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Support for Asian Century White Paper -

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Support for Asian Century White Paper
David Mark reported this story on Monday, October 29, 2012 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: "Asia's rise is changing the world" - so begins the White Paper on the Asian Century.

The central theme following on from those six words is that the Asian Century is an Australian opportunity.

But some critics this morning have been saying that there's nothing new in the Asian Century white paper.

Others argue there is a need for a broad-brush approach to dealing with Asia.

David Mark is speaking to one of them - Professor Andrew MacIntyre, the Dean of the ANU's College of Asia and the Pacific.

DAVID MARK: Professor MacIntyre, perhaps the most common criticism of this white paper is that there's nothing new in it, it's just a compilation of material and ideas that in some cases have been kicking around for about two decades - predictable, even, according to the Leader of the Opposition.

What do you think the paper offers?

ANDREW MACINTYRE: I don't share that view. In my view, the paper offers a strong blueprint. It's got a mixture of aspirational goals, some of those are new and some of them are going to be difficult. And it's got a range of specifics in it. Not all of the specifics are new, but pursuing any and all of them in a sustained way would be a new commitment by the country.

DAVID MARK: It's more than a white paper for the Government the Prime Minister says, it's for business, education, the media and so on. How are those non-government groups going to take up those aspirations and goals?

ANDREW MACINTYRE: Well that's the key issue. Government is important for stimulating this debate, setting new goals, setting new targets, making some policy changes and putting up a bit of money to incentivise things.

But in the end what really matters here is how the rest of us respond, how people in your organisation in the ABC respond, how people in my organisation respond. And in, you know, firms and other institutions across the country, it's how do the rest of us respond to this because it's not just about government.

DAVID MARK: Well let me just turn that point around then. What's in it for us, what's in it for the man and woman on the street?

ANDREW MACINTYRE: What's in it for the man and woman on the street is the possibility of us being more productively, more constructively engaged in what is now overwhelmingly the most important region in the world.

I mean the scale of the change here is dramatic. Within just over 10 years, almost half of world output coming from Asia. What's in it for us is being more effectively connected to that and having a chance to shape what goes on in that region.

DAVID MARK: What does this paper offer that Garnaut didn't offer in the '90s. How does this paper combine those ideas that we were discussing?

ANDREW MACINTYRE: The range of activities we now need to do is much broader. Basically the change that's happened across the region in the period since Garnaut is such that we're not just talking about this or that country in Asia being transformed or even the region as a whole, this is now transforming the global system and so languages alone is nowhere near enough.

This didn't begin with Garnaut. Australia has been moving in this direction for at least 50 years.

DAVID MARK: Business groups in particular are saying it's all very well but without the money it's virtually worthless. What's the priority?

ANDREW MACINTYRE: Well that's right, money matters and we'll need to see what the Government actually comes up with. But this is a big mistake to think it's just about government money.

The heads of Australian firms, the heads of Australian universities, the heads of Australian schools, the heads of arts and creative organisations - we all need to be thinking in our own individual ways what can our organisation do differently, how can we shift our own investments around and in ways that allow us to take more effective - engage much more effectively than we have been?

DAVID MARK: And do you think a government white paper will make you do that?

ANDREW MACINTYRE: I think a government white paper points signals, and gets people thinking about it and that's what you look to it to do and you look to it to put some money up to enable some of these things.

But let me add the point - you set up big vision, you set up big aspirational goals. If you do not follow through as a government with rapid and really credible implementation measures, not only does the government look foolish, the country looks foolish.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Andrew MacIntyre, the dean of the ANU's College of Asia and the Pacific speaking there to David Mark.