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Commonwealth People's Forum Opening Speech

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

Prime Minister, distinguished guests, delegates, ladies and gentlemen…

Scope of Commonwealth engagement

The broad scope of Commonwealth engagement is on display here in Perth perhaps as it never has been before. The city is alive with enthusiasm at this festival of the Commonwealth. The forums that have become integral in their association with CHOGM, the Business Forum, the Youth Forum and this Commonwealth People’s Forum, are each vibrant expressions of the Commonwealth family in action; they are hives of creative engagement and transaction.

Central place of Civil Society in Commonwealth

Meetings of Heads of Government and of ministers are not the only engines that drive us forward. Civil society has held an integral place in our machinery of consultation and collaboration since the early days of the modern Commonwealth. In fact it was a pioneering act of quite remarkable foresight on the part for our leaders to put in place, accompanying the intergovernmental Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation to strengthen what we might call the ‘people’s’ dimension of our association. Long before the term ‘civil society’ became a buzzword, Heads of Government created a design that provided a special place for professional, technical and other voluntary bodies at the heart of the Commonwealth.

People’s Forum theme: Driving Change for a Dynamic Commonwealth

Collectively, the Commonwealth has always sought to be forward-looking, fitting itself to the changing context of the contemporary world and addressing emerging challenges. You continue that process by meeting around the theme: Driving Change for a Dynamic Commonwealth. And considering that our gatherings encompass vast geographical and cultural diversity, with enormous differences in size, population, endowment and development, the remarkable feature of the Commonwealth is how rapidly it is able to engage gear.

Kinship and affinity

This is partly because member countries have shared features in their parliamentary, judicial, legal, educational and other systems – as well as similar and overlapping private sectors. Such commonality of conversation – as well as the literally shared language – is bound to bond. But above all there is a natural kinship and affinity in the Commonwealth that comes from striving together in our shared ambition for the future.

Connecting chords - Democracy, Development and Diversity

The Commonwealth, writ large, is truly about Democracy, Development and Diversity. We triangulate the Commonwealth on those three chords. We know the strength of the triangle as a shape. I like to think that the strength of our association lies in our triangulation on those three chords nationally, regionally and globally.

Diversity

This People’s Forum gives expression to all three ‘D’s – but significantly to our Diversity, to inclusiveness in the range of Commonwealth engagement and participation. This has a special bearing on human rights. We recall the 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, which includes a clear commitment to tolerance, respect and understanding. This means we embrace difference, and that includes sexual identity. Discrimination and criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation is at odds with our values and I have had occasion to refer to this in the context of our law-related conferences.

Resilience

Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience’ is the theme of the Perth CHOGM. The two are of course intertwined. We seek to put our aspirations into practice, striving to change the lives of Commonwealth citizens in all our member countries for the better. The key is securing advancement through strengthened national institutions, and we are all partners in this, supporting each other.

CHOGM 2011

The determination to find ways of realising our ambitions, of seeing words translated into action, is what drives the continuing process of reform and positive evolution – this evolution leads to Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience. Major features of this landmark CHOGM are the reports from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and Eminent Person Group helping us on our way to renewal. I’m sure we would all wish to acknowledge and applaud their important work, which will no doubt make the Perth CHOGM a landmark event.

Commonwealth vision

The vision that is the hallmark of the Commonwealth, the diversity, the consensus and the scope of our association, mean that what works as a way forward for our members, and where we lead the way, should work as well for the wider international community. This is part of what we have in mind when we speak of the ‘global wisdom function’ of the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth Connects

I urge you all to become participants in the contemporary exchange for sharing this wisdom and great opportunity, our new internet platform Commonwealth Connects. Some of you may have seen a short presentation of its capabilities. It is the Commonwealth’s new shared workplace – where we can learn best practice, collaborate, transact and experience a new form of partnership. It is a twenty-first century idea whose time has come. The work you start in this Forum over the coming days can continue and be multiplied through maintaining contact and continuing to work together on Driving Change for a Dynamic Commonwealth through this giant gateway, as it evolves. I wish us all well.

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