Report Launch: Comprehensive Strategic Partners: ASEAN and Australia after the first 50 years

  • Speech, check against delivery

I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

Ambassadors and High Commissioners, distinguished guests

It was that great visionary of Australian politics, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who said in 1974 that of all the arrangements in our region,

"ASEAN is unquestionably the most important, the most relevant, the most natural".

It was this vision that saw Australia take steps to become ASEAN's first official Dialogue Partner in 1974.

Whitlam saw then what the Albanese Government sees today – that Australia and ASEAN share a region and share a future.

That when ASEAN succeeds, Australia succeeds.

That it is in the interests of ASEAN and Australia to work in partnership on our shared challenges.

The report that we're here to launch today - Comprehensive Strategic Partners: ASEAN and Australia after the first 50 years – provides an account of what our partnership has produced over the last half century, a measure of the current health of the relationship, and a road map for future opportunities for collaboration.

Thank you Nicholas, Lina, Sharon and Kimly, for your work.

Their report shows the history of Australia's early support for ASEAN, and how the ASEAN-Australia relationship continued to grow as the shared challenges we faced in our region evolved through regional conflicts, economic shocks and refugee crises.

Indeed, the report highlights how in this time, Australia's contribution to this partnership evolved from 'rhetorical support in the early days of ASEAN's establishment to active and intensive engagement today.'

I was pleased to see the report recognise how Australia has been prepared to "watch, learn and then engage" with ASEAN in a way that has built relationships and trust during times of wide-ranging social, economic and strategic change in the region.

This required an enduring commitment and significant investments of time and energy by political leaders and government officials in both ASEAN and Australia.

But these efforts were underpinned by an even greater growth in the way ASEAN and Australia have become enmeshed at the people-to-people level over the past 50 years.

In this time, the ASEAN-Australia relationship has been buttressed by flows of migrants, students, businesspeople, academics, and tourists.

As the report notes,

"…by 2021, over one million Australian citizens have a family connection to the ten countries of ASEAN.

There is also a significant Australian diaspora spread across ASEAN, with many Australians living and working in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia."

This matters.

As the Foreign Minister has said, Australia's foreign policy begins with our identity.

It begins with who we are.

Half of Australians are born overseas or have a parent born overseas.

This means anyone from anywhere in the world can look to Australia, and see something of themselves reflected in it.

And similarly, we can look within our own nation and find a point of connection, a point of understanding with anywhere in the world.

Nowhere is this truer than in Southeast Asia.

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

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

More than ever before the bonds of history, of family, of culture, of commerce, of the joy of tourism, and of the formative experience of an education abroad now connect Australians to our friends in Southeast Asia.

Famously, our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong is the product of these connections and the movement of people between Southeast Asia and Australia herself, having been born in Malaysia.

Visitors to the upcoming ASEAN-Australia Special Summit here in Melbourne next week will see and experience the extent of Australia's people to people connections with the region firsthand.

This second ASEAN-Australia Summit will lay the groundwork for the next 50 years of our cooperation, through the theme 'A Partnership for the Future'.

The Summit is a powerful platform to discuss our shared ambition for the sort of region we all want to see.

A stable, peaceful and prosperous region with ASEAN at its centre.

A region that reflects the vision set out in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

A region that safeguards our capacity to agree and disagree.

A region that preserves the agency of all nations in it.

A region that protects our ability to decide our own destiny.

We cannot take it as a given that our region will remain this way.

Indeed, we live in uncertain times where powerful forces are reshaping our shared region.

In this context, all nations need to contribute to shaping the way our region works.

The Special Summit provides an opportunity to explore how ASEAN and Australia can work together to shape the way our region works and to strengthen our cooperation under the ASEAN-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

In the first days of the Summit, Australia will host four thematic 'Tracks':

  • the Business Track,
  • the Climate Change and Energy Track,
  • the Maritime Cooperation Track, and
  • the Emerging Leaders' Track.

These are the tracks that Australia and ASEAN have agreed as our shared priorities for the Summit.

Each of these tracks is packed with activities and events aimed at generating new ideas on how we can further deepen cooperation.

It's going to be the biggest week Melbourne has seen in quite some time.

