Mission Accomplished

Admiral Thisara
March 14, 2022

The announcement of my diplomatic posting to Australia in December 2010 whilst in Command of  the Navy was a surprise and delightful news. President Mahinda Rajapaksa made  his vision very clear in one sentence, “bring Australia closer to us - it is important”. This precise directive placed an important element of national  interest on my shoulders that motivated me to strategize the course that I should steer to accomplish this task.

I stepped on  Australian soil for the first time with immense joy and pride on 04 July 2011  as the High Commissioner designate to Australia concurrently accredited to New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Solomon Islands. Little did  I know at the time of having the privilege of working closely with four Australian Prime Ministers whose memories I hold dear to this very day.

At the time a significant  challenge faced by Australia was illegal migration. The display of commitment  by policy makers at the highest levels of the government in both countries  aided swift operational and naval action to successfully curb illegal migration, transnational crime and reduce the loss life at sea. I engaged with the host  country’s Prime Minister’s Expert Commission on Asylum Seekers headed by  former Chief of Defence Forces and provided evidence and experiences.

The establishment  of a joint working group in 2013 gave an ideal platform for both managerial  and operational level officials to work in tandem bringing vital arms of safety, security, and defence closer than ever before. While serving my  tenure in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was in Colombo at a luncheon hosted  by the Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris where it was  decided to establish the defence section in Colombo turning a new chapter in defence  relations. Today capitals of both countries are represented by Senior Military (Naval) Attachés.

Limited defence  engagements that took place prior to 2011 have since increased by ways of  training programs, high-level visits including naval goodwill visits to both  countries. The Australian Naval Chief was the first Naval Chief to address the internationally famous Galle Dialogue in 2013 followed by many Naval Chiefs of leading countries in following years.

In addition to  establishing a new Counsel General Office in Melbourne in 2013, the 23rd  CHOGM hosted by Sri Lanka in November that year were a key milestone during  my tenure as High Commissioner. In appreciation to the Australia-Sri Lanka  Parliamentary friendship group, Australia, and all heads of states from  Pacific Island countries attended the event in Colombo. It was during this  visit that Prime Minister Abbott announced the gift of two Bay-class patrol  craft to Sri Lanka Navy whilst being on board the flag ship of Sri Lanka Navy  in Colombo harbor and addressed foreign media supporting Sri Lanka’s post  conflict progress and commending Sri Lanka Navy for its humanitarian efforts.  

The “New Colombo  Plan” graduate education scholarship, foreign direct investment, narrowing  the trade deficit, sports tourism, increase of tourist to Sri Lanka by 20 per  cent, increased benefits to Sri Lankan students arriving for studies and  public sector training for Sri Lankan government employees are key areas of  remarkable achievements. The Australian travel guide, Lonely Planet naming Sri Lanka as one of the top tourist destinations in the world contributed  to the increased tourist inflow into post war Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, cricket  diplomacy was evident in many instances with the Sri Lankan team participating  in Sri Lanka Independence Day celebrations at the High Commission in Canberra  in 2012 and when Sri Lanka outnumbered Australian spectators in a one day  international at the MCG.

The highlight my  tenure as High Commissioner was in 2015 when the Mission was honoured to host  Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Hon. Speaker, Cabinet Ministers, Shadow Ministers,  Parliamentarians and Heads of Missions at the 67th Sri Lanka Independence Day  celebrations.

This relationship  based on shared values by two littoral nation-states in the Indian Ocean have  stood the test of time and endured for 75 years. Therefore, the 2022 Diamond Jubilee  celebrations will give an opportunity to reflect on the past and rededicate  to set sights to address modern day challenges by implementing sustainable  solutions that would further strengthen the friendship of our people and love  for each other’s culture.