Bill's Speeches





8 AUGUST 2013




Introduction: We’re All Asians Now


Donald Horne is best known for his iconic book, The Lucky Country – first published nearly half a century ago.

The most quoted line from that book is as follows: ‘Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.’

Quite the provocateur was our Donald. He came to bury the so-called ‘Lucky Country’. Not praise it.

But, tonight, I want to draw your attention to another not-quite-so-famous passage of The Lucky Country.

Horne wrote: ‘We’re all Asians now.’

Four words.

Standing here, in 2013, they don’t sound like such a big deal.

Back then, they were astonishing.

Remember, this was 1964.

It was the Cold War.

And the six o’clock swill.

And Bob Menzies.

And White Australia.

And when the Beatles performed at Festival Hall they weren’t playing “Helter Skelter”, but “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.

The Australia Horne wrote about no longer exists – we’re more prosperous, multicultural, cosmopolitan and connected.

But it makes me wonder …

What will our world look like in another 50 years?

What future are we building for our children?

And – given the rise of Asia in general and China in particular – are we all Asian now?

With that in mind, I want to do three things tonight.

I want to explain why the continuing prosperity of Australia and Asia are intimately linked.

I want to talk about the need to not just do business in Asia but truly understand the diverse and dynamic Near North as opposed to colonial notions of a ‘Far East’.

And I want to put it to you that if Australia is to seize the opportunities of the Asian Century overseas we need to create an Education Century here at home.


The Asian Century: what does it mean for Australia?

You know, travelling around this country people ask me about Asia all the time.

Is China going to become the biggest economy in the world? Bigger than the US?

And is India going to be bigger than even China?

Are we seeing The True Great Leap Forward – where the economies left behind by the Industrial Revolution don’t just catch up but leapfrog ahead?

In a word: Yes.

Harking back to 1964, the last decade has been the economic equivalent of Beatle-mania in China.

But the Asian Century is about so much more than China.

China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand have a combined population of around 3.1 billion people. That’s nearly half the world’s population.

Those seven nations account for around a quarter of the global economy.

By 2050, they will account for 45 per cent of global GDP.

In other words, China’s economic Beatle-mania is going global.

We are not just talking about growing economic power.

The Asian Century represents a cultural shift too.

See the explosion of India’s Bollywood movie scene.

Or the Korean Wave music phenomenon.

It’s not quite on a par with the Beatles, but the recent success of the Korean pop song ‘Gangnam style’ is breathtaking.

The video has over 1.7 billion views on YouTube, the most ever. Worldwide sales in excess of 5 million copies.

This is a song with only a handful of English words.

This is the global market action powered by the rise of Asia.

And there’s more to come.

By 2030, Asia’s middle class will have increased from half a billion people to 3.2 billion.

That’s a middle class equivalent in number to the current combined populations of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

Donald Horne wrote four astonishing words.

Let me repeat that one astonishing statistic: 3.2 billion people.

Those 3.2 billion men, women and children will be the epicentre of the global economy.

Those 3.2 billion men, women and children will create unprecedented demand for quality services – from health to education to finance to tourism – and unprecedented demand for quality products and produce.

In 2007, Asia’s demand for food was similar to that of the rest of the world—nearly $1.4 trillion.

By 2050 this figure is expected to double—taking it to almost 30 per cent more than the rest of the world.

Our food exports topped $30 billion in 2011–2012 with more than half going to Asia.

Think about where that figure is likely to stand come 2050.

As the largest exporter of food and beverages in Australia, Victoria will play a crucial role in meeting Asia’s ever-growing demand for high-quality food.

That’s why the Treasurer was right when he said the end of the Mining Boom wasn’t a crisis, but a challenge.

It’s a challenge – and an opportunity – because Asia’s super middle class is going to create a boom in goods and services trade that will be measured in decades, not years.

And if we’re smart – if we have the right policies and make the right investments – Australia will be part of that long boom.

Does that mean Europe’s history?

Or that the US will fade away?

Or that we’re still Lucky?

Of course not.

Unlike the Opposition Leader, the world we live in isn’t black and white. Or preordained.

It’s complicated. Messy. And up for grabs.

No one owns tomorrow.

The future – our future – has to be planned for, worked towards and earned. Together.

That’s the truth. And anyone who tells you otherwise – or waffles on about some six-point plan to turn back the boats – is either deluded or dishonest … or both.

The Asian Century is one of the most exciting and unique opportunities in Australia’s history.

It’s the biggest opportunity since the Gold Rush.

But we’re going to have to bend our backs to prosper.

And we need to ensure that all Australians prosper.

Not just a few wealthy individuals.

