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Aquino meets with Aussie premier


President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III, left, shares a laugh with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia Wednesday. AP PHOTO

CANBERRA, Australia—President Benigno Aquino III met with Australian Prime Minister Julia Eileen Gillard at 3 p.m. Wednesday (noon in Manila) at the Parliament House here to discuss defense, maritime security, trade, tourism and socio-cultural affairs.

The recently ratified Status of Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Canberra, and the Bangsamoro accord were also expected to be discussed by the two leaders, aside from the Philippine proposal to increase the export of agricultural diversified high-end products to Australia.

The President is in Australia upon the invitation of the Prime Minister.

Aquino, accompanied by seven members of his Cabinet and a large business delegation, arrived here early Wednesday morning (midnight Tuesday in Manila) via a chartered Philippine Airlines flight from Wellington, New Zealand.

His official visit began with a ceremonial welcome before noon at the Government House, where he was accorded a 21-gun salute as he shook hands with the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Ms Quentin Bryce, and her husband,  Michael Bryce.

Australian protocol officers here said that this was the first time that a visiting head of state was accorded a ceremonial welcome right on the lawn of the Government House, which serves as the office of the representative of Queen Elizabeth II.

In the past, visiting presidents, prime ministers and royals  were accorded ceremonial honors at the airport.

The British queen is Australia’s head of state because the country is a member of the British Commonwealth.

The governor general hosted a state luncheon in honor of Mr. Aquino at the dining room of the Government House, three hours ahead of the President’s meeting with Gillard at the Parliament House.

The one-on-one meeting was followed by an expanded bilateral meeting between ministers of both countries.

Aquino is set to lay a wreath at the Australian War Memorial and tour select war galleries before sitting down for an interview with an Australian TV journalist.

An official dinner hosted by Gillard in his honor at 7 p.m. will cap the day’s official engagements. Aquino was to meet over coffee with the Philippine media delegation traveling with him at 9:30 p.m. today.

On Thursday, Aquino will visit Sydney for speaking engagements before the Philippines-Australia Business Forum, the Asia Society of Australia, and the Australia Philippine Business Council, and hold a roundtable meeting  with CEOs of top Australian companies.

On Friday, his last day in Australia, Aquino will lead the unveiling of a statue of Dr. Jose Rizal in Campbelltown City, a Sydney suburb, and meet with the Filipino community in this country.

The 214,840 Filipino migrants here make for one of the largest migrant populations in Australia.

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