Bill's Speeches



I just wanted to say that whilst I can’t fulfil Daryl’s expectations, I thanked him for all the taxes he does pay.

Good evening everyone.

Chloe and I are very pleased to be with you all tonight.

This is about my sixth visit to Hong Kong.

I was recollecting that when I came here as a university student, I was couch surfing – now, I am at the Shangri La. It’s very good.

I want to firstly acknowledge the Hon. Carrie Lam and on behalf of every Australian who is here, Carrie, we are very aware of the importance of your job.

We are very aware of your leadership.

We are very aware that when busy people with scarce time make decisions to spend some of that scarce time with us, every Australian feels complimented so thank you very much for the compliment you’ve paid us.

Before I get to AustCham, I want to thank Daryl Somers for the great job he is doing.

He was an idol from my childhood, but he still looks the same – it’s fantastic.

And I just want to congratulate AustCham


Apologies, that’s tomorrow night’s speech in Zurich. At least I know I am a citizen of just one country!

No, this is not an evening for politics.

But I did just want to congratulate Carrie, because I believe you have been able to change your constitution recently.

You’ve done it with a minimum of fuss – not bad doing.

Our nation is still working on it.

I was thinking though as I was looking out the window of the plane as we approached, looking down on that famous Victoria Harbour.

Thinking of how, on those docks, more than160 years ago, Chinese migrants piled onto boats bound for the new Australian colonies.

They were dreaming of striking it rich in the place they called ‘New Gold Mountain’.

Back then, a passage in a clipper ship took 6 weeks and – I imagine crammed into overcrowded berths with scarce food and water – it must have felt a lot longer.

Then, those sailing ships coming from this part of the world to the Australian colonies would dock in South Australian ports to avoid the taxes and tolls of Victorian Customs.

Then, those fortune-seekers would walk the 400-plus kilometres to the diggings in the Victorian gold fields.

A few of those bold migrants made their fortune.

Most, like my Irish ancestors who also came to Australia looking for gold, ended up working in businesses, farms and factories.

In that era of Australian history, some of those Chinese migrants suffered prejudice and suspicion – both from their peers on the goldfields and the colonial authorities.

I'm thankful that world has vanished.

The era of race-based immigration and White Australia is long gone, neither mourned nor missed.

I think every Australian here will attest that migrants from every part of China are welcomed, celebrated and valued for the contribution they make to Australia’s economy, Australian society and the Australian story.

I don’t think that our Australian guests here tonight will mind me saying that there is never an Australian family who is unhappy when the new neighbours move in and it is a Chinese family – with that sense of family, that love of education and respect for hard work.

But when you think about the Australian story, which is in part what brings us here, I think that there is something timeless that unites the Chinese and the Australia stories.

We all share a respect for the spirit and the courage of the people who gave all they had for a ticket on a ship or more recently on a plane to an unfamiliar land.

I think Australians have an enduring admiration for pioneers in all walks of life, people taking risks and making sacrifices in search of a better life.

And indeed, when I look at AustCham tonight, I would say to all of you here tonight that you shouldn’t be modest about the 30 years you are celebrating because you’re celebrating more than just 30 years.

I say to every one of you, every Australian here in Hong Kong:

I am privileged in my job to travel all around the world.

I see Australian men and women of our defence forces in Afghanistan, in Iraq in the Middle East.

I see Australian business people all over the world.

I see Australian volunteers, Australian non-government-organisation workers all over the world.

And I always feel a sense of pride when I see an Australian somewhere else in the world, giving it a go.

At this gathering tonight, you all make me feel prouder to be an Australian.

We are proud of the Aussie diaspora – we don’t necessarily wear it on our sleeve, apart from during sporting events.

But you are part of where our nation needs to go.

You have been at the forefront of Australia’s engagement with Asia.

And - as the world around us has changed faster and faster – apart from our love of "Hey Hey It’s Saturday" – that was Daryl clapping.

As our region has transformed, AustCham haven’t just trimmed the sails and survived – you have thrived.

You here tonight celebrate the largest base for Australian business in Asia – and you represent Australia’s unequivocal commitment to the prosperity of Hong Kong and the region.

But I was thinking back to 1987 when AustCham was born, Australia was midway through an unprecedented period of domestic economic reform.

Paul Keating said to me not long ago that when he and Bob Hawke came into government in 1983, the Australian economy was not so much an industrial museum, he called it a ‘haunted house’.

