Keynote Address to the Australia Malaysia Business Council and the Malaysia Australia Business Council

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

Speech, check against delivery

30 January 2012

I would like to acknowledge my dear friend, Minister Mustapa; Michael Halpin, the chairman of the Malaysia Australia Business Council; Larry Gould, the National President of the Australia Malaysia Business Council; Leigh Howard, the Vice Chairman of the Malaysia Australia Business Council; Secretary-General of MITI Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria; Dato' Noharuddin, CEO of MIDA and Dr Wong, CEO of MATRADE and all friends and colleagues who have come tonight to celebrate the very close business relationship that we enjoy between our two countries.

To live in Australia or Malaysia, in this second decade of the 21st century, is to live in the most vibrant region on earth. We are living through a time of extraordinary industrial, economic and social transformation that will leave the landscape as unrecognisable in 2050 as the 1950s were from the 1850s. Habits and assumptions that have been with us for decades are being left behind, as all of us, particularly those of us here in our region, work to craft a new life that is relevant to our time.

Australia and Malaysia are not mere passengers in this. We are in the right place at the right time in the Asian region, in this, the Asian century. Both our countries have recognised the importance of being open to what the Asian century will bring and being open to the opportunities the global economy offers during the Asian century.

In many ways, Malaysia lies at the geographic heart of the action, the integration of the Asian region from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and from North Asia to my own country, into a new engine of global economic growth.

Since your two councils were established in the late 1980s, our relationship has in fact gone from strength to strength. On trade, the centre of the work of your two councils, we have a strong and growing relationship that stands to be one of the planks of economic integration right across our region. Malaysia is our tenth largest trading partner and our third largest among the ASEAN economies. And that is a big deal. We export more goods and services to ASEAN than we do to the European Union. Our two-way trade with Malaysia exceeded AUD15 billion in 2010 and that was up 10% on the previous year, nearly doubling of the value of trade that we had in the year 2000.

We have strong investment flows between our two countries, too. There is AUD8.2 billion worth of Malaysian investment in Australia and AUD4.4 billion of Australian investment in Malaysia. We are here tonight and tomorrow to work out ways to lift those numbers even further. As you probably know, there are more than 250 Australian companies here in Malaysia, including some of our major education institutions: Monash, Swinburne and Curtin Universities. And of course, corporate giants like BHP Port Holdings, Linfox, BlueScope and ANZ.

And in no small part, thanks to organisations such as the MABC and the AMBC, we are continuing to develop those business relationships. I applaud the business councils for the 'Australia Malaysia: Forging Ahead' initiative that was launched in November last year, which is encouraging Australian and Malaysian companies to understand and recognise the opportunities that exist in our two economies. Prime Minister Najib made it clear that he would like to see more Australian investment in Malaysia and I know that it is a view that is shared by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, because she told me so.

But despite the strengths of our relationship, both our countries know that this is not the time or the place for simply standing still and that is why we worked so hard to establish the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. AANZFTA, as it is known, has helped drive down and in fact eliminate tariffs in our region. And evidence shows businesses like yours are already taking advantage of that.

That is why we have been working so hard to try to conclude negotiations on the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, to meet the deadline of March 2012 set down by our leaders. And it is also why we are simultaneously working to make progress on the negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership. The economic reforms that we have made in the past have made both our economies stronger and better able to take advantage of the international economic climate. We know how essential it is to keep up that liberalising momentum. Beyond our region, it is important to make progress in the multilateral trading system despite the current impasse in the Doha Round.

Minister Mustapa and I were in Davos in the last few days, and I will have a little more to say about that in a moment. At the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference held in Geneva in December last year, I was encouraged by the widespread support for considering what we describe as new pathways for progressing the round, given that the current pathway is locked and we should know and appreciate that after ten years it is locked. Australia's approach in outlining a model of new pathways include the possibility of breaking the negotiations into small and more manageable components and that is something that I do look forward to working on with Malaysia in exploring other pathways.

In the Asian century, other countries won't stand still because the risks of doing so are great and the opportunities that can be lost from that are even greater. Regional engagement remains fundamentally important. One area of going forward between our two countries that I did want to highlight is education. We have a relationship in this area stretching back to the Colombo Plan in the 1950s that shows decades of commitment to regional integration and very importantly, better understanding amongst nations. More than 300,000 Malaysian students have studied in Australia, almost as many people as the current population of Canberra. And that includes, of course, Minister Mustapa and I am honour bound not to talk about his initiation ceremony at the University of Melbourne but many of my colleagues will be happy to do so a little later if you want the details. I am sure that Minister Mustapa would agree with me that there is no doubt that when people stay and live in each other's countries, they become champions of those countries and they have fond memories.

And in truth, it is important to have Miles Kupa as Australian High Commissioner here and I do want to acknowledge him. He is one ambassador and a very important ambassador. But these ex-students become ambassadors for each other's countries and I think there is nothing more important we can do than to encourage that great ambassadorial endeavour by supporting the exchange of students, not only students studying in Australia from Malaysia but equally importantly, Australian students experiencing life in Malaysia and in our broader region.

We are proud that Australia is the top education destination for Malaysians studying overseas but I would like still to see more Australians studying here. There are around 200 studying at universities here, up from four, so that is a very good growth rate but it is still modest in numbers. By October of last year, we had almost 23,000 Malaysian students enrolled in Australia and a similar number studying at Australian education institutions here in Malaysia, including through three Australian universities that do have campuses here.

But the education linkages that we are talking about aren't just limited to university level. The South Australian matriculation programme has been taught successfully in Malaysia to many thousands of students since way back in 1982. Students have successfully completed their South Australian matriculation programmes, and have enrolled in universities right around the world, including many in Australia. And I know that students have all taken home specific insights from their time in Australia. From our perspective, they are a huge reservoir of our goodwill and understanding that has helped Australia integrate more successfully into the region.

It is not just education where our people are interested in each other's countries, but also in tourism, which is why close to a quarter of a million Malaysians visit Australia each year and vice-versa. This of course is being aided by increased competition in the aviation industry leading to the emergence of low-cost airlines such as JetStar and AirAsia, making both our countries more accessible than ever before. In fact, I experienced this recently as I flew with AirAsia to Kuala Lumpur just after Christmas with our three children as the first stop on the way to other countries of the region. And we did the same thing the year before and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not the only who makes this kind of journey with my family — this is something that is happening with everyday people right throughout Asia. This increased accessibility can only help strengthen the ties between our countries as more and more of our people do business and soak up the rich array of cultures that exist here.

Increased integration in our region is one of the reasons why Prime Minister Gillard has put such great store in launching an Asian Century White Paper called "Australia in the Asian Century". This is not the first time that we have looked at closer economic integration into our region. In the mid-1980s, it was Bob Hawke who understood that there were wonderful opportunities to position Australia in what he understood with Professor Ross Garnaut would be the Asian Century — that is the 21st century. This visionary leadership that was working then, is working again now. And as a result of that leadership, we are enjoying a very, very strong and rich relationship between our two countries.

Prime Minister Gillard wants to open up a new chapter in that relationship through the Asian Century White Paper exercise, designed to find new ways to strengthen economic and broader cultural, social integration between our countries. As I have indicated, we have seen Malaysia as being very, very high on that priority list. We will work very hard to make sure that we clear the pathways so that you as business people can with confidence, free of unnecessary impediment make a decision to trade and invest, further strengthening our economic integration and the fantastic opportunities that it brings to both our countries.

Thank you very much indeed.

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