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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8801

Asian Century

Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (14:34): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. Can the minister update the Senate on the government's plans for strengthening Australia's economic engagement with Asia as outlined in the Asian century white paper?

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! I am waiting to call the foreign minister.

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:35): In the last two weeks Australia hosted visits from the Secretary-General of ASEAN, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar and the President and Foreign Minister of the Philippines. This habit of dialogue, this regular consultation, between governments, business and civil society is driving our closer engagement with the regions in the very spirit of what was outlined in the white paper. In fact, that white paper on Australia in the Asian century comes at a critical time in our relations with the region.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Please resume your seat, Senator Carr. When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator BOB CARR: Our goal is, of course, for Australia's trade links with Asia to be one-third of national GDP by 2025 taking it up from one-quarter in 2011. To achieve this we will need to connect with the growing Asian markets. That is why the government will pilot a new streamlined visa process that will make it easier for tourists and students to visit Australia, and Australia will expand our online visa lodgement system. We will support multiple entry visas and longer visa validity periods for low-risk visitors, which means more people will be able to come to Australia for longer periods. The government will increase the work and holiday visa programs with countries in Asia starting with an additional 1,000 from Indonesia. As part of the white paper strategy Australia will appoint a resident ambassador to ASEAN, strengthening Australia's ties with our 10 South-East Asian neighbours.

I want to say again that this habit of dialogue, this regular consultation, captures the spirit of the white paper. The government's white paper comes at precisely the moment when we can say that Australian business is thinking of Asia as an extension of Australia. (Time expired)

Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (14:37): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate on the ASEAN connectivity agenda and what does this mean for Australia?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:37): Mr President, connectivity is very important to ASEAN. The connectivity agenda is taken very seriously throughout the 10 nations that comprise ASEAN. By 2020 Australians will be able to catch a train from Singapore, on the equator, to Kunming in southern China. This massive rail project will connect the major economic hubs of south-east and north-east Asia. It will link more than two billion people, bringing new ideas, opening new markets and creating new business opportunities. ASEAN is building this 7,000-kilometre rail link as a centrepiece of this connectivity agenda: a plan to integrate transport, communications, education and people. It is an example of what the Australian academic Michael Wesley meant when he used the expression 'factory Asia', where China's neighbours are transforming themselves into manufacturers of component parts for products— (Time expired)

Senator MARK BISHOP (Western Australia) (14:38): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister aware of any alternate plans for Asian engagement? I suspect not.

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:38): Sadly, I am aware that there is a different vision of Asian engagement in the coalition, where their leader talks of Australia limiting itself to the Anglosphere.

Senator Joyce: Mr President, I rise on a point of order: when Minister Carr turns half around, we can only half hear him back here. My suggestion is that, if you can get him to turn completely around, we will not be able to hear him at all.

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order; you know that.

Senator BOB CARR: So Tony Abbott talks of the Anglosphere—

The PRESIDENT: Order! You need to refer to people by their correct titles!

Senator BOB CARR: The Leader of the Opposition talks about the Anglosphere, an old boys club foreign policy, and scorns our Prime Minister for 'going off to New York to talk to Africans'. He wants to limit our engagement to the Anglosphere, sadly, when three-quarters of the G20 are not Anglosphere and two-thirds of the current UN Security Council are not Anglosphere. Mr President, if we were to take the advice of the Leader of the Opposition and limit our foreign policy to the Anglosphere, Australia— (Time expired)