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Call for more Australians to study Asia.

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Andrew Southcott MP

Federal Member for Boothby


8 September 2003

Today I have issued a call for more Australians to study Asia and its languages.

The call was issued in a parliamentary debate on a motion I moved to highlight a report, Maximising Australia’s Asia Knowledge.

With 50% of our trade with Asia and 40% of residents going overseas listing Asia as their key destination, it is clearly in our national interest for people to boost their Asian knowledge.

Understanding Asian languages, customs and history will be extremely important across a range of careers in the 21st century.

I saw this first-hand as an observer at the 1999 Indonesian elections, where Australian departmental officials from DFAT and AusAID with Asian language and cultural knowledge were a fantastic resource.

With China’s economy set to dominate in the years ahead, it would be an enormous advantage in business to learn Mandarin or Cantonese. As Chair of the Australia-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group, I recognise the value of cross-cultural understandings.

The report, Maximising Australia’s Asia Knowledge, was completed by the Asian Studies Association of Australia. The report urges governments, educational ins titutions, businesses and other groups to extend Australian knowledge of Asia.

One of the key recommendations which I particularly support is the establishment of three educational fellowships for younger scholars from Asian countries to work in an Australian institution for a year. The report suggests the fellowships be named after an outstanding Australian. I propose that the fellowships be named after the late Sir ‘Weary’ Dunlop, a surgeon famous for his humanitarian work on the Burma-Thai Railway, who continued a lifelong interest in South-East Asia.

Another recommendation urges universities to cooperate in language teaching. I know that Flinders University, in my electorate, already does this in the teaching of Indonesian. I urge the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Education, Science and Training to adopt the recommendations, which are tipped to cost under $4 million per annum.

I was also pleased today to recall the proud tradition of Liberal Governments in working with the Asian region. In 1940, it was Menzies who opened our first missions in Asia in Japan and China. We had the Australia-Japan Trade Agreement of 1957. We played a key role in accepting Indo-Chinese refugees during the 1970s. Our 2003 White Paper, Advancing the National Interest, highlighted the importance of actively engaging with Asia. Our close ties with Indonesia on security matters also reinforce our ties with the region. Labor cannot claim to have a monopoly on engagement with our region.

Authorised by Andrew Southcott MP, 760 Marion Road, Marion SA 5043