21st Anniversary of the Independence of the
Republic of Slovenia  Thursday, 21st June 2012 (NSW Parliament)



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    21st Anniversary of the Independence of the
     Republic of Slovenia  Thursday, 21st June 2012 (NSW Parliament)
Presenter: Mrs Olga Lah


Good afternoon to all here present.
On behalf of the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Slovenia, Mr. Alfred Brežnik and Mrs. Brežnik, welcome!........and thank you for joining us to celebrate what is of great significance to all Slovenians….the 21st anniversary of Slovenia’s independence and 20 years of the establishment of the first Slovenian Consulate in Australia – here in Sydney.

Ladies and gentlemen, to begin the formalities, I ask you to be upstanding for the National Anthem of Slovenia and that of Australia….
You have just heard the Anthems of Slovenia and Australia…..We are all familiar with our Australian anthem and its inspiring words …
However, the Slovenian Anthem also carries a message close to the heart of every Slovenian. Written over 165 years ago by Slovenia’s greatest poet and one of its most admired heroes…Dr. France Prešeren, the anthem’s words come from a poem of 8 verses called ‘a Toast’ – ‘Zdravljica’.  Only the 7th verse of the poem was chosen for our Slovenian anthem.
When one listens to the message contained in the words, we acknowledge that these words serve to unite the endeavours, not only of all Slovenians, but of all those with a righteous human spirit.
Faith, brotherhood and world peace are the commendable values it promotes.
As has become a tradition,  I would like to recite it for you:

God’s blessing on all nations,
Who long for and work for that bright day,
When o’ er earths habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway;
Who long to see
That all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbours be.
How appropriate are these sentiments at this time of world conflicts and universal challenges. 

Ladies and gentlemen…..thank you for your presence today.
Your attendance is a gift to our celebration. Although we have many guests today, I will ask your patience as I acknowledge several individually:

The Hon. Victor Dominello, MP, Minister for Citizenship and Communities, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, representing the Premier, The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP and the Government of NSW;
The Hon. David Clarke, MLC, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice; and our Parliamentary host today;

Our special guest, His Excellency, Dr. Milan Balažic, Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to Australia

The Hon. John Aquilina, Former Speaker and President of the EU – NSW Parliamentary Friends;
The Hon. Amanda Fazio, MLC, Opposition Whip in the Legislative Council;
The Hon. Michael Daley, MP, Shadow Treasurer, Shadow Minister for Finance and Services;
Mr Tony Issa, MP, Member for Granville;
Mr Andrew Rohan, MP, Member for Smithfield;
Councillor Nick Lalich, MP, Member for Cabramatta;
The Hon. John Murray, Former Speaker in the NSW Parliament;
The Hon. Deirdre Grusovin, former Member for Hefron and Minister of the NSW Government;
The Hon. Bryan Vaughan, former Member of the NSW Legislative Council;
Ms Danielle Morris, Deputy Director DFAT – Sydney Office;
Mr Steve Rank, AUSTRADE – Partnership Division;
Ms Jo Jones, Director of membership and programs - EABC (Europe Australia Business Council);
Mr Dušan Lajovic, former Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Slovenia in New Zealand;
Fr. Darko Žnidaršič, OFM, Head of the St. Raphael’s Slovenian Religious & Cultural Centre in Merrylands;
Fr. Ciril Božič, OFM, OAM, Head of the Slovenian Religious and Cultural Centre in Melbourne;
Fr. Edward Sedevčič, Archdiocese of Sydney;   
Mr Alvaro Barba, Deputy Dean of the Consular Corps in Sydney&  Consul General of Uruguay;
Members of the  Consular Corps;
Representatives of the Slovenian Organisations from Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, Canberra and as far as  Melbourne and Queensland;
May I also mention that we have received best wishes from the Hon. Bruce Atkinson MLC, President of the Legislative Council.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentleman.

At this time, I usually hand the microphone to our Honorary Consul General, Mr. Alfred Brežnik.
Mr Brežnik, I hope you will forgive me today, when I deviate from the usual script..

Dear Mr. Brežnik , today we celebrate not only the 21st anniversary of Slovenia’s independence…but also,  the fact that we have had Mr. Alfred Brežnik, as our Honorary Consul General for 20 of those years.
Mr. Brežnik… ….I speak on behalf of our whole Slovenian Community, when I thank you  for your years of dedication and exemplary consular service to Slovenia, Australia and our community.

