Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. What a delight it is to be back here at this stunning Frank Gehry building at UTS.

Last month, without any fanfare and virtually no media coverage, Australia was ranked in a global poll as the most creative nation on earth. We came in ahead of the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark. We were rated number one. The University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute ranked 139 countries against a criteria for their Global Creativity Index and Australia came out on top.

This supports my very firm belief that Australia’s greatest national resource is its people and Australia’s greatest natural asset is our people’s creativity and innovative flair. We need to embrace and harness that creativity. There are some who still believe that Australia’s economic strength lies only in mining, resources, energy and agriculture but creative talent underpins our economic growth.

Among our innovative industries that make up what I call ‘the creative economy’, we have talented people who are contributing to making our fashion industry one of the best in the world, and I don’t make this claim lightly.

Australian fashion is attracting global attention. We have a look, our brands, our flair, our creativity, our designers, our manufacturers, our stylists, our producers are all making their name on the world stage.

Our designers are having an impact in New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Tokyo, New Delhi and some of our best known designers, Collette Dinnigan, the wonderful Carla Zampatti, Johanna Johnson, Kim Ellery, Camilla and Marc, Zimmermann, Dion Lee are attracting global support and have, in some instances, for decades been the staple of our fashion industry.

But our fashion industry is more than just our creative minds, as important as they are. We also have raw materials – our wool, our cotton, leather, precious stones, pearls, gold. We have photographers, make-up artists, stylists, magazines. We have a fashion industry of which any country ought be proud.

‘Made in Australia’, ‘designed in Australia’, ‘Australian wool’, all these phrases are synonymous with high quality craftsmanship, creativity, innovation and flair.

Our fashion industry employs about 220,000 people domestically. It is a $12 billion industry for Australia. This is hard economics. There’s nothing soft about our fashion industry in terms of the economic power it adds to our economy. It’s about jobs, it’s about economic growth.

Recently I met with Edwina McCann, when I say recently it was about 12 months ago, and Edwina is marvellous. This is a person who has dedicated a career to advocating Australian fashion both here and overseas. Edwina told me about the Australian Fashion Chamber and I was so excited – this was something I’d been waiting for from the moment I became Foreign Minister.

It became apparent from our first and subsequent meetings that the Australian diplomatic networks ought be much more closely engaged, indeed, working in sync with our fashion industry, both here and overseas, promoting Australian fashion wherever we have diplomatic missions around the world.

That’s why I’m so pleased that Edwina and I are formalising a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Fashion Chamber. We will be formalising it through a memorandum of understanding and under this agreement we will be able to promote Australian fashion, nurture Australian fashion designs, connect Australian fashion stylists and creators and designers with counterparts overseas – again driving economic growth based on the creative talent we have in this country.

This will align beautifully with a pillar of our foreign policy that I call “economic diplomacy” – using our diplomatic assets to liberalise trade, find investment opportunities, attract business and investment to Australia and support Australian businesses doing work overseas. Already I have tasked our missions, our Embassies, our posts, our High Commissions overseas to host fashion events for Australian designers and producers at our stunning locations around the world so that we can connect our fashion industry with opportunities overseas.

We’ve held some spectacularly successful events during major fashion weeks in New York and London, Paris, in Istanbul, New Delhi and in Jakarta and I’m sure there will be many more opportunities for us to use our diplomatic network in this way. And I have to say our diplomats have embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm. They see the potential. So in this way Australian fashion can compete with the best in the world.

There are many stories about how some of our great designers got their first break. One of my favourites is Johanna Johnson’s very sassy decision to design a stunning gown, on spec, and send it to Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks in the hope that she would wear it. She did, to the Emmys, and of course the rest is history. Johanna got her big break and she now has a client list of celebrities the world over.

It is clear to me that government has a clear role. Of course the fashion industry hasn’t been sitting around waiting for government to assist. They’ve been out there pretty much on their own, being able to promote themselves, promote their industry. And, let’s face it, a number of the boutique designers exemplify the small business culture in Australia, starting from home, doing something online, but then accessing major markets overseas with that ‘can do’ attitude that entrepreneurial flair. So I have decided that the Australian Government must play a greater role in supporting one of our strengths, one of our most creative and exciting industries in our economy.

And Edwina, I’m delighted to be able to announce today, that in addition to the memorandum of understanding, the Australian Fashion Chamber has been successful in its application for funding under our Cultural Diplomacy Program. So your Australian Designers Abroad initiative has attracted support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and under this funding we will be able to send six Australian designers – five established and one emerging – to Paris Fashion Week so they can take part in a group showroom and I think the opportunities are unlimited.

I’ve also an eye for opportunities. Recently I was in Brazil for an official visit with our Brazilian counterparts and by chance I met the co-creator and producer of Sao Paulo Fashion Week, Cabral and she told me how Sao Paulo Fashion Week is the fifth largest in the world. As we talked about the Brazilians approach to fashion and lifestyle and design I realised that there were great synergies with Australia and so, through emails and the wonders of technology, I’ve connected Edwina with Cabral. I’m sure that there is so much more that we will be able to do with our counterparts in Brazil.

So these are the sort of opportunities that await us and as a firm supporter and believer in the Australian fashion industry I can claim, without fear of contradiction, that fashion is a fabulous driver of economic growth.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555