= Australia has provided SL with more support than ever this year, including through $75 million in development funding in 2022-23
= There is great potential in GOSL’s plan to become a regional hub for international education
= Permanent migration visas available in 2022-23, increased legitimate migration pathways to Australia
by Sanath Nanayakkare
As a friend and neighbour, Australia will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka in every way possible, and Australian businesses continue to see Sri Lanka as a very promising place to invest and do business,” said the new Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. Lanka Paul Stephens said The Island Financial Review during an exclusive interview with him.
“Australia and Sri Lanka enjoy strong economic and trade cooperation, which has continued this year despite the economic difficulties Sri Lanka is facing. Australian companies continue to see Sri Lanka as a very promising place to invest. and doing business, for example in renewable energy, mineral resources, agribusiness, water infrastructure and education partnerships,” he said.
Speaking further, Paul Stephens said:
“As part of the Australia-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), we hold annual Joint Trade Committee (JTC) meetings between senior government officials (last held in 2021) and regular business meetings every few months. We plan to continue high-level bilateral engagement on trade and investment, including with a JTC hosted by Australia later this year.
“I am happy to say that there are now over 30 partnerships between Australian education providers and Sri Lankan institutions – and that number continues to grow. Australia sees great potential in the Sri Lankan government‘s plan to become a regional hub for international education. The recent announcement of the interim budget to allow foreign universities to establish campuses in Sri Lanka is an important and positive step towards the growth of the international education sector in Sri Lanka. Australian suppliers are keen to be part of this journey. The technical and vocational education sector is also an emerging growth area for Sri Lanka, and one in which Australia has deep expertise and experience. We continue to work with the Sri Lankan government to determine how best to collaborate in this space. For example, in partnership with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Skills Development and Vocational Training, Australia has been a strong supporter of programs that build skills across the tourism sector value chain. This work is being continued under Australia’s $14.4 million Skills for Inclusive Growth program, which has been operational since early 2017.”
“Australian society has been blessed with a rich blend of cultural backgrounds and heritage. As reported in the latest Australian Census, as of 2021 more than half of Australia’s population was themselves born overseas or had a parent born overseas. Close people-to-people ties are the basis of Australia-Sri Lanka relations. Many Sri Lankans have chosen to settle in Australia and have made outstanding contributions to the diverse and multicultural Australian society. I have no doubt that this will continue in the future. Australia’s aim is to support legitimate migration routes and, of course, to discourage Sri Lankans from making dangerous journeys by sea. Australia recently announced an increase in the number of permanent migration visas available in 2022-2023, with a focus on addressing skills shortages in regional areas. This step increased the legitimate avenues of migration available to Australia, including for Sri Lankans.
“Australia remains committed to working practically and constructively with Sri Lanka to advance its commitments to reconciliation and transitional justice and to uphold its international human rights obligations. Australia has always had transparent and open discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka about our strong support for international human rights standards.Although the current economic situation in Sri Lanka is difficult, there are good reasons to believe that a lasting reconciliation is a key factor for long-term political and economic stability.While welcoming the central role of strengthened and independent national institutions that enjoy the confidence of the communities concerned, we also continue to encourage Sri Lanka to positively engage in international human rights processes We also take into account the ongoing impacts of the conflict and the role we can play in helping to mitigate them, through our development assistance in Sri Lanka. Among other initiatives, in recent years Australia has provided livelihood support and psychosocial support to affected communities in the north and east, and supported a range of community-based organizations to lead reconciliation and development. economy at the local level. We will continue to seek opportunities to support Sri Lanka’s journey of reconciliation.
“I was very pleased to see Sri Lanka and the IMF working together to finalize the IMF staff agreement recently. This is a positive step in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and Australia welcomes the vigorous and productive engagement of senior officials in this process. We continue to encourage the Sri Lankan government to pursue the implementation of all necessary reforms recommended by the IMF, as part of Sri Lanka’s return to a stable and prosperous economic path. I am also delighted that Australia has provided Sri Lanka with more support than ever this year, including through $75 million in development funding in 2022-23, to help mitigate the impact of the crisis on more vulnerable. As a friend and neighbour, Australia will continue to support the people of Sri Lanka in every way possible.
“Australia’s Indo-Pacific vision is of an open, inclusive and resilient region underpinned by rules, standards and respect for sovereignty. As an Indian Ocean neighbour, Australia wants Sri Lanka to be stable, resilient and prosperous, including by preserving its sovereignty and democratic values. Australia and Sri Lanka have a long history of productive and mutually beneficial collaboration in regional and multilateral forums, including the UN, the Commonwealth and the Indian Ocean Rim Association. We will continue to work together and support Sri Lanka’s engagement in these institutions, which we see as important mechanisms for frank and open discussion and practical action in areas of common interest.
When asked to tell our readers about his diplomatic career, his family, the food he likes to eat and what he likes to do in his spare time, the High Commissioner said: “I I have been blessed with a varied career that has included postings in Stockholm (where I was Ambassador), Bangkok, New York and Brasilia, in addition to Colombo. My wife Christina and I have three children, twins Cody and Daniel and daughter Bella. All three are adults and remain in Australia where they work. We look forward to having them visit us here in Sri Lanka. I’m a huge fan of sports, especially cricket and the Australian Indigenous Code of Football, Australian Rules. I played cricket for many years in Australia, but more recently have focused on running, while cycling, swimming and going to the gym. There are very few foods that I dislike, but I love spicy food and look forward to experiencing Sri Lanka’s many culinary delights, especially fresh fish and fruit!
When asked if there was a motto that best described his way of seeing and approaching life, he replied: “I don’t have a particular motto, but I think it’s important to be nice to people and stay calm.”