The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP



Remarks by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the launch of the ABC Asia-Pacific television service
Canberra, 13 February 2002

Australia, the Asia-Pacific, and Television: Broadcasting to the Region

Ministers, Senators, Members, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and distinguished guests.

I am delighted to be here this evening to participate in the launch of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Asia-Pacific television service.

The commencement of broadcasting of this service on 31 December last year has fulfilled a personal goal of mine as Foreign Minister.

I have long been convinced that a quality television service which projects an Australian voice and perspective across Asia and the Pacific on regional and international events is in Australia's national interest.

As the Prime Minister recently stated, the Asia-Pacific is at the forefront of our foreign affairs and trade policies.

When we came to government, we said we were committed to the Asia-Pacific.

We said we would reinvigorate relations with key partners.

We said we should be confident about our ability to shape our future abroad - underpinned by institutional, economic and political strengths at home.

And we said we had to get away from debating whether or not we were part of the region.

The region has changed enormously.

It is vastly different from when we came to government almost six years ago - and has come under considerable stress and strain.

And with the transitions underway globally and in the region, I expect it will have changed still more in another six years.

Australia has changed, too, for the better.

We are recognised in the region, and beyond, for our vibrant economy, our relevance and our strategic value.

Most of all, we recognise ourselves, and others recognise us, for who we are - Australians - rather than for what we are not.

The Government's commitment to the Asia Pacific region lies behind our decision to fund this service over the next five years.

Under the terms of the contract, the service will be genuinely independent in the best traditions of the ABC.

This means that the Government will not always agree with the perspectives and views expressed on the service.

But we are confident that a service which gives Australia a voice in the region and that accurately reflects our identity as a country can only but improve our communication with the Asia-Pacific region.

The service will show Australia as a country with strong economic fundamentals.

A world leader in resources and agriculture.

A sophisticated manufacturer and provider of services.

A country which is at the forefront of the new economy - where knowledge-based industries now contribute almost half of GDP.

A provider of high quality education and training.

A scientific innovator of the first rank.

Finally, the service will reflect a country with an exuberant artistic and cultural life, and one of the world's most successful multicultural societies.

A country which has accepted and integrated 5.7 million migrants, including 600 000 refugees, since the Second World War.

A country made up of peoples from over 140 different nations, from all the world's major languages, cultures, traditions and religions.

A country where over 800,000 people speak an Asian language.

The service will be transmitted on a signal covering a vast area from Australia to the top of China, and from Samoa in the Pacific across to the eastern tip of India.

The ABC is also looking to extend the reach of the service into South Asia.

Throughout the Asia Pacific region individuals can access the signal direct via satellite.

And for those who can't, the ABC has made good progress in negotiating agreements to re-broadcast the service with local television providers - in Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, East Timor and Vietnam, in Asia - and Fiji, PNG, Samoa, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru in the Pacific.

Negotiations continue with local re-broadcasters in Thailand, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands.

It is indeed a promising beginning for the service.

For me it marks an opportunity to project a dynamic Australia - our strengths, our skills and our values - to the region. I hope it does for you, too.

I look forward very much to watching its progress.

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