Remarks at Alumni Reception

  • Speech, check against delivery

I am delighted to acknowledge Deputy Mayor Olivera Majic, the Director of the University of Zagreb – congratulations on your 349th year of existence – Ministers, Government Officials, friends of Croatia, friends of Australia (or Caussies as I was assured they are called), ladies and gentlemen.

This year represents the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Australia and Croatia and it's more than timely for an Australian Foreign Minister to visit this wonderful country and in particular the beautiful city of Zagreb.

As a member of the European Union, as a partner in NATO missions, Croatia is an increasingly important voice on the global stage. And in a world of increasing uncertainty and volatility, when the international rules-based order is under stain, it's more important than ever for countries that share the values of a commitment to freedom and democracy and the rule of law and open markets, that they stand together and join in common cause.

The bilateral relationship between Australia and Croatia is not only based on our shared world view, but very much on the personal connections between our people. The Croatian diaspora in Australia have made a valuable and deeply appreciated contribution to the richness of Australian society. I think it is fair to say that Australia is the most successful multicultural nation on Earth and we have integrated into our communities people from every corner of the globe.

The Croatian Australians have made a particular mark. They are representatives in our Parliaments, important business people, they are involved in science and research, the arts, culture, and of course our national passion – sport. Indeed, today the captain of the Australian Socceroos team is Mile Jedinak - and I think that speaks volumes about the connections between Australia and Croatia. Of course being an Australian Rules fan I cannot see past Matthew Pavlich or Glen Jakovich – one who played for Fremantle Dockers and one who played for the West Coast Eagles. But it's amazing to think there is in fact a Croatian Australian Rules Football team here, and I believe I am going to meet them sometime this afternoon, and this is a Croatian team that will be playing in the International AFL Cup in Melbourne next month so I wish them all the very best.

There are also other areas of engagement including tourism and an increasing number of Australians are discovering the beauty and delights of this fascinating country. Last year about 150,000 Australian tourists came to Croatia.

I think the area where we have the most potential to grow, and already with the deepest connections, is through education. As a former Education, Science and Training Minister in a previous Liberal Government, I know how important these connections can be in building enduring networks and friendships. Already there are about 150 Croatian students studying in Australia – a small number when one considers there are about 600,000 students from overseas enrolled to study at Australian universities and institutions last year – but nevertheless the ties between our students, and our universities and our research institutions, our academics are growing. For example Macquarie University has a number of connections with the University of Split, the University of Zadar, and the University of Zagreb and in a whole range of fields. I think it's of particular interest that there is that joint archaeological excavation here in Croatia involving Macquarie University, and that Macquarie University has a Croatian language program. Likewise the University of Western Australia has connections with University of Zagreb, in the area of radio-astronomy which happens to be a particular strength of Australian science and research. Also Edith Cowan University through tourism and hospitality with the university of Rijeka.

I think one of the most important initiatives that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our Education Department have undertaken recently, is to set up a Global Alumni Strategy and this aims to connect all those who have studied in Australia or Australians who have studied overseas. Academic exchanges, university partnerships, and through this Global Alumni Strategy we will maintain those connections and links and networks to ensure that the overall bilateral relationships grow stronger.

Tomorrow I will have the pleasure of attending a STEM - Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics event for women hosted by the University of Zagreb and I'm looking forward to building even deeper connections in this very important area of scientific endeavour.

So my visit here might the first for an Australian Foreign Minister but it certainly will not be the last, and I hope that I am building on the political and security connections, the trade and investment links and most certainly the artistic, sporting and cultural ties between our two countries. I sincerely believe the very best days of the Australia-Croatia relationship lies ahead of us. Thank you for being here this evening.

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