Australia and the Philippines: Bilateral Relations Through ‘Ranrat’

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By Dong Maraya

Australia and the Philippines have a long history of bilateral cooperation. Diplomatic relations were established when Australia opened a Consulate-General in Manila on 22 May 1946. An Australian Ambassador to the Philippines was appointed in 1957. The Philippines opened an Embassy in Canberra in 1962. Today the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines is Bill“Ranrat” Tweddell.

Mr. Bill Tweddell is Australia’s top diplomat in the Philippines. In a formal address, the titles that precede his name are EXCELLENCY, Mr. Ambassador, Consul General, and Deputy High Commissioner. But he also carries a unique tag very close to his heart: Ranrat. That’s how his two-year-old granddaughter Eva calls him. “She can’t say Granddad so she calls me Ranrat,” Bill said. Eva is Bill’s first grandchild and, practically, the first little girl that entered his life.

Bill and his wife Chris have two adult sons, Andrew and Paul, and another grandson on the way.

“But now I have a granddaughter, so finally I’ve got the little girl that I didn’t have,” Bill said.
Eva lives in Sydney. “Eva loves the water,” Bill said, acknowledging that he is never happier than when near the sea. A quintessential Australian, Bill is quite outdoorsy. He and his best friend Garth had a shared passion for rugby. But he hadn’t been the stereotype of a high-school tough jock, even in youth.

The domestic environment he grew up in while living in rural Queensland was one of mutual respect, and a very nurturing one at that. It was also filled with very strong women and unconditional family support. His mother, a kindergarten teacher by training who ended up training handicapped children and adults, was “not so quiet.” His older sister, a scientist, was also not quiet. His younger sister, an education specialist, was as opinionated. With that upbringing, it isn’t surprising that Bill ended up marrying a lady of the same mettle.

Bill and Chris met at James Cook University, from which he earned his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Economics degrees. Bill and Chris married when he was 22 and she was turning 21. What is vivid in Bill’s memory is that a cyclone was brewing as he followed Chris’s family as they were vacationing along the Sunshine Coast. Defying the wind and rain, Bill traveled partly by car and partly by train just to get to Chris.

Bill’s would-be father-in-law gave his blessings but admitted that he hoped Chris would get to travel first before settling down. Chris is a CPA who gets work when she can, even when accompanying Bill to postings in Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Greece and Bangladesh. During Bill’s posting as Deputy High Commissioner in India, she even had a chance to connect with Everest conquerors Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary on different occasions.

 

Australia and the Philippines cooperate closely in a broad range of areas, including defense, counter-terrorism, law enforcement and development. Australia has the following regular bilateral meetings with the Philippines: a Foreign and Trade Ministers’ meeting (the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting, or ‘PAMM’) and associated PAMM business dialogue and senior officials’ meeting; counter-terrorism consultations; annual joint defense cooperation consultations; a joint working group on mining; an agriculture forum; a climate change dialogue; and a strategic dialogue.

The two countries share common perspectives on many regional, economic and security issues. Australia and the Philippines share a common interest in cooperating in regional affairs through forums such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum. Both Australia and the Philippines are active members of the Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries. The two countries have also signaled their common interest in combating transnational challenges such as climate change.

The Philippines is the third most vulnerable country to natural disasters and the sixth most vulnerable to climate change. When earthquakes, volcanoes and severe typhoons occur, the poor are worst affected. Australia is one of the first countries to respond when typhoons affect millions of Filipino people. The Australian government is also partnering with the Philippine government in long term programs to ensure communities are better prepared for natural disasters.The countryhelps in strengthening climate change adaptation and disaster risk management in the Philippines. Through the support of their government as well, state-of-the-art multi-hazard and vulnerability maps in 14 provinces will be generated.

Australia is a wealthy country with a market economy, a relatively high GDP per capita, and a relatively low rate of poverty. In terms of average wealth, this country ranked second in the world after Switzerland in 2013. Australia has among the highest house prices and some of the highest household-debt levels in the world.

The Australian government provides aid where it knows it can make a difference. By targeting and aligning aid programs with the development goals of the Philippine Government and focusing on poverty reduction, Australian aid is making a difference in the lives of Filipinos living in poverty.

The country popularly known as ‘Down Under’ is one of the largest grant aid donors to the Philippines. The current Australia-Philippines Country Strategy (2012-2017) aligns with the key reform agenda to tackle poor governance and reduce poverty. Australia’s development assistance in the Philippines is focused on education, local government service delivery, disaster risk management and climate change adaptation, peace building and good governance.

Australia and the Philippines have growing people-to-people links through trade, investment, cultural exchange, tourism and migration. Significant numbers of Filipinos immigrated to Australia between the 1960s and the 1990s, and Filipinos remain one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in Australia. At the 2006 Census, 160,000 Australians claimed Filipino ancestry, up from 129,000 in 2001.

The Australia-Philippines Development Cooperation Program Statement ofCommitment reflects the intention of the Governments to work together to address some of the key issues that keep people poor and make others vulnerable to falling into poverty. The goal of the Australia – Philippines development cooperation program is to assist the poor and vulnerable to take advantage of the opportunities that can arise from a more prosperous, stable and resilient Philippines.

Australia is providing up to $30 million to support the Philippine Government’s Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) reform agenda by investing in infrastructure development, including in- classroom construction, health services and transport. Investment in these areas is critical to fostering sustainable growth in the Philippines. Australia is supporting more than 10 national and local governments by providing government employees with a variety of short term training, together with Australia Awards Scholarships for study in Australia. By 2015, at least 600 Filipinos will have undergone postgraduate study in Australia.

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