Thank you very, very much for your kind welcome, Professor Evans.

Can I start by acknowledging my Victorian parliamentary colleagues: Parliamentary Secretary Daniel Mulino, Shadow Minister David Southwick and Tim Smith, lovely to see you here.

Can I acknowledge — I believe we also have some councillors with us of the Diplomatic Corp, the Asialink Board and staff, ASEAN Australia Council Board member Lesley Alway.

But most importantly, can I welcome all the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program participants and also the alumni.

Good to have you all here, I am delighted to be here this evening to officially launch the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program for 2018.

This Program is an initiative of the Australia-ASEAN Council and has been established to recognise and support young social entrepreneurs in Australia and ASEAN nations who are addressing critical challenges that face our region.

Each year, one participant is drawn from each ASEAN nation and five from Australia and as the Professor said, it is wonderful to see so many young people wanting to participate in this program.

The participants follow a three-month program delivered by Asialink that — this year — includes an intensive 10-day incubator in Melbourne and Sydney.

As part of the program, participants will explore the role of business in driving social change, enhance their understanding of the risks and potential of social ventures, and learn techniques to develop their enterprises and maximise their impact.

To mark the ASEAN-Australia Leaders Special Summit that will be held in Sydney at the end of this week, I understand that this year’s participants will also join the various events in Sydney.

I think we are doing a BBQ on Wednesday night if I’m not mistaken — I hope the rain holds off in Sydney, otherwise we better all bring our umbrellas!

But the view will be magnificent as I understand the park where we are going to overlooks the harbour so it will be a lovely evening.

Of course, as part of your program in Sydney, you will also have the opportunity to have an Emerging Leaders Roundtable with the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull on Friday morning in Sydney.

As innovators and future leaders, you help shape our region — so therefore the contribution that you make is not just the exchange that you now have, but it is what you will deliver and what you learn as part of this — the experiences, the challenges that you face and ultimately what you will learn and ultimately the contribution that you will make to Australia and your respective ASEAN countries.

And at the conclusion of the program, we really hope that you will continue to stay connected and also join our Australian Government’s Global Alumni Network.

One of the joys I have as part of my job as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, wherever I go, is always catching up with our alumni and hearing all of them sharing their wonderful stories — not just of their experiences in Australia, but their experiences they have continued to have because of their continued connections.

This is not just a program about professional development, it’s about the opportunities to stay connected with your peers and also, as I said, just make those connections across Australia and then take those connections across the globe.

I hope that this program is the beginning of important journeys for you as entrepreneurs, as social entrepreneurs and whatever the field it is that you seek to endeavour in.

We look forward to seeing the contributions you will make and most especially for the communities and for the regions where you come from.

This is a flagship program of the Australia-ASEAN Council.

It was established in 2015, aiming to generate opportunities for Australian business, education, science, innovation and the arts to work with partners in Southeast Asia.

The Council also runs an annual grants round that provides funding to organisations that can increase people-to-people links between Australia and the nations of Southeast Asia; and increase knowledge and understanding in Australia about those countries and the opportunities that they present; and of course enhance awareness and understanding about each other’s cultures, traditions and values.

Ultimately, the values that bind us and that we share as countries are vitally important.

The 2018–19 round is open and I encourage you to consider how Australia-ASEAN Council funding can help you to connect Australia to our region.

ASEAN and its member countries have never been as important to Australia as they are today.

ASEAN is consistently one of our third-largest trading partners as a group.

We have a long shared history of improving the environment in which our businesses can trade, including our highly valued and high-quality Free Trade Agreement.

We have deep people-to-people connections, with almost one million Australians claiming heritage from an ASEAN country.

And we are forging new connections between our young people in Australia and the region through educational exchanges, including the Australia Awards and the New Colombo Plan.

Australia is also working with Southeast Asian countries through our development partnerships to deliver effective programs to promote economic reform and inclusive growth, to reduce poverty and to address inequality.

I have to say that as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I have had the opportunity and the privilege to see firsthand how some of these programs are changing the lives of people in South East Asia.

Interesting — I was chatting with someone from Myanmar, not only did we go to Yangon, but we actually went out of Yangon to see where some of the work that we are doing on fish and rice farming is actually producing some fabulous results! Again, innovative, but something that we are doing.

Bilateral relations and the strength of bilateral relations is vitally important in our region.

For this reason, the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, which starts on Friday, demonstrates Australia’s elevated commitment to ASEAN and to our enduring ties with the countries of Southeast Asia.

I think that it will provide a valuable opportunity to reinforce not just the economic and all the other people-to-people ties but most importantly the strategic ties so that we can continue to advance our shared interests in the region. 

Regional security and prosperity in our region are vital and therefore intensified relationships, particularly at the leader-level discussion and practical engagement on education, economic cooperation and common security challenges will be at the fore of this summit.

The Australia-ASEAN Council is also supporting a range of projects to leverage the momentum of, and involve the community in, the Special Summit.

These include a tourism workshop to improve the relationship between tourism and poverty reduction, using World Heritage towns such as Hoi An in Vietnam as case studies; also a gathering for young online social entrepreneurs to share best practices in promoting social and economic development; and also a youth forum to educate and inform high school students about Australia’s relationship in Southeast Asia and contemporary issues facing the region.

And of course, our wonderful Leaders Program participants will be active participants at the Summit and also across ASEAN-Australia Week.

You will have an opportunity to engage with leaders, key decision-makers and key representatives from Australia and across the region.

Can I conclude by thanking Asialink, you have been a wonderful delivery partner for the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program; and can I thank in particular Asialink CEO Jenny McGregor who was unable to be with us this evening; to you, Erin and all the team for your expertise and energy in delivering this program.

Can I also recognise the many individuals and businesses who are contributing to this year’s program and to foster that new generation of future leaders in Australia and across the region.

Looking around the room, the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program participants who are with us this evening, I feel very confident that we are well placed to face the challenges and take advantages of the opportunities that our region has ahead of us.

Can I wish you all the very, very best and thank you for your kind attention.

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