2024 New Colombo Plan Scholarship Awards Ceremony

  • Speech, check against delivery

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, and other people and families with connections to the ACT and region.

I pay my respect to Elders, past and present.

I extend that acknowledgement to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with us here tonight.

(Acknowledgements, list below)

And of course, I acknowledge the New Colombo Plan scholars for 2024.


I'm incredibly jealous of all of you!


Take a moment to take it in.

You're in the Great Hall of Parliament surrounded bright, young and adventurous Australians from every imaginable field.

You're all on the cusp of an amazing life experience.

Setting out into a region - our shared region - where the most complex and consequential challenges and opportunities of our times are unfolding.

No region is being reshaped more by the dynamics of climate change, demographic change, economic growth and development and geo-strategic competition.

Our region is a young region.

The way these challenges and opportunities unfold over the coming decades will be determined by young people.

By people like you.

You wouldn't be in this room if you didn't feel this excitement yourself.

So I'm genuine when I say I'm envious of everything that you're about to experience - I know you'll make the most of it.

On top of this envy though, I'm also thankful to you all.

To meet the challenges and realise the opportunities in our region, Australia needs to lift its Asia capability.

When the original Colombo Plan, the namesake of the NCP was established in 1950, the intent was to help develop the capabilities of young people across our region by assisting them to come to Australia to study.

It was an extraordinary success that benefited source countries as talented young people brought the knowledge and skills they had acquired in Australia home to help with the development of their countries.

But it also benefited Australia as thousands of young people from across the region also developed an understanding of Australia and life long personal relationships that connected us to the region for generations to come.

While this was happening, our knowledge of our region was embarrassingly limited.

The average young Australian at this time could have told you about the history of the Tudors or the Glorious Revolution on the other side of the world.

But they could tell you nothing about the history of the Thai royal family, the Angkorian or Bagan empires, Srivijaya or the Javanese kingdoms of our own region.

The limits of our Asia capability extended to our External Affairs department, which in the 1950s included just six Mandarin speakers, six Japanese speakers, three Malay speakers, two Bahasa Indonesia speakers and single Urdu and Bengali speakers.

None spoke Thai, Burmese, Korean or Tamil.

Thankfully, we've made some progress since then…

…Not the least of which through the extraordinary multicultural migration of recent decades that has enriched our nation and deepened our connection to and understanding of our region though countless connections of family and friendship.

But as a nation, we need to do much more to boost our Asia capability.

The times demand it.

As the Foreign Minister has said many times, we face the most challenging strategic circumstances of the post-war period.

That in the face of these circumstances we can't afford to be mere spectators to the changes that are reshaping our region.

That we must use all the tools of statecraft to influence these dynamics and shape a region, and a world, that works in the way we want it to.

Tools like our diplomatic corps, our development assistance programs, our sovereign economic capabilities and our defence forces.

Underpinning all of these tools of statecraft is a core skill, our understanding of our region and our ability to shape it.

Asia capability.

That means speaking Asian languages.

It means understanding the people, the culture, customs, and diversity of our region.

It means listening to the priorities of countries in Southeast Asia.

That's why Asia capability is more important than ever, it's the foundation of all of the tools of influence that we are relying on the shape the dynamics that are changing our region.

So, thank you for making a personal investment in your own Asia capability.

If you're in this room, you have been successful in applying for this scholarship because of the potential you demonstrate to be a curious and inclusive representative of Australia.

Australia is a multicultural country, and home to the world's oldest continuing culture.

As the Foreign Minister has said, "our foreign policy is an expression of our values, our interests and our identity. It starts with who we are."

That's why this year's Scholarship Cohort reflects who we are as a country:

Sixteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars.

The largest number of First Nations Scholars to date.

28 scholars who identify as living with a disability.

A third of scholars come from regional and remote areas…

And more than half are women.

I'm sure all of your will do us proud.

30 scholars will take on the role of NCP Fellows.

Individuals who demonstrated exceptional leadership ability, who will lead the way in promoting the NCP and its objectives in priority areas.

