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Transcript of press conference: Sydney: 28 October 2012: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; United Nations Security Council; sexism

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28 OCTOBER 2012


Subjects: Australia in the Asian Century White Paper; United Nations Security Council; Sexism

PM: Today I have delivered a plan for Australia to be the winner in this Asian century. The region in which we live is transforming. It is on track to be the biggest economic region in the world.

What that means is that Australia has unprecedented opportunities in this Asian century of growth and change.

We’ve already seen the first down-payment in our economy through the demand for our raw materials. It is prudent to get ready for what Asia will demand from us next, what Asians will next want to buy from our nation.

As Asia changes, as it becomes home to the world’s biggest middle class, then it will want to buy the things that Australia has to sell. Whether it’s high quality food, top end tourism, international education, elaborately transformed manufactures, and the list goes on.

The White Paper I delivered today is a plan for Australia to be the winner in this Asian century. What that means for our economy is that we need to keep our economy strong and more engaged with Asia.

What that means for the people of Australia is we need to keep boosting skill levels and the ability to engage with Asia. For our young Australians it particularly means that they can look forward to a future of diverse and high-quality careers.

And for our business community it means assisting them to seize the business opportunities that come with this century of change and growth.

Put simply, this means higher skills, higher incomes and more job opportunities for Australians.

It means that we are aiming to see a growth in national income for Australians, putting our country in the top 10 in the world, and by 2025 seeing an average increase in incomes of $11,000.

We have been working to get our nation ready for this century of change. The White Paper brings together these policy directions and adds to them. It’s a policy paper, not just for government, but for our whole nation.

I want it to guide debate and decision-making. Not only in the governments of our nation, but around the board tables of our biggest businesses. Around the decision-making tables of our universities and education institutions. In our media organisations as they make selections about what to report and highlight. In civil society and in our trade union movement.

I’m very pleased to be here today and the Lowy Institute to deliver this White Paper. I thank them for the hospitality they’ve shown us and I’m very happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Do you (inaudible) to 2025, from what I can see one of the key announcements is increase in income and also the one-third of board members having a knowledge of Asian society. What are the benchmarks over the next 13 years? Do you have an aim for the next five years, 10 years and then? Or is it just over (inaudible)?

PM: At every stage we have set goals for 2025, but in order to get there we are going to have to see change start and change continue. Looking at the lift in national income that I’m speaking of, that will require us to lift productivity over a business as usual case.

In order to have our board rooms of Australia including people with a deep knowledge of Asia, we’d have to start planning for that now; identifying the capabilities, identifying the way of training people in those capabilities.

Of the announcements that I’ve made today, one of them is 12,000 Asian century scholarships. That’s about exchanges between Asia and Australia, people coming from Asia to study here, people from Australia getting the opportunity to study in Asia.

Of the announcements I’ve made today, it’s giving every child access to studying an Asian language at school. These are the things that will build the capabilities that enable us to realise this full vision.

JOURNALIST: Given that Australia is now on the UN Security Council, and you have released the White Paper, what do you think Australia’s future engagement with Iran should be, particularly over its nuclear program? And my second question is given that over the past couple of weeks we’ve had the recent debate regarding sexism in Australian politics and of course your speech you gave in the parliament, what do you think it the best way to keep out sexism in Australian politics?

PM: Well, two questions not on the Asian Century White Paper, but I’ll answer both of them briefly.

As I said at the time that I spoke about our successful bid to be on the Security Council, one of the things that we will focus on is the issue of nuclear capability and Iran. We do not believe that Iran should have a nuclear capability. We are involved in

a sanctions program now, as are nations around the world. And we will focus on getting the Security Council - on Iran and the region, the Middle East - stepping away from that threat.

On sexism in politics, or sexism anywhere, in order to combat sexism what we’ve got to do is have the ability for men and women to be treated equally, it’s as simple as that.

