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Address at the luncheon in honour of the Prime Minister of Vietnam, His Excellency, Mr Phan Van Khai.

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1 April 1999












Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, the Leader of the Opposition, and my Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, and many honoured and distinguished guests. And I particularly acknowledge the presence of Doug Anthony, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, and Tom Uren the former Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, and former Chairman of the Australian Vietnamese Friendship Society.


Prime Minister, to you and to your wife, and to your Ministers, I extend a very warm welcome on behalf of the Government, and the people of Australia. Over the last 25 years, great strides have been made in building a better and a closer relationship between our two countries. It has not been easy but it has been done in a spirit of great good will on both sides. And I believe that we can quite genuinely look back on that period of time, assess the relationship, and recognise that enormous progress has been made.


And as is always the case in good relationships between nations, it is the people-to-people links that loom largest. And it will be not lost on anybody in this gathering how important those people-to-people links are. Nor will it be lost on any of us that Australia has within its confines a wonderfully vibrant and positive community of Australians of Vietnamese extraction, and Vietnamese birth and descent.


It numbers, according to different calculations somewhere between 140,000 and 200,000. And it is indeed one of the largest non-English speaking ethnic components of the Australian population, and it has made a great contribution to our society. And it has produced some wonderful contributors to the Australian scene. One of them is here today of course, Tan Le, who is the young Australian of the Year last year. And I know that Tan Le paid a very successful visit to your country not long ago.


And perhaps many here will not know that only three months ago Nhan Vo-Van, a

Vietnamese born Australian, and a senior bureaucrat in my department, became an Assistant Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat area and sits in on all of my Cabinet meetings, and is one of the principal note takers of all of the deliberations of the Australian government.


They are but two examples of many of people of Vietnamese descent who have made a wonderful contribution to our nation. I’m also delighted to have been told this morning that Australia, with 4000 Vietnamese students at its universities, is now the largest host country of overseas Vietnamese students in the world. And given the antecedents, and given previous associations of Vietnam with the former Soviet Union, with France and so forth, that is a very significant development and a very very significant indication of just how close our two countries are.


Your country Prime Minister is embarking upon an era of economic reform. It is not easy. We recognise that living standards remain, by those of the industrialised world, still very low. We contribute through our foreign aid program in a most constructive way. And the My Thuan Bridge of course is the largest infrastructure project funded through the aid budget ever undertaken by Australia. And I understand from you Prime Minister that it will be ready for opening some time in the middle of next year. And my Deputy Prime Minister is already, in his inimitable style, promoting a joint Prime Ministerial presence at that opening when it takes place. And I mean we might be able to include the odd Deputy Prime Minister as well.


Last year was the first time that our two-way trade exceeded the $1 billion mark. And our exports to Vietnam grew by 60% to be $386 million in 1998, and your exports to Australia grew by 30% in the same period. Total Australian investment in Vietnam was worth about $1.3 billion, representing the activities of more than 100 Australian companies including Telstra, which has decided to make Hanoi its regional headquarters, Fosters, and Southcorp. But we are eager to work more with Vietnam in areas such as insurance, agribusiness, science and technology, mining and resources, and in education and defence.


As you know Prime Minister, foreign direct investment and trade are powerful contributors to sustainable growth and we must fully exploit and facilitate these opportunities. Predictability and transparency are fundamental in this area. We do want to note that we’ve also started a modest co-operation programs in the area of defence.


Prime Minister, your country and Australia are of course fellow members of APEC. And as I stressed to you in our talks this morning, we share a common interest in the realisation of the ultimate APEC goals of trade liberalisation, by the year 2010 in respect to developed countries, and the year 2020 in respect of developing countries. And it is important that the meeting which takes place in New Zealand this year that the momentum towards those goals be maintained and increased.


The region in which both our countries are located has gone through the worst economic adversity in four or five decades. Australia has essentially been able to stare down that economic downturn and we have been very keen, during that period, to contribute in a constructive way as an active regional partner in helping countries in the region which have been worst affected. And over and above the foreign aid that we give in a direct form to many countries including Vietnam we have been able to participate in the economic bailouts of Indonesia, of Korea and Thailand.


I am hopeful, and my Government is hopeful, that the worst of the economic downturn in Asia is behind us. But even on the most optimistic scenario it will be a number of years before we can see a significant resumption of economic growth in the countries that have been worst affected.


During our discussion this morning, Prime Minister, you told me of the economic reforms which had taken place over the last 10 years in Vietnam. We agreed on the importance of transparency and clear and open laws and rules of corporate governance. They are important to the investment atmosphere. They are important to the capacity of your country to attract large amounts of foreign investment which are so very important to your future economic development. Your Ambassador to Australia, Prime Minister, even informed me that your country has recently introduced a goods and services tax which commenced operation on the 1st of January this year.


But, Prime Minister, I want to say, in the spirit of the friendship that is now characteristic of the relationship between our two countries, how very welcome you and your party are to Australia. We have traveled as very different societies with a history of difference and conflict. We have traveled a very important but, I think, a very positive and a very constructive road over the last 25 years.


We respect enormously the contribution of Australians of Vietnamese descent to our society. We welcome the opportunity to work with your country in APEC. We recognise that we have some differences and it is always better to frankly state and recognise differences. In areas such as human rights I’ve had the opportunity to convey some of the concerns that are felt by Australia and by Australians. But I’ve conveyed them in a spirit of respect and a spirit of understanding that different societies can work together effectively, must accept those differences and focus on the things that they have in common and the things that they can achieve together.


There are 80 million people in your country. I think there are enormous opportunities for growth and development. I find in my discussions with Australian companies a continued interest in Vietnam and a desire, all things being equal, to invest in that country and to share in its economic development and its economic growth.


I am grateful, Prime Minister, that you and your wife and your colleagues have seen fit to come here. I hope that the rest of your visit to Australia is a very happy and successful and productive one. And I can assure you that the representative character of the gathering at today’s lunch indicates the importance that Australians in walks of life place on the relationship between our two societies. I would now like to invite the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Kim Beazley, to support my remarks.


Thank you.