Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce Breakfast

  • Speech, check against delivery
24 February 2017

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, friends of Ireland, friends of Australia, and I acknowledge our Ambassador to Ireland, Ambassador Andrews, and Ambassador to Australia from Ireland Ó Caollai.

Thank you, Peter, for this invitation to address the Ireland Australia Chamber of Commerce, and congratulations on your success achieved to date in enhancing bilateral relations between Ireland and Australia. Helen, thank you to Matheson for hosting the breakfast this morning. Having spent 20 years as a lawyer and after having an epiphany, which seemed like a very good idea at the time, I decided to go into federal politics. I'm very comfortable in a room full of lawyers, and I've noted that there are one or two or ten here today.

This morning, I began with an early morning run around this fair city, with a very fit member of the Irish Gardaí, and I was able to pick up the vibe of the city – people cycling to work, in gyms, in coffee shops. There's a dynamism, a vitality about Dublin, of a city that has embraced technology, that is outward looking, that is contemporary in its views and perspectives. I agree wholeheartedly that there should be greater engagement between Australia and Ireland.

I spent the last week as Peter indicated, on the road, and I met with my counterpart in the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson in Washington, and other members of the Trump Administration. I've been to London and met with Secretary Boris Johnson and Secretary David Davis, responsible for Britain exiting the EU.

I'm now here in Dublin before I return to Australia to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the first sitting Israeli Prime Minister to ever visit Australia, and also President Widodo, the Indonesian Head of State who will be visiting Australia next week.

In all those discussions I've had to date, and those that are coming, I think it's fair to say that we are in very uncertain and challenging times. There have been a whole sequence of events in recent times that have added to this sense of unease and anxiety. Brexit for example has far-reaching implications that have been felt far beyond Europe. The inauguration of President Trump who has brought his unique style to the White House; the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, in Iraq, Libya and Yemen; the civil wars in Ukraine, Sudan, and elsewhere.

In our part of the world, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, when the belligerent North Korean regime lobbed another ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan – it's sobering to think that they have the capability to add a single nuclear warhead to those missiles. The tensions in the South China Sea, as China asserts a much more aggressive foreign policy with the rise of its economic clout. The rise of nationalism and protectionism that we are seeing around the world, and of course the disruption that comes from technology and the advances of automation and innovation, all leads to an uncertain world.

Australia and Ireland are two optimistic countries. We are open, liberal democracies committed to the rule of law and freedoms. We are open export-oriented market economies. We have benefited from a rules-based international order. As many challenges as there are, I think our two countries should see the opportunities.

I wanted today to tell you a little more about Australia, even though there are many in the room who know the country exceedingly well. Australia is entering its 26th consecutive year of economic growth. That is unmatched by any comparable economy. We are a G20 country, 13th largest economy in the world although we are 57th in terms of population. We are by one measure the 3rd wealthiest nation on earth – wealth per adult.

When I'm with some of my counterparts in some of the great and powerful alliances and partnerships that we have, I like to boast that Australia is a superpower – a lifestyle superpower. Three of our six capital cities are consistently rated amongst the top ