Your Royal Highnesses, Mr President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
The Commonwealth spans 53 countries with 30 per cent of the world’s population, 20 per cent of the world’s land mass but just 15 per cent of the world’s GDP and it’s our job to improve that.
The Commonwealth is not a community of power, wealth, geography, religion or language, so much as a community of values.
We believe in democracy based on the rule of law.
We acknowledge Queen Elizabeth as head of the Commonwealth.
We share a legacy of British institutions and influence which all of us have adapted and improved in our own ways.
We are convinced that you don’t make new friends by losing old ones. We remain members of the Commonwealth because we believe that this dialogue helps us to come closer to being our best selves.
In Perth two years ago, Commonwealth members collectively agreed to important and timely reforms. We resolved to champion our central values more effectively and we boosted cooperation on important global issues such as food security and sustainable development.
The key achievement, though, was leaders’ agreement to develop a Commonwealth Charter. This Charter has since been tabled in many of the parliaments of the Commonwealth including the Australian Parliament.
The Charter expresses our principles and aspirations refined over 60 years of collaboration and development. It gives us a standard to judge our actions.
We also agreed that when the Commonwealth’s values are challenged, we should engage earlier and in a spirit of inclusion not isolation.
It’s a credit to the leaders and to the delegations present in Perth two years ago that this has been achieved.
Australia is proud to have played its part in the development of the Commonwealth Charter.
During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, we also considered how we could make the Commonwealth more effective as an organisation. Our Perth declaration on food security principles recognises that half of the world’s one billion hungry live in Commonwealth nations.
They are our people and they deserve better.
This will mean improving agricultural productivity and reducing barriers between food producers and markets. It means allowing markets to develop freely and naturally.
Also in Perth, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Trust was launched, honouring Her Majesty’s lifetime of duty and service.
This trust has already raised more than £100 million from across the Commonwealth. This will be deployed in the fight against avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth and to support our young leaders.
As the outgoing chair, Australia looks back on the work of the past two years with satisfaction but not complacency, because each achievement sets up the need for the next one.
Australia thanks its Commonwealth friends for their support and help during our term as Chair in Office.
Finally, I acknowledge Sri Lanka as our host and as Commonwealth Chair for the next two years. This country has emerged from many troubles. But with peace has come more freedom and more prosperity – so we are here to praise, as much as to judge.
There are examples in the Commonwealth, in South Africa and Ireland, for instance, where intractable problems have finally responded to the better angels of our nature.
Sri Lanka’s willingness to host this Commonwealth shows its commitment to democratic pluralism and freedom based on law and ought to reassure all its citizens that just as today is better than yesterday, tomorrow will be better than today.
My friends, this Commonwealth can make a difference in many corners of the world, for example encouragement and the instinct to find common ground wherever possible, based on shared values.
May these days of discussion foster all our best instincts.