JOURNALIST: If you look at the policy aspects, obviously the benchmarks are very ambitious. In terms of policy, a lot of it seems to be a continuation of existing policy. Looking at the economy, to what extent have we got new economic policy here?

PM: The White Paper brings together policy directions that the Government has already embarked on, and adds to those policy directions. So yes, to be ready for this century of growth and change, we do need to seize clean energy sources. We do need to have the National Broadband Network and the ability to move information quickly around the nation and between our nation and the region in which we live.

We do need the human capital revolution that I have been guiding, focus on making sure that at every level we are better educating our people. Whether that’s our smallest kids who are in preschool, or whether that’s the ability for people to succeed at university or in higher levels of research.

These are things that assist with our capability to navigate this century and to end up being a winner in it.

But I’ve announced today a set of changes that work with what we have already begun, very focused on Asia capability so that these changes can be used to drive our economic footprint in the region in which we live.

JOURNALIST: You’ve set here some very long-term goals about Australia’s engagement with Asia. What are you going to do to encourage bipartisan consensus around this - this has been a very divided time in Australian politics over the last few years. For instance, Mr Abbott has talked about abandoning the NBN and you’ve presented that in this paper as being central to Australia’s engagement with Asia. So what will you be doing to try and bring the Coalition on board with your vision?

PM: My job as the nation’s Prime Minister is to articulate a plan for the future and to lead its implementation. That’s what I am doing today and that’s what I will intend to do.

My job is to chart the course for a stronger and fairer future. That’s what this plan does. And then my job is day-by-day to set about implementing it.

For others who participate in the political process, then they can speak for themselves.

JOURNALIST: Your announcements today are across almost every single portfolio area you have. Kevin Rudd is a member of your team. He’s well known and famously speaks Mandarin. Why isn’t he part of your announcement today?

PM: Kevin Rudd has made a contribution to the things that are discussed in the White Paper, both as Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister he made a strong contribution to a number of things that are dealt with in the White Paper.

For example, achieving what we have through the architecture of the East Asia Summit. A huge tribute to Kevin Rudd and dealt with in the White Paper. I will see every member of my team engaged in the delivery of the work of this White Paper. But Kevin, as Prime Minister and as Minister for Foreign Affairs, has made a very important contribution to our nation’s outlook to the region.

Every member of my Labor team will be engaged in delivering this process.

JOURNALIST: He’s written that he felt betrayed by you in relation to the coup. Did you betray him?

PM: I’m not focused on any of that today. I’m focused on a plan for our nation’s future.

JOURNALIST: In relation to schools, you’ve got some details here about schools policy and one of the provisions is that all schools will engage with at least one school in Asia, which seems to be a pretty sweeping change from where we are now. What sort of engagement would that be and how would that work?

PM: It’s a growth - rapid growth of a development that is already out there now. I’ve been in places in the region where I’ve been beamed back into a classroom in Australia where that school has a partnership with where I’ve been standing. For example, when I visited South Korea I did that.

Now it’s fantastic because for young people particularly - not wanting to make any references about the age of you or me Paul, I don’t mean that - for young people particularly, using this medium, all of the connections that new technology brings is not second nature to them, it’s deep within them.

They intuitively understand every bit of it. So if you build a connection between a school here and a school somewhere in the region, then the students will actually build quality people-to-people links.

It’s not like the old day of getting an aerogram and shoving it in the post and waiting for a long time to get the message back, it’s instantaneous. So the engagement can be deep.

I’ve seen the ability of that to inspire young Australians to study an Asian language, to want to travel to that country, to go there and meet the mates that they have met through this school-to-school program. And then perhaps to understand for themselves the economic opportunities that can come from thinking about that country and how you could have a job that took you there, or engage with that country.

I want to see that for every Australian child in every Australian school as part of our national school improvement plan.

JOURNALIST: Does every Australian child want to learn an Asian language? At the moment there is a serious decline in Asian languages in schools. Are there going to be the teachers to provide this continuous access that you are talking about, and the engagement from students who want to learn?

