Well thank you very much and Prime Minister Lee, Mrs Lee thank you so much again for your very warm welcome.
About four and a half thousand kilometres from here lies the Torres Strait—the narrow strip of water separating the uppermost tip of Australia and Papua New Guinea, wedged between the Coral and Arafura seas.
This narrow waterway is dotted with hundreds of small islands. One of them is Erub Island, the inspiration and the origin of the stunning artwork we’ve been surrounded with tonight.
Seeing art from one of the most remote communities in Australia brought here – to one of the most densely populated countries in the world and displayed in one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the region, lends a whole new meaning to this idea of connection.
Over the past few days, I have spoken about Australia’s admiration for Singapore, and that all our two countries have in common.
We are nations with different histories, and different cultural traditions, yet shared cultural traditions. We are familiar and comfortable with one another, determined to know more about each other, and to work together as friends and neighbours in our region.
When Prime Minister Lee visited the Australian Parliament last year, he spoke to us and said that our relationship springs from the heart as much as it does from the head. Cultural exchanges like this one are the beating heart of our friendship and I’m pleased to see our creative partnerships continue to strengthen under the stewardship of the Australia Singapore Arts Group.
I want to thank Australia-Singapore Arts Group Chairs – the Deputy Secretary in the Singapore Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth, Mrs Rosa Daniel who spoke to us; and the Director of the National Museum of Australia, Dr Mathew Trinca.
I would also like to thank Mr Douglas Gautier, the Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival Centre, who is here tonight on Dr Trinca’s behalf.
And, of course, I want to thank Mr Kennie Ting, the Director of this extraordinary Asian Civilisations Museum, our host this evening.
Now we are honoured to have a number of the artists here tonight, and we’ve met with them. And I just want to mention the artists, thank you so much for your extraordinary work. Racy Oui-Pitt, Jimmy K. Thaiday Lorenzo Ketchell, Lavinia Ketchell, Florence Gutchen, Lynnette Griffiths and Marion Gaemers.
Together, you have transformed the ghost nets of the ocean—the discarded fishing nets, the twine and debris that wash through the Strait—from something that poses a real threat to the survival of your marine environment into something which showcases Torres Strait Islander culture and pride to the world.
And today of course, is a momentous day in the history of the Torres Strait. 25 years ago to this very day, on the 3rd of June 1997, the High Court of Australia handed down its historic decision, in the case brought by Eddie Mabo and other plaintiffs from the Torres Strait, to recognise the native title land rights of the Meriam people on Mer Island, another island in the Torres Strait.
This was a momentous occasion, where the high court discarded and rejected the doctrine of Terra Nullius and recognised native title at the application of Eddie Mabo.
A courageous campaigner, an extraordinary man, who did not live to see that judgement. But whose passion and whose advocacy changed Australian history and we honour him and all those plaintiffs today.
Now just as we are getting to know Singapore better through cultural exchange, we continue to marvel at the cultures within our own country and the richness they bring to our Australian way of life.
Of course, our cultural and economic relationship is underpinned and enabled by the stability and security and prosperity of our region.
Prime Minister Lee, this visit has been an invaluable opportunity for us once again to reinforce our commitment to maintenance to the rule of law in our region. Both our nations are committed to that and we have seen a strong demonstration of the commitment of our friends and allies and partners at the conference in Singapore here today.
Whether it is the reckless and dangerous behaviour of North Korea where we are imposing sanctions both autonomous and those authorised by the United Nations Security Council only in the last 24 hours.
We are doing that because we are standing up for the maintenance for the stability that has been the foundation of the extraordinary progress in the region.
And we are working together as we battle the threat, the scourge of terrorism across the region. Again that collaboration between our nations that continuous relationship of support, that shared values which is keeping us secure.
And we will continue our close collaboration across the board to ensure the cultural exchange, the people to people exchanges exemplified by this exhibition can continue to inspire us and delight us, all of us, young and old.
Some as young as the SG50 baby we’re proud to call a toddler now, we’re proud to call our granddaughter Isla and all the other children from the schools here in Singapore and in Australia and in the Torres Strait that have contributed to this.
So it is my great pleasure to open Au Karem ira Lamar Lu, the Ghost Nets of the Ocean.