Civil society representatives gathered in Perth today for the start of the three-day Commonwealth People’s Forum to discuss and debate key issues facing Commonwealth People. The Forum was officially opened by the Hon. Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister of Australia in a ceremony also addressed by Premier of Western Australia, The Hon. Colin Barnett MLA, Commonwealth Secretary-General H.E. Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Foundation Chair, Madam Simone de Comarmond and Commonwealth People’s Forum Chair, Ms Sue Ash.

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said the mark of any civil society was how it treats its most vulnerable in society. “Despite Australia’s relative prosperity, there are people in this country and this state who are  vulnerable and they need support. I’m proud of the way we support those most in need but forums like this are important because they provoke debate and remind governments that we can always do better.”

Commonwealth Secretary-General H.E Kamalesh Sharma described the Forum as a “vibrant expression of the Commonwealth family in action.”

The Forum continues to be a crucial part of the interface between governments and civil society. Central to these discussions is a powerful statement from civil society representatives of the 54 member association calling on Heads of Government to act urgently to strengthen the role of civil society so that the Commonwealth can become a “meaningful vehicle for change.”

The statement draws attention to the disconnect between the Commonwealth’s stated aims, goals, and high level policy and the realities facing many citizens’ organisations on the ground.

Civil society leader Mr. Phiroshaw Camay of the Cooperative for Research and Education in South Africa said: “The global challenges that Commonwealth citizens experience individually every day, from poverty to HIV and AIDS demand that our governments work together – not just with each other, but with the very citizens’ organisations that are leading the way on so many fronts.”

Over the next three days, 300 accredited delegates from Australia and the wider Commonwealth will debate the issues raised in the statement in preparation for a round table dialogue between civil society representatives and Commonwealth Foreign Ministers on Thursday 27 October in Perth.

For more information visit www.cpf2011.org

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