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CHOGM 2011 Opening Ceremony

28 October 2011
Speaker: Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma / Location: Perth, Australia

Your Majesty, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Chair-in-Office Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, other distinguished Heads of Government, representatives, and guests: Welcome!

We thank the elders of the Noongar people, traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, for their blessing. I also convey our heartfelt gratitude for the warmth of welcome and care being bestowed on us by the government and people of Australia, in setting the stage for our meeting, and in their ambitions for the Commonwealth. We are immensely grateful to the people of Perth, and of Western Australia, for the enthusiasm with which they have embraced our presence.

To have hosted three CHOGMs shows a remarkable commitment by Australia to serving the Commonwealth. Melbourne 1981 and Coolum 2002 were both landmark meetings and produced significant outcomes. I am confident that Perth 2011 will stand as an even greater watershed in the way we serve our people and uphold our values.

Her Majesty has described the Commonwealth as ‘the original world wide web’, and as ‘the face of the future’. I believe that Perth 2011 will be memorable in realising our ambition of further transforming the Commonwealth both as a twety-first century network, and as an organisation of its time.

We decided our 2011 theme should be Women as Agents of Change. With Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar handing over the chair to Prime Minister Gillard we have lived up to it spectacularly.

CHOGMs are an occasion to take the pulse of the Commonwealth – to check that we continue in good health, to review how far we have come in the last two years, and to set signposts for the future.

It is heartening that the goals set at our last CHOGM have been realised - and in such practical ways. The network of election commissions is in full stride and on track to our ambition of establishing a ‘gold standard’ in electoral practice.

Our Geneva small states office is up and running, and our intent is to see it become the hub in the multilateral world of Geneva in service of small states.

Our ambitious new pan-Commonwealth internet workplace, Commonwealth Connects, is being launched at Perth, and will create an innovative and contemporary paradigm of partnership. There is a cascade of Commonwealth communities of practice enlisting to occupy this new platform. It will allow us all to be better informed, be more in touch and create real results.

CHOGMs have also become the occasion to bring together in celebration the full breadth of our Commonwealth community. All can serve our three aspirations of Democracy, Development and Diversity. And in offering global wisdom and value, we must continue to strive for equity, especially for the rights and causes of the small and the vulnerable, and in the service of our people.

If there is one rich vein of inspiration that must animate all of us in the days ahead, it is renewal and reform in order to be resilient and relevant. The work of doing justice to the reports requested by heads at the last CHOGM in 2009 lies before us. The review of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to enhance its role in advancing our values, and the work of the Eminent Persons Group, are ambitious, laudable, and merit our deep appreciation. They will propel us forward.

We meet on the banks of the Swan River. Western Australia was formerly known as the Swan River Colony, and the swan is still its state emblem, the black swan. The first century writer, Juvenal, considered the black swan to be a physical impossibility.

Two thousand years later, another writer used the black swan as a symbol for the surprising and unexpected for which one needs to be prepared. As we navigate this century, which has both peril and promise, and work together to shape the future Commonwealth, let us embrace the world of opportunity that lies ahead.