May I begin by acknowledging the local Federal Member, my friend and colleague Michael McCormack the Minister for Small Business; the local State Member Daryl Maguire, my former colleague and the former Member for Riverina Kay Hull — we both entered Parliament together way back in 1998 and it’s wonderful to see Kay here; the Mayor of Wagga Greg Conkey; and also of course John Sharp the Deputy Chair of Rex; Chris Hine the Chair of AAPA; the Consul General from Vietnam, good to see you again Your Excellency; and Captain Duc, thank you for your kind words.

To all the distinguished guests, the graduating students, families and friends, it is a delight to be here for it is an auspicious occasion for the graduating students who will be presented with their wings from the Australian Airline Pilot Academy.

As someone who spends more time than perhaps others at 30,000 feet, I am constantly in awe of the skills of pilots around the world, and having just failed the simulator test over at the Academy, I am acutely aware of the skill level required to be a pilot.

Australia is home to some of the world’s safest and most highly regarded airlines and our safety record relies on the strength of our pilot training, our design, research and development, engineering, construction, and IT work.

This means that Australia is one of the world leaders when it comes to aviation and Australian aviation expertise is in demand across the world at all the major airports, but particularly in the most dynamic and fastest growing aviation market in the world, which is here in our region in Asia.

I congratulate Rex, as the parent company in establishing the Australian Airline Pilot Academy, and Vietnam Airlines for this partnership in pilot training, for this is a wonderful example of regional cooperation.

To the students from Vietnam who are graduating today, I congratulate you, for you are making history. This is the first time that there’s been a class from this Academy that has included students from Vietnam and you now have a first class qualification, you are now joining the very exclusive club of pilots in Asia with Australian qualifications.

To all the graduating class, you now have a highly valued passport for a very successful career in aviation.

I’m delighted that there are representatives from Vietnam Airlines here today. The bilateral relationship between Australian and Vietnam is strong; it’s getting deeper and more diversified.

We do have a history of successful aviation collaboration, indeed in my own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade we have a program that supports greater aviation security capacity in Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Administration. That program involved providing training in security capacity, accredited training, visits to Darwin Airport to see world’s best practice in security issues.

The relationship of course is important in so many other ways, and we also have Australian pilots who work with Vietnam Airlines, behind the controls of your planes, and I’m pleased to note that there will be additional flights from Hanoi to Sydney and I’m hoping that one of these days we’ll see one of the graduating students land a Dreamliner at Sydney Airport.

Airline connectivity is utterly fundamental to boosting economic growth, trade and investment. For example, the tourism industry is dependent on greater airline connectivity for its growth. In Australia the tourism sector is worth about $130 billion to the Australian economy. It employs hundreds of thousands of Australians and so it’s important to us to ensure we have more high quality partnerships with established and emerging airlines.

The increase in inbound tourism to Australia has been extraordinary over the last 20 years. Back in 1995 we had about 9.3 million inbound airline seats, today it’s about 24.6 million, and this growth has largely been as a result of expanding partnerships with airlines particularly in our region.

We do have a free trade agreement with Vietnam through the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. It’s essentially focused on the greater exchange of goods but I see a time when Australia and Vietnam will greatly expand two-way trade in services. In tourism for example, about 70,000 tourists from Vietnam visited Australia last year.

We also have great potential in health, in professional services and also education. There are about 22,500 students from Vietnam studying in Australia in educational institutions, but this Government just four years ago established a program to ensure that Australian students also had the opportunity to live and study in countries in our region; we called it the New Colombo Plan. Some of you might be familiar with the original Colombo Plan from the 1950s which brought students from our region to Australia to study in our universities and gain qualifications at Australian universities.

Now we understand the need for deeper engagement in our region and so the Australian Government is funding Australian students to complete part of their Australian undergraduate degree in countries in our region, and since 2014 to the end of this year nearly 18,000 students will have been recipients of New Colombo Plan funding. In particular 750 of the students have chosen Vietnam as their location of choice and not only will they have lived in Vietnam, hopefully picked up some language skills, but also studied at your universities and had work experience and mentorships and internships in Vietnam. Now this has meant enormous work has had to be done to build partnerships with Government, partnerships between universities, partnerships between businesses and NGOs and others who have provided the work experience.

The Australian Government embraces what we call “economic diplomacy” as one of our fundamental tools in international engagement. Just as traditional diplomacy aspires for peace, economic diplomacy aspires for prosperity, and peace and prosperity go hand in hand. We have charged our diplomatic network with the responsibility to enhance two-way trade and investment between the country in which they are based and Australia, but I particularly want to pay tribute today to Wayne Murphy from Austrade here in Wagga. Without his vision and prescience this graduating class wouldn’t be here today, for it was on an Australia mission to Vietnam in 2015 that the idea of this exchange or this pilot opportunity with Vietnamese students was established.

We have a network of free trade agreements across Asia, three major ones with the North Asian giants of China, Japan and South Korea. And under those free trade agreements there are enormous opportunities for regional Australia in particular to sell more of our goods and services. In Riverina whether it’s wine or beef or grains, but now we can add to that pilot training.

So to Rex Regional Express, Vietnam Airlines, congratulations on this partnership, and to the graduating class and in particular our very special students from Vietnam, congratulations for achieving this extraordinary level of skill and qualification. I know that you all will have successful careers in whatever you choose to pursue.

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