The Business Track is a big opportunity to deepen out trade and investment relationship.

Last year, in September, the Prime Minister launched Invested: Australia's Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040, a report for the Australian Government by Nicholas Moore, Special Envoy to Southeast Asia.

The economic relationship between ASEAN and Australia has come a long way in the last 50 years.

In 1974, Australia's top trading partners were Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Trade with our Southeast Asian neighbours was small.

In fact, it was so small that in the financial year 1974-75, Australia exported more to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics than we did to Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia.

And we imported more from Christmas Island – our own external territory – than we did from the Philippines or Thailand.

It's difficult for us to even imagine such a state of affairs today.

Indeed, two-way trade between Australia and Southeast Asia grew to around AUD 178 billion in 2022; larger than Australia's trade with the United States.

But we know that our trade and investment relationship could be so much more.

In 2022, the combined GDP of Southeast Asian economics 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.

Despite this, the scale of our trade and investment relationship doesn't match the scale of this opportunity.

That's why Prime Minister Albanese launched the Moore report at the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Forum in Jakarta last year, to deepen our economic engagement with ASEAN and to invest in our shared future prosperity.

The report sets out a practical road map for deepening Australia's two-way trade and investment in ASEAN.

The Albanese Government has already pledged $95 million to initiatives identified in the Moore report to find new ways to unlock trade and investment between Australia and Southeast Asia.

The Business Track builds on that momentum.

We're hosting a SME Conference, to assist Small and Medium-sized Enterprises looking for opportunities to take it to the next level by taking their growth to new markets.

There'll also be a CEO Business Forum, where the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Tourism, will be delivering the keynote addresses.

There'll also be the very important Climate Change and Clean Energy Track.

As you know, the shift to net zero is such an important policy for the Albanese Government.

We also know that this is a shared ambition for many nations in ASEAN too.

So the Summit will hold a Climate and Clean Energy Transition Forum.

It's an opportunity to showcase Australian innovation in clean energy technology, share the lessons learnt from our clean energy transition, as well as to learn from partners in our region.

There's also the Maritime Cooperation Track which will feature a track 1.5 Maritime Cooperation Forum.

Foreign Minister Senator Wong will deliver a keynote address together with her counterpart from The Philippines, Foreign Secretary Manalo.

The focus for this track will be practical maritime cooperation between ASEAN and Australia.

A vital agenda in the changing and challenging environment the region currently confronts.

And, finally, there's the Emerging Leaders' Track which will bring together the next generation of Southeast Asian and Australian leaders to discuss, to deliberate and to articulate a vision for our region's future.

Over the last 50 years, we've invested so much in emerging leaders in our region.

Generations of young scholars from across the region have come to Australia to develop their skills and education under the Colombo Plan and subsequent scholarship programs.

Over the last decade, thousands of young Australians have travelled to Southeast Asia to develop their skills and knowledge of the region under our New Colombo Plan.

More recently we've seen our Aus4ASEAN Scholarships and the launch of the Aus4ASEAN Futures Initiative, which is supporting ASEAN-led projects through ASEAN systems.

The Aus4ASEAN scholarships not only help Australian and Southeast Asian students deepen their knowledge and networks but as I saw firsthand at the Aus4ASEAN awards ceremony last year, these passionate students are some of our best ambassadors, building goodwill between our people each and every day.

The photo of the ceremony included in today's report gives you a flavour of the energy that was in the room that night.

Finally, on the final day of the Summit, as you'd expect, we'll have the Leaders' Summit.

I won't pre-empt the outcomes of that Summit here – that's well above my pay grade – but the future opportunities for the ASEAN – Australia partnership identified in this report offers much food for thought for the discussions between leaders.

The last fifty years have seen ASEAN and Australia travel an enormous distance together.

Our geography was a gift that gave us an opportunity to connect. An opportunity to build our relationships.

But this was not a fait accompli. The relationship we have now took constant work, listening, and understanding.

Now, our interests are intrinsically linked.

Over the last 50 years we capitalised on the gift of our geography. Over the next 50, we will have to work even harder to build and maintain the region we want to see.

Media enquiries

  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555