20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
To Arthur Au, Premier, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, my parliamentary colleagues from Canberra - Chris Bowen the Shadow Treasurer, David Coleman the Member for Banks and Trent Zimmerman the Member for North Sydney - Philip Ruddock our Special Envoy for Human Rights for the Australian Government, dignitaries, one and all.
What a delight it is to be back in the world's greatest harbour city, rivalled perhaps only by Hong Kong as one of the world's great harbour cities. We all have such fond memories of the bustling marine environment in Hong Kong with the ferries and the cruise ships and commercial and private vessels. It is rather reminiscent of Sydney.
Tonight we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.
Hong Kong has long been a vibrant and bustling hub - from fishing and pearling to trade and finance. It is today a truly global city and a global financial centre.
The handover to China of Hong Kong 20 years ago was a milestone event and the agreement between the United Kingdom and China put in train a process whereby the pragmatic formulation of 'one country, two systems' has seen benefits to China, to Hong Kong, to the wider region, and of course with Hong Kong maintaining a high level of autonomy.
Hong Kong's ongoing success is important to Australia and to our region and globally and Australia indeed, has a significant stake in its success. It's been mentioned that there are 100,000 Australians living in Hong Kong - it's in fact one of our largest expat communities anywhere in the world.
Australians feel confident about doing business in Hong Kong. We are familiar with the rule of law, the legal system, we appreciate the freedom of expression and speech, the level of transparency, the independence of the judiciary – and I acknowledge the presence here of Justice William Gummow one of four Australian judges sitting on the Hong Kong Court of Appeal – and of course there are very strong anti-corruption institutions in Hong Kong. There is a considerable level of business engagement between Australia and Hong Kong.
I welcome Carrie Lam as the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong and she's the first woman to hold the role and we have a very exciting agenda to pursue with Carrie Lam as Chief Executive - in trade, investment and tourism, education, the digital economy and the like.
Foremost among our priorities, of course, is the successful negotiation with the free trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong. Negotiations commenced in May.
Hong Kong is our 12th largest trading partner, our fifth largest source of foreign direct investment and it's a natural advancement of our relationship that we should enter into a free trade agreement, given our mutual commitment to the open liberal trading system. I believe that the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement will be a perfect complement for the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
Of course though our economic engagement has been deep and continuing, the people-to-people links have been profound. Mention has been made of the 100,000 Australians living in Hong Kong and the 96,000 people from Hong Kong living here in Australia. It's also been estimated that 120,000 students from Hong Kong have gained qualifications from Australian universities.
In 2015 the Australian Government set up a reverse Colombo Plan, that is, a new Colombo Plan whereby Australian undergraduates could gain an opportunity to live and study and undertake an internship in one of 40 countries in our region.
It began as a pilot program in 2014 and it included Hong Kong as a destination. By the end of this year over 600 Australian students would have lived, studied and taken practicums or work experience in Hong Kong.
The Australian Government also has a partnership with the CK Group under which about 2600 students have received scholarships or research grants to study in the region. This kind of connection is profound.
I also want to pay tribute to the Australia-China Council ably chaired by Warwick Smith and thank you Warwick for the work that you have done to deepen the connections between Australia and China. I particularly make note of the fact that last year the Australia-China Council supported the Australia-China Youth Dialogue which met in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
I will always remember my first visit to Hong Kong. It was way back in the late 1970s and I was a student at university and my sister was also a university student - we set off on a trip overseas - very much on a student's budget.
So after going through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, we ended up in Hong Kong and we were utterly enchanted by this exciting city. So we decided we would have a big night out on our last evening overseas. So we pooled our Thomas Cook travellers cheques – that's how long ago it was - and we booked into the Peninsula Hotel for dinner. I can't even begin to imagine what the maÃ®tre d' thought when he saw two young Australian uni students in batik sun frocks and sandals sitting down for dinner at Gaddi's - in one of the finest dining rooms in the world.
I remember the evening very well and I can confirm we were treated like royalty and on every occasion I've been back to Hong Kong the welcome has always been warm and it's always been an amazing experience.
Long may the global city of Hong Kong prosper, long may one country, two systems endure, for surely the success of Hong Kong is a success for us all.