Latin America Down Under

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery, acknowledgements omitted


29 May 2013

It means a lot for me to be here.

In my last year of university I studied Latin American history.

I was struck by the similarities to Australia's colonial past with both regions producing food and fibre.

I was spellbound by the striking cultural differences.

The relationship between Australia and South America had been minimal.

In 1986, as New South Wales Minister for Planning and the Environment, I visited Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Cuba.

The visit made me think how we could establish and expand Australian engagement with this part of the world.

We both have experience in mining. 

This provides, weight, ballast and traction in the relationship.

We are beginning to explore, just gingerly, the commonalities for Australia as a middle power with other middle powers.

We have common perspectives and shared experiences with Brazil, Chile and Mexico, as well as with Turkey, the Republic of Korea and Indonesia.

One area is collaboration in the mining sector.

Soon after last year’s inaugural Latin America Down Under conference, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit Brazil.

President Dilma Rouseff and the Prime Minister announced a Strategic Partnership between our two countries.

Their comprehensive communique recognised the central importance of mining not only to our own economies but to the sustainability of the global prosperity.

In 2011, Brazil overtook the United Kingdom economy; last year it was the world’s seventh-largest.

PricewaterhouseCoopers expects it to be the sixth-biggest economy by 2030, and the fourth-biggest by 2050.

Standard Charter is predicting those shifts to come even sooner, with Brazil overtaking Germany and France by 2020.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer and the third-largest molybdenum producer.

And, as Chile’s President Piñera pointed out when he visited Australia last September, Australia is the largest direct investor in Chilean mining.

We valued his visit, and the visit by his foreign minister.

Together, Australia and Brazil are the top two suppliers of iron ore in the world.

Peru the second-largest copper producer and the sixth largest gold producer.

Argentina has the third largest shale gas reserves, after China and the United States.

Australian mining investment in Latin America has arguably been light-years ahead of a more general link between our continents.

It is providing ballast and it is developing fast.

Only four years back, there were only 20 Australian mining companies operating in Latin America — now there are 80, involved in over 200 projects.

The potential for investment is huge — as much as $150 billion over the next decade.

We believe Australian miners have a record of international excellence.

The reputation of Australian mining is not just built on skill at digging, but also in the care for environmental issues, for the well-being of local communities.

Our miners, we think, are also ambassadors for Australia overseas.

We will continue to back our industry in its efforts to spread the skills of sustainable mining around the world.

In July last year we ran sustainable mining workshops in Peru and Mexico, with participants from across the region, funded by AusAID.

In Sydney last week, AusAID ran a mining for development conference.

And because we know how important it is to support financial transparency around mining — particularly in emerging economies - last week we hosted the conference of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

And we have joined the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in the Extractive Industries, another global effort to build support for sustainable mining.

Australia and Latin America have similar resource endowments and common environmental challenges.

This gives us an opportunity to work together to advance multilateral interests, including trade liberalisation, food security and climate change.

And second, we have a great opportunity to work together in science and technology.

The CSIRO operates a Centre of Mining Excellence in Chile, and has close collaborative efforts with its Brazilian counterpart, EMBRAPA.

And third, we will continue to support the education and services links between our two regions.

The most widely-taught language in Australian universities, after English, is Spanish.

And I’m pleased to see that the Australian National University will start its new Portuguese language course in the second half of 2013.

Last year, we were happy to receive more than 30,000 enrolments from Latin American students.

Their presence here further enriches our multicultural society.

And it’s a great way of building personal links between our two continents.

It’s remarkable how often exchange students go on to take senior roles back in their own societies — and that means future leaders who know what Australia is about, know what our country is like and what matters to us.

Some of them will also stay on in Australia, choosing to build their lives here.

The vibrancy of the culture of Latin America is famous — but Australia, too, is a diverse and rich place in which to live.

Opportunity for all, regardless of social or ethnic origin, is fundamental to our success as a culture and society.

Through the Council on Australia-Latin America Relations — who are launching their new logo today – we will continue to support the sport and cultural links between our two continents.

Next year, we will support Australian contemporary circus company Circa, which has already toured five continents and in April 2014, will perform in the Ibero-American Theatre of Bogota — a major cultural event in Colombia.

We will also support a Rugby Sevens program in Latin America.

Further, today, we launch a publication with the Lowy Institute of Australia and Brazil, Great Southern Skies.

In the 21st Century, national success will lie not only in a nation’s own strengths in the way it conducts its domestic affairs, but also in its ability to engage with the globalised world.

As regions become more important — economic openness, democracy and good governance become more widespread — success will also be determined by the links we build and maintain with other countries.

From Australia’s perspective, Latin America is a region of vast potential on the rise — our mining industry has shown it understands that as clearly as any industry.

Our job, in government, will be to make the most of the links we have, to set a stage in which new ties can be built, and encourage the interaction that will be to our mutual benefit.

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