The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP
The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP


Australian Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile

29 September 2000

Export Champions and Heroes

Business Club Australia, Darling Harbour.

(Check Against Delivery)


Thank you Fergus; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the third in this series of Trade Minister's Luncheons here at Business Club Australia.

Over the past two weeks all Australians have been captivated by world-beating performances here in Sydney - by both the athletes and all the workers and volunteers that have helped things go so smoothly.

In my address at the first luncheon, I described Australia's achievement in creating a great trading nation that is well prepared to face the business challenges of the twenty-first century. At the second luncheon, I outlined the practical benefits of globalisation and the nature of Australia's engagement with the world, including the impact of the so-called "new" economy.

Today, I want to tell you about some of our Australian export champions and heroes - that is, people who have responded, at the practical business level, to the challenges and opportunities that confront them and Australia

Australia's export champions and heroes

In 1999-2000, Australia's export champions and heroes achieved $126 billion in exports - a tremendous export effort. Our exporters deserve greater recognition for their efforts, and I want to recognise some of them today. The choice of who to mention today has been difficult because there are so many to choose from!

But a good place to start would be Pipers Brook Vineyard, Tasmania's largest wine producer, which was the DHL Australian Exporter of the Year in the Australian Export Awards for 1999.

This company - a leading exporter of premium and luxury wines - more than doubled its exports in 1998-99 to a value of $2.5 million out of total sales of some $8 million. Its 1995 Ninth Island Chardonnay was rated the Wine of the Year in a 1999 London judging.

Overall, the success of the Australia wine industry is a clear demonstration of what can be achieved by our exporters. Twenty years ago, wine exports from Australia were valued at only around $8.4 million. Last financial year, they were worth around $1.4 billion. Australian wines have gained real prestige and distinction, and are great ambassadors for our nation.

I was pleased to see that in the September 9 issue of "The Economist" magazine, the Australia Survey focussed on Australia's wine industry as a good example of an industry that has expanded enormously to become a big exporter for our nation. "The Economist" recognised that our wine industry is a so-called "old" industry that has transformed itself through the application of innovative technology and know-how to the established processes of production and distribution.

"The Economist" concluded by noting the sensible view that the important thing was, not whether your industry was "old" economy or" new" economy, but whether you "use the latest technology to do whatever you are doing as efficiently as possible". By that standard of measurement, of course, Australia is doing very well.

Many so-called "old" economy industries in Australia are actually using the latest technologies to improve their businesses. One such industry is the biotechnology sector. An Australian company like Technico has displayed impressive innovation skills and gained considerable export success in this sector.

Technico is an agri-biotechnology company based in Bowral, New South Wales, which has pioneered a method of seed potato production from tissue culture. Technico has commercialised the technology through Australian venture capital financing and strategic joint ventures with multinational companies.

The company is a world leader, with production facilities in China, India, the United States and Mexico, as well as in Australia. It was my great pleasure to visit Technico's $5.5 million plant in Kunming in the south western Chinese province of Yunnan in May this year.

The automotive industry

The automotive industry is one of Australia's manufacturing industries that was once declared doomed by tariff cuts, but is now performing superbly in the global market. In recent years there has been a great expansion in our automotive exports to the world. In 1998-99, the total value was $2.8 billion; in 1999-2000 this figure increased dramatically to $3.8 billion.

Exports of passenger cars to the Gulf region of the Middle East, for example, have expanded greatly. If your arrive at Dubai airport, chances are that the taxi that transports you to your hotel will be a Toyota Camry that was manufactured here in Australia. You will also see many Chevrolet Caprice and Liminas, all manufactured here.

Automotive component makers in Australia are proving to be great exporters. Many SMEs in this industry - often based in regional areas - have gone international, making an important contribution to export growth. The number one export market for automotive components is the USA, worth $477 million last year, with Korea not far behind at $403 million.

Robert Bosch (Australia) Pty Ltd, based in Melbourne, is one of Australia's leading manufacturers of automotive electrical and electronic equipment.

The company has a strong and growing export business that is internationally competitive in the global automotive products market. In 1990, the company had overseas sales worth $2 million - eight years later its exports had grown to over $180 million, representing 34 per cent of total sales.

In overall value, auto products now rank ahead of Australia's traditional export commodities of wheat, wool and beef, and just behind iron ore. This accurately relfects the diversification of Australia?s burgeoning export effort.

Information technology

Many commentators measure a nation's success in the so called ?new? economy by assessing performance in the global IT market. While I consider that this is too narrow a view, the fact is that a large number of highly capable Australian IT firms are making their mark in the global IT market, even though it is dominated by transnational firms.

Australian companies are at the forefront of developing the very IT backbone on which e-commerce is being built. Companies such as Keycorp and SecureNet are winning contracts in Asia, North America and Europe to supply e-commerce and smart card platforms.

ERG Transit Systems is a world leader in automated fare collection (AFC) products. It has developed the world's largest integrated contactless smart card fare collection system in Hong Kong, known as Octopus. Through its alliance with Motorola, it has won major smart card based fare collection contracts in Berlin, the Netherlands, Rome, San Francisco and Singapore.

ECS International, also based in Bowral, New South Wales, has achieved great success in creating software packages in the mining technology and services sector. It is a world leader in this area, exporting to at least 28 countries throughout the world.

These companies, and many others, demonstrate that Australia is out there at the cutting edge of global IT developments.

The services sector

In the services sector, Australia is gaining an international reputation for high standards in many areas. Indeed, I'm sure you will agree that Australia has met and mastered the tremendous services challenge of hosting these Olympic Games - they've been a stunning success!

The Games have already provided a great boon to our tourism industry and can be expected to bring in further benefits in the future. But we are building on an excellent base. Tourism exports had already grown from $1 billion twenty years ago to a total of $14.5 billion last financial year.

In other areas, there are similar stories. Education exports have grown enormously in recent years. 53 per cent of the total revenue of the University of New South Wales is made up from exports. With 5,800 international students in degree programs plus over 1,000 international students in pre-university programs, the University claims to have the largest on-campus enrolment of international students of any university in the world.

Australian achievers

All these export champions and heroes, and many others like them, are role models whose achievements encourage other companies and enterprises to get into the business of exporting their goods and services.

Taken all together, these are the people behind the excellent national export figures that Australia has achieved over recent years, despite the challenges we faced and overcame as a result of the Asian economic crisis.

And the Government is backing them all the way, through providing strong management of the economy, a better taxation system and the right regulatory framework to maximise the opportunities for further "gold medal" winners to emerge.


As we near the end of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, we all take away many great memories from these Games. Australians admire their sporting champions and heroes for embodying perhaps the best of our attributes as a nation - a willingness to "have a go" and remain undaunted by the odds against you.

This willingness to "have a go" is a trait that our export champions and heroes also display.

My aim as Australia's Trade Minister has been to ensure that you, as international business people, leave Australia after the Sydney Olympics, not only with great memories of wonderful sporting competition and well organised Games, but also with an appreciation of the business opportunities that exist in our country.

As a result of your Olympics visit, I?m sure you realise that Australians don't only win gold medals in the swimming pool, they win them on the archery range, the cycling track the equestrian field, and a range of other sporting arenas as well! You now also know that Australians overall are a more complex and interesting bunch of people than perhaps you had previously imagined.

My hope is that this more complete view of our nation and people will extend to your perceptions of Australia as a place to do business. The opportunities here are extensive, and cover a wide field of trade and investment.

I'd like to thank Business Club Australia for providing us with a splendid venue for these luncheons. I look forward to seeing you in our country again in the not too distant future. Please help take our message to the rest of the world.

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