Thank you Jane. A lovely introduction and what a delight it is to be home in Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval. In fact, I have a very fond memory of the 1972 grand final won by my team North Adelaide and then the following week there was a champion of championships game between Carlton and North Adelaide right here and my dad took me along and boy, we hated the Vics! You know, I felt like that last weekend, it all came back to me!
I am delighted to be here to support the Joanna Briggs Foundation that supports the amazing work done by the Joanna Briggs Institute. I thank the sponsors and everyone for attending to be part of their remarkable international work to support those less fortunate in developing countries.
I’ve just returned from the United Nations General Assembly Leaders Week in New York. This is an annual event that brings together the Presidents and Royals and Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of all 193 nations that make up the UN, and it is always a fascinating time for the extensive debate on the contemporary global issues of the day.
This year I was really struck by the number of female leaders who were there. In fact, there are now 31 female foreign ministers amongst the 193 nations – we all actually got together for a girls dinner – and it was fascinating to hear the perspectives of female foreign ministers. There wasn’t much testosterone in that room and it is a very different sort of debate.
This particular UN General Assembly Leaders Week had a unique quality about it because it was the first Leaders Week that was presided over by the US President Donald Trump. People attended just to see how President Trump would respond to being at the United Nations – which I think during his Presidential campaign he said he’d like to abolish. Well, there’s a far cry between what people tweet and what people do, thankfully, and the President made a rather controversial speech followed up by rather controversial tweets about North Korea. I was struck by how the media focussed so much on President Trump’s tweets about North Korea, and not on the fact that under Kim Jong-un the North Korean regime has conducted almost 90 illegal ballistic missile tests; they’ve conducted six nuclear weapons tests: four of them by Kim Jong-un, two by his father. The most recent was a thermonuclear device – a hydrogen bomb – of 100 kilotons which is seven times the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Yet the focus was on the President’s tweets and I thought this is a weird world in which we live when Kim Jong-un with that record of violations of the UN Security Council resolutions, of continuing rhetoric and threats against our region, can put out a press release saying of the US President, “How can I deal with this mad man?” - Kim Jong-un speaking of Donald Trump. Irony is in very short supply on the North Korean border.
In my time at the UN I found as I always find, trekking around the world that Australia is held in very high regard. We are seen and we have a reputation for being an open liberal democracy committed to freedoms and the rule of law and democratic institutions. We are an open export-oriented market economy – the 13th largest economy in the world – and we’re a staunch defender of the international rules based order, the laws and the norms and the rules that have been in place since the Second World War and that guide the way nations behave and towards each other.
We set a world record that is noted around the world – we are entering our 27th consecutive year of economic growth – that has not been matched by any other country, and we’ve been through the Asian Financial Crisis, the dot com boom and bust and the Global Financial Crisis and the vagaries of the international commodities market, and our economy has kept on growing.
We’re obviously considered a reliable and trusted trading partner. We are a global energy resources power being a massive exporter – in fact the largest exporter of iron ore and coal and lead and aluminium and a significant exporter of diamonds and copper and zinc and uranium. These commodities have been the driving force behind the growth of economies in our region. We’re also a significant agriculture producer and our high quality goods are much sought after around the world, and our services sector, whether it’s in tourism or education or finance or aged care and health care, very much in demand.
In fact, I think our services sector will be driving our economic growth in years to come. We’re highly regarded as quality researchers in science and health and we’re considered to be a most innovative country, and that’s why people from all over the world want to come to Australia. They bring their skills, they make their contribution in this wonderful country. Indeed, half of the Australian population were either born overseas or have one parent born overseas – as a number of our politicians are discovering.
Australia is also considered to be a superpower – we’re a lifestyle superpower – it doesn’t get much better than this, and The Economist magazine has repeatedly called Melbourne the most liveable capital city on the planet but Adelaide, Perth and Sydney also make the cut.
