ASEAN-Australia Special Summit - Emerging Leaders’ Dialogue Reception Address

  • Speech, check against delivery

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respect to Elders, past and present.

And I acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here with us today.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and of course, all of the emerging leaders from ASEAN and across Australia.

I hope you're looking forward to tonight's event as much as I am.

Tonight, I'm the warm-up act for an old friend of mine.

Alice Pung is the ASEAN Artistic Collaboration Showcase's keynote speaker.

Alice grew up in Melbourne's West – the suburbs that I represent as a Member of Parliament.

My community in Melbourne's West, just like the rest of Australia, is incredibly diverse.

Two thirds of my constituents are born overseas, or have a parent born overseas.

And that rate is even higher among younger generations.

Alice is among that group – her parents came from Cambodia to Melbourne in 1980.

Alice's writing on growing up Asian in Australia has touched countless lives in Australia, and across the region.

She has a truly Australian story to tell.

Alice's story is emblematic of how Australia has changed over the last 50 years.

Today, there are over a million Australians who claim Southeast Asian ancestry.

And over 828,000 Australians speak a Southeast Asian language at home.

When Australians look to Southeast Asia, we see ourselves reflected.

And equally, people from Southeast Asia – everyone here – can see themselves reflected in Australia.

That includes Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who was born in Malaysia, and who I just shamelessly paraphrased.

This year marks half a century since Australia became ASEAN's first formal Dialogue Partner.

Fifty years ago, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam predicted the destinies of Australia and the countries of Southeast Asia would be interlinked.

Prime Minister Whitlam knew that because we share a region, we would share a future.

I'm going to take an educated guess that many of you weren't born 50 years ago.

The depth of the connection between ASEAN and Australia today probably seems as obvious to you as it does to me.

But it wasn't always so obvious.

Australia became ASEAN's first official dialogue partner in 1974. At that time, our top trading partners were Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Comparatively, trade with our own region was small.

That year, Australia exported more to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics than we did to Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia.

Contrast with today.

Two-way trade between Australia and Southeast Asia was worth around AUD 178 billion in 2022, larger than Australia's trade with the United States.

In 2022, the combined GDP of Southeast Asian economies was around US$3.6 trillion, larger than the economies of the United Kingdom, France or Canada.

By 2040, Southeast Asia as a bloc is predicted to be the world's fourth-largest economy.

But there is so much more we could be doing together to properly harness the opportunities from our region.

This week's second ever ASEAN-Australia Special Summit will lay the groundwork for the next fifty years of our cooperation…

…which is why the summit's theme is 'A Partnership for the Future'.

Who better to talk to about the future than emerging leaders from Australia and Southeast Asia.

You are the future for our region.

No pressure.

Southeast Asia is at the centre of changing global dynamics.

It's young. More than half the population of Southeast Asia is under 30.

It's also the fastest-growing region in the world.

And it's also increasingly the centre of geostrategic competition.

You are all leaders in fields and on issues that will become more and more important over the next 50 years.

Like technology and connectivity.


Climate and food security.


Development and civil society.

Social enterprise, public policy.

The challenges and opportunities in each of these fields will not be contained by borders.

They will require you, as the future leaders across our region, to work together to respond.

And responding to challenges and opportunities requires us to use every tool in our diplomatic toolbox.

That's why the Australian Government has prioritised deepening our engagement with Southeast Asia.

Because we share a common interest in living in a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous.

One that is free and open – that encourages exchange and dialogue over conflict.

ASEAN is a leader in this – in setting norms across our region, and in convening the key players and getting them to the table to talk.

In this work, we strongly support Laos' priorities as 2024 ASEAN Chair and appreciate their support as Australia's ASEAN Country Coordinator.

ASEAN and Australian leaders prioritised Emerging Leaders as one of the Special Summit's four tracks, because programs like this dialogue are an important step in creating the region we want to live in.

They bring people like you together.

People from across the region, from different backgrounds and with different experiences, perspectives and areas of expertise.

They bring you together for cross-disciplinary conversations.

They build connections and friendships.

