Ghana's 58th Independence Day, Friday 6th March 2015
Message from Mr. Justin Betar, Honorary Consul-General, Independence Day Message
It is with great pleasure and privilege to acknowledge 58th anniversary of your great nation’s independence.
It is fitting that while we in Australia are commemorating your country’s independence we can continue the celebrations into the weekend as on Saturday, in Ghana, it will be March 6. I have no doubt there will be many celebrations underway.
When I was invited to be Ghana’s Honorary Consul for Australia 18 months ago, it came as a bit of a surprise – albeit a very pleasant one. While I had undertaken a bit of work with Ghanaian citizens in my capacity as a lawyer, I had not imagined representing and supporting your country and people in a more formal role.
But when I was asked, I of course did not hesitate to accept. My appointment by His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama on September 16, 2013, remains one of the proudest moments of my professional life.
As consul I have jurisdiction over Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Islands and all Australian territories, and as a result represent the Ghanaian community from many varying backgrounds.
This broad area of responsibility has provided my wife Kristy and me many opportunities to assist Ghanaian Australians with business development in Australia, organising visas, and helping companies that wish to establish trading ties between our two countries negotiate the often confusing red tape.
But perhaps the most enjoyable part of my role is events such as this, to meet and mix with you all and to feel as one with the Ghanaian community in Australia.
These occasions have been both happy and sombre. They range from national celebrations like this, to assisting Ghanaian citizens wishing to move to Australia. They also include sadder tasks, such as attending the memorial service of the late President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills in July 2012.
But most enjoyably, I have had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know many people from the Australian-Ghanaian community, particularly here in Sydney, Canberra and in Queensland where I have developed close and beneficial relations with the local Ghanaian community groups.
What has struck me the most is how similar our two nations and people are.
In particular, we both love travelling and welcoming visitors to our shores. I was interested to read recently that tourism in Ghana is a growth industry, and in 2014, the country was regarded as the friendliest in Africa and ranked 61st in the list of the friendliest and welcoming nations in the world.
Australia, incidentally, ranked 27 on the same list.
You also love your sport almost as much as we do, though your obsession is traditional football or soccer; not cricket, rugby league or AFL.
We are probably not as good as you in Association Football, but we are trying. Perhaps one day, as more Ghanaians become naturalised Australians, we can build a team that will be the envy of the soccer-playing world.
Immigration and new arrivals have received some negative comments in the Australian media in recent years, and certain sections of society are unfortunately painting a less-than-pleasant picture of what some think about welcoming new peoples to our country.
I won’t dwell on the unpleasantness on such a happy occasion, except to say that in my opinion the people who take that attitude are very much in the minority, and most Australians embrace the inclusion of different cultures into our own.
Australia is, and always has been, a truly multicultural society. From the earliest days we have welcomed different nations to our shores and they have, with varying degrees of success, become an important part of our national past and future.
And Ghana has played a significant role in the growth of our population from other parts of the world.
In the early 1960s, the Australian Government initiated the Special Commonwealth African Assistance Plan that allowed students from West African countries, including Ghana, to come here and call Australia home.
More than 70 per cent of those students remained in Australia and their numbers steadily increased from the mid-1970s following the easing of immigration restrictions.
According to the 2011 Census, the last taken in Australia, there were 3,866 Ghana-born people in Australia four years ago, but obviously that figure has grown since then and continues to grow significantly every year.
Impressively, the majority of Ghanaian Australians are highly skilled and educated. The same census indicated that more than 70 percent of Australians of Ghanaian background hold educational qualifications past high school level. On average, only 55.9 per cent of the Australian population can claim that.
That is a statistic to be proud of, and another reason you have not only been successful in Australia but you have added significantly to our industrial, economic and educational status in the world.
It is indeed an honour and a privilege.
I hope all Ghanaians celebrate this year’s independence and may God richly bless you all.