ACBC Networking Day Gala Dinner
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people.
I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and extend that respect to the Indigenous people here with us today.
Like all members of the Albanese government, I reaffirm my commitment to the full implementation of the Uluṟu Statement from the heart - Voice, Treaty, and Truth.
I also acknowledge that I’m speaking to you during a particularly solemn period, following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II late last week.
This is an eminent audience, but I recognise in particular:
- David Olsson, National President of the ACBC;
- His Excellency Graham Fletcher, Australia’s Ambassador to China;
- The Hon Warwick Smith, Business Council of Australia;
- Min Chen, Chief Representative, China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and investment;
- Xavier Simonet, CEO, Austrade;
- Pru Bennett, Chair, National Foundation for Australia-China Relations;
- Jingmin Qian, Chair, Foundation of Australian Studies in China;
- The Hon Andrew Robb, Former Minister for Trade and Investment;
- Shadow Minister for Trade and Tourism, Kevin Hogan; and the sponsors and all involved in organising the ACBC Networking Day program.
Our relationship with China is both complex and consequential.
It matters to Australian businesses.
It matters to Australian workers.
It matters to our region.
At the same time, in other ways, it is very far away.
Interest in China has never been higher.
Access to China has never been lower.
Since borders closed in 2020, we’ve seen the flow of people – tourists, students, businesspeople – slow to a trickle.
That curtailed travel has had an impact.
For anyone with business, family or cultural connections in China – as most of you do - I know it has been a tough period.
And I commend the work of the business community in providing support to Australians in China during periods of lockdown in Wuhan, Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere.
I am sure that similar support is being extended in Chengdu as we speak.
Business, people-to-people and government relationships are important and complementary strands of effort as we look to the future.
Through the challenges of the past few years, it’s clear that government relationships are important. And I will speak about that shortly.
But business to business relationships are also vital – even if they get less attention on the front pages of our respective newspapers.
Our countries – and business communities – are filled with creative and talented people.
Commercial ties between Australia and China run deep. Many have been forged over decades, as business endeavours have navigated China’s rapid reform and development.
Both countries are better off for the partnerships and economic activity they have produced.
In China, trade and development have supported millions to escape poverty.
The China‑Australia Free Trade Agreement continues to deliver benefits for both countries.
Australia’s world-class exports, our diverse and welcoming society, and the depth of existing connections with China are important strengths.
We both stand to gain from the removal of current trade blockages.
The government has been clear and principled on the need for China to remove restrictions that unfairly impede trade.
As we know, Australian businesses are resourceful, and plenty of firms and industries expanded, and successfully redirected good to other markets.
But we know that recent uncertainty has had a significant impact on certain industries and regions.
That’s why we’re working through the WTO to address China’s unfair, and in our view unjustifiable, duties on wine and barley.
We’ll keep engaging on ways to resolve these and other trade impediments.
We’ll keep engaging with affected businesses to better understand your needs and challenges.
And we encourage businesses to stay engaged in the China market, while accounting for risk.
The business community is doing important work. Many of you here tonight have made vital and positive contributions over years - or even decades - of engagement.
And your discussions here as part of the ACBC Networking Day events are an important part of the process of stabilising ties.
Community and personal links are also essential.
As then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam said during his first speech in Beijing in 1973,
“Close co-operation and association between our two peoples is both natural and beneficial.”
Mr Whitlam may not have anticipated digitally-enabled cooperation like Sonicbridge, a unique digital music exchange bringing together Melbourne-based musical duo The Merindas and Wuhan DJ Shii at the height of the pandemic.
He may not have anticipated the social media sensation that Brisbane hip hop dancer Latrice Kabamba became when she took China by storm competing in last year’s season of Street Dance of China.
He may not have anticipated Chinese-born painter Zhou Xiaoping, who has been collaborating with Indigenous artists in Arnhem Land and the Kimberleys since 1988 to create exquisite works that reflect our interconnectedness.
But he was certainly correct that the exchange of ideas and creativity benefits us all.
And in the decades since Mr Whitlam made that observation, the flow of students and visitors - in both directions - has fundamentally shaped our countries’ engagement with each other.
That’s one reason Australia’s foreign policy is enriched by our diversity.
Our approach is shaped by who we are: a nation with diverse heritage, bringing together people from across the world, including our unique First Nations heritage.
Half our population was born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas.
Our multicultural identity connects us with the world.
This includes Australians of Chinese heritage, who have a long history in Australia and now make up five per cent of our population.
Mandarin is now the second-most spoken language in Australian homes after English.
My own children are among those growing up in a mixed-language environment.
As are many children in my electorate of Gellibrand, one of the most diverse in the country.
Our foreign policy should reflect our values, our interests and our identity.
Our region is being reshaped.
Since taking office, our government has been hard at work around the world, showing that Australia is serious about grappling with our fast-changing strategic environment and other consequential issues.
Like climate change, and pandemic management.
We can’t stand idly by.
We need to work with our partners in the Indo-Pacific to ensure we can live in a region that is stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.
That’s why we’ve been calm and consistent in our approach to China.
When Foreign Minister Penny Wong met her Chinese counterpart, State Councillor Wang Yi, on 8 July in Bali, her messages were clear:
- We should aim for a relationship of mutual benefit and respect.
- We are open to working with China, including to address shared challenges like climate change.
- We will seek to resolve issues in a manner that is consistent with our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and in accordance with our national interests.
- We will speak out on issues that matter to Australians.
- We seek further dialogue and engagement to address differences and avoid miscommunication.
As our Foreign Minister has made clear, at this juncture Australia and China have an opportunity to pursue stabilisation.
To move forward with a better understanding of how our two countries can interact to our mutual advantage.
We’ve taken some first steps, but we also recognise this will take time.
This doesn’t mean ignoring the differences between us.
But there are areas where we can and should work together.
If China engages with Australia directly and constructively, we will respond in kind.
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries.
This is a significant milestone.
Looking ahead, we should work steadily and pragmatically to stabilise the relationship and tackle shared challenges.
The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations is one important way we are working to achieve this.
The Foundation’s latest grants round – valued at up to $6.5 million – will help build understanding and showcase Australian excellence.
I’m pleased that the National Foundation for Australia China Relations will support ACBC’s delivery of the Green Channel Initiative on climate collaboration tomorrow.
China is a leader in green technology, and Australia has the wind and solar resources to be a renewable energy superpower.
We’re open to exploring further partnerships that work towards achieving our climate change and decarbonisation goals.
It is impressive that the ACBC will reach its own 50th anniversary next year.
Business engagement between Australia and China has long been a central feature of our bilateral relationship.
I wish you every success for the Networking Day.
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555