Introduction

Ms Sandrine Bellier, Senior Advisor for Economic Cooperation and Trade from the New Caledonian Government’s Regional Cooperation Service;

Mr Greg Pawson, President, Australia Pacific Island Business Council;

Ms Heidi Bootle, Australian Consul-General to New Caledonia;

And Mr Frank Yourn, Secretary of the Australia Pacific Island Business Council;

Ladies and gentlemen.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. And while Australia is said to have come of age on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli, it is impossible to overestimate the importance to our nation of the baptism of fire on the Western Front. Our deep and profound connection and friendship with the people of France and her overseas territories was born in the course of those four years of shared blood, mud and comradeship in the trenches and in the fields of the north-eastern France.

Of the 295,000 Australians who served in France, 46,000 lost their lives and 132,000 were wounded. Of the 1,134 Melanesian volunteers from New Caledonia - who represented almost 20 per cent of the men of fighting age – 374 were killed on the front. We have fought together, and we have bled together, but a century later, we are very fortunate indeed that instead of a battlefield we can now meet in the marketplace; not as brothers-in-arms but as business partners.

So thank you to the Australia Pacific Islands Business Council for organising today’s Forum. And welcome to Brisbane, my home city and Australia’s gateway to the Pacific.

Economic diplomacy

American President Calvin Coolidge once said that the business of America is business. Well, I’m here to tell you that the business of Australia is business too. The Australian government strongly supports economic growth and a strong private sector – both here at home and abroad.

Why?

Because we believe that economic growth is vital if we want our societies and our region to be safe, strong, open and prosperous. Government can help, but it is the private sector that ultimately makes it happen. This is as true in Brisbane as it is in Shanghai or Noumea. That’s why promoting trade and investment in our region is a key part of the Australian Government’s economic diplomacy agenda.

So I think this is the perfect time to have a conversation about our business and investment links with New Caledonia.

Bilateral relations

New Caledonia is one of Australia's top 20 export destinations by number of Australian companies doing business there.

In turn, Australia is New Caledonia’s fourth largest trading partner, accounting for 10.4 per cent of total trade in goods to the value of over AUD500 million.

I would venture a guess that most Australians – including many in business - wouldn’t be aware of this close economic relationship between our two countries. And I would also venture a guess that most Australian – again, including many in business – wouldn’t be aware of how much of a success story New Caledonia is. When we, in Australia, think about the Pacific we invariably think about white beaches and azure ocean, but we are also aware of just how many challenges the island states of the region face on the account of their isolation, small populations, scarcity of resources and limited institutional capacity.

But New Caledonia stands out from the crowd - its economy is high income and well-developed. GDP growth too has bucked regional trends, growing steadily at 3.5 per cent on average each year for the last ten years. It’s a significant player on the world nickel stage – with around 6 per cent of global production in 2013.

New Caledonia is a hidden gem of the Pacific, not just because of its natural beauty, but also because of its economic potential.

Meeting the Prime Minister

At the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau a few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting President Cynthia Ligeard.

She struck me as a formidable lady and a strong leader, with a clear sense of where she wants New Caledonia to go. We had a great chat, and she shared with me her vision for her country.

Part of that vision includes New Caledonia pursuing its own objectives in the Pacific, including full membership of the Pacific Islands Forum, which Australia supports, and generally, closer engagement and integration with Australia and their Pacific neighbours.

But also developing and capitalising on its close links with France and Europe. You could say acting as a bridge between the two regions. Which Australia supports too – and we welcome France’s ongoing presence in the Pacific and we value the work we do together in areas such as development, humanitarian response, fisheries and maritime surveillance and defence cooperation.

G20 and trade liberalisation

As you all know, Australia is the chair of the G20 this year, and in only a few weeks’ time we will be welcoming the G20 leaders to Brisbane, including President Hollande, in the first ever visit by a French President to Australia.

As the closest G20 economy to New Caledonia, I believe Australia is in a position to help advance New Caledonia’s interests as part of the Pacific region. Our G20 agenda includes the focus on growth, on lowering costs to businesses, on increasing access to financial services and reducing the cost of remittances, and on promoting economic reforms that encourage investment and grow jobs. I believe we’re on the same page here as New Caledonia.

Future engagement

Where to from now for Australia and New Caledonia?

We welcome the new government’s focus on tax reform and efforts to improve competition within the New Caledonian economy.

We also welcome an increase in engagement of Australian companies in New Caledonia’s mining sector. But there are plenty more markets that are being developed - like organic agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and renewable resources.

Solar and wind power, bio-fuel energy, waste and water management, building and construction – all areas where Australian technological know-how can make a difference.

We are also targeting education, working with Austrade under the Australia Unlimited brand to foster awareness of Australia’s high quality education sector. And we are re-focusing our Australia Awards Scholarships program to attract high-performing students from the French Collectivities.

And, of course, there is the tourism.

Just over a year ago, the Australian Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Carnival Australia for cooperation across the Pacific. I’ve already seen positive, tangible results this partnership is delivering for the people of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. We’re keen to grow these types of public-private partnerships and I would welcome other businesses looking to model this approach in innovative ways to grow prosperity – to do well, by doing good.

Conclusion

Our two countries share a history. In 1940, Australia sent a warship, the Adelaide, to New Caledonia, to help General de Gaulle unseat a Vichy governor and replace him with a Free French one. Since then, I’m happy to say, the traffic between our two countries has been both less martial in nature and more two way in scope.

I’m looking forward to ever closer relationship between Australia and New Caledonia and I thank all of you in this room today for your help in building it.

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