Asia Society Generation Asia Speech

  • Speech

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the  Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here tonight.

And I reaffirm the Australian Government's commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

I also acknowledge

  • Uncle Thane Garvey, Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Cooperation
  • Stuart Fuller, Global Head of Legal Services, KPMG, and Chairman, Asia Society Australia
  • Anthony Bubalo, Asia Society's Chief Executive Officer

It's a great pleasure to be with you here today for this Asia Society Generation Asia Young Leaders Forum.

The young leaders in this room confront challenges greater than any past generation of Australians since at least the Second World War.

Climate change, economic disruption and intensifying strategic competition are reshaping our region in ways that have enormous consequences for our nation. 

Australia cannot afford to be a mere spectator to these dynamics.

If we want our region to be peaceful, prosperous and secure..

if we want our region to operate according to agreed rules, norms and international law...

if we want our region to be a place where no country dominates and no country is dominated…

we need to draw on all sources of our national power to exert influence over the way the nations in our region respond to these dynamics of change.

Many of the sources of Australia's national power, the tools of our statecraft, are well known - our diplomatic network, our armed forces, our development assistance programs and our economic capabilities.

The Albanese government is making investments in these sources of national power across the board.

But the Albanese government also knows that our modern national identity - who we are as a people - is an additional source of influence that needs to be leveraged in this task.

And young Australians - particularly the Gen A leaders participating in this forum - are a crucial part of this.  

In the Albanese Government we say that our foreign policy begins with who we are, it begins with our identity.

More than half of our population was born overseas, or has a parent born overseas.

Australia is home to more than 300 ancestries, and the oldest continuing civilisation on earth.

We say that this diversity connects us with every part of the world.

That any one from anywhere in the world can look to Australia, and see part of themselves reflected.

And similarly, that we can look within ourselves as Australians and find a point of connection, a source of understanding, with anyone, anywhere in the world.

We say that this connection is a vital source of national influence and that projecting this modern national identity ought to be a priority of our foreign policy. 

We are particularly connected with our own region.

There are over one million people who were born in Southeast Asia living in Australia.

There are nearly 1.4 million people who identify as having Chinese ancestry. And over 670,000 people in Australia who were born in India.

1.2 million people say they speak a South Asian language at home, and another 1.2 million an East or North Asian language.

Over 827,000 say they speak a Southeast Asian language at home.

All Australians with latent understanding of and connection to our region. 

Importantly, this aspect of our national identity skews young.

The median age of migrant arrivals to Australia in 2021-22 was 27, substantially lower than the nationwide median of 38.5.

And it's a good thing too, because in our region, young people matter.

60 per cent of the world's youth live in our own region.

Consider that the median age in India is just over 28. One million Indians reach 18 years of age every month.

In Indonesia, 110 million people – or 40 per cent of the population – is aged under 24. 

Half of the Pacific region's population is aged under 23.

The fate of this generation will be the fate of our region.

This is the generation that will determine how those major dynamics of change I discussed earlier will unfold in our region.

So building young Australians understanding of our region and connections to the young people of the region matters to Australia's influence.

What you are doing here today, matters.

We agree with the Generation Asia “Championing our Talent” report when it advocates for broader definitions of Asia literacy – which incorporates the diversity of young people, and better reflects the diversity of multicultural Australia.

We agree that we need to incorporate the “diversity of young Australians… along with their diverse Asia-related lived experiences and aspirations.”

We agree that we must “increase efforts to not only understand the diversity but also find ways to develop, share and champion this asset.”

We've seen the benefits of harnessing our diversity in our engagement with the world first-hand in the current Federal Parliament.

In the last Federal election, we saw unprecedented diversity elected as Members of Parliament and Senators.

MPs of Afghan, Tamil, Sinhalese, Chinese-Malaysian, Chinese-Laotian, Vietnamese and Kenyan-Goan heritage.

Senator Fatima Payman, for example, became the Australian Parliament's first hijab-wearing Muslim woman.

Elected at just 27, she is also the youngest member of this Parliament.


Her father was forced to flee Afghanistan to seek asylum in Australia.

But now, his daughter as Senator has gone on to represent Australia on the international stage - at the International Conference on Afghan Women's Education in Indonesia. 

The Member for Swan, Zaneta Mascarenhas, has another iconic Australian story.

Her parents, Goan-Indians from Kenya, migrated to Kalgoorlie, where their daughter became a mining engineer, and now, a Member of Parliament.  

Zaneta, likewise, has represented Australia – as the guest of honour at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Youth Convention in Indore, India.

Or Sam Lim, who gave his powerful first speech in four languages – English, Mandarin, Hokkien and Malay.

Sam was born in Malaysia, where he lived and worked before coming to Australia and becoming the 2020 WA police officer of the year, and now a Member of Parliament.