All of which begs the question: Are we ready for the Asian Century?


How well equipped is Australia to deal with the Asian Century?

In my view, Australia is well positioned to reap the benefits of the Asian Century … but we’re not as ready as we could be.

Let me explain.

In the positive, we have an open, market-based economy, a multicultural society, an advanced services sector, abundant natural resources, a transparent regulatory regime, good governance, and a healthy, skilled and educated population.

We’re also – as George Pappas recently pointed out in The Age – an attractive destination for students from Asia.

For instance, 9 of the top 10 countries that send international students to Australia are from Asia.

Education is a growth industry: International education already contributes $4.8 billion to Victoria’s economy every year – and is responsible for an estimated 50,000 Victorian jobs.

But that’s just the beginning.

Only 10 per cent of Chinese students are currently studying abroad today, but that number is expected to jump to 68 per cent over the next five to ten years.

This will create enormous opportunities for the higher education sector – and strengthen Australia’s links with the region.

For instance, the Melbourne Institute Asialink Index measures our engagement with Asia and the rest of the world.

According to Asialink, our engagement with Asia has multiplied 4.5 times since 1990, compared with 2.5 times for the rest of the world.

Our engagement has grown most strongly with China, India and Korea.

Australia’s three largest trading partners—China, Japan and South Korea—are all in Asia.

Australia’s migration program is also increasingly from Asia: seven of the top 10 source countries are Asian – and almost one-in-four migrants now come from India.

Chinese immigration to Australia in particular should be celebrated.

Chinese-Australians are an enormously positive part of our national life.

As they have been for the last 160 years.

They enrich and stimulate the Australian story.

It is no accident that in so many schools, a Chinese-Australian teenager is amongst the top three or four students when it comes to the best HSC, VCE or equivalent leaving certificate.

It is no accident that among our doctors, academics, computer programmers, working economists, architects and future thinkers, Chinese Australians stand tall.

Some say it's a work ethic that explains it. I think it’s more than that.

The ability of a child to master not just two languages but two alphabets, two sorts of reading, puts in more brain connections, surely, more interlinkages of the mind, than a monolingual education.

Speaking of lingo, Australia has a population of 23 million people – and 2 million of us speak an Asian language.

What does that tell us?

That we’re not all Asian now – but we’re not all white, either.

We’re Indigenous and non-Indigenous; Australian by birth and Australian by choice. Or, to put it another way, multicultural.

And of course migrants are coming to this country not just for our high living standards but for the social and political institutions that underlie them.

In other words the ‘fair go’.

That’s good news, but it could be better.

To be blunt, more of us need to learn to speak the languages of our neighbours.

Currently, less than 6 out of every 100 Australian kids study an Asian language in their final year of school – and that’s not good enough.

More Aussie kids were studying Indonesian in the early 1970s – back when Ian Chappell was captaining the Australian cricket team – than there are now.

Again, that’s not good enough.

Australia has learned the hard way that you can’t expect to win the Ashes unless you get runs on the board.

The same applies to the Asian Century: you can’t expect to win in Asia unless you understand the region’s languages and cultures. Truly understand them.

Asia is not a dollar sign. Or a market.

It’s a place with different histories, cultures, religions, languages and expectations.

As the new Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has said:

“If Australia is truly to be part of an Asian century, we must be prepared to learn from the dynamism and diverse traditions of the region.”

We won’t succeed with a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ mentality towards Asia.

In relation to China, I’ve spoken before about the importance of relationships built on respect and cooperation. The Chinese call this ‘Guangxi’.

This concept should underpin all our relationships across the entire region.


What is the federal government doing now to prepare Australia?

Labor has a proud history of engagement with Asia – going back to 1971 when, as Opposition Leader, Gough Whitlam led a delegation to China to discuss diplomatic relations.

Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and more recently Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have built on that legacy.

Look at the Asian Century White Paper, which was announced in 2011, launched in 2012 and is being implemented now.

Many of the actions our Government has taken are part of an overarching strategy to prepare Australia for the Asian Century.

Our school system needs to be in the top five in the world by 2025.

This is what the Better Schools Plan is all about.

This signature Labor reform will dramatically improve the quality of learning and teaching and school leadership across Australia – and help prepare the next generation of Australians for the challenges and opportunities of the Asian Century.

Better Schools will help every Australian student get the great education they deserve – and need.

That’s why there will be a focus on improving our engagement with Asia and improving the Asian literacy.

The bottom line is we want to encourage schools to make Asian languages a top priority.

Our schools are working towards the goal outlined in the White Paper, that by 2025 all students will have access to at least one priority Asian language throughout their schooling.

This is why we have funded the Australian Curriculum: Languages.

