Organisation of the Islamic Conference Speech — Deeper engagement with the Muslim World
Speech. Check against delivery, E&OE
29 June 2011
I come here as the first Australian Foreign Minister ever to speak at a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
I come to this conference from Australia, the great Southern land, a neighbour, partner and friend of many Muslim nations.
We are a proudly multicultural nation.
Since World War II, Australia has welcomed seven million immigrants from every corner of the globe. Our people identify with more than 270 ethnicities and speak more than 260 languages.
Of our population of 23 million, nearly half a million are Muslims — living in harmony and part of our proud multicultural tradition.
The minaret and the cross coexist in harmony in our nation.
From politics, to sport, to academia, broadcasting and business, Muslim Australians make a large and growing contribution to Australian society.
Australia already has strong bonds with many OIC members.
Our political, economic and people-to-people partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Gulf States; Egypt the Magreb and the Levant, are among Australia's most important.
And our relationship with Indonesia, one of our closest neighbours and the most populous Muslim nation in the world, is one of deep friendship.
Tens of thousands of young students from OIC member countries study in Australia — with 86,000 — enrolments last year alone.
More than 1,200 students from OIC countries will study in Australia this year under our Government's Australia Award scholarship program.
They are all welcome in our country and enjoy absolute freedom in the observance of their faith.
Australia already enjoys a goods trade of $39 billion annually with OIC members.
We are determined to build on this.
Australia recognises the growth, scale and importance of Islamic finance globally. That is why Australia is undertaking a review of Australia's taxation laws. To ensure that, wherever possible, they don't inhibit the expansion of Islamic finance, banking and insurance products.
In Australia we are very conscious of the needs of development — with 22 of our 24 nearest neighbours developing countries, we have a different perspective from that of other developed countries.
Australian overseas development assistance benefiting OIC member countries will be nearly $1.3 billion over the next year.
I saw the impact of that support on my very first visit abroad as Foreign Minister — to Pakistan — as it grappled with the aftermath of devastating flooding that disrupted the lives of 21 million people. Australia provided $75 million in assistance, a medical team and a field hospital to work with Pakistan's authorities to treat thousands needing medical treatment.
More recently, I had the privilege of opening the Rosie Khan mosque in Sorkh Murjab, built by Australia in Uruzgan Province Afghanistan, where Australia leads the provincial reconstruction team.
And I visited an Australian-funded girls' school that Australia is also funding in Tarin Kowt — a small part in helping boost primary school enrolments in Afghanistan now to some six million, including two million girls.
Education is close to Australia's heart.
Australia has built over 2,000 schools in Indonesia over the past five years.
Over 500 of these schools were madrassas in partnership with Mohammadiah and NU, Indonesia's two leading Muslim organisations. And we have now committed to building a further 2,000 schools in Indonesia — a symbol of our close partnership with that great nation.
Australia has strengthened greatly its engagement in the Middle East and North Africa over the past year.
In Egypt, Australia is helping to enhance agricultural productivity, boost youth job creation and clear landmines to enable economic development.
Australia is providing similar assistance to Tunisia.
Australia is one of the top four donors in the world supporting Libya's humanitarian needs.
Australia is now among the top ten contributors to the Palestinian Authority. This includes the five-year development partnership with the Palestinian Authority to provide it regular, predictable budget support, to help ready its institutions of statehood. We are also providing scholarships each year for Palestinian students to study in Australia.
I have visited Ramallah three times in the last seven months and in my meetings with President Mahmoud Abbas, I have indicated we are prepared to do more to assist.
The Muslim world is important to Australia.
Because of the connection with so many Australians of Islamic faith; because so many of Australia's key neighbours and partners are Muslim nations; and because, we, like all of you, believe that great global challenges require global coalitions to address them.
That is why we would like to engage more deeply with the Muslim World, and the OIC, an organisation with a global reach surpassed only by the United Nations itself.
I bring to this meeting specific proposals for Australia to strengthen its ties with the OIC.
First: I announce today the appointment of an Australian special envoy to the OIC.
Mr Ahmed Fahour is a modern Australian story of success.
He is the son of Lebanese immigrants. He has worked hard and reaped rewards in the business world. He is the Managing Director of Australia Post, a former CEO of the National Australia Bank, one of Australia’s largest, and the Chairman of the Council for Australia Arab Relations.
Ahmed is a man with a passion for advancing social cohesion and the place of Muslims in Australian society. Ahmed has met many of you at this conference, and he will continue to reach out to the Muslim world from Australia.
Secondly, Australia would like to promote greater interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Australia already co-sponsors a regional interfaith dialogue with Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand. We would like to do more globally, under the auspices of the UN Alliance of Civilisations (AoC).
To begin this, Australia would like to host, or co-host with other key AoC states, a ministerial event in the coming year promoting interfaith and intercultural activities — recognising the civilizational contributions of the great faiths of the world.
Australia, coming predominantly from the Christian tradition, but living in a region dominated by the other great faiths of the world, again is in a good position to do so.
Third, Australia would like to strengthen ties with the Muslim world by formalising a framework for cooperation between Australia and the OIC itself.
I would like through this framework to explore how to increase our strategic dialogue, cooperation on interfaith dialogue, on food security and on joint aid projects between Australia and the OIC.
I have invited the OIC Secretary General to visit Australia to pursue the idea, with a view to completing the framework by the time of the OIC Summit in late 2011.
Finally, allow me to acknowledge the nations of Central Asia, and in particular our host Kazakhstan.
This is my second trip to Kazakhstan at a time when it — and the Central Asian countries more broadly — are asserting their place in the region and the world.
Only six months ago I attended the Summit of the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe. And I watched with interest the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit — which faces both real regional challenges and opportunities.
Now I am here for this meeting of the OIC. I congratulate you on the constructive role you are seeking to play in the region, for recognising the shared concern and interests of friends like Australia who may be far away but, in fact, who have much in common.
Australia is honoured to be here.
We have built the foundation for strengthened engagement.
As you change your name to the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, we in Australia look forward to a future in which we too enter into a new era of cooperation with the countries of the Islamic world.
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