Launch of the Asian Sports Partnerships Program

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm delighted to welcome here to Kirribilli House the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister the Honourable Mangala Samaraweera, my colleague Senator the Honourable Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, my colleague, the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Craig Laundy, members of the sporting community, the Sri Lankan community, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen all.

I'm absolutely delighted to welcome you here to today's launch of the Australian Government's Asian Sports Partnership Program.

Australia has an excellent global reputation for sporting achievement, and our athletes across a range of sports can be superb role models for young Australians. Sport is a key aspect of Australia's people to people links with nations in our region, and it can be a bridge across divides - national, cultural, ethnic, language, political. In fact, within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade we have initiatives that we implement under the banner of 'sports diplomacy', it is such an essential part of foreign affairs.

We have three athletes with us today who are fine examples of the diversity, the enthusiasm, and the role models that we look for in our young athletes. The Australian cricketer Gurinder Sandhu is the first player of Indian heritage to play cricket for Australia, so we welcome Gurinder. Former Australian netball player Mo'onia Gerrard is of Tongan heritage and has been involved for many years in developing the sport in Tonga, as well as being a wonderful example of a fine athlete in Australia. The Matildas footballer Chloe Logarzo has already established strong international links with involvements in China, playing in China, and the United States. In a relatively short career she's had some wonderful achievements, being named Rookie of the Year in 2014 when she played for Colorado Pride, and we were just talking about the upcoming Olympics and we think that the Matildas are in with a big chance of gold. No pressure!

Over the last decade the Australian Government's Pacific Sports Partnerships has made a really positive impact on the lives of people in the Pacific, and participation in sport is a proven way of delivering a whole range of significant benefits, including health benefits. It encourages young people to learn healthy behaviours and attitudes. Such was the success of the Pacific Sports Partnerships program that we decided to broaden it, extend it. Today I announce a new Australian Government initiative: the Asian Sports Partnerships. The first of the Asian Sports Partnerships will receive their grants today, and this will build on the success of the Pacific program by delivering innovative sports partnerships into Asia. This is our region, our neighbourhood, our part of the world, where we can make the biggest difference.

Today I announce the first tranche of $2 million, which will be provided to 10 Australian national sporting organisations to implement sport for development programs in eight countries across Asia, including Football Federation Australia, and I'm delighted to see David Gallop, the CEO, here today. Also Badminton Australia, baseball, cricket, hockey, tennis and table tennis among others. I'm also pleased to announce that a second tranche of $2 million and a second round of these Asia Sports Partnerships will be opened later this month.

The first Asia Sports Partnerships will focus on matters like gender equality, disability inclusion and peace building. These are all initiatives that are a part of our aid program, and we're building it into this sports Partnership program. So whether they're parents learning about nutrition through playing basketball in Timor-Leste, or school children improving their health by playing football in India, or communities coming together by playing netball in Sri Lanka, Australia will be using its expertise in sport to make a difference.

I'm here today with Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Samaraweera, and we will shortly be having a bilateral meeting. This is the Minister's first official visit to Australia as Foreign Minister but he's been to Australia in Sydney in a personal capacity, and we're delighted to see him here. We have a range of bilateral and regional issues to discuss, but I believe it is fitting that we open today's discussions with an issue that underlies the goodwill and the links between Australia and Sri Lanka, of course that's our mutual passion, our love for sport.

I'm delighted that under the Asia Sports Program we've announced today, Netball Australia will be delivering community development and peace building programs in Sri Lanka. This is obviously part of a much broader agenda of reconciliation within Sri Lanka, and also cooperation between our two countries. As in Australia, netball is the most popular sport for women; in Sri Lanka it's played widely in schools throughout the country. Last year in fact, the Australian Government provided support to the Sri Lankan women's netball team as part of a broader package of assistance to five countries to enable them to compete at the 2015 Netball World Cup held here in Australia.

So ladies and gentlemen, the first Asian Sports Partnership recipients are being announced today, the first tranche of funding. The second tranche will be later this month, and before we take some photographs of all the young sporting soon-to-be heroes here, I'll ask the Foreign Minister to say a few words.

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