In your consular role, over 20 years, you have introduced and promoted to the wider Australian community, the uniqueness of our Republic of Slovenia. Your strong love and understanding of all things Slovenian is evident to all who know you and have worked with you.  This is not a blind love however, but one based on your intense knowledge of Slovenian history, culture and nationalistic endeavour.

Many non Slovenians here today, have developed an awareness of Slovenia’s  culture and history and a deep interest in her progress, through your work and promotion. As a community, we thank you for this…
But it is your own personal qualities that have endeared us to you and have inspired others around you. Your gentlemanly, honourable stance….your softly spoken strength and conviction……your confidence inspiring  leadership , your sincere humility – these are some of the qualities we admire in you.
Ladies and gentleman, some of us have also witnessed the benevolence of this gentleman. His intense love of this community and his humanitarian nature have been evident in numerous  kind and charitable deeds over many years. He, himself will never acknowledge them.   But I have witnessed many. He works humbly and quietly to benefit others.  On behalf of the community, I also thank you for this…

Mr. Brežnik, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to acknowledge your much loved and admired wife …..Mrs Jelena Brežnik ….and we express our gratitude to her for her devoted service to the community, as she stands by your side. There is a saying that behind every great man there is a great woman……Dare I say, that this is a good example of the truth of this saying.  Mr and Mrs Brežnik…. the successes you have enjoyed over 20 years, have all been a result of a great partnership and mutual devotion to one another. The support of your family along the way, particularly the support of your sons Alfred and Mark,  has smoothed the bumpy path you have had to tread.

Mr Brežnik….you, sir, are the epitome of a gentleman and a model of a diplomat. You are highly valued and held in esteem by all who know you and have had the privilege to work with you.
Ladies and gentleman, please show your appreciation for 20 years of outstanding work on your behalf!

I now invite Mr. Alfred Brežnik, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Slovenia,  respected  leader in our community.... to address us on this occasion.

Before I invite The Hon. David Clarke, MLC, our Parliamentary Host to respond, I would like to ask the Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to, Dr. Milan Balažic to say a few words;
It is with great pleasure, that I invite to the podium The Hon. David Clarke, MLC, our Parliamentary host today, to say a few words.
 I now invite The Hon. Victor Dominello, MP, Minister for Citizenship and Communities, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, representing the Premier and the Government of NSW… to the Podium to address us;
……I now pass to Mr. Breznik for the traditional toast……
(Mr. Brežnik proposes a toast to Her Majesty Elizabeth 11 Queen of Australia. Then  The Hon. Victor Dominello will propose a toast to the President of the Republic of Slovenia , H.E. Dr Danilo Turk.)

Speech by Alfred Brežnik AM

Minister, Excellencies, Members of the parliament, Colleagues of the Consular Corps, Reverend Fathers, Representatives of the Slovenian Community, Distinguished guests, my dear Friends.

Last year we celebrated, also here in this historic building – the oldest parliament in Australia - the 20th anniversary of the independence of Slovenia. In my speech I took you briefly through the history of our nation, as I have done on so many previous occasions. This time I will spare you of this. But, you will instead hear a little later from our Ambassador, Dr. Milan Balažic, who kindly offered to speak on a much more relevant theme, on Slovenia’s current economic standing in the European Union.

Twenty one years ago, on the 25th of June 1991 the Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia passed the Fundamental Charter on the Independent Republic of Slovenia. This may sound confusing: I said Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia …? Yes, even before the declaration of independence from the Yugoslav Federation, Slovenia was officially known as ‘Ljudska Republika Slovenija’ or ‘Peoples Republic of Slovenia’ which officially did have all the trappings of a state: State borders, constitution, parliament - of a single party, of course, government and a Head of State.

On 15 January 1992, six months later, the EU officially recognised the newly Independent Slovenia. Only one day later, on 16 January, Australia followed and so did New Zealand. This action by the Australian government, which actually had bipartisan support, has been very much appreciated by the Slovenian community in Australia, as well as the Slovenian nation as a whole, and has thus contributed to an everlasting friendship between our two nations.

As a result of this, only one year later on 18 June 1992, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia issued a decree on the opening of the Consulate in Sydney, the first ever mission of an independent state of Slovenia in Australia. I was appointed as the Honorary Consul and the Head of the mission – a great honour indeed. Due to the efforts by Mr Dušan Lajovic a Consulate was also opened in Wellington, NZ, and Mr. Lajovic as the Head of the Mission. I am glad Mr. Lajovic is able to be with us today.

