An Affair from Down Under

Oi speaks to Australian Consul General John McAnulty on this year’s 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam…

A NATIVE OF WAGGA-WAGGA, John McAnulty is in the midst of a three-year term as the Australian Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City and although he has only been posted in Vietnam for 18 months, he couldn’t speak more highly of the developing nation’s international progress and the respect it is commanding from its ASEAN neighbors. “I just see Vietnam progressing quite well, it’s a very competitive nation within the ASEAN area and it’s growing as a voice.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Hanoi. The festivities kicked off in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in March with performances by Bangarra, an indigenous dance group from Australia.

Other events are mainly aimed at the youth of Vietnam and include Questacon, a scientific exhibition from the Museum in Canberra, which stopped in Ho Chi Minh City during the middle of April at the RMIT campus in District 7.

Along with organizing events to commemorate 40 years of collaboration between the two countries this year, the Australian Consulate office regularly handles a large range of requests and occurrences throughout the year from the expat community as well as some rowdy tourists. With about 22,000 expats living in Vietnam and around 300,000 Australian tourists flocking to the country every year, they deal with a large amount of misguided adventures that occasionally turn out fatal.

“We have people who come as tourists and they do get into very unfortunate accidents, it’s a huge workload for us,” says McAnulty before he unveiled a disturbing trend in Aussie-tourist incidents. “A telling statistic is that now Vietnam [accounts for] the second highest number of deaths of Australian citizens overseas with about 60 per year.” Thailand takes the dubious rank of number one.

Many of the incidents involving Australian tourists are alcohol and substance related while others range from passport replacements to motorbike accidents and the occasional natural passing.

“No matter who they are or what nationality, if they commit a crime in a country they are held accountable under the law of that country. We can offer assistance, but it has to be within the laws of that country,” he states. “If people end up in court we visit them in court, but not to represent them. There are 30 Australians in prison in Vietnam, which is a very high number.”

Many of the returning expats are veterans from the American War who are embedding themselves in the local communities to continue building the strong “person-to-person links” between both nations. Some of their contributions include creating jobs by opening restaurants, shops and even schools. Australian volunteers also immerse themselves in orphanages, while Aussie doctors and nurses dedicate a lot of their time to training programs in Vietnamese hospitals.

“There is one group which is now in the process of building its third kindergarten. Not only do they build the schools in the more remote areas of the province but they also maintain them and we’re very proud of their efforts,” says McAnulty.

The latest kindergarten the veterans are building is the Quang Thanh 2 Elementary School, in Chau Duc District of Ba Ria – Vung Tau, the third in the same area.

Only one Direction

The strongest tie between the countries is in education where Australia is now the number one English-speaking destination for Vietnamese students. With 400 plus scholarships a year given to Vietnamese students and about 23,000 Vietnamese currently studying in Australia, he is positive that the future generations of Vietnam will continue their nation’s development.

“Vietnamese students are now the fourth largest source of foreign students coming into Australia behind China, India and South Korea.”

Australia also contributes to Vietnam’s development with aide programs in the agricultural, technological and climate change fields, such as rice research projects at an Aussie funded facility and the construction of My Thuan Bridge, the largest ever foreign aid in the Mekong River Delta.

Pleased with the progress the Southeast Asian nation has made, McAnulty offers some insight into one area that Vietnam could improve.

“It’s in many countries in the region and around the world, it’s a part of their culture and how do you change someone’s culture?” asks McAnulty about the topic of corruption. “It would be like telling a Canadian that they can’t play ice hockey.”

However, positive initiatives continue to grow between the two countries, with more and more Vietnamese migrating to Australia and vice-versa. Of the two countries’ relationship, McAnulty concludes: “There is only one direction it can go in, it will get stronger and stronger.”

Image by QUINN RYAN MATTINGLY

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