Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the official dinner during the state visit of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia in Helsinki on 28 April 2016

Your Excellency Sir Peter Cosgrove, Lady Cosgrove,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives my spouse and me great pleasure to welcome you to this dinner. It concludes the busy first day of your visit to Finland.

Your visit is historic. Yours is the very first state visit by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia to the Republic of Finland. We are happy and honoured to be the ones to host you.

Your Excellency, I know that you were named Australian of the Year in 2001. For Finland, 2016 is the Year of Australia.

Your visit to Finland is the high point of our Year of Australia.

Two important Ministerial visits from Finland to Australia preceded your visit.  Foreign Minister Timo Soini was in Australia two months ago.  He visited Canberra – where he was very pleased to have been received by Your Excellency – as well as Sydney and Melbourne.  His talks with Australian Ministers confirmed that Finland and Australia enjoy excellent bilateral relations.

We see eye-to-eye on many international issues.  Maintenance of a rules-based international order is crucially important to both of us. The use of force to gain territory in violation of international law, as in the case of Russian actions in Ukraine, is equally unacceptable to both of us.

Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö was in Australia shortly afterward.  We already cooperate on defence procurement with Australia and have high hopes of intensifying that cooperation.  We are also partners in NATO´s Enhanced Opportunities Programme.

An important thread that connects these recent visits is business.

Business delegations accompanied both Ministers to Australia. They will be followed in May by a group of Finnish companies specializing in digital health.  In June, a mission of the European Australian Business Council will visit Finland for the first time. Top Australian business leaders will have an opportunity to engage with our government and business on matters of common interest.

Finnish firms are, of course, present in Australia already. Think of elevators, think of container handling equipment, paper-making machinery, think of design clothing. And Finnish firms are hungry for more business. They see Australia as a mature and sophisticated market with plenty of purchasing power. They see stable and rule-based Australia as an ideal base for expansion into Southeast Asia and beyond.

Finland is a strong supporter of free trade.

Our prosperity depends on it. As a member of the European Union, Finland is very pleased that the process of concluding a free trade agreement between the EU and Australia has now begun. We see a lot of opportunities for both sides in an agreement that provides easy access to a combined market of well over 500 million people.  Australia can count on our support for a comprehensive and balanced outcome.

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On Monday, Australia commemorated ANZAC Day, the day when Australia remembers those who fought and fell in defence of Australia and its values – our values.

Today, you and Lady Cosgrove visited the modest home of our greatest soldier, Marshal Mannerheim, and later laid a wreath on his grave at the Hietaniemi Cemetery.

Finland, too, has fought for its freedom and independence.  Almost a hundred thousand Finns fell in defence of our country during World War II.  Many more were wounded or maimed for life. Finns honour their sacrifice every day. Thanks to them, we live in a free country. Next year, thanks to them, we will celebrate our centenary as an independent State.

One of the first things an independent Finland did was to establish a diplomatic presence in Australia. A Consul was appointed to Sydney in 1919 to assist Finnish immigrants in Australia. Finns helped to build Australia. Today some 30 000 Australians proudly claim Finnish ancestry.

Independence provides a people the opportunity to express itself in freedom.  We Finns often express ourselves in music and the design of beautiful yet practical things.

These are also walks of life where we connect with Australia.

We both love classical music. We both have our beloved composers, Percy Grainger and Jean Sibelius.  Last year we both celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sibelius. His music is deeply Finnish yet universal in its appeal.

Australia is famous for its architecture. The Sydney Opera House is just as much the symbol of your country as the kangaroo. Finns are proud of their architects. Had things gone slightly differently, your federal capital Canberra would have been designed by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen instead of the American Walter Burley Griffin. Alas, runner-ups are not winners.

Your Excellency,

To conclude, I wish to thank you and Lady Cosgrove for your visit to Finland.  Your visit is a milestone in our relations.

I now wish to propose a toast to the Queen and her representative, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. May relations between Finland and Australia continue to prosper!