The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
 FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

E and OE

18 April 2007

Launch 2007 APEC Educational Resource

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, thanks very much, Thuy, for that introduction. Wow, what a great speech she made too. What a star. I'll be talking to Thuy a bit later about possible future career opportunities. She is the New South Wales ambassador to the National Youth Roundtable, as she said, early in her speech.

And let me also acknowledge the members of the Consular Corps Excellencies. It's good to have all of you here and other ladies and gentlemen who are with us.

Well, it's a great pleasure for me to be part of this ceremony today in launching APEC Strengthening our Community, Building a Sustainable Future and providing this educational resource which I think Thuy has covered it all.

It's going to be a great way of projecting to around 3,000 secondary schools, information about APEC because as this year wears on, more and more media coverage of APEC and a greater and greater public interest will develop in APEC. And for young Australians having this resource available to them, will give them the opportunity to be aware of what precisely is happening.

As I suppose a short term consideration, the medium term consideration is as a country located in the heart of the Asia Pacific region, and for whom so much of, if not all - certainly not all of, but so much of our diplomacy is Asia Pacific related diplomacy, it's important that our young people are educated in the history, in the cultures, and in the current realities of the Asia Pacific region and in the institutions that make up the Asia Pacific region and Australia's involvement in those.

I want Australians, young Australians - and I have four young Australians of my own - I want young Australians to grow up with an internationalist outlook, and I mean that. I don't want them to be parochial and introverted and narrow-minded. One of the motivating forces for me setting up the Youth Ambassadors for Development Program, which Thuy referred to, was that I wanted to get a whole new generation of young Australians out into the outside world and understand it and come back home, not only with a different appreciation of Australian itself, but with a greater enthusiasm for the cultures that surround us.

I want young Australians not just to be educated in Asia or Asia in the Pacific but in the world. I want them to be citizens first and foremost of Australia, but secondary, very much citizens of the world and to understand the world and how it works.

I often say this, you know, globalisation for a lot of people is a dirty word. For others it's a great thing but regardless of whether you think it's a good thing or it's a bad thing, it's here to stay. To say you're opposed to globalisation is rather like saying you're opposed to the sun rising in the east. That's fine, it's a free world. You can make the argument for the sun rising in the north, only if any of you do think that's a good argument, let me assure you it will never work.

And it's the same with anti-globalisation. Yes, you can be opposed to globalisation but the nature of communications, technology, transport technology and so on is that it is there to stay. And for us as a country we need to make it work for us. If you don't like it, nevertheless, we need to make the best of it. And I do like it and so for me, I enjoy making the best of it and we have many natural advantages. We have a cultural diversity that Thuy referred to when she talked of her Vietnamese heritage that gives us an enormous opportunity that other countries simply don't enjoy.

We have linkages into countries around Asia, through to Europe, North America, even into Africa and South America that very few countries have, of a very private and a very emotional kind. That is a tremendous advantage for a country in the era of globalisation, that we can say that we have Australians of Vietnamese origin, Australians of Chilean origin, Australians of British origin, Australians of Somalian origin. We have them all and this gives us a great advantage in the globalised world and we should make the most of it.

Now, I mention all of that because I think APEC is the most important of all of the Asia Pacific institutions. We participate in a number of them - the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN post-ministerial conferences. We are a founder member of the East Asia Summit which has now had its first two meetings over the last two years. There are lesser organisations, like the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation and so on that we participate in.

But, in my view, the great advantage of APEC is that, as Thuy was - I think Thuy was saying. No, it might have been Steve actually was saying - one of them was saying, it takes in 56 per cent of the world's GDP and about 45 per cent of the world's population. There's some discussion about whether, in time, India may become a member of APEC. I'm certainly not getting into that today but obviously that would change those figures even more dramatically.

So APEC has a breadth and an inclusiveness as an institution which some of our other regional institutions don't have. And that means in the age of globalisation it has great opportunities. Now APEC first met in 1989 in Canberra so 18 years later it's going to have its summit meeting here in Sydney. And I think that's very exciting for us as Australians.

I know that people whose primary interest in life is traffic will be unhappy with some traffic congestion in the central part of Sydney here. But if we can just get over that a little bit and think about the broader meaning of this, it's going to be a wonderful thing for Australia to host APEC.

We will want the APEC meeting to be not just a kind of celebration of us all - all the 21 economies getting together but we want it to be a meeting of real substance. Now first of all, it needs to keep taking forward the core economic agenda that makes up APEC - trade liberalisation, trade facilitation, economic liberalisation, economic facilitation.

I often say this - there was never a country that opened itself up to free trade and to economic liberalism, that became poor. There are plenty of countries that have closed themselves off from the rest of the world which have become very poor or have never opened up and have remained poor. And trade liberalisation and, more broadly, economic liberalisation is very much at the heart of what APEC is about.