PM: Getting students engaged in learning languages, getting the teaching capability, rolling it out, isn’t easy. I’ve got direct experience of this as Minister for Education. It’s going to be made a lot easier by the National Broadband Network where instead of having in every school someone with every language facility, you can get kids to study a language, even though their teacher is in another part of Australia.

So this gives us a huge capability we haven’t had in the past, to use our teaching workforce and to actually use their capabilities to spread language studies across Australia.

Will kids want to do it? Well partly that’s up to us and how inspiring we are about the opportunities that this will give them as adults in their future life.

If I’m here as Prime Minister saying this is the century you will live in, if their teachers are saying to them, this is the world you will seek a job in, if their parents are saying to them, for you in the future a fantastic career opportunity will arise from studying that language, from getting that understanding of the countries of our region and the region in which we live, then I think we will motivate and inspire young people.

But that’s a job for all of us - our friends from the media - as much as a job for me as Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: The report says that if we continue as business as usual wages will be about $69,000 and the difference between continuing business as usual and fostering the Asian century is about $4,000. Do you think the Australian public perhaps might be hoping to get more money considering we are in the region? And how much did the report cost?

PM: I think you will find the statistics are; if we hit our goal of being in the top 10 of economies in the world by 2025, then the average income growth is $11,000 for each Australian.

Let’s be proud of what we have achieved so far. We are 51st when it comes to population size, and we have moved from 15th to 12th when it comes to the size of our economy. We should be proud of that, Australians have worked hard to get us there.

In terms of the costing of the report, I’m happy to get someone to supply you with that figure. But nations prosper when they plan. You don’t just drift towards your future and say, gee that will be good enough, that will be alright. I suspect you don’t do that in your own life. And I am not prepared to see us do that in the life of our nation.

And so every dollar has been well spent in generating a national plan for the nation’s future.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the funding for language training, Australia (inaudible). Is there going to be any allocations specifically for language training? And second, you are asking or hoping Australian society changes (inaudible) how do you measure when that has happened?

PM: We’ve got various measurements that we’ve set in our goals. Whether it be the number of people with a deep understanding of the region on boards. Whether it be the access for Australian students in schools studying Asian languages. So we’ve set ourselves some clear benchmarks and targets.

But to answer your question more broadly, I believe as a nation, people do understand that we live in a changing region. And I think people do get it, that that change has meant huge demand for our resources.

But people often ask themselves the question, what next? And this plan charts what next. This plan tells you about the growth in the middle class in Asia.

I spoke in my speech how many Australians - myself included - grew up with a perception of Asia as a place of poverty, as a place of low wages, and so all of your thinking about your economic model was that we couldn’t compete because they would always bust us on cost.

They would always be able to beat us on cost.

We live in a different age. Asia will be home to more middle class consumers than anywhere else on the planet. That means that in our economy, the things that we are good at doing, if we build on those strengths we can seize that opportunity.

We are uniquely placed with our power of adjacency to this growth region in the world, that is the opportunity that this national plan is about seizing.

JOURNALIST: And costing Prime Minister?

PM: And costing - we are doing something far more systemic than layering an Asian languages program on top of what happens in schools. We are going to make our national school funding reforms contingent on this goal of Asian languages.

To use the public policy language you’re familiar with, the school funding reforms that we are talking about arising following the report of David Gonski. We will make money available through those reforms contingent on achieving this change for the study of Asian languages.

JOURNALIST: In terms of having a greater degree of Asia-literacy in the boardrooms of our major companies, when you talk about 2025, you are clearly talking about executives who are already in the workforce who have already gone through

university. What can the government actually do in a policy sense to guide that, given they are not going to be able to go through this new education system?