We can’t take our good fortune for granted, we cannot be complacent, and we know as a government that we have to continue to make sure we are open to the world, that we continue to find new markets or enhance existing markets for our goods and services. You don’t get rich selling to yourself. We have to continue to attract skilled people in every sphere of our economy so that they can drive productivity and enhance economic growth and we have to retain public confidence in a steady flow of foreign capital to drive economic growth and provide job opportunities for this country. That’s why we’re so focussed on ensuring Australia continues to be internationally competitive.
When President Trump announces that he’s pursuing a corporate tax rate of 20 cents in the dollar our Senate – Senator Birmingham – our Senate must have a long hard look at ensuring that we can bring the corporate tax rate in Australia to a much more competitive level. I want to pay tribute to Simon Birmingham and the work that he does in advocating our policies through a very difficult Australian Senate and I’m not sure whether it’s going to be more or less difficult with the exit of one Senator Xenophon – who knows, we’ll find out.
We also know that we need a reliable and affordable energy policy. It is utterly ludicrous that a state like South Australia can have blackouts, and I acknowledge my dear friend, the Leader of the Liberal Party Steven Marshall, who I know will agree with me. We have to have affordable and reliable energy commensurate with the first world nation that we are. We also need a regulatory environment that is conducive to small, medium enterprises as well as large business because small business, medium enterprises are without doubt the drivers of the Australian economy.
So there’s much for us to do, much for us to be grateful for, but the reforms must continue.
For the purposes of today’s event, because we’re talking about international development and support for developing countries, I wanted to mention two initiatives of which I am driving and which are relevant to this discussion, and they are both within my foreign affairs portfolio.
When I became Foreign Minister back in September of 2013, I was struck by the size of our aid budget and the trajectory of which it was headed under the previous government and yet the lack of success that we were having in making a dramatic difference to the lives of the recipient countries.
As a nation we have invested billions and billions of dollars in developing countries and yet I found that some in our region were going backwards on every relevant social and economic indicator – how could that be? So the answer was clear - you don’t throw more money at the problem – rethink what you are doing.
So I established what we call the innovationXchange. It’s an ideas hub within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – although I actually situated it over the road from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so it would be seen as a different mindset – and I brought together some of the most creative, innovative thinkers and problem solvers that we had within the Department, handpicked some out of the public service and out of the private sector. We got people in from Google, from the World Bank, from USAid and this ideas incubator is then given some of the most intractable development problems we face. I’ve given them permission to be challenging the traditional way we do things, given them permission to be able to take risks and to fail and to acknowledge that they’ve failed and so start again, don’t throw more money after a failed problem.
We now have given them 80 projects, particularly focussed on our region and we have 30 partnerships with other governments, with private-sector organisations, with philanthropic organisations and universities and the like and we are solving and coming up with answers to some of the most difficult development problems. We choose the best solution, we trial it, we pilot it, we test it. If it works we scale it up and roll it out throughout our aid program, and this is changing the way people are thinking and it’s having outcomes.
One of the first partnerships we entered into was with Bloomberg Philanthropies – Michael Bloomberg the former Mayor of New York has become a great friend of ours – and his philanthropic foundation has partnered with our innovationXchange for a program called Data for Health. Did you know that 65 per cent of deaths around the world have no recorded cause, or no death certificate? So how do countries develop public health policies if they don’t have basic data like the cause of death? The waste of time and energy and money in developing health policies when you don’t have relevant data. So we have now focussed on six countries. We’ve trained 4,500 public health professionals and using mobile technologies provided by Bloomberg we’re getting them to carry out health census surveys to gather this vital information so that we can have informed judgments made about health policies.
Another example of one of our challenges – we know that technological disruption is going to impact the way we live, the way we work, communicate, travel, everything – but we also know that through automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, the jobs of today are not going to be the jobs of the future. In fact, it’s already estimated that half of the jobs that exist today will be replaced by smart machine and robots and the like. It’s also estimated that about 60 per cent of school children across the world will be working in jobs and industries that don’t current exist – they haven’t even been thought of.
