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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 476

Mr JOHNSON (12:54 PM) —In December 2007 I received a letter from the global organisation Asia Society, and I want to acknowledge that letter. I want to put on the record of the parliament that the Asia Society very generously invited me to join their international advisory council. I also want to place on record—both as an individual who very strongly supports the values, aims and philosophy of the Asia Society and as the sitting federal member for Ryan—that I was greatly honoured by that invitation. Of course, I accepted it as a great privilege and with feelings of humility. I want to spend some time today, as I will do over the term of this parliament, speaking more about our relationship with Asia and, indeed, about organisations such as the Asia Society.

The Asia Society was founded in 1956 by a very distinguished American, John D Rockefeller III, and it was initially formed to promote a greater knowledge of Asia in the US. Today the society is a global organisation—it has offices in Hong Kong, Manila, Mumbai in India and here in Melbourne. Its US offices are in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington DC. It also stretches to mainland China, where there is an office in Shanghai, and to South Korea, where it has an office in Seoul. Clearly, it is a global organisation with a footprint in many important cities of the Asia-Pacific region.

The society originally aimed to promote a greater understanding between Americans and Asians, but today its mandate is wider than that. Its mandate is to try to connect all citizens of the world with each other as much as possible, but with a clear focus on Asia. It tries to fulfil its mandate through a wide range of cross-disciplinary programs and events.

We know that today we have a very globalised world. As economies and cultures have become more linked and interconnected, the Asia Society has an even greater opportunity and obligation to expand its mission and its philosophy across the region and the peoples that it touches. We all know that globalisation has made enormous inroads in many parts of the developing economies in Asia, but we also know that it has left some negative footprints, and there are big gaps in those parts of the region. The Asia Society exists to try to close the gap, so to speak, and to raise concerns in the capitals of the developed economies and the developed world—in addition, of course, to the rightful role and place of the governments of those countries.

The Asia Society has a big focus on issues such as human rights, the status of women, environmental issues and global health issues, such as HIV-AIDS. I want to reflect on the remarks of significant world leaders. President Hu Jintao of China said:

Over the years, the Asia Society has endeavored to strengthen U.S.-Asia exchanges and cooperation and promote China-U.S. relations …

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, of India, spoke of the Asia Society in glowing terms:

… the Society has been invaluable in bringing together a wide variety of opinions on the encounter between Asia and the United States—

and now, with an office in India—

… has contributed to the transformation in India-U.S. ties manifest in recent times.

Former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, spoke of the Asia Society thus:

The Asia Society has been playing an important role in deepening ties and understanding among the peoples of Asia-Pacific and the United States. I truly expect the Asia Society will enhance this role for furthering the region’s stability and prosperity.

In closing, I want to again thank the chairman of the Asia Society, Richard Holbrooke, and its president, Dr Vishakha Desai, for their very generous invitation, acknowledging my skills and passion for developing and strengthening this country’s ties with Asia. I am pleased to say that, when I joined the Australian advisory council last year, I also joined the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and our shadow foreign minister, Mr Robb, on that advisory council. Now that I have been invited to join the international council, I also join a former foreign minister, Gareth Evans, and a former federal minister, Warwick Smith, on that council. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.