Australia China Business Council - 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner

  • Speech, check against delivery
Hyatt Hotel, Canberra

I start by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and also acknowledge any other people or families with connection to the ACT and region.

I pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I acknowledge any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people here today.

And I acknowledge the distinguished guests in the room today:

  • Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell
  • Chinese Ambassador HE Xiao Qian
  • ACBC National President David Olsson
  • Australia China Business Council’s National Executive Officer, Alison Airey 
  • Business Council of Australia Chairman The Hon Warwick Smith
  • Austrade CEO Xavier Simonet
  • HOP-designate Hong Kong Gareth Williams
  • Leader of the Opposition The Hon Peter Dutton
  • Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister The Hon Simon Birmingham

I’m pleased to be here today in such illustrious company.

Congratulations, firstly, to the Australia China Business Council on fifty years of excellent work.

And thank you for having me here.

Thanks Alison and David for your reflections, and Richard, for your kind welcome.

Like all of you, I was relieved - and a bit emotional - at the news that Cheng Lei had returned home to her family in Australia after more than three years apart.

Her safe return was something that the Foreign Minister, and all of the Parliament, had been advocating for since she was first detained in 2020.

This absolutely heart-warming result was supported by the long term, patient work of many.

I take this moment to acknowledge the persistent work of our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, our Ambassador Graham Fletcher and his team in Beijing, and of course our Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

The trajectory of the relationship between Australia and China in the last half century has been extraordinary.

We know that our relationship is built on the solid ground established by Gough Whitlam, who opened the doors to our diplomatic relationship.

We know about the staggering amount of trade our countries do together – last year, our sales to China reached 299 billion dollars.

And we know about the persistent and patient work of the Australia China Business Council over the last fifty years…

…Which has built up and strengthened the links between businesses and people in China and Australia…

…As well as built up our understanding of each other.

My electorate in Melbourne’s West is home to one of the most diverse communities in Australia.

Two thirds of my constituents were either born overseas, or have at least one parent born overseas.

Wyndham in my electorate is a hugely diverse area, and the suburb of Point Cook is a great case study.

Point Cook sits on Port Phillip Bay, on the traditional lands of the Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation.

Today, Point Cook is the most multicultural suburb in Australia.

14.3 per cent of residents have Chinese ancestry – that’s more than double the state average.

And in this suburb, small community-led organisations play a role in linking us directly to China – through promoting cultural, sport, and business links with China.

They are demonstrating what we know: that the diversity of Australia connects us to the world.

We have to acknowledge the role of people, including Australians of Chinese heritage, who consistently drive the business links between our countries.

It’s personal connections: the businesses, the community organisations, the students and the researchers…

… that are the foundation of this relationship.

For more than 200 years, Chinese Australians have contributed to Australian life, making us a better and stronger nation.

That’s why engaging and showcasing Australia’s diverse Chinese communities is a priority for the National Foundation for Australia- China Relations.

The Foundation is an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, promoting efforts to connect with, and more effectively engage with China.

It currently has 130 grants out, totaling around 20 million dollars.

One of those grants is for the ACBC’s Green Channel project, which facilitates Australia-China business collaboration on climate change, including for electric vehicles and batteries.

Climate change work is a priority for this government.

Australia is committed to ambitious and practical action on climate change.

We’re taking significant steps at home, in our region, and at the global level.

To do this, we remain open to engagement with China.

Tomorrow’s ACBC networking day will be an important part of that process.

We all know that Australia and China have had our ups and downs in the last few years.

And the Australian Government believes it is in the interests of both Australia and China to continue on the path of stabilising and developing the relationship.

We’ll maintain our calm and consistent approach.

As you know, that approach is to cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in the national interest.

We’ve seen some very positive developments in our trade relationship, supported by that measured approach.

Of course, many Australian businesses were successfully able to diversify their markets when trade with China faced impediments.

Australian businesses understand overreliance on any single market comes with risk. Diversification and exploring new markets continues to be central to the Albanese government’s trade policy.

However, through persistent engagement, we have seen the value of trade impediments fall from about 20 billion dollars to about 2 billion dollars in the past twelve months.

We hope for more progress on this front.

Of course, other positive developments include the safe return of Cheng Lei to her home in Melbourne, after three years of detention in China.

And we want to work with China on our shared interests, like addressing climate change and growing our trade relationship…

…While also working to manage our differences.

That includes engaging on ways to resolve outstanding trade impediments.

At the same time, we’ll continue to speak out as necessary on the issues that matter to Australians, including the detention of Australian citizens and human rights.

We’re always going to be better off when can we talk to each other, calmly and directly.

During his time as chair of DFAT’s Australia-China Council in 1986, Gough Whitlam wrote:

“A world where China becomes Asia’s next economic giant would be a world vastly different from anything in Australia’s historical experience.

The challenges faced by Australia in preparing for such a world should not be underestimated.”

The challenges of the last few years – and the way the Government and business are addressing them – have proved him correct.

China has, as Gough foresaw, become an “economic giant”.

And while we have shared interests with China, we also have big differences to manage.

After 50 years of engagement, Australian business certainly is clear on the challenges of managing these differences, and the benefits of when things go well.

You’ve experienced the highs and the lows.

In this context, I want to acknowledge the outstanding job Australian businesses have done in navigating the challenges of recent years.

I’m looking forward to hearing your stories from this past twelve months – a year in which China’s borders re-opened to business travel.

And of course, I want to congratulate the ACBC again for an excellent fifty years.

I’m sure there will be many thought-provoking discussions today and tomorrow around the very topical theme – ‘Net Zero Transition; Innovation; and the Digital Economy’.

Thanks to everyone here today for the part you’ve played in our relationship – up until now, and well into the future.

Thank you.

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