Since being elected as an MP, he has already represented Australia in Malaysia – addressing the Sungai Long campus of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in December last year.   


Examples like this show that our institutions are becoming more representative of modern Australia.

There's plenty more recommendations in the Generation Asia reports being discussed at today's forum.  

Indeed, “Championing our Talent” makes a series of recommendations about promoting greater engagement between young people in Australia and our region, which the Albanese Government is already progressing.

Like the recommendation for international students from across our region to have increased employment opportunities in Australia post-graduation.

We're putting that idea into practice.

In May, Prime Ministers Albanese and Modi announced the finalisation of the Australia - India Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement.

This will promote the two-way mobility of students, graduates, academic researchers and business-people between our countries.

It includes the Mobility Arrangement for Talented Early-Professionals Scheme - the MATES pilot - allowing 3000 top Indian graduates and early career professionals in STEM fields to work in Australia for up to two years without an employer sponsor.

Other reforms include allowing Indian graduates from Australian tertiary institutions to both apply for work and pursue professional development for up to eight years, without visa sponsorship.

The agreement goes both ways. Australians who want to conduct academic research in India can now apply for a visa for the duration of their project.

The agreement also increases visa validity from up to three years to up to five years for new business visas, to support enhanced business ties between our two countries.

We're deepening our people-to-people relationship with Indonesia, too.  

Just last month, President Widodo joined Prime Minister Albanese to discuss many of our shared interests.

Interests like safeguarding the international rules-based order, the importance of the multilateral trading system, and emissions reduction.

They also highlighted the role of people-to-people links in driving economic integration.

As a commitment to this, Prime Minister Albanese announced new visas for Indonesia, in support of expanding business and commercial links between our countries.

This includes immediate extended visa validity for business travellers.

On top of this, Prime Minister Albanese advised that Indonesians will have access to the Frequent Traveller Stream visa, which provides for a 10 year visa validity.

We also agree with the Generation Asia report “Keeping Connected”, which highlights the role of international education when engaging with young people across Asia.

We recognise that international education and international students are a personal connector for youth engagement between Australia and Asia.

This month, Prime Minister Albanese and President Widodo announced that Western Sydney University, Deakin University, and Central Queensland University would all open campuses in Indonesia.

And in a world-first, Deakin University will open an international teaching campus in Gujarat – becoming the first foreign university approved to open a campus in India.

These are tangible steps we're taking to deepen our relationships and people flows in our region.   

We're also investing in new ways for young Australians to develop their Asia capabilities in region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded 'Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies', provides an opportunity for Australians to study in Indonesia.

In this year alone, there are 787 mobility grants available to Australian students to undertake studies in Indonesia on ACICIS programs.

This model is so successful at providing language training, that we plan to pilot the program in Vietnam – to enhance Australian student mobility, language and cultural literacy.

In this year's budget, we have also committed $48.9 million to the New Colombo Plan, to ensure we can continue to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.

It's all about supporting more opportunities for young people in Australia and across the region to engage, to get to know each other and to build long term relationships of mutual understanding.

Like you, I've tried to model this engagement as a young leader.

In 2018 I was a participant in the Asia Society's Asia21 Young Leaders Summit, meeting that year in Manila, a fantastic way to build a network with young leaders from right across the region.

I've also taken every opportunity to participate in youth led bilateral engagement forums like the Australia-China Youth Dialogue, the Australia-India Youth Dialogue and the Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth.

Turning up, engaging, and building a network over the long term is crucial for our foreign policy.

All things being equal, young leaders have a habit of becoming older leaders too.

Three former participants in the Australia-India Youth Dialogue are now Ministers in the Albanese government, and Harsh Sanghavi, a fellow participant in the AIYD during my cohort has now gone on to become a Minister of State in the Government of Gujarat.

Early investments can pay long term dividends.

The friendships and insights I gained from these experiences have been invaluable throughout my career – not least in my current role in foreign affairs.


Forums like this and the Gen A network more broadly are a reminder of how far we have come as a nation.

It's sobering to reflect that The Asia Society was founded in Australia in the wake of the 1996 federal election and the arrival of Pauline Hanson and her abhorrent first speech in the national consciousness.

Institutions like the Asia Society played an important role in resisting the forces of revanchism in this period that were seeking to take Australia back to the mistakes of our past.

The late Richard Woolcott in particular, used his position as founding director of Asia Society in Australia to respond to those arguing that Australia needed to retreat into itself, seeking to revive a misguided past of Australian insularity.

Thanks to the efforts of people like Richard and institutions like the Asia Society, Gen A Young Leaders inherit a nation that is more comfortable about who we are as Australians and more confident about our place in our region.

Unlike the late 1990s, the question today isn't who we are and whether we engage with the region, The question today is how we do so.

Forums like this and networks like Gen A will play a vital role in answering this question.

Thank you for being a part of it.

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