Good evening Your Excellency, Ministers and all who have come here this evening.
I’m afraid my understanding of Australia or rather the settlement there actually is derived from Oscar and Lucinda. Of course, we learnt a lot about Australia in school, but then later on our ideas of what Australia is have gone through a number of changes. Our perceptions, or rather how we view Australia is also very much, in my mind, based on the dynamism that is in this country at this moment in time.
We are going through, as the High Commissioner has pointed out, a very dynamic period. During the past two years, we have been able to galvanise the public into political activism, we have been able to build up political parties, we have been able to amend the Constitution, we have also been able to have a free and fair election and most importantly, I believe, we have been able to have a very smooth transfer of power. And then of course we now have this very huge task of consolidating democracy and trying to make it sustainable. So it is while we do all this that we now again have a look at our friends, have a look at our neighbours, and try to understand what kind of relations and how we are going to present ourselves to everyone else.
Australia is an Indian Ocean brim country. And we sit right in the middle of the Indian Ocean actually occupying a very substantial part of that ocean. We are a very long country. We sit in the most navigable parts of the Indian Ocean. Bulk of the trade that crosses the Indian Ocean actually either crosses just about North of our country or the South, or most of the time right through it. So anyone trading here has always had an impact on the Maldives. We are not a very rich country, we have modest means. But we have been able to fend for ourselves many, many times.
We have faced many economic challenges. We have been able to overcome them. We are right now on a threshold of, we feel, a period which will show us much economic progress. We have, in the light of what has happened in this country in the last two years, we re able to increase our income, increase our capacities mainly through trading the geographical locations that we are positioned. Because everything passes through us, it now seems that it is quite possible for us to tap into that and be able to be a more intricate part of the Indian Ocean.
While we do all that, we have our neighbours, we have the SAARC countries and we also have very close relations with the west of the Maldives or the rim countries in the western Maldives as much as we have relations with the rim countries in the East of the Maldives. So it is in this light that I have come today, hoping and also understanding the feeling that sooner or later Australia is bound to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean. And while Australia might do that, we would like to say we stand very ready to be engaging with Australia in more manners than we have been in the past.
As the High Commissioner pointed out, yes we have benefited a lot from Australian teachers. The first batch of our teachers was trained in Australia and New Zealand and I can still see some of them here. And therefore, our understanding of Australia becomes romantic because of that. The romance that they attach to their high school and university years was in a sense hoisted upon us for us to understand Australia in this regard.
While this is so, I have recently been fortunate to have met the Australian Prime Minister a number of times in the UN, in the Commonwealth and finally in Copenhagen. During all these meetings I found the Australian Prime Minister to be very friendly, easy, thoughtful and an extremely capable person. One of the new generation of politicians that we are bound to see in this new century. Kevin Rudd himself took it upon himself that it is important to save Copenhagen. The Australian Prime Minister was the first Prime Minister who actually came up and suggested to me that it is important that we try and do some positive work in that regard. Also, his understanding of many small nations and also his relationship with many developing countries, especially, the Bangladesh was striking. His tolerance and his attitude to life, I found to be so easy going so therefore I have been fortunate to have a very good relationship with the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister was instrumental in coming up with the Accord or the first 25 countries who negotiated the accord, in a sense, who were very much directed by the Australian Prime Minister and he hasn’t stopped there. Since then, we have – the Australian Prime Minister, the British Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and myself – we have signed a letter to all Commonwealth countries asking them to join the Copenhagen Accord and I’m sure that has helped the Accord to become much stronger than initially thought it could.
On that night when the Accord was voted by the UN Framework, a lot of people did not think that there was anything, that it was not worth the piece of paper it was written upon. But we are now seeing that it is becoming much more than what was initially understood it to be. And again, much of it is because of the very good work done by the Australian Prime Minister. So it is a pleasure that I am able to be here tonight.
We would like to extend our well wishes to the High Commissioner and we hope you have a very enjoyable, a very comfortable stay here in the Maldives. It is very, very important that you be happy and enjoy. This is very important. You have to do that.
I also do believe that with the number of projects that we have embarked with Australia, we will be able to strengthen the relations and we can just keep going forward and forward.
Thank you very much.