And hopefully, they will build collaborations and networks that will continue to grow in the years and decades ahead.

Despite the strong basis for our relationship, we recognise that so much more needs to be done.

That's why we developed a Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, which I'm sure has featured heavily in the Business Track of the Special Summit.

Launched by the Prime Minister in September last year, the strategy sets out a practical pathway to increase Australia's two-way trade and investment with the region. It's a strategy for Government, to inform Government policy.

Prime Minister Albanese announced three immediate initiatives on the sidelines of last year's ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, as an investment in Australia's economic future with ASEAN.

They include investment deal teams based in Southeast Asia, a Southeast Asia Business Exchange and a Placements and Internships Pilot Program for Young Professionals.

These initiatives will help us work with ASEAN collectively, and Southeast Asian nations individually, to create opportunity and to strengthen our mutual resilience.

Another area we will need to collaborate on is climate change.

Which is why the Climate Change and Clean Energy Track of the Special Summit is so important.

We know the climate is changing faster than our combined efforts to stop it.

Strong climate action is at the very top of the Australian Government's agenda.

In 2022 we passed the Climate Change Act, enshrining in legislation targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Australia's new development policy has set a target that at least half of all new bilateral and regional investments valued at more than $3 million will have a climate change objective.

But Australia's efforts alone will not be sufficient.

We all must do more, and the Climate and Clean Energy Track of this Special Summit will facilitate this.

It is bringing together stakeholders from our region to discuss actions to support an accelerated clean energy transition, and share experiences on the region's priorities.

Finally, in my opinion the most important track of the ASEAN Special Summit is you: our emerging leaders.

The Australian Government is doing a lot to deepen our engagement with Southeast Asia.

But deepening our relationships cannot just be driven by governments.

Ultimately, it's people like all of you in the room here today who are driving and growing Australia's relationship with Southeast Asia.

There is a lot of brainpower in this room.

We have Aus4ASEAN scholars here today, as well as Mekong Australia Partnership scholars, New Colombo Plan alumni, ASEAN-Australia Emerging Leaders' program participants and Australia Award recipients.

We've also brought people who have founded non-profits that seek to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Founders of companies deploying technology to help advance us towards our collective development goals.

Public servants dedicated to building up the ties that bind our region together.

Academics, writers, CEOs and economists.

It's people like you who do the heavy lifting when it comes to deepening relationships between Australia and Southeast Asian nations.

Because when you boil them down, relationships are all about people.

People like Anastasia Koo who is here today. She is currently pursuing her lifelong dream of obtaining a PhD in Indonesian History.

As a part of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association, she calls herself a "trilingual migrant".

Anastasia – I enjoyed hearing your favourite word in the ACICIS language competition.

Her favourite word "Gubrak" means "smash" in Indonesian.

I agree, it's great because it's onomatopoeic, like many words in Indonesian.

We need more people like you, who are investing in learning the language and skills needed to deepen our relationship with the region we live in.

We are also lucky to have Audra Morrice here today, too.

Audra – I might need to get your autograph later!

For the uninitiated, Audra was a finalist in MasterChef Australia in 2012.

She then went on to co-host and judge MasterChef Asia and is also now an Ambassador with the Singapore Tourism Board, in addition to being on the board of the Australia-ASEAN Council.

She runs a private dining business in both Sydney and Singapore, and hosts events across the whole of Southeast Asia.

Like many multitalented people in the room today, it doesn't end there: before all this she was in the telecommunications sector for 20 years!

She's another incredible example of how the people-to-people links between Australia and our region are driving economic growth.

There are so many more incredible emerging leaders in the room here today.

Thanks to everyone for being part of this program – whether you came from Cambodia or Coburg; Timor-Leste, or Toowoomba.

I hope your time here has been full of discussions and debates, new friendships and lifelong connections.

And I hope you know that each and every one of you is now a part of the ASEAN-Australia partnership, now, and into the future.

There is a lot to do.

So, I will leave you with the word I submitted to the ACICIS language competition: Semangat!

It basically means "spirit", or "go for it".

Which is what I urge you all to do.

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