Secondly, APEC has usefully linked some of the other current issues the region and the world has to address, like counter-terrorism, pandemics, avian flu, HIV AIDS and so on - has linked those to its core economic agenda and made the point that it should be talking about those issues and taking forward those agendas because they - I mean we, of course, in our hearts all think that they are important in and of themselves.

And there are moral reasons why we should deal with those issues - humanitarian reasons why we should deal with them. There are also very good economic reasons why we should deal with them and that is the link into APEC.

Finally, I think this year's APEC will focus very much on an issue that is on the - which is in the forefront of most people's minds and that is the issue of climate change. Let me just take this opportunity of saying that we are going to place a great deal of emphasis on climate change at this year's APEC meeting.

Now you have a diversity of countries in APEC, which have a diversity of views about the issue of climate change. Five of the six countries that make up the, what's called AP6 - the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Energy and Climate - are members of APEC. India is also a member of AP6. I've made my comments about India already.

So they are countries that are committed to investing in and transferring technologies, which will reduce CO2 emissions and clean up our environment. Of course, that's a medium to long-term project. I think, secondly, the energy agenda which has for a long time been a very important component of APEC will increasingly be an agenda not just about the supply of energy, access to energy and liberal and open energy markets within the APEC economies and it should be partially about that but it's going also to be partially about clean energy - access to clean energy, looking for ways of facilitating the transfer of clean energy technology, be it clean coal technology or other types of technology. So I think that's going to be an important part of it.

The third thing I'd say is that I think there will be a focus on the issue of deforestation and reforestation. I've made the point, with Malcolm Turnbull and the Prime Minister recently, that the second largest contributor to CO2 emissions is the destruction of forests and, as an international community, we need to address that.

Now, in some countries it is being addressed. I was in China the week before last and I was sitting with China's Vice President, talking about this issue. And he made the point to me that China has the best record of any country on earth, in terms of reforestation. There's no country that plants more trees because they have a lot of people to plant the trees. But there's no country that plants more trees than China and they have a conscious and enthusiastic policy of reforestation.

And I was impressed to hear that because of the - you know, not only the impact that reforestation has on soil and water management but also importantly the impact it has on CO2 absorption. And we have our own initiative, our $200 million initiative, over the next five years to contribute to reforestation in the Asia - predominately in the Asia Pacific region.

And I think APEC economies - thinking about countries like China on the one hand with its own very big reforestation program. Indonesia, which has massive challenges, in terms of dealing with forestry questions and a country which we're starting to work with much more closely on those issues. Countries like the United States and Japan - developed countries with a large number of resources which can help with this, I think reforestation and countering deforestation - I think that's going to be an important component of what APEC is about this year.

So we very much look forward to hosting APEC and, in that context, discussing so many of the great issues that the region has to deal with. This resource will not only help young Australians understand some of the things that I've spoken about better than they might already, but as I said earlier, it will help to bring alive to them the issues of Asia, the issues of the Pacific, of the Asia Pacific region, to educate them, inform them and excite them about our own region of the world.

And my view is it's very important that young people have an ever-growing knowledge of those issues. I was talking with some people last night at a function and we were reflecting on some point of Chinese history, I won't go into, but we were reflecting on that. And one of them turned to me and said 'Well, you know, when I was at school' - and he's a man in his 60s, I suppose, late 60s - 'I really - my education, when it came to history, focused on the kings and queens of England.'

And I remembered that - I could recall myself the dates of William the Conqueror, the date that he was on the British throne, 1066 to 1087. And I thought well that's an amazing thing for an Australian, that I would know so much about William the Conqueror but how much do we know about the history of our region and the leaders of our own region and the cultures of our own region?

As a country which is culturally diverse, then we need to understand that a good deal more than we currently do. Just looking at Thuy and thinking of her Vietnamese heritage and her name Thuy van Nguyen. Why are so many Vietnamese called Nguyen? Well, it was the name of the royal family in generations past and so there are sort of historic things that I think we need to get a bit more on top of, than perhaps historically we always have been.

In conclusion, I just want to acknowledge the collaboration of the Curriculum Corporation and the Asia Education Foundation, in the preparation of these materials. We couldn't have asked for two more appropriate organisations to be involved with this. Curriculum Corporation's expertise in the development of high quality education resources is second to none. The team of Gabrielle England, writer Robert Baker and project manager, Jane Weston - and they're with us today, I gather - has ensured that this resource has a sound pedagogy and easy accessibility for young Australians.

The AEF, which is part of that impressive institution Asialink, at Melbourne University, has been at the forefront of teaching Australian school children about Asia over quite some years now and it's continuing to produce some remarkable materials.

Finally, let me go back exactly to where I began and thank Thuy for her introduction, for her speech and for her support. I think she did a great job and with those few words, I've enjoyed very much participating in the launch of APEC's Strengthening our Community, Building a Sustainable Future. Thank you.

[Ends]