In this year's cohort, there is one fellow for each host location. A First Nations Fellow, and an ASEAN Fellow. Congratulations to you all.

And for the first time ever this year, there is a Pacific Fellow and a Climate Change Fellow.

This cohort will also see the highest number of scholars headed to Pacific Islands.

Areas in which, of course, we face complex, shared challenges.

Areas where we need people like you to develop your skills, understanding, and knowledge.

Can I also ask all of you to make your NCP scholarship just one down payment in a lifetime commitment to developing your Asia capability.

An understanding of our region can't be built in a single trip.

You need to keep fronting up over time, to maintain the people to people relationships you create on this trip and to stay curious and keep listening and learning.

After you complete this scholarship, you become a member of the NCP Alumni Program, and an alumni of our efforts to deepen engagement and knowledge of Southeast Asia.

Please make the most of it.

This includes our commitment of $19.2 million to fund the Southeast Asia Business Exchange as part of our response to the Southeast Asian Economic Strategy 2040.

These exchanges will involve business missions to Southeast Asia, driving activities which raise Australian businesses' awareness of the region's commercial opportunities.

We've also established a pilot placements and internship program for both young professionals from Australia in Southeast Asia, and for young professionals from Southeast Asia in Australia.

Like these initiatives, your NCP program is a lifetime investment in your ability and your curiosity.

And in turn, an investment our region.

This coming year will be the tenth anniversary of the NCP.

Since 2014, just over one thousand scholars have been awarded scholarships.

The NCP's Mobility Program has awarded 72,000 grants to Australian universities to provide short courses and internships for students from Australia and the Indo Pacific region.

In total, more than 45,000 students have participated in the NCP across these Programs.

The ripple effects alumni create are critical to the NCP's objectives.

There are, of course, many examples of this ripple effect on our connection to and collaboration with our region.

Hayley Winchcombe, NCP alumni and our emcee for today, is one great example.

Hayley was the inaugural New Colombo Plan ASEAN Fellow.

She studied in Singapore, and also did an internship at the Australian Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta.

She went on to be the Chairperson of the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Partnership Board.

And was just recently appointed to the Australian Government's Board for the Australia-ASEAN Council …

I'd like to congratulate you, Hayley, on your initiative and achievements since becoming a NCP scholar in 2018…

And thank you for your commitment to deepening engagement with Southeast Asia by sharing your experiences, and helping to extend the same opportunities to others.

There are so many talented NCP Alumni whose efforts are rippling across our country and our region.

Take Anton Lucanus, an alumni of the 2015 Scholarship cohort.

Anton was supported by the NCP to study Molecular and Developmental Biology at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta Indonesia – where classes were taught entirely in Indonesian.

During the scholarship Anton joined the Emerging Virus Research Unit at the Eijkman Institute as an intern.

Anton noted that there was no efficient way to share the data being amassed by the Eijkman Institute.

So Anton built a digital library to provide easy access to yet-to-be-published research.

Today, Anton is the Founder and CEO of Neliti, a Singapore-based digital resource that powers over 1000 university libraries across Indonesia, and attracts more than 12 million users each month.

As Anton says – "[The NCP] opens your eyes to what you might do to bring about change and contribute to social good."

Anton certainly embodies that sentiment.

Like Anton, like Hayley, and like the thousands of alumni of the New Colombo Plan and Mobility Programs, I'm sure you will go on to do great things.

Not just great things for yourself, but great things for our country and great things for the region that we share.

I can't wait to see what you'll achieve!

Acknowledgements list

  • His Excellency Garry Ibrahim, High Commission of Brunei Darussalam to Australia,
  • Her Excellency Ma Hellen B. De La Vega, Ambassador of the Philippines to Australia,
  • Her Excellency Ms Arjaree Sriratanaban, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to Australia,
  • His Excellency Robert Sisilo, High Commission of the Solomon Islands to Australia,
  • Her Excellency Chitranganee Wagiswara, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Australia
  • Country representatives,
  • University representatives,
  • NCP alumni.

Media enquiries

  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555