In October, 1992 an exequatur by the DFAT was issued to me. And some six months later, in April 1993, the first Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia in Australia was opened in Canberra, which will also soon celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Twenty years may not sound a long time in the history of a Nation, but it can be a considerable slice in one’s life. These were to some extent quite confronting years for me personally, but also gratifying. Slovenia didn’t have very much experience in diplomacy at the time, as this was a federal matter under previous regime. So, many of us the new/first appointees were left very much to ourselves and our own initiatives. I am particularly grateful to the Honorary Secretary General of the Consular Corps in Sydney at the time, the late Keith Goddard, who helped me and advised me on all matters of protocol. He also gave me a copy of the Vienna Convention in English, of course, as the one I was given in Slovenia, was not even in the Slovenian language. With the establishment of the Embassy in Canberra, six months later, things became much easier and the relationship remained to this day friendly and cordial.

There are some memorable highlights of these 20 years: WTO conference and exhibition in 1994, where Slovenia had one of the largest pavilions; visits by two of our successive presidents with business delegations; meetings with numerous dignitaries; the upgrading of our Consulate to the Consulate-General in 1998; Olympic Games - Sydney 2000 - where I was appointed the attaché of the Olympic and para-olympic teams, and was also responsible for the establishment of the Slovenian Olympic House – yes, it was quite a plateful; EU membership in 2004 and the Slovenia’s Presidency of EU in 2008, which was very exciting also for our Consulate.

By now some of you may already guess why I am telling you all this. As I said before, 20 years is quite a slice of one’s life. Yes, for my wife Jelena and I, this is the last time we will be hosting the National Day. The time has come for a younger person to take over. I will depart most probably by the end of this year or earlier if the appointment of my replacement is finalised before then. Therefore, I would like to use this opportunity and thank formally the individuals and government bodies that are represented hear today. To express my gratitude and thank everyone that I have received support so graciously over all those years is at this stage impossible. Therefore, I apologize in advance for not being able to name everyone, but I am sure that there will be another opportunity.

In my twenty years I’ve met an enormous number of interesting people and have made many, many friends. Particularly in the Consular Corps of Sydney, which is often referred to as the largest in the world, and in my opinion one of the friendliest in the world - I have made many friendships in my 20 years tenure.  My work was most certainly made much easier by the assistance and help received by various Government Departments and their staff: Premier’s Department and particularly the former Premier The Hon. Bob Carr, now the Australia’s Foreign Minister; Protocol; Department of State and Regional Development and many parliamentarians. DFAT – Sydney Office; EABC – particularly Mr Jason Collins, CEO and Ms Jo Johns, Director for membership and programmes.

In our 20 years of National day receptions, 17 were held in this room. It was The Hon. Max Willis, President of the Legislative Council at the time, who convinced me that this was the best venue in Sydney for such occasions; he was also our Parliamentary host – no wonder that we are still here, after all these years. Also, The Hon. John Murray, former Speaker and for many years our Parliamentary host – I thank you John for attending today, as you usually do every year. Also attending our National Day Receptions regularly, my good friends The Hon. Deirdre Grusovin  and The Hon. Bryan Vaughan – thank you both for your continuous support. And, The Hon John Aquilina, former Minister and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, President of the EU – NSW Parliamentary Friends and a great friend of Slovenia as well. I thank you John that you could also make it today. You have been a great help to me over the years and particularly during the Slovenia’s EU Presidency, I shall treasure this forever.

Then it is my Slovenian Community, from which I have received continuous support and understanding and thus deserves a special thanks – but will do this more appropriately on another occasion.  

I also wish to thank our Parliamentary Host, The Hon. David Clarke, MLC, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, who kindly accepted to host today’s Reception. I have known David when he was still a student and a young Liberal. I have followed his political rise with interest; a person who has remained steadfast to his values. Congratulations David and thank you for hosting this, our last event in this great house – The Parliament of New South Wales.

I would also like to use this occasion and thank the Parliamentary Catering staff for their great and friendly service at all our functions over those years. And, my loyal MC, Mrs Olga Lah, who always helps to living up this event.

Last but not least, it wouldn’t be right not to publicly mention my family. I wouldn’t be able to do all this without their unequivocal support, particularly my wife Jelena and our two sons Alfred and Mark. I thank you from bottom of my heart for all your help, love, loyalty and understanding.
Thank you all, again.  


Speech by Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Milan Balažic

Dear ladies and gentleman,
Your Excellencies,
Fellow Slovenians,
Esteemed Australians,
Distinguished guests,

It is a great honour to present my thoughts on the Slovenian National Day as the first Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to Australia.

