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          Australia Day in 2005 celebrates the pride and freedom of the Australian people. A survey of Australians this week identified "our freedom", "our willingness to help others", and "our cultural diversity" as the three key points on which Australia's national identity rests. This year two in three Australians will celebrate Australia Day as a coming together to reflect on our nation's past, present and future.
On this special day for Australia, I extend my best wishes to fellow Australians residing in Bangladesh. I would also like to express good wishes to the Government and the people of Bangladesh as they move forward to meet the challenges of 2005.
During the past year we have witnessed an enhancement of the Australia Bangladesh relationship particularly in the economic sphere. In January we saw the launch of the Australia Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ABCCI) which is already playing an important role in facilitating markets in each country. The successful Bangladesh Festival in Sydney in April was opened by Hon. Commerce Minister Altaf Chowdhury and Australia's Trade Minister Mark Vaile. A range of senior official visits were facilitated during the year. Minister Chowdhury was accompanied by a delegation of around 70 Bangladeshi business people.
The strong people-to-people links between Australia and Bangladesh find history in the Commonwealth and in cricket, in the Bangladesh community living in Australia, and the Australian community living in Bangladesh. Australia and Bangladesh have similar education, legal and commercial systems, and are working together to strengthen these links. Australia's Bangladesh-born community - about 15,000 - contributes to the economic and social life of Australia.
Australia's cricket excellence continues to assist Bangladesh through coach and umpire education and a strategic skills training programme. Bangladesh's win in the 2004 Under 19 Cricket World Cup, and at the national team level in the recent one day and test series against Zimbabwe is testament to the success of this program.
Bangladesh's improving economic fundamentals and an increasingly liberalised economy has ensured continued growth for many years. Australia -- as a development partner with Bangladesh since its Independence, 33 years ago -- continues to support Bangladesh's efforts to reduce poverty and promote good governance through targeted interventions. Our development partnership particularly focuses on supporting Bangladesh to reduce nutritional vulnerability (through food aid); improve the quality of primary education (as a partner in Primary Education Development Program PEDP-II, a government-led, multi-donor initiative); increase access to safe drinking water (through arsenic mitigation); inform public health policy (through health research on HIV/AIDS and other health issues); develop human resources (through Australian Development Scholarships); and raise awareness about human rights.
In this highly globalised and increasingly integrated world, Australia and Bangladesh are cooperating on encouraging good governance, promoting democracy, respecting the individual and working to ensure equality before the law. Together with other countries in the region, we continue to face the trans-national challenges of people smuggling, money laundering, drug smuggling, and access to clean water, environmental degradation, security of reliable energy sources and prevention of diseases such as HIV/AIDS that all pose new threats to sovereignty and security. These values are strongly demonstrated through national contributions to peace, stability and democracy in our region such that each and every free nation is globally and regionally a full participant in the war against terrorism. Australia is pleased to work with Bangladesh in this context.
There is no doubt that the many Bangladeshis who have chosen to settle in Australia have contributed greatly to the development of strong relations between Australia and Bangladesh. The number of Bangladeshi students choosing Australia to further their education is increasing. Our lifestyle and favourable climate, and a combination of factors such as lower living costs and student fees (compared to other English-speaking destinations) and consistently high quality education, have made Australia a favourite destination among Bangladeshi students. The number of applications from Bangladeshi students to study in Australia increased by 54% during the 2003-04 year, while total student visa grants across all countries increased by only 5.5%. The Australian Government operates an overseas student program that is universal and open to all genuine students. All applicants must satisfy a set of strict objective criteria assessing their English language proficiency, educational achievement and financial capacity, as well as other legislative requirements.
The Australian Government is also making it easier for skilled overseas students to remain in Australia after completing their courses. There are new migration options to encourage skilled graduates to settle and work in regional Australia, outside the major capital cities. While many Bangladeshis are taking up these new options, here in Bangladesh we are also seeing large communities of graduates returning home with a special understanding, high regard and often a strong affection for Australia.
Australian merchandise exports to Bangladesh -- food and manufacturers -- continue to increase. However, Australia's award of duty free and quota free access for Bangladeshi products in 2003 has not led to increased exports to Australia. With the phasing out of the Multi Fibre Agreement, and the need for Bangladesh to diversify markets and products Australia remains a good potential market for Bangladeshi products.
Australian companies continue to be engaged in Bangladesh. Wesfarmers Kleenheat Gas import, storage and bottling facility distributes LP Gas throughout the country. Australian services exports to Bangladesh have increased over the past year, and are set to improve further, especially the increasing Bangladeshi student numbers in Australia. Australia's SMEC International Pty Ltd has provided high quality engineering consultancy services in Bangladesh for 27 years, and joins other Australian mining related contractors and Bangladeshi companies in providing support to the Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pty Ltd in it coal mining and exploration activities in Phulbari. A range of other companies are also engaging in Bangladesh.
On the world stage Australia and Bangladesh continue to work together to encourage greater trade flows and to remove market distortions, through the Doha round of trade negotiations in the Word Trade Organisation. Australia and Bangladesh are also committed to encouraging regional trade liberalisation and are working together to achieve a greater degree of trade cooperation between the countries of the Indian Ocean through the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).
Australia's relations with Bangladesh are built on strong foundations. As members of the international community, both countries co-operate closely on matters of mutual interest in organisations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth and in other multilateral fora.
I would like to reiterate my good wishes to the Government and the people of Bangladesh for the coming year, a year in which I am confident our bilateral relations will reach new heights.
Lorraine Barker
High Commissioner for Australia


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