The doors were locked and the windows were shuttered, there were shingles missing from the roof and cobwebs in every corner.

And Paul explained to me that he and Bob went to work, opening the windows of the Australian economy, airing the place out and letting the light in.

He said Labor turned an inward-looking Australia outwards.

I think it is more than fair that he can assert that.

Look at the changes they made at the time of 30 years ago: dismantling tariffs, floating the dollar, opening our financial markets to competition, setting our country up for a quarter-century of uninterrupted growth and expanded prosperity.

Engagement with Asia was at the very core of the reforms of the 1980s of Australia and it has been thus ever since.

Engaging with Asia is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, not a bit of cream on the cake: it is not anything other than the front and centre of economic decision-making.

Tonight, I just wanted to address you and say that we can learn lessons from past success, we can take inspiration from history, but we can’t just reheat and repeat what a previous generation has done – we need to set a new direction.

I don’t know who is going to win the next election.

I think it is fair to say that my party is competitive.

I made a deliberate decision to accept your kind invitation to be here tonight because I want to say to Aussies and people interested in Australia and friends of Australia that Labor, my party and the alternative government, we see Asia as essential to Australia’s future. It is not some side play.

That’s why my team and I have been outlining a new agenda for Australia’s engagement with the region, called: FutureAsia.

A fundamental elevation of the priority we give the region – beyond narrow transactional questions, broader than one narrow frame of reference.

It’s a plan built on three pillars:

- Better Asia-relevant capabilities in Australia – I’ll explain what I mean by that in a minute.

- Secondly, it’s about growing and diversifying trade in our region

- And thirdly, increasing Regional collaboration

And this brings me to the very good policy address delivered by the Hon. Carrie Lam, two weeks ago.

It was really interesting.

It outlined so many tremendous opportunities for collaboration and shared success but also a set of common challenges.

Firstly, as Carrie said there’s housing – not just public housing, but what the Chief Executive calls ‘the housing ladder’ encouraging the dream of home ownership to be within reach of working and middle class families.

Secondly, there’s the demographic challenge, with half the population of Hong Kong predicted to live past the age of 100.

And more and more Australians will know a century of life.

The 2016 Census has revealed that there is about 4,000 centenarians in Australia and that number is going to grow to 40,000.

If we know more and more Australians are going to live a century of life, it is our challenge to make sure it is a life of meaning and quality.

How do we ensure that our citizens live a fulfilling, secure and dignified ‘fourth quarter’, especially in the face of devastating illnesses like dementia.

Thirdly – and this was more of a contrast sadly than a commonality – given all of our concerns about the roll-out of Australia’s National Broadband Network, I was amazed by the calm, matter-of-fact way you pledged to extend fibre broadband to 380 villages and 170,000 people in ‘remote’ locations.

What interested me about your address is there is so much for us to discover and achieve together.

And might I add, Australia can afford to learn from Hong Kong about energy.

It does amaze Australians, I think that we are an energy superpower but our energy prices are so high.

The region of Hong Kong has one quarter of our population, it has no natural energy yet the prices are half.

But for all the organic potential of the relationship – the lessons we can learn, it demands our diligent, ongoing attention.

This is the Asia capability I referred to.

That idea was at the centre of the very good speech by my Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen last month about the need for a ‘step-change’ in Australia’s relationship with Asia.

We want to drive that step-change.

How is it in our schools in Australia – and I did Latin at school which would be useful if I met the Pope.

But how is it that we are not providing the alternative of an Asian language to every child in our school system?

And how is it, that if we want to change our national mindset – with a new focus on Asia-capability – how is it that 67 per cent of the ASX board members have no evidence of extensive operating experience in Asia.

And 55 per cent demonstrate little to no knowledge of Asian markets.

Once, Australia looked at Asia only through the prism of isolation.

Now, more often than not, we talk about competition.

But now, I think it’s time we put more thought and more investment into co-operation.

We’ve moved from isolation perhaps to competition – but now it’s time to move to cooperation.

And to do that, we need to include the Australian diaspora, men and women in this room, communities and organisations like yours.

Governments – at every level - and businesses big and small need to be better at utilising your networks.

I said to you earlier that I get a sense a pride when I see how well individual Australians do in Asia.

And not just for Australian companies – but for companies from other nations who perhaps employ Australians.

You have networks, you have cultural know-how, your familiarity with processes and your skill in negotiations.

We will establish a new diaspora program, to build-on and energise connections with Australians living in Asia.