Geographically, our two countries could not be further apart; and yet, we have so much in common. Both our nations are not among the largest populations of the world, nevertheless, our modest respective sizes can be an advantage in today's world. In high seas, large ships are difficult to turn around; small ones, on the other hand, are adaptable and easy to manoeuvre, they can be innovative and very quick when led by a good captain.

Slovenians, as well as Australians, are proud of our traditions, cultural heritage, our deep commitment to democracy and independence which was in the case of Slovenia gained only twenty-one short years ago but allowed my country to join the company of other free nations and countries of the world.

Slovenia remains grateful to Australia for joining the group of countries who were the first to recognise Slovenia as an independent state in 1991 and thus paved the way to Slovenia's world-wide recognition, her joining the European Union, NATO and many other international organisations. Slovenian-Australians should be proud of the role they played in this official acknowledgement.

The contributions made by Slovenian-Australian community to their adopted homeland allowed the Australian government the confidence to support Slovenian independence. Our two nations are linked by a strong, active and well-organized Slovenian community that lives here – from Sydney to Perth and from Brisbane to Melbourne. I would like to thank Australia for welcoming Slovenians here and ensuring their safety and well-being.

Even though our two nations live so far apart we are united in our commitment to uphold freedom, democracy, human rights and peace. To protect these values we fought side by side as allies in the World War II, as we do today in Afghanistan to defend these same values. And Australians and Slovenians are close together: we have intensive political cooperation on the international stage, flourishing trade and common values. In the name of security and freedom Australian soldier side by side with Slovenian soldier fights in Afghanistan. No doubt and no worries: we will fight each other – on the Olympic fields in London, like true competitors and mates.

Trade between Slovenia and Australia is flourishing – raised by 18% and 19% in the last two years. However, there is still a lot of scope for further development. Recently, two meetings between the Australian and Slovenian Prime-Minister and the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs (in Chicago and Brussels) substantially contributed towards development in that direction.  In the role of the   Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to Australia, my main objective is to facilitate stronger economic ties between our two countries.

At the time of independence, Slovenia made brave decisions and took great risks. We needed wisdom and courage for independence. We had both. We lived in heroic times and faced serious threat with violence. We had to take up arms in self defence – in defence of human rights and our nation’s wilsonian self-determination. Twenty-one years ago, in circumstances of great peril, we understood and accepted the necessity for change and this ultimately directed us towards our great common objective – our independence. Today, Slovenia is among the thirty most developed countries in the world. Today, just like in other crucial periods in our history, we need change.

We are part of the European Union and a world where economic success is becoming harder to achieve, while the situation calls for more knowledge and creativity. During last two decades, Slovenia has substantially increased prosperity, delivered a better quality of life, and maintained a high degree of social cohesion and social protection. June 25, birthday of our independent country, is a moment when we look back on our previous development, which gives us great cause for pride. At the same time, this imposes an obligation upon us.

Especially today, when the EU is in crisis. But I am an optimist: the EU is quite well, alive and kicking. The EU is so much more than Brussels bureaucracy and technocracy. The EU is not just a blue flag with 12 stars and an anthem. I’m talking about common European identification: the EU is the idea of equality, democracy, human rights, specific Judeo-Christian tradition, culture, heritage of modernity, philosophy, good life, exceptional food and wine (especially Slovenian wine).

The great and unique legacy of Europe is worth fighting for - because we learn from our mistakes (even too much). And because I am 100% Slovenian, I am also an unconditional defender of the EU. What we see today in the EU’s responses to the economic crisis is a political system that shows a deep resilience, an ability to adapt, to correct itself and to move forward in the face of serious challenges. The resilience is shown by the new instruments: solidarity firewall funds for the euro-system, the deeper cooperation between member states, strengthening of the financial sector regulatory environment, financial supervisory authorities and further economic and political integration.  
So, let me, together with you, extend my best wishes to both countries – Slovenia in the EU and Australia – for a successful and secure future.

In the end, I would like to thank you – in the name of the state and myself - from all my hart to our Honorary consul-general mister Alfred Brežnik, who is here in this high position probably for the last time. My sincere thanks for everything you’ve done for independence of Slovenia in the days of thunder, for the developed and friendly relationship between Australia and Slovenia and for the respect you’ve gained for our country in this part of the world. I wish you success in your future projects and – I hope – you’ll accept my invitation to become my honorary special adviser. Fredi, thank you again.            



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