| 24.11,16. 11:24 AM |
Independence Day speech by Mr. Giscard El Khoury, Charge d’Affaires of Lebanon in Australia, delivered in Canberra, at Albert Hall, on 22/11/2016 at 18:30.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
This year’s Independence Day has a special meaning with the election of the President of Lebanon, President Michel Aoun, after almost two and half years of presidential vacuum that threatened to drift the country into irreversible damage. Also promising is the selection of Prime Minister Mr. Saad Hariri to form the new cabinet. With this new political environment, there is much hope and much promise to catch up with the lost time, to make up for those many missing opportunities, and to face up to those many challenges.
These challenges are enormous for my country to cope with alone. Not least of which are the 2 million displaced and refugees that we temporarily host when our population is only 4 million. An estimated 6% of our GDP goes to pay the bill of hosting them year on year. Just do the math in the case your countries had to cope with a similar number and had to pay a similar rate.
The strains on every sector of our economy, and the accompanying threat to our social fabric, are intolerable. Lebanon expects the international community to provide the necessary support, and to do more. We expect them to find a solution that envisages the return of these refugees and displaced to their home countries, and that recognizes that their stay in Lebanon is only temporary.
Here we extend our thanks to Australia for her expressed commitment to support Lebanon, and also her commitment to the security of Lebanon. I wish to equally thank the many officials from various Departments with whom I had the honour to work. They were all very courteous, very professional, and very eager for bilateral cooperation.
As a Lebanese diplomat here, I take a great pride that the Lebanese community is recognised as having had a part in the making of Australia of today. The early migrant arrived in the 1870s. In the First World War, my fellow Lebanese, in then Mount Lebanon and in Australia, joined the Australian Army, and fought side by side in defence of freedom. An estimated four hundred Lebanese were martyred. They were the “Lebanese Anzacs”, many of whose names are engraved on the walls of honour at the War Memorial in Canberra. From here, I stand in salute of all Anzacs, and in remembrance of their ultimate sacrifice. I do that “lest we forget”.
Lebanon – Australia relations are strong, and our countries have lot in common. Not only the spirit of “mateship” that we had established 140 years ago, but also because, as nations, we share the same values and ideals that we live by and die for:
We both uphold the same respect for political and personal liberties.
We subscribe to the same market system, economic freedoms and free initiative.
We adhere to the same values of cultural diversity and multiculturalism. In fact that is a distinction we, Lebanon, pride ourselves of among the nations. Lebanon’s cultural diversity values are not dissimilar to the Australian values.
We both have provided generously throughout history a refuge for all persecuted minorities to come to us and live in peace befitting their dignity.
We both have the same enemy, and face the same threats in the form of terrorism which in the words of President Aoun “we shall counter it by adopting pre-emptive, deterring, and defensive measures until we defeat it”. Here I might add that our Lebanese army is at the forefront of battling terrorism. We fight it not with the sophisticated weapons that we don’t have, but with our sheer will, and with our innocent blood that eventually will wash away it every trace. Another salute to our Lebanese Army, and to its many martyrs.
But above all, and in the basis of all, what we have most in common are our people. Australians with Lebanese heritage and Lebanese with Australian links, upon whose shoulders lies the great honor of bringing our countries closer together ever more.
To my Lebanese people in Australia: You have called Australia Home, and truly so, Australia is Home. As to the motherland, there are legitimate expectations that the current political momentum in Lebanon would initiate a long arduous journey to success and to attain the appropriate and the rightful place we envision for ourselves among the nations. A place from where we positively engage with every nation, and from where we constructively contribute to every nation. The lessons of our history, with its bright spots and disadvantages, are with us, and the picture of a bright future is before us. So, together we can make it and, like a phoenix bird rising from the ashes, we will make it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
God Bless Australia
God Bless Lebanon.