And as Australia’s largest resident community in Asia, you will play a pioneering role in this program – and I believe the Australian Government has a role to play in recognising your contribution.

Our terms of trade in Australian aren’t too shabby at the moment, they’re pretty good. But it is largely the long afterglow of the mining boom.

When you look at our economic growth in Australia, much of it, our GDP growth is driven by the mining boom.

The prices may have eased but the values have increased.

But the terms of trade - that’s the luck the world gives Australia.

It is the luck that has seen Hong Kong investment in Australia move from the sixth most significant to the fifth most.

But that isn’t automatically the luck that our country is making.

And therefore, we as a nation need to work out what is the luck that we make for ourselves?

To enjoy and add on to the good fortune because the rest of the world happens to like our commodities.

And I suggest to you tonight, that the luck Australia needs to make is called a clever society - it’s called education and training.

So much of a nation’s future comes back to education and training, skills and research.

Carving a comparative advantage for our industries, boosting productivity, creating jobs and increasing wages.

Putting a premium on Australian human capital around the world – and helping our people move up the production and services value chain.

And many of you represent companies who are doing this.

- Architecture and engineering –shaping the growing cities and new infrastructure of South East Asia

- Health and aged care – helping Hong Kong and China manage shifting demographics and ageing populations

- Agriculture, farming, food and fibre – building on Australia’s reputation as a supplier of premium product and catering to the changing and expanding tastes of the world’s fastest growing middle class.

- Or advanced manufacturing – designing and refining the automation and components of the next two decade.

We’ve seen the success stories in this room alone.

Success stories in professional and education exchanges, in professional institutions and universities.

There are a lot of opportunities and I guess you in this room get that more than many back home.

China is already moving from low value-add, outsourced, cheap manufacturing proposition, to a higher-cost, higher-value model

This is why manufacturing wages in China have increased by 250 per cent in the 10 years to 2015.

Hourly wages in the Guangzhou economic zone are about a third higher than the Chinese national average.

China’s One-Belt, One-Road policies will define the decade ahead.

And I think in Hong Kong I see a unique combination of opportunities for Australia with the rise of China.

The special level of autonomy achieved through ‘one country, two systems’ , a formula for success that Australia respects and values.

A formula for success which enables Hong Kong to capitalise on the producing, consuming power of the world’s biggest middle class.

But Hong Kong’s success is also a lesson in the value of investing in the infrastructure for economic growth…

This relatively small piece of space and geography is home to the world’s biggest cargo airport and adding new productivity-enhancing infrastructure being added all the time.

And that brings me to the second pillar of FutureAsia: growing and diversifying trade.

My party understands the power of free trade to create jobs, raise living standards and broaden our economic base.

We prefer trade to be arranged through multilateral reform, driven by the World Trade Organisation, with regional agreements being the next best option.

Of course, high-quality bilateral trade deals play an important role.

I acknowledge Carrie's early advocacy for a Free Trade Agreement and we look forward to the opportunities for a bilateral free trade agreement.

But in all of this, what we also have to understand is that if we want to celebrate the benefits of trade to everyday Australians, we must always be mindful of making sure that Australians don't feel left behind by the pace of change.

I think one of the things we can certainly do is encourage Australian businesses to come to China more, where government has a role to help them.

But I also have to say, one proposition we have to advance is regional security.

Last month, I travelled to South Korea and Japan along with Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

We had the opportunity to meet with government leaders and military commanders.

It is important that we continue to do all international efforts to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

This is a question above party politics.

Right across our domestic political spectrum, there is a clear recognition that North Korea’s exhibitionist nuclear brinkmanship is a real threat to the security of the world.

Every nation has a stake in de-escalating this situation.

So in conclusion, I just want to say to the Australians here that both sides of politics in Australia gets the importance of Hong Kong and my party gets the importance of what you do here.

We do understand, as the Chief Executive has said about her vision for Hong Kong, that her vision being:

- "just, civilised, safe, affluent country, enjoying the rule of the law, compassionate and well-governed"

She could have well described our vision for Australia.

We understand that we need to shift the national mindset more to focus on Asia.

We understand that we need to make our education and skills, our value add to a clever society the luck that Australia can make which the rest of the world can enjoy.

And we need to place the premium on Australian capacity as I see so much of in this room.

We see Asia as central to the future of Australia.

I have no doubt that the more we can work with the people in this room, then not only is Hong Kong's future bright, Australia's future is bright too.

Thank you very much.

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