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Address to farewell the first Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, 11 February 1999, Sydney: speech.

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Speech by


The Hon. Alexander Downer MP

Minister for Foreign Affairs




Address to Farewell the First

Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development





11 February 1999





Check Against Delivery






Your Excellency, youth ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen. It is my great pleasure to be here today to meet and address the first Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development.


You were chosen from a field of almost 700 applicants for the first intake of this program and I congratulate you on being here today. It was a great achievement to get through the rigorous selection process and the fact that you are sitting here now acknowledges and confirms our belief that young Australians have talents and experience to share with our neighbours.


The skills and expertise assembled in this room are impressive by any standard. Amongst you are environmental engineers and scientists, nurses and lawyers, teachers and information technology graduates, journalists and urban planners, foresters and marketing managers. You have all volunteered your time and expertise to help others improve their lives and the Australian government is proud of you. So are all Australians.



The Role of Ambassadors


Why did we call this the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program? We call you Ambassadors because you are messengers or representatives — not of this government — but of this country.


You will not be signing or negotiating treaties but you will be representing Australia. Most of the people in developing countries cannot afford to travel so they judge us by our nationals abroad. You will be at the coalface of creating perceptions of Australia. You will increase understanding between the people of Australia and the Asia Pacific and cultivate goodwill and develop lasting friendships and networks.


You are ambassadors; ambassadors demonstrating the skills and expertise of Australians while assisting on your development projects.




And, let us not forget, this program is about development and that’s why it is administered through our aid program. This program is about young Australians working in partnership with their counterparts in the region because the development of our neighbours is in all of our interests. It is about young Australians making a difference.


Tolerance, egalitarianism and the belief in a fair go are outstanding Australian characteristics. You are going to work on these development assignments because, as Australians, we all believe everyone deserves a fair go and I know you wil l use your skills to help our neighbours have a chance at a fair go.


Of course, we have a moral duty to alleviate human poverty. Mass poverty is the single most important economic and social issue on our planet today. Through the Australian government’s aid program, we all play a role in assisting developing countries. The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program is a new initiative that we believe will help us provide better aid for a better future.


Alleviating poverty in the Asia Pacific will not only increase regional security but also provide us all with better opportunities for the future.


As Australian Youth Ambassadors, you will soon find yourselves at the frontline of development, facing the same challenges, issues and concerns that our counterparts in developing countries face on a daily basis. Many of you will not have the luxury of telecommunications and regular electricity. Most of you will not have drinkable tap water and you won’t be able to do things that many of us now take for granted, like dialing a pizza from the local take-away.


You will experience some of the hardships faced by our counterparts in developing countries of the Asia Pacific and gain a better understanding of their lives and development issues.


There is an old and well known saying that if you give a poor man a fish, he’ll eat for a day but give him a fishing rod and he’ll never go hungry. By transferring your knowledge and skills, you will leave behind tools for others to build on; skills that they can use to make a difference to their own lives. Do not forget the most important resource of any country is its human resources.


Improving Australia’s Human Resources


We are sending you into the region not only to develop the human resources of our neighbours but also of Australia.


Remember that while you are improving the quality of life of your hosts, you also have an opportunity to change and improve yourselves. Five to 12 months is a small leg of the journey that is your lives but, for some of you, it may bring about real changes.


None of you will be left untouched by the experience. For all of you, it is a chance to develop your skills in resourcefulness, adaptability, cross cultural communication and self managing leadership; skills that are extremely important in our rapidly changing world; skills that are essential for your generation as we approach the new millennium and an era of globalisation.


These are skills that will enhance your attractiveness to Australian employers when you return. Many of you are supported by your company, educational institution or organisation as you embark on this mission and I commend those Partner Organisations that have the vision to pledge this support, many of whom are represented here this morning.


More than 60 Australian companies, government agencies, universities and community organisations already recognise the value of this program and have signed on as Partner Organisations. Others, I hope, will follow their lead and use this program to provide their young employees, employees who will be their next generation of managers, with international experience.


This program is not just about short-term development projects — it is about investing in the next generation of policy makers and leaders of business and the community who will, in the not too distant future, be making decisions that affect the lives of not only other Australians but of people in our neighbouring region. We want you to understand our neighbours, their politics, economies and cultures and their historical context. We want you to be informed decision makers who will have this unique reference point in your careers to refer to and influence your future judgement.




We also want you to share the knowledge you gain abroad with the rest of Australia. A simple way to remove fear and prejudice is to share knowledge and understanding. We hope you will share the learnings you gain from this experience, not only with your families, but also with your friends and work colleagues. In this way, we hope you will do your part to help us retain our reputation as a diverse and tolerant nation that celebrates its rich history.




As you know, you are the first of 500 young Australians we will send to work on development projects over the next two years and I will be most delighted if we continue to recruit young people of the calibre in this room today. I ask that when you leave our shores, you make efforts that inspire others to follow your example and, finally, I, and everyone in this room, wish you all well on this history-making journey.