’ll give 10 out of 10 to my good friend the Russian ambassador who said that this is normal in Moscow.

So I thank you all for being with us in the spirit of the occasion.

This is a good day because all of us as representatives of the governments of the world know far too much, know far too much about what human conflicts mean. And about what natural disasters mean and the tolls on human lives, the communities and societies.

There are practically none of the governments or nations represented here today who have been through the last century without physically feeling the impact of some extraordinary event of nature, or some extraordinary event in civil and political and military conflict and the consequences for local communities and the people have been huge.

We in this country, proudly, since the birth of the United Nations in 1945, have been engaged in tens, dozens, up towards a hundred of peacekeeping operations around the world in one form or another, in practically in all continents of the world.

We’ve also been engaged in responding to natural disasters. We’ve also been in engaged in responding to other forms of humanitarian intervention.

So the practical challenge is this, you know, this is our national experience in this part of the world which regrettably is increasing the focus of unprecedented natural disasters - what can we learn from all of this and pool together into a body of knowledge, a body of practices, a body of procedures, training manuals and cooperative approaches which can benefit all of us in this wider region and beyond.

That’s what this is about, and I commend therefore the idea, and it’s Mike’s idea, in pushing this through the system, because I believe its time has come, at this beginning of the century of the Asia-Pacific.

Natural disasters are no respecters of human boundaries. They are no respecters of political boundaries. We’ve seen the terrible events of the tsunami, we’ve seen what has happened - floods in Bangladesh, what has happened in Myanmar, the extraordinary earthquake in Sichuan in China and this is all within recent times and recent memory, recent months, recent years and stretched back over time and looking forward with the intensity of the climatic changes coming off the back of climate change. Regrettably, this will become more of an intense challenge for us all.

Therefore, what do we do about it? This Centre is on about, as I said, pooling the expertise. But what we then do is extend an invitation to you, the other governments of the world, to work with us in building this centre up, because we need to ensure the body of knowledge which has developed here and the practices and procedures are universalised to the greatest extent possible.

Our experience on the ground is that the most effective operations have civil and military operations working like this. When I was on the ground myself in Banda Aceh in those very early days following the tsunami, and some of the challenges which our friends in the Indonesian military and the Australian military and other militaries encountered in dealing with the multiplicity of arriving aid agencies and humanitarian organisations, and the local civilian power which had been partly decimated by the tsunami itself - it would be very useful to have a template to operate from, learning from those experiences

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Too often we go through these things, those that participate in them, engage, learn and then sometimes it is lost.

The value added here is to consolidate the learning, to consolidate the practices and consolidate the procedures.

We see this as one of a range of centres which can operate cooperatively around the world. It was my great pleasure in Lima just the other day to launch with His Excellency Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the President of Indonesia, a Jakarta Centre on counter disaster risk reduction for the wider region and for the Indonesian archipelago.

If we are to have a vision for ourselves for the future it’s to have centres like this linked around the region and beyond the region globally to build up the body of expertise, to build up the body of common practices, to build up the body of procedures.

So that when the next big ones hit, and who knows where they will be, that we will be in a better position than we have been in the past to deploy quickly, rapidly, effectively and most critically, seamlessly.

To conclude my remarks, again I would thank Mike for his vision. He is largely responsible for: a) coming up with the idea and b) pushing it through the system. And I am sure none of you in your various Governments around the world have any problems with bureaucracy.

Okay, in Australia we can have troubles with bureaucracy, it is unique to our national condition. The fact that we have had someone of his calibre push this through and deliver on a commitment we made to the Australian people prior to the election, to centre this in Queanbeyan is due in large part to his personal efforts.

And with those remarks it gives me great pleasure to declare open on this auspicious and partly rainy day, this Australian Government Asia Pacific Centre of Excellence on Civil-Military Cooperation.

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