PM: I think we can do a few things and one of them is set the aspiration and explain why it’s I important. I think there would be many in middle management who aspiring over time to be CEOs and then aspiring to be on boards, who would be thinking to themselves, a smart thing to do would be to make myself capable in the region in which I live.

In the same way in which people position to be on boards by making sure that they have got the requisite skills in financial oversight and management. This will become one of the requisite skills that people are looking for.

People are very adaptable and very adept at responding to signals that are sent about advancement. I’m asking the boardrooms of our country to send a very clear signal; if you want to join us in this boardroom tomorrow, then you will have to bring something that perhaps we haven’t got enough of now, and that is the ability to move with capability through the region and to understand it’s economic potentials.

JOURNALIST: In a policy sense does that involve university courses, does it involve Asian languages?

PM: We have put universities on a path for growth. There has never been more money in universities than there is today. And we don’t micromanage universities anymore, they respond to student preference and demand.

If students demand it, universities will do it.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) legislation go through parliament to get some of the changes through. Have you spoken to the crossbenchers about this and are you confident there will be support in the chamber?

PM: I’m outlining the national plan today, others can speak for themselves.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask about the way in which this report will be interpreted in the region itself. Labor put out another White Paper, a Defence White Paper only a couple of years ago and its subtitle was Australia in the Asia-Pacific Century - Pacific of course includes the west coast of the United States. Should we interpret too much about the fact that the Pacific has now been dropped from the Asian century - is that a signal you are sending to the region?

PM: In this paper we are focusing on the huge economic transformations happening in our region. So we are not focusing on the mature economy of the United States. We are focusing on the huge transformations happening in our region, hence the title.

In terms of liaison with countries in the region and more broadly, through our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade personnel we are ensuring that the countries of our region and beyond are briefed on the contents of the White Paper.

JOURNALIST: There was mention that the two biggest leadership changes coming up are the US and in China. We know very little about what is going on in Beijing. Could you perhaps say how (inaudible)?

PM: All of these issues day-to-day the Minister for Foreign Affairs responds to, so I’m not intending to respond on the question of Falun Gong or any other issues like that today.

Clearly, what happens in the transition in the leadership in China is tremendously important to our nation and that’s the point I made in the speech. And I made that point in the speech because I did want our nation to be thinking about the way in which we get information and where we focus to get that information from.

How is it that as a general population we tool up, if you like, on what is happening in our region, how can we be more adept at getting that information and using it. That’s one of the things I want people to be talking about, arising out of the White Paper.

JOURNALIST: Just on a state issue, Alex Greenwich, a prominent same-sex marriage advocate has been elected to the NSW Parliament and he intends to continue to push for marriage equality. Do you welcome that, and also the maintenance of an independent voice in Sydney?

PM: All of these are questions for the people of Sydney.

JOURNALIST: On the White Paper then, you haven’t said too much about Australia’s population compared to India and China. Is it time to perhaps re-embrace the idea of a big Australia?

PM: For population, the projections we have are the projections in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, so there's nothing about the White Paper that changes that.

On the question of sustainability, in the sense of how do we meet people's needs in the suburbs and towns of Australia, for the infrastructure and the kind of lifestyle they want, I think that there are a few things in government policy and a few issues in the White Paper to think about in that area.

We have of course embarked on some sustainable Australia policies that Minister Burke has overseen. We have talked about the way in which economic opportunity and opportunity for services will be expanded around the nation as a result of the National Broadband Network.

Some of the things that have kept people from making the choice to take their family to regional Australia for example, will be taken away by broadband being around the nation.

And the White Paper itself, in talking about the huge opportunities that lie in front of our food industry, is sending a huge message to regional Australia about a forthcoming boom. The Minister for Trade who is here has talked about that as a boom like the resources boom.

The rising middle class of Asia, more middle class people than there are anywhere else on earth will want access to clean food, high-quality food, high-quality wine, the same way that way we do.

This is a huge opportunity for regional Australia and one we want people out there ready to seize.

Okay, thank you very much.