So one of our challenges was how are we going to skill young people in the Pacific – because this is under my aid program but it applies equally to young people in Australia – how are we going to give them the skills for the jobs of the future? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US has what they call a Solve-a-thon, very much like what we do. They come up with intractable ideas and they throw out the challenge around the world, get all the best ideas from around the world.
So we joined the MIT Solve-a-thon with Atlassian – an Australian tech company – and we were part of this global challenge to come up with the ideas for youth and skills and jobs of the future. The response was phenomenal! I announced the winners of the challenge when I was in New York. Queen Rania of Jordan is the patron of Solve-a-thon for MIT and we announced a number of winners and one that really stood out was a company called WeRobotics. They will be setting up a hub in the Pacific to teach young students in the Pacific about robotics and the associated technologies like the use of drones. This is the kind of thing we are now doing with our aid program.
Another one – we are now getting very good at these global challenges – the Water Innovation Engine. I also announced this at the UN. We know that one of the biggest challenges in developing countries can be the use of water – either scarce resources or how to manage water. We’ve thought of a global challenge in partnership with the Global Innovation Fund and Great Challenges Canada to come up with ideas for urban sanitation, ideas for how farmers can better use water data to manage scarce resources. I know the responses that we’ll get from around the world will be sensational.
We’re doing this in health areas as well and I’m sure the Joanna Briggs Institute will be interested to hear – or maybe even partner with us on some of the work that we’re doing.
A second initiative that is also relevant in terms of Australia’s long term engagement is the New Colombo Plan. Now many of you will remember the original New Colombo Plan set up in 1951 to provide students from our region with an opportunity to study at an Australian university and gain qualification and go back home and build their nations – these emerging nations after the ravages of World War II. And the amazing thing of course, is that so many of those students who studied in Australia are now leaders in their communities, their businesses, in politics, in our region. We have a group of ambassadors who have such a positive view of Australia who are in decision making positions in our region – it’s absolutely invaluable.
When I became Foreign Minister I decided we needed to do that but in reverse so I came up with the cunning name the New Colombo Plan and we are supporting undergraduates from our universities – from every Australian university – to spend time living and undertaking studies in a university in a country in our region. 38 countries in our region from Mongolia in the west all the way through to the Marshall Islands in the east and everywhere in between are partnering with us to provide places for Australian undergraduates to study at their universities. Our universities have partnered with universities in host countries to ensure that the time our students spend in a foreign country is recognised towards their degree here.
What makes this program unique is that they are giving work experience, internships and practicums to Australian undergraduates. We’ve been running this – we did a pilot program in 2014 in Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan – and then we rolled it out in 2015 across the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific. We have law undergraduates who are studying at a university in Tokyo and undertaking an internship in a Tokyo law firm. We have medical students who are undertaking students at the National University of Singapore and doing an internship in a hospital or a medical clinic. We have young Australians studying international affairs and politics in a Jakarta university and doing an internship in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had a young undergraduate who worked in Vanuatu and got an internship in their Department of Foreign Affairs and ended up drafting one of their most important pieces of legislation.
I am meeting these young undergraduates from across Australia who are having this extraordinary experience, are becoming more Asia-literate, having a greater understanding of our place in the world, who come back home with new perspectives and new insights and new ideas and hopefully new skills including second languages.
And yet most importantly they are developing networks and contacts and relationships that will last a lifetime. This is undoubtedly for Australia’s benefit and is seen as one of the best examples of Australia’s engagement in our region. When you have President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Lee and President Widodo talking about the New Colombo Plan as an example of Australia wanting to learn more about our region, investing in our young people so that we can have deeper connections in the region – then you know we’re doing something right.
I hope it becomes a rite of passage for young Australians because these young people are our future. They will be our leaders, our researchers, our professionals, our community leaders, the heads of our NGOs, our politicians – who knows, a future Prime Minister will a New Colombo Plan scholar having an understanding of our region that can only come from living and studying and working.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have this opportunity to address you. I’ve enjoyed being back in Adelaide with my friends Simon and Steven. And I know that there are other Parliamentarians here today and I appreciate the fact you are here to support the remarkable work of the Joanna Briggs Institute.
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