Thank you very much for that introduction. I’d like to acknowledge Your Excellency Minister Pan Sorasak, Your Excellencies and everybody here today.
On behalf of the Australian Government, I’d like to thank you very much for having me here today. I’d like to also thank you very much for such a warm Cambodian welcome.
To my shame – I’ve had a deep interest in Cambodia, its history, the strength of the Cambodian achievement, and followed it all as a young man - but to my shame have never been until today to Cambodia and I’ve had such a warm welcome and learnt so much already.
The partnership that we’re launching today, the Cambodia‑Australia Consumer Protection Partnership, is for me a very important symbol of the unique connection between our two countries, and can I just say, Minister, that often when we talk about consumer protection law, it’s couched in terms that are about protecting citizens, and it should be.
It’s couched in terms about requiring compliance from businesses to the highest standards of quality and transparency. But it’s also a vital economic reform.
We see it in Australia as vital to our own development to give consumers and businesses confidence and certainty, and to lift standards in our economy.
I think in the wake of what I hope is the worst of the COVID‑19 crisis, this is the right time that these kind of reforms and your leadership in delivering this has been absolutely vital.
Seventy years after our countries first established diplomatic relations, here we are, sharing our knowledge, sharing our efforts and our capabilities on how we can protect people in both of our communities.
Who could have foreseen this 70 years ago?
Minister, your visit to Sydney in August, along with the full National Commission on Consumer Protection for the study tour with the ACCC, spoke volumes about the deep and innovative collaboration between our two countries and what is possible when we build that collaboration to find new possibilities for cooperation.
And I know it’s not a one‑off cooperation.
I know that the ACCC will send two consumer lawyer experts here before the end of the year, as well as hosting two of your staff in Australia in 2022. More exchanges are planned for 2023.
It’s the start of a long collaboration that’s built on 70 years of friendship and cooperation but will mean so much in the long term to both of our countries.
Consumer protection is something that really matters.
As we know, your extraordinary transformation and growth over the last few decades has brought a significant boom in economic activity and a boom in the building and construction industries.
Cambodia’s growing role in the global automotive supply chain has seen more and more Cambodians working in the automotive and transportation sectors.
These developments are excellent and bring so much opportunity with them.
That’s a good thing, but of course they also mean that as part of global supply chains, Cambodians have been exposed to the insidious risks that are engaged in exposure to asbestos and the kind of risks that promotes for Cambodian workers and Cambodian citizens.
These growing industries have drawn those imports from all around the world.
For good reason in Australia, we’ve sought to eradicate asbestos from our industrial processes and from our building products.
Even the smallest exposure for a worker – even the smallest exposure – can lead to asbestosis or mesothelioma, and both of those cancers are invariably fatal.
I know asbestos was everywhere in Australia in the construction industry and in industrial processes.
I know that because I’ve sat at the bedside of many work mates in their final days as they endured these terrible, terrible cancers.
In my career as a leading trade union official in our manufacturing sector, we fought so hard to eradicate asbestos from consumer products and from industrial processes, and the role that the trade unions played in Australia in finally removing this product has been crucial.
The challenge for us in Australia with this consumer product, with this industrial product is, of course, that there is a long lag time, that people develop these cancers sometimes a decade, sometimes two decades after their initial exposure, and, sadly, even though we’ve done the hard work of removing the products, we face a long tail of many tens of thousands of illnesses and deaths as a result of that, and those deaths will only increase and peak in the next decade.
I’m really pleased that another area of cooperation that we’ve had is the Australian Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and the Australian unions working together with the ministries for labour, the ministries for commerce and the ministries for construction on the National Asbestos Eradication Plan.
That is a really good development.
I can only say from the bottom of my heart it’s difficult work.
It’s very challenging for countries to eliminate this from their processes, but it will save the lives of people who will never get this disease and it’s such important consumer protection work in itself.
Workers and consumers do have a right to be safe and the reforms that you’ve announced, Minister, the reforms in terms of e-commerce, the capacity of these laws to protect Cambodian citizens and Cambodian workers will lead to long‑lasting effects and it’s really something that I’m very pleased to associate myself with at the beginning of this trip.
I’m very pleased that we are able to make this small contribution. I really want to congratulate you, Minister, for your leadership and the determination that you’ve shown to really make this work for both of our countries.
Thank you very much.