Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd says we must spread the word of recovery

Articles and op-ed

Published in: The Courier-Mail

10 March 2011

A couple of days ago I was in Tarin Kowt, the capital of Uruzgan in south-central Afghanistan.

I knew the impact of the Queensland floods had hit those overseas when the governor of Uruzgan, one of the poorest of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, began by asking me how the flood recovery was going back home.

And this from a man who is trying to build up a province from virtually nothing in the middle of a country still torn by war.

That says something of how natural disasters which have recently afflicted Queensland have penetrated deeply into the global psyche.

I get it from world leaders whichever country I go to, from the poorest countries in Africa through to the President of Switzerland.

And, appropriately, these are always matched with expressions of sympathy, solidarity and support for all Queenslanders because the world has seen the devastation.

The downside to all this is that I'm worried it has led to some doubts as to whether the Queensland economy is still functioning properly.

And because the Queensland economy is 20 per cent of the national economy, there is a national interest in setting this to rights.

My message to the world, constantly, is Queensland is well and truly open for business. But I believe we need to do more to show the world that this is the case and beyond that to demonstrate again to the international economy that Queensland, Australia, is an economy of the present and the future.

The spirit of optimism we Queenslanders share is not just based on idle sentiment, it is based on our own confidence in our state's future and the economic pillars which will continue to propel our economy into the future as well.

Which, as we all know, is why tens of thousands of our fellow Australians make their way to Queensland each year to carve out new futures for their families - all helping to carve out our state's future as well.

So what can be done? Both Trade Minister Craig Emerson a fellow Queenslander and myself, as Foreign Minister, have been giving some thought to this how do we play our part in building the global Smart State of the future?

First, I have decided that in the next three months I will invite all the foreign ambassadors accredited to Australia nearly 100 of them to Queensland for three working days.

I will bring them to Brisbane and to Cairns and I will be inviting the relevant local and regional councils in natural disaster-affected areas to come and make presentations to these representatives of the international community on where the new economic development opportunities lie in their part of our state.

The mission here is to demonstrate that Queensland is well and truly back in business and there are enormous investment and export opportunities.

Second, how do we help take Queensland, the global Smart State, to the world?

Queensland has its own trade and investment offices in many parts of the world, but together with Dr Emerson, we at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade want to team with the Queensland Government to lead several trade and investment missions to key economies in our wider region.

One possibility is a mission to Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou in China a broad-based mission covering agribusiness, construction and design, education and health services, biotechnology and information technology and renewable energy. Other sectors may wish to join.

Another possibility is to do the same with the Gulf States Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman which represent emerging markets.

For these missions to work, they need to be well organised, well planned in advance and conducted in close collaboration with the Queensland Government, the peak industry bodies, and local government.

But once again, the key theme is taking Queensland, the global smart state, out to the world, and to demonstrate once again that we are open for business.

The third thing is to help bring the international economy to Queensland, to let them see for themselves that we are firing on all cylinders.

I write this from Abu Dhabi, where I have just secured agreement from all six Gulf State foreign ministers that they will send a high-level trade and investment mission to Queensland by the end of 2011.

Also, as Foreign Minister, I will do my best to bring high-level policy meetings with governments from around the world that would normally be held in Canberra and instead host them in Brisbane or major Queensland regional centres.

This will take time, and sometimes the dates shift around. But I will be doing my best.

Fourth, Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson has been working hard to focus a new international tourism campaign on Queensland and I will be working with him to try to lift the number of Chinese tourists coming to Australia for the first time.

Mr Ferguson is organising the first China-Australia Tourism Summit to be held in Cairns later this year.

Chinese visitors represent the next wave of tourists, following those who came from Japan in the 1980s and 1990s.

Once again I believe such a campaign could be very effective in the Gulf States where the appeal of Queensland's beaches and our lifestyle encourages those from the Arab world to take extended family holidays in Queensland.

Fifth, Dr Emerson has decided to waive fees for some Austrade services for Queensland companies to help our local exporters who have been doing it tough.

Sixth, Perth will be hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October.

We will be encouraging as many of the 54 foreign heads of government as possible to also visit Queensland while they are in Australia.

We will also be using CHOGM to support the Gold Coast bid for the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Finally, for the longer term, I believe it would be useful to have Queensland host an annual signature conference on the global foreign policy and economic agenda.

Again, this would be subject to the involvement of local institutions and businesses of Queensland.

But one idea I have been working on is whether we, with the State Government and other sponsors, inaugurate what might become the annual "global China dialogue", to be held on either the Sunshine Coast or Gold Coast each summer.

The idea would be to bring together the best and brightest in the fields of China's foreign policy, strategic policy, economic direction, business environment, and cultural, educational, scientific and environmental challenges.

Such a major event could draw on the expertise of the Australian Centre on China in the World based at the Australian National University.

If given the chance, I think our colleagues from around the world would prefer to attend such a conference on the beaches of Queensland rather than the nation's capital.

While this may sound ambitious, other countries have embarked on similar such signature dialogues each year, and they become, over time, part of the global policy calendar. So why not Queensland?

So here are a number of proposals from the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio that I would like the Queensland community's feedback on over the course of the next month or so before we convert this into a practical body of work.

I am proud of being a Queenslander. As Premier Anna Bligh reminded us during the floods, we are made of tough stuff, and now we have the opportunity to seize the future with both hands, and turn Queensland into the global Smart State.

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