Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to further consolidate the longstanding and enduring relations with Australia for mutual benefit, when he met Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on 6 April in Sydney.
Samaraweera was in Australia from 4-6 April on an official visit as a guest of the Australian government. This is the first visit to Australia by a Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister since the new Government was appointed following parliamentary elections in 2015.
In discussions covering the full areas of political and economic relations, Samaraweera emphasised the Sri Lankan Government’s focus on restoring democracy, fostering reconciliation and bringing about economic development to ensure that peace dividends are realised by all Sri Lankans.
Samaraweera was also associated with the launch of the Asian Sports Partnerships Programme by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, which also announced a grant for further development of netball in Sri Lanka. Bishop highlighted the important role that sports can play in making societies more inclusive.
Speaking at the launch, Samaraweera thanked Australia for the grant assistance to Netball-Sri Lanka that would enhance the social empowerment of Sri Lankan women playing the sport, particularly in rural areas, and promote healthy lifestyles. The Minister reminded that Australia’s support in developing Sri Lankan sports is not new, and recalled that Australia was the first country to invite the Sri Lankan national team to undertake an overseas tour after the country became a Test Playing Nation in 1981.
Samaraweera said that Australia has been a longstanding friend of Sri Lanka and observed that the two countries will celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations in 2017. However, in the last several years, the bedrock of our bilateral relationship was based on our cooperation in the area of human smuggling. He said that the number of illegal migrants going to Australia has greatly decreased since the new Government came to power, but that Sri Lanka will continue to support Australia’s fight against people smuggling criminal syndicates who prey on innocent economic migrants of Sri Lanka.
He also pointed out that now Sri Lanka is on the path to peace and prosperity through democratisation, reconciliation and development, and our bilateral relations must be further widened especially in the area of economic and trade relations.
Bishop expressed delight at the level of the bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka and referred to the great friendship between the peoples of the two countries. She also thanked Sri Lanka for the cooperation extended in countering people smuggling.
During his visit to Australia the Foreign Minister also met the Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, and discussed other bilateral issues. The Minister was also hosted by the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Victoria and the Asia Society in Sydney to a lunch co-hosted by Navitas where Samaraweera spoke about the contours of a new Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Somasundaram Skandakumar, Consuls General in Melbourne and Sydney, Prasanna Gamage and Lal Wickrematunge, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were associated with the Foreign Minister during the visit.