I offer my personal thanks to the Government and People of Australia for their mateship. I was touched by the rendition of Waltzing Matilda by Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at the People’s Forum.
Recognising the value of the Commonwealth
Today is indeed an historic occasion when as the first woman Chair-in-Office I hand over to another woman Chair in Office, Prime Minister Gillard, in the presence of a woman Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty.
Allow me to express my sincere thanks to the various Commonwealth institutions and Secretary-General Sharma.
My experience as Chair-in-Office has been very positive and has strengthened my faith in the value and the vast potential of the Commonwealth. I have been able to look at the Commonwealth from a new perspective and recognise the sense of shared history and identity existing among Member States.
Through this legacy of shared experiences, the Commonwealth has established relationships which seek to serve the interest of the collective rather than of the few.
It is about sharing in times of plenty and offering support in times of need.
Indeed, it is through such mutual support, collaboration and unity that the Commonwealth is able to achieve its true mandate: to influence international society for the common good. That is why we are the Common-wealth.
This year’s CHOGM theme truly speaks to this need for solidarity and cooperation. It is clear that in order to build resilience on both the national and global levels, we must look to each other for support, guidance, examples and assistance. We must seek counsel from the wise and listen to the plight of the innocent.
In this way we may develop the capacity to withstand and overcome the challenges of today’s volatile world, be they economic, political, social or environmental.
In the last era of the Commonwealth the concern was about emerging democracies. And, you may agree, we have emerged, we have risen.
In this new era, our concern must be the equitable distribution of the Common-Wealth.
This is vital in the harsh global economic times to ensure we harness the Commonwealth to be the platform for networking, in the areas of intra-Commonwealth trade and investment and we are endowed with this capacity to foster the same across six continents.
We must not squander this opportunity because trade is essential not only for economic development but also for human development and prosperity of our citizens.
Further, we must take the lead in championing South-South trade. Why? Because trade has always been the lifeblood of nations and which will build our economic resilience. With this vision in mind, Trinidad and Tobago successfully hosted a Caribbean Investment Forum in June 2011 where we sought to encourage greater contact between the Commonwealth and the Americas, with T&T and the wider Caribbean envisaged as a gateway between the two.
Women’s Political Participation
I turn now to the issue of women’s political participation.
I am inspired by all the women who have gone before me where no woman has gone before. I am humbled today to walk in their footsteps. And I thank them.
And so I have promoted in my capacity as Commonwealth Chair, pursuant to the theme of Women As Agents of Change the issue of women’s Participation in decision making. My efforts included the organisation and hosting of a Caribbean Regional Colloquium in Trinidad and Tobago and culminated thereafter in the signing of a Joint Statement on Advancing Women’s Political Participation in the margins of the United Nationals General Assembly in September 2011 in New York.
This Joint Statement was signed by President Rouseff of Brasil, Secretary Hilary Clinton, Michelle Bachelet of UN Women, Helen Clarke of UNDP, Baroness Ashton and myself. Prime Minister Gillard and I will present this Joint Statement for your consideration and support. I trust that you my fellow Heads will append your signatures thereto and so empower the women of our nations.
Allow me to raise another issue with your goodselves. We have seen within recent times that vox populi is indeed vox dei, viz, the voice of the people is indeed the voice of god.
This has reinforced my commitment to put God in front, and walk behind that is to put people first.
This has also reinforced my commitment to listen and then lead.
And the people, civil society, are saying to us that to have a truly functional democracy we must address, inter alia, the following concerns:
(1) the equality of women
(a) This is why I promoted the cause during my tenure in office, and
(b) In my country I created a Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development which is, inter alia, examining the issue of child marriages.
(2) The fight against poverty and delivery of social services
(a) This is why I created for the first time a Ministry of the People to have direct impact for the most vulnerable in their own communities.
(3) Linked with the fight against poverty is my government’s policy of education for all.
This is why in my country I have pledged that in addition to universal primary and secondary education, which we have by the way surpassed MDG 2, we must now move apace towards universal pre-school education and expansion in our tertiary sector.
(4) Access to healthcare
(a) This is why we are expanding our health facilities in rural areas and established by legislation a Children’s Life Fund to provide financial assistance for children who cannot afford lifesaving surgeries.
Of course these are some of the issues but time may not permit me to raise many others including: HIV/AIDS, Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and Climate Change and Global Warming.
Finally, to our incoming Chair, Prime Minister Gillard, I wish you success as Chair and also as a fellow champion for listening to the vox populi, the voice of the people, civil society.
Future of the Commonwealth
As I close, I say let us have renewed faith in the future of the Commonwealth.
I hope it can and must have a bright future for all our sakes.
But hope without action is useless my friends.
And so let us pledge to translate hope into action.
This momentous occasion, the first time that three women stand at its helm, marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Commonwealth, a chapter in which the Commonwealth will move forward into the next decade of the 21st century as a proactive, vibrant and rejuvenated organisation, a true asset to each and every Member State.
After all we do not own this earth we simply inherit it from our forefathers and hold it in trust for our children and future generations.
Let us not betray that trust.
This is our greatest challenge and yet also our greatest opportunity.
From this day… and from this moment…. as a Commonwealth, let us pledge that together we will RISE.
I thank you ladies and gentlemen.