Curricula are currently being developed for , Mandarin, Indonesian, Japanese, Vietnamese and now Korean from Foundation Year to Year 10.

We’ve funded professional development and resources for teachers and for principals in Asia literacy and Asian languages.

The focus here is on quality. We want students to be taught languages at the same high standards – no matter whether they’re in the inner city or a country town.

It will help ensure the next generation, and the generation that comes after them, are more Asian literate and able to take advantage of the Asian Century.

Of course, the actions we’ve taken aren’t confined to education.

The work of this Labor government means that the Australian dollar is, for the first time, directly convertible into Chinese Yuan. No longer through the US dollar.

Australia’s is only the third currency in the world to be directly traded, along with the greenback and the Japanese yen.

On a recent trip I made to Beijing, this Labor government also clinched a deal to secure regular high-level talks between Australia and China.

Only three other countries in the world have this level of access to China’s leadership. Australia is the only country in Asia that can make this boast.

And we’re making it easier for Australian university students – the leaders of the future – to study in Asia. Starting next year, the maximum loan available for Australian students wanting to study in Asia will be increased from $1250 to $7500.

So this Labor government has been busy out in the region, but we also want Asia to come to us.

This is why we have introduced a new visa for migrants willing to make an investment of at least $5 million in Australia—the Significant Investor Visa.

We’ve extended tourist visas for parents visiting Australian citizens from three months to one year and introduced label-free visas for visitors from China, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

We’ve released Feeding the Future – the first joint study by the Australian and Chinese Governments.

Feeding the Future reports on ways to enhance food security by strengthening investment and technological cooperation in agriculture—and has paved the way for closer agricultural cooperation between China and Australia.

In January, the Malaysia–Australia Free Trade Agreement came into force.

This new free trade agreement builds on the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement – opening up opportunities for Australian investors and businesses.

This year’s Budget allocated $2.8 million to promote partnerships between schools, businesses and the community that increase Asia literacy.

And, through the NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services grant scheme, we’re funding the Asia Connexions project – which connects Australian and Asian schools via broadband.

Currently, we have 21 partner school ‘connections’ with schools in South Korea and Japan.

And those connections are high definition videoconferencing – allowing for proper cultural exchange and interaction.

Programs in Hong Kong, China and Indonesia are now under development.

We’ve also opened the Asian Century Business Engagement Plan.

This Plan will help member-based business organisations and – through them – small and medium-sized enterprises identify and capitalise on new opportunities.

And this Government is leading the way into emerging markets like Myanmar, where I led a delegation last year of business, financial services and trade union leaders.

We will shortly open a new Austrade office in Yangon, and a Trade Commissioner has already been appointed.

And we’ve announced a $1 billion investment to boost Australian innovation, productivity and competiveness – through the Industry and Innovation Statement.

Our Industry and Innovation Statement is a plan for jobs.

It will help Australian businesses seize opportunities for growth in our region and adapt to changing economic conditions associated with the rise of Asia.

As part of that Statement a new $350 million round of the Innovation Investment Fund to stimulate private investment in innovative Australian start-up companies.

And we have committed to establish up to 10 Industry Innovation Precincts across Australia. Two precincts have already been identified, Manufacturing and Food – both will have bases in Melbourne.

And yesterday the Prime Minister launched the Australia in the Asian Century Country Strategy for the Republic of Korea.

The strategy outlines the Rudd Labor Government’s vision of what Australia’s relationship with South Korea should be by 2025 across education, culture and business.

As you can see the government has been busy. This is heady stuff. But only the beginning.



In conclusion, let me go back to the four astonishing words of 1964 and the one astonishing statistic of 2030.

We may not all be Asian – but we live on the Australian Street in the Asian neighbourhood.

But – if we want to prepare for Asia’s super middle class of 3.2 billion people – we need the right policies and investments.

In short, we have to be bold.

We should aspire to make Australian tertiary education the ‘Oxbridge’ of the Asia-Pacific, attracting the best and brightest scholars of the region.

The chances are the next Galileo will be born in Asia. Imagine if we could educate that child in Melbourne.

Why not develop an Asia-specific grant scheme – a 21st century Rhodes scholarship-in-reverse?

Why not move towards an American-style residential model for Asian students?

Why not look at making this institution, Victoria University, Australia’s leading ‘Language University’?

Why not?

What’s holding us back?

My point is this: now is the time to think creatively about what we can do to make sure Australia prospers during the Asian Century.

Our future prosperity depends upon the national conversations we have and the national decisions we make.

Everything matters. Everything’s at stake. Nothing can – or should – be taken for granted.

Together, let’s seize the Asian Century.