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Colombo Plan Announcement: speech, Parkville, Victoria

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Colombo Plan Announcement, Parkville, Victoria August 30, 2013


Thanks very much, Julie. Thanks very much Kevin McCann and thanks very much Don Markwell. Thanks to all of you for being here today. This as Julie said is an important initiative which has the potential to change our country for the better.

Most Australians, at some point in time, spend time overseas. Many Australians spend serious time overseas. Unfortunately not nearly enough of us spend serious time in our region. I myself spent two years as a student in the United Kingdom. It was a remarkable time in my life. It helped to open my eyes to the wider world. It helped to enrich my understanding of the wider world and of my fellow human beings. My daughter Louise, as part of her course at the University of Technology in Sydney, spent six months studying in France and then 12 months studying in Switzerland. It's terrific that so many Australians, at a formative time in their life, go overseas to learn and to grow. But more often more of them, more of us should go to Asia because if our future is in our region, as it must be, we need to be ever more deeply engaged in our region. And that's what this new Colombo plan is all about. It's about ensuring that we are a truly Asia literate country. It's about ensuring that we can take full advantage of the coming Asian Century. It's about enabling us to take advantage of all of the natural and geographical advantages that Australia has.

The Colombo plan as most of you would know was a triumph in Australian soft power. Under the Colombo plan, some 40,000 future leaders of Asia came to Australia to study. Many of the significant people in Asia today have studied in an Australian university. Many of them under the Colombo plan. I am confident that the advances that we have seen in our region in recent decades, the increase in democracy, the increase in prosperity, the increase in freedom, owes something to the experiences, the formative experiences that those leaders had in this country.

If I could share with you a story. In October of last year, I was in Bali for a discussion with some of the senior leaders of Indonesia. There were seven of us in the room. Myself, my Chief of Staff, the former Prime Minister Mr Howard, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, his Chief of Staff, the head of the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs and one other Indonesian official. Six of the seven had been to university in Australia. That provides as remarkable communion of thought. A remarkable basis for understanding.

Now, it's great that so many people from Asia have beaten a path to our door over the last 40 or 50 years. But more of us must reciprocate. It cannot be a one-way street. It must be a two-way street. We have as much to learn from our friends and neighbours in the region as they have to learn from us. Yes, English may be the world's second language but we cannot assume that the people we need to deal with will be able to speak to us in our language. We need more of us to be able to speak to them in their languages and that's what this program is all about.

I am delighted, Kevin, to have the work that you and Vice-Chancellor Sandra Harding with the assistance of Don Markwell and others have done so well. We accept the scheme that you have presented to us. We want a pilot to be up and running next year. We want the full scheme to be operational from the beginning of 2015. I am pleased to say today that an incoming Coalition will commit $100 million of new money over the next five years to bring this to fruition.

All of us are in public life to make a difference. And I say that of everyone in public life. I don’t say that this is solely true of people on my own team although obviously I am confident that members of my own team want change for the better as opposed to different kinds of change. But we are in this to make a difference. We are in this to build a better nation and I can think of nothing that will, over time, make a bigger improvement to our country than a more genuine meeting of minds between ourselves and the people of our region. The best time to ensure that there is a deep understanding of Australians for our friends and neighbours is if young Australians spend more time in those countries, immerse themselves deeply in their peoples, their languages, their cultures, so that the learning can then be utilised to the benefit of our country, our region and the wider world.

So ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much. It is an honour to be here with Julie Bishop whose original idea this was. Again, Kevin, Sandra Harding, Don Markwell, thank you for the contribution you’ve made. I believe this will be a signature policy of an incoming Coalition government and I think that over time this can transform our country. This is change for the better.


© Tony Abbott MHR 2010 | Authorised by Tony Abbott MHR, Level 2, 17 Sydney Rd, Manly NSW 2095

Tony Abbott Federal Member for Warringah | Leader of the Opposition

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