By Jonathan Muir
On 26 January, we celebrate Australia Day.
It is a time to reflect on what it means to be Australian. To honour the land, lifestyle, and freedoms we enjoy, and most importantly, to celebrate our diverse and multicultural society.
This year, we also reflect on the recent bushfires, which have affected many communities in Australia.
I have been personally touched by the many expressions of solidarity and support for Australia during these difficult times.
Australia is deeply grateful for the many offers of support it has received from around the world, including from the Qatari government.
I am also grateful to the individuals, schools and community groups in Qatar who have donated to Australian charities that are supporting affected communities.
At this time, we have seen the best of Australia. The brave firefighters and selfless volunteers. The huge groundswell of community support and giving.
Australia’s friends have asked me, ‘How can we help?’ Beyond donating to charities – as many have done – the answer is continue to buy Australian, visit Australia, study in Australia and invest in Australia.
Australia is resilient and will recover. Its government is capable and well-resourced. And as severe as these fires have been, it is important to know that large parts of the country remain unaffected.
Reaching the six-month mark in my time as Australian ambassador to Qatar, I have discovered plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the future of the Qatar-Australia relationship.
Australia’s annual two-way trade with Qatar continues to reach new all-time highs and is now QR5.8bn. Qatar has consolidated its place as Australia’s second largest trading partner in the region.
Australian companies – some of which have been here for decades – remain strongly committed to their presence in Qatar. And there are new Australian companies arriving to partner in Qatar’s future.
Australia remains a leading source of Qatar’s food; of materials for heavy industry; and of engineering and construction services – making Australia Qatar’s 12th largest source of imports.
I also welcome Nebras Power’s landmark investment in Australia’s energy sector – recently taking a 49% stake in the largest wind farm project in the southern hemisphere.
Our people-to-people links also continue to grow.
According to the Ministry of Interior, nearly 40,000 Australians now visit Qatar each year – some for business and some stopping over to see Qatar’s sights on the way to Europe or Africa.
Tens of thousands of Australians have lived in Qatar at some time over the past two decades and there are about 3,000 Australians living here now.
And research links between Qatar and Australia are also strong, with 24 Australian universities undertaking collaborative projects with Qatari institutions in recent years.
Official bilateral exchanges are taking place.
In recent months, we have had senior Australian parliamentary, trade, defence and cyber delegations visit Qatar, all of which have built a stronger relationship and explored scope for further collaboration.
We were honoured to receive State Minister for Foreign Affairs HE Sultan al-Muraikhi in Australia in November and look forward to further official visits to Australia.
Also in November, we signed a bilateral MoU on exchanging financial intelligence to counter serious crime and the financing of terrorism.
But there’s more work to do to ensure the relationship reaches its potential.
I see strong complementarities in education, financial services and healthcare. Despite our reputation for being a leading supplier of commodities, in fact, these services dominate Australia’s economy.
Australia has the third highest number of universities in the world’s top 100, and hosts the world’s third highest number of international students – following only the US and UK on both counts.
Australia has the sixth largest pool of funds under management in the world, and our financial institutions are highly integrated with large Asian economies. We have seven fintech companies in the world’s top 100.
Australia’s health and medical industry has a reputation for its world leading technology, innovation, high professional skills, advanced research, development and robust health system.
Australia’s political stability, English Common Law system, highly skilled workforce, and strong trade partnerships make it a safe and reliable place to invest.
Finally, I hope that more Qataris take up the opportunity visit Australia.
Australia will continue to be an excellent and safe travel destination, whether in unaffected regions or those that will recover from these bushfires in the months and years to come.
If you were planning to visit Australia, please continue with those plans. If you were not planning to do so, you are most welcome.
* Jonathan Muir is the Australian ambassador to Qatar.
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