Albania, Australia and Asia

Albania, with just over three million people, is a Balkan nation in transition. It is a small (less than half the size of Tasmania) but beautiful country with snow capped alps and one of the best and most unspoilt coastlines in Europe.

For more than forty years, from 1944 until 1991, Albania was ruled by a bizarre and brutal communist regime that was first allied to Stalin's Soviet Union and then to Mao's China. Neither regime was pure enough for Albania's dictator Enver Hoxha. His human rights abuses included the persecution, torture and execution of Catholic and Orthodox priests and Moslem Imams, leading to his declaration in 1967 that Albania was the "world's first atheist state".

Things have changed. Last year Pope Francis, during a speech in Tirana's "Mother Theresa Square", praised the predominantly Moslem country as a model for religious tolerance. In 2015 modern democratic Albania, now led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, is rapidly trying to invite foreign investment, particularly in badly needed infrastructure, and open up its economy. Already a member of NATO, Albania wants to reform both its bureaucracy and judiciary, fight corruption and organised crime so that it can join the European Union.

Last year the EU granted Albania official "candidate status", a crucial first step before accession talks can begin. The Rama government is also actively seeking closer economic ties with Asia. Albanians first migrated to Australia in the late nineteenth century. It's now time to refresh and renew the relationship between both our countries, as we engage in different ways with the rising economic power of Asia. I discussed these issues in my address to the Albanian Foreign Relations Council in Tirana.