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Speech at Luncheon in honour of His Excellency Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of People's Republic of China, Canberra

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23 March 2017

Speech at Luncheon in honour of His Excellency Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Parliament House, Canberra E&OE…


Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, my ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, Her Excellency Jan Adams, our Ambassador to the Peoples Republic of China, His Excellency Mr Jingye Cheng, Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China to Australia, Frances Adamson, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and a previous Australian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, distinguished diplomats, ladies and gentlemen.

Aunty Janette thank you so much for your warm welcome to Ngunnawal land.

It is our great pleasure and my great honour to welcome you, Premier Li and your wife, Professor Cheng Hong, to our nation's capital on your third visit to Australia.

On my visit to Beijing last year, Premier Li warmly welcomed Lucy and me into the Great Hall of the People on a beautiful great spring afternoon. So it’s our pleasure to return that hospitality.

Now I’m told, in fact I know, that Premier Li is the first lawyer ever appointed Chinese Premier. Premier Li, I am Australia's 14th lawyer Prime Minister, so I can't claim the same trail-blazer status that you have. Lawyers everywhere salute you, sir. Nor have I translated a classic of jurisprudence, Lord Denning's Due Process of Law, as you did in your student days. But I share your enthusiasm for reading widely to seek out the lessons from all of our great civilisations, whether in law or economics or governance.

Today we have the opportunity to reaffirm the enduring ties between our two nations, ties that will only strengthen in the years ahead. Over the last two centuries, the Chinese community in Australia has made an extraordinary contribution. We are the most successful multicultural society in the world. It would not be possible to imagine modern Australia without the contribution of the Chinese-Australian community.

We’re proud to claim Melbourne's China Town as the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western world. There is evidence that crossings between China and our great southern continent began much earlier. That early contact foreshadowed what is today a rich and broad strategic and economic and cultural relationship, built on thousands and thousands of people-to-people ties.

I have been visiting China myself for more than 20 years, since the days when I worked with Chinese partners to establish what is now a zinc, gold and silver mine in Hebei province.

Today, like more than 300,000 other Australians, our granddaughter speaks both Mandarin and English at home. Indeed, when she and her parents were staying with us recently, I was holding her in my arms and she pointed to a painting of a fish on the wall and said “yu” and then helpfully, knowing that I wasn't as bilingual as her, she added, “fish, yeye, fish.”

However, not yet two, she is not quite up to diplomatic dialogue, so we are doubly fortunate to be able to rely on Premier Li’s and Madame Cheng Hong’s superb English during their stay.

Arguably, neither Australia nor China, would be what they are today without our robust and fruitful partnership.

As an economist, in addition to his legal training, Premier Li will appreciate the mutual benefits our economic ties have delivered.

We have a $150 billion two-way trade relationship, making China our largest trading partner by a wide margin, and almost 2 million people travel between our countries each year.

Our China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, now just over a year old, has opened even wider, the doors of opportunity.

We can already see the results: wine exports are up 38 per cent; fresh orange exports up 46 per cent; skin care products up 82 per cent; abalone exports more than doubled; and Chinese imports of Australian lobster quadrupled.

The agreement is delivering great growth for Australian companies, many large and well known, but also newer firms like the Gold Coast contract medicine manufacturer, BJP, which has increased its exports by 20 per cent and tripled its staff in 18 months.

Seppeltsfield’s Warren Randall has described the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement as the most important development in the Australian wine market in his 39 years in the business.

China must feed 20 per cent of the world’s population, but has only 7 per cent of the world’s arable land. Its middle class is growing at a staggering rate.

Australia is seizing the historic opportunity to provide the high-quality, safe food and beverages, consumer goods and high-end services of every kind, to meet China’s needs in this century.

During this visit, Premier Li and I will announce the next stage in the evolution of the ChAFTA and our expanding economic relationship.

We intend to open up new opportunities in services and in investment and there is vast scope for us to work together on science and innovation, with a solid foundation on which to build.

Australia is among China’s top scientific research partners.

Last year, the CSIRO designed and built critical components for the world’s largest telescope, in Guizhou Province in China.

The first Australian entrepreneurs are now at work on their start-ups in the Shanghai landing pad we opened last year, as part of our Innovation and Science Agenda.

Our cultural links are also richer than ever. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra will embark on a 5th tour of China later this year.

More and more, our young people choose to study in each other’s countries. Australia hosted 157,000 Chinese students and China in turn hosted almost 4,800 Australians last year. China is now the most popular place to study abroad for Australian New Colombo Plan students, some of whom are here today. Not only are our students investing in an education, but also in a mutual understanding of each other’s cultures and values.

In education, art, music, design, even on the football field, we have found fertile soil for our friendship to grow.

China’s transformation over the past 40 years is one of the most momentous and exciting developments of modern times.

It bears out Deng Xiaoping’s insight, all those years ago on his southern tour, when he evoked the memory and the example of the great navigator Zheng He, that China was stronger when it was open to the world and weaker when it was closed.

That is just as true of Australia. Our own 30-year transformation is the result of reforms that opened our economy to the world.

As witnesses to that profound truth, Australia and China work together to counter the rising tide of protectionism.

Of course, free trade can only thrive in a peaceful and stable environment. Both our countries know this well. Australia and China have both benefited immeasurably from the stability in our region that has been underpinned by the rules-based international order.

During this visit, Premier Li and I will discuss, as we have before, the importance of upholding and maintaining stability in our region.

We believe China has much to contribute to global peace and prosperity, in this time of rapid change.

The links between Australia and China have so deepened and strengthened over the years, that I could speak of them for at least an hour. But I want to talk about our friendship, not test it, so I will simply say that it is a delight to welcome Premier Li and celebrate this vibrant relationship.

Together, our two nations have so much to look forward to in this century, and in centuries to come.

Thank you, and welcome Premier Li and Madame Cheng Hong.