Envoy envisions an ‘exciting 2018’ for Australia-PHL affairs

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WHEN this author addressed Australia’s Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely with the honorific “Her Excellency” as befiting her stature, she immediately set the tone of our tete-a-tete by advising to be less formal.

“Just call me Amanda,” she calmly advised.

Not surprising, but greatly enlightened that, having known first-hand what this author had only read about Australians, they are not too concerned of titles.

In Photo: Gorely gamely answers questions fielded by the BusinessMirror on its first Coffee Club session.

Of course, this is a bit disconcerting because that was the first time during his three years of interviewing diplomats, expatriates, presidents of chambers of commerce and industries, as well as ranking embassy officials that an interviewee of her stature allowed herself to be on equal footing with the interviewer.

Earlier he had learned that Australia is a “flat” society, which means that in the “Land Down Under,” everybody is like anybody else. Titles, honorifics and other designations are not only frowned upon but are discouraged.

This egalitarian attitude makes Australia one of the freest countries in the world, devoid of ego-boosting ranks, achievements or hierarchy. (And it makes for a pretty nice piece of real estate to live in.)

“A relative absence of formality coupled with conformity to a few basic values has left many Australians with a degree of mental freedom that is unparalleled in the world,” according to Social Etiquette in Australia.

“The basic rules of Australian social etiquette do not relate to how a fork should be held, or who should be served first at a dinner table. Instead, most of Australia’s rules relate to expressing equality. Basically, as long as you appreciate that Australians want to be treated as equal irrespective of their social, racial or financial background, anything is acceptable.”

“There is no better way of life in the world than that of the Australian. I firmly believe this. The grumbling, growling, cursing, profane, laughing, beer drinking, abusive, loyal-to-his-mates Australian is one of the few free men left on this Earth,” the Social Etiquette continues.

And so, our interview proceeded smoothly, she being the first envoy to the Philippines to have graced BusinessMirror’s Coffee Club forum for the current year.

Warmly welcoming Filipinos

GORELY said 2018 would be an “exciting year” because Australia is focused on the Philippines as it welcomes Filipinos visiting her country for education, leisure or business.

“The number of Filipinos in Australia continues to grow. We have quite a large number of them studying there and as a nationality, it went up from No. 7 to No. 5. That’s how the Philippine population is faring in Australia.”

A cursory check on the Internet will reveal that Filipino-Australians are the fifth-largest subgroup of overseas Filipinos. According to the latest census, there are more than 160,000 Filipino-Australians.

In Sydney people born in the Philippines comprise 5.9 percent of the population in the City of Blacktown and it is the largest directly born ethnic group there.

Asked how important tourism from the Philippines to Australia is, she said based on visa applications, “it has grown last year due to the fact there are now direct flights from Sydney to Manila by [a local airline]—a very good option—and [an Australian carrier] has some very good deals, as well.”

Tourist flow between Canberra and Manila is being monitored by the Department of Tourism, which has a representative in the Australian capital. She said a group of Australian journalists were invited to Cebu recently and they enthused in the local  dailies the delight of seeing Cebu, the “Queen City of the South.”

“That sort of promotion really helps in Australia,” the envoy noted, and added their tourists have the Philippines on the top of their lists, along with “Bali [Indonesia], Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.”

“So I always encourage Philippine tourism operators to do more publicity in Australia.”

Told that Taiwan no longer charges fees to Filipinos visiting Taipei, Gorely said Australia has a universal policy, “which basically tells everybody who travels there to get a visa.”

“It does add to the cost of travel and time involved, but we’re working hard to make the process much more streamlined and user-friendly. One can now apply for a visa online; you don’t have to provide your passport and we can process it very quickly.”

Bullish for business

GORELY recalled 2017 as an “interesting year” because it completes the first full year of President Duterte’s presidency “and for the visit here of our ministers: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was here twice; Trade Minister Steven Ciobo; Defense Minister Marise Payne; and Justice Minister Michael Keenan.”

“And we’re universally positive about Australia’s business operations here in the Philippines,” she acknowledged, pointing particularly to the skills and energy of the Filipino work force and their ability to adapt to different areas of work. The ambassador disclosed that more than 280 Australian companies are operating in the Philippines.

She is fascinated by the Filipino employees of business-process outsourcing companies for having sort of imbibed the Australian culture and being able to relate to her compatriots by simply talking to them over the phone.

However, the ambassador noted the occurrence of red tape in doing business operations here: “Companies that have to rely on imports—particularly fresh produce from Australia—had, at times, some issues with imports, customs and those sorts of things. But hopefully we could fix things up.”

She added Australian companies in the energy sector are taking a keen eye on possible investment opportunities. “They’re starting to realize the energy sector is dynamic due to significant developments; they’re coming on board in the next few years.”

Fondness for PHL

THE Australian envoy shared she has done a bit of traveling around the Philippines and marvels at the beauty of Coron, Palawan, gushing over its crystalline, emerald waters.

“In terms of natural beauty, I would say Coron. [It] is without a doubt, the most beautiful; but for a city, I would say, Iloilo.”

The Visayan capital was described as “having very nice public places. They’re restoring the old buildings [and] they’ve redeveloped the river. [It’s] beautiful; I really liked it.”

She disclosed that the Philippines is her first designation as head of mission, although she had previously been assigned to three other important posts, but in a different capacity.

Being a mother of two, she admitted, “That’s probably the hardest part of the posting: just being away from my kids.”

That tinge of homesickness is partly compensated by her affinity to the Philippines, as well as the warmth of both its climate and, most especially, the spirit of its people.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano, Alysa Salen



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