Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:11): I’d like to thank the member for Chifley for bringing to the House this important motion, which commemorates or recognises 75 years of the diplomatic relationship between Australia and the Philippines. I gave a speech on this in February this year as that date approached. I am the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the Philippines, along with the member for Solomon, and I thank him for his support in that role. We’ve had a number of meetings in this place with the very gracious and well attuned ambassador of the Philippines, Madam Hellen De La Vega. In fact, she hosted the parliamentary friends group for dinner in June, and that was delightful.
This has been seen as a very important day by the people of the Philippines. Australia is a longstanding and trusted friend. Perhaps that loyalty was founded in the battles of World War II, in which, of course, the Philippines was a hotly contested piece of territory which was invaded in 1941 and occupied almost until the end of the war. The final cessation of that came with the declaration of victory in the Pacific on 2 September 1945. The next year, on 4 July 1946, the Philippines was declared an independent nation—that is, independent from the US, of which it had been a colony for more than 40 years. It is interesting that that date, 4 July, which is American Independence Day as well, had been determined 10 years earlier. So there had been the agreement and then the interruption by the war, but eventually that time frame was still met. I think it was quite an achievement for the political leaders of the Philippines to hold to that time frame, even though they had had a period of over three years when they were not in control of their country. Australia was one of the very first nations to recognise the Philippines as an independent nation. In fact, we granted a diplomatic relationship on 2 May, prior to them becoming independent in a full sense.
The Philippines today is a nation of 107 million people, and our relationship has grown. There are lots of reasons for that, but I think the reasons are partly based on the foundation of the Colombo Plan, which served not only Australia but so many nations in Asia and the Pacific so well for so many years. Future leaders were educated in Australia and built this strong relationship, which is the foundation on which we build our relationship today.
There are 294,000 Filipinos or thereabouts resident in Australia. Thank you to the member for Riverina for pointing out the vital role they play in our caring services. When I’m speaking to Filipino groups, I often say: ‘You make great Australians. You bring so many advantages to this nation: you are very conversant with English, you come from a Christian background, your nation’s laws are based on the same type of democracy as ours, and you believe in democracy and in those fundamental rights of each and every human.’ That makes them easier than some other ethnic groups to integrate into Australian society, and they do it seamlessly and become part of the broader church that is Australia.
They are not only in the caring services, though. If I look at my own electorate, and at Whyalla and Roxby Downs in particular, they provide a lot of expertise in the engineering and mining services, and their skills and work ethic are highly valued. The member for Riverina touched on the almost $6 billion two-way trade we have now, which is the 19th largest in the world. They had a growing economy prior to COVID of about 6.3 per cent per annum. Despite the fact that it contracted by 9.6 per cent, it is anticipated that that the six per cent mark is well achievable and they are on the way back. There’s $10 billion worth of Australian investment in the Philippines. That employs 44,000 Filipinos, which is good for both nations—without a doubt.
The Pacific is an unsettled area of the world, and Australia seeks to deepen our relationships with all countries that share our values—countries that are democratic, that believe in freer trade, that follow the international rules that are in place and that believe in the free movement of people and respect for human rights. In the Philippines, we have a great partner. I think this relationship will continue to grow and flourish, and I thank them for their friendship.