Well, thank you very, very much and good morning everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
We’ve been out for a walk already. We went out at 6 o’clock this morning and I have to say that I’m not used to temperatures sort of so high and I have to say that there’s a lot of car smoke around this morning, so if I am a bit croaky please forgive me.
Can I thank you Mike, President of the AustCham; distinguished guests; High Commissioner; ladies and gentlemen for joining us this morning.
This is my first visit to Mongolia and I believe the first opportunity for an Australian Minister to address your well-regarded Professional Speakers Series.
It’s a real pleasure to be here at the invitation of the Mongolian Government to attend the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
Australia has a very distinguished delegation that I am leading in disaster risk management. We know a lot about cyclones, natural disasters, floods, droughts, all sorts of things and so we have a lot that we can share with the world.
We’ll also be hosting the next conference in Australia, so this is a good opportunity, a good bridging opportunity for us to work with the Mongolian Government in relation to the work that they’re doing in this space and obviously then carry it on with a much more greater Pacific focus.
Now, this is of course my first visit to this amazing country.
As I was just saying, one always thinks about Mongolia as a bit of a frontier, but for you- and for some of you- it certainly has been a frontier, but it certainly is really proud for us as Australians to know the contribution that Australian business is making to Mongolia’s economic development.
I know about your significant achievements in bringing together Australian and Mongolian businesses since you were founded only a very short time five years ago.
Not only in the networking space, but also increasingly in the work that you are doing with other business chambers, other organisations as advocates for an internationally competitive business environment here in Mongolia.
Today, I’d like to speak about what Australia hopes to achieve with Mongolia strategically in our economic and commercial diplomacy and through business and other ties and personal connections.
I’ll also add a few words about how we think the bilateral economic relationship is travelling at the current moment.
Now, when Australia opened its new embassy here in December 2015, it reflected our judgement that we share a range of important issues with Mongolia.
Strategically, Mongolia has a special place in regional and international affairs for Australia.
Mongolia has made and sustained a big choice for democracy and an open market economy.
And that is why Australia is committed to being a good “third neighbour” to Mongolia, responding to its interest in looking beyond its significant interactions with China and Russia.
There is much that we can do together to support peace and prosperity both regionally and internationally.
Economically, we have very much in common.
Like Australia, Mongolia has a strong interest in foreign investment with mining as a major export industry.
Australian companies bring investment, technology and experience to various sectors of Mongolia’s economy, including education, infrastructure, mining and legal services.
The Australian Government wants to see high quality investment to assist sustainable economic and social development in Mongolia, not only at the national level, but also at the local community level.
And that brings me to the importance of the friendships and connections between Australia and Mongolia.
Of course our very successful Australia Awards Program with over 500 graduates who are now playing a vital role in Mongolia’s government, business and civil society.
Three of them are current Ministers in this Government and there are many more who have a connection with Australia who are involved across Government and other sectors.
I have to say that when I heard that they refer to themselves as “Mozzies”- I have to say that that really does show that the Australian sense of humour has well and truly rubbed off.
But this tremendous network of friendships bring not only long standing friendships, longstanding connections, but also professional cooperation with Australians, but also between the Australian Government and the Mongolian Government.
Now this is a wonderful asset to continue to develop, with over 7,500 Mongolian scholarship and self-funded students in Australia and tertiary enrolments growing at over 50 per cent.
It was interesting the other day, for those of you who know Sydney well, at Luna Park we had the New South Wales contingent of the graduating Australia Award Scholars and also the new cohort, the incoming Scholars. I said, look I’m sorry- I couldn’t stay for very long- and I said look, I am travelling off to Mongolia, are there any Mongolians in the audience? Well, these little scattered hands went up all over this very large room! A few of them came up to me afterwards and said hello- you know- I’m from here, I’m from there, hope you enjoy your time.
My point is that they have become a very key and important feature, not just those who are on Australian scholarships but those who choose to go to Australia to study.
So, how does the bilateral economic relationship stand at the moment?
First of all, the contribution that Australian business makes to Mongolia is very important.
Whether you are running the largest foreign-investment mining project in the country, as Rio Tinto does, or whether you are conducting greenfield minerals and resource exploration, or whether you are involved in supplying world’s best equipment in technology and services.
Informed Mongolians know that Australian investors and companies set the standard for transparent and ethical conduct of business in this country.
Good quality Australian investment maximises Mongolian employment; maintains exemplary safety and environmental standards; trains staff for leadership roles and international employment; and contributes to sustainable local community development.
That’s very, very important and a good example of this is the recent Public Private Partnership agreement on raising health standards for women and youth and trauma victims across Umnugobi Province.
This is an innovative four-year agreement worth $5 million between the Oyu Tolgoi community development fund, three UN agencies, the Australian Embassy and Mongolian national and local governments.
Now it provides a fine example for how companies and governments can work together to make sure that the benefits of good quality investment in mining can contribute to sustainable community development.
Because ultimately, that community development and that community engagement is vitally important, because it builds very, very important goodwill. Goodwill not just with the Government, but most importantly with the people of this country.
We’ve seen, if I can just draw a little analogy with Africa. I was in Africa last year to attend the African union. Of course, Africa is a country where Australian companies have conservatively between $35 and $40 billion dollars’ worth of investment in Africa.
We’ve got about 600 projects, about 40 different ASX companies involved. One of the key features of the issues that were raised with me was the importance of particularly mining companies and their engagement at that community level and how important it has been, particularly in the development sector.
Now of course, Mongolia is in a different position to a lot of those countries, but nevertheless that important sentiment of binding what you do and ensuring that Mongolians understand that ultimately the work that you do here and your presence here is of ultimate economic benefit to them.
So, can I commend you all for the work that you do- particularly those of you that are involved in the mining sector- to ensure that your community engagement is to a high standard, because ultimately I think that that will all go very, very well for you.
Now of course, the Australian Government is currently looking at ways to contribute more directly to partnerships in the extractive sector through our overseas development assistance and we certainly have Mongolia in mind as part of this.
So there are a lot of positives in the economic relationship.
However, we do realise that Mongolia remains a challenging country in which to invest and do business.
From Australia’s own experience we know that clarity, consistency and coordination of laws and policies is vital to maintaining an internationally competitive investment environment especially for minerals exploration and mining.
It is important that the Mongolian government decisions on foreign investment agreements are maintained by its subsequent governments to protect Mongolia from concerns about sovereign risk.
It is important that new taxes like the Corporate Income Tax on Minerals Exploration and Mining Licences are introduced following adequate consultation so that they are equitable and effective.
We also hope that Mongolia will address the perception that it is still too easy for commercial disputes to end up in the criminal justice system.
And while we commend Mongolia for its new Commercial Arbitration Law, we would like to see more effective enforcement of arbitral awards.
We will continue to raise these issues respectfully and constructively with the Mongolian Government based on Australia’s experience with what it takes to attract quality investment in the mining sector.
Now I am pleased to hear that the AustCham is also engaging in constructive advocacy.
As a good third neighbour, we want to see Mongolia succeed as an independent, free and prosperous country.
We do it with heart because Australia and Mongolia share many of the same challenges in national development.
And we do it because we want Australia to play a respected and leading part in the success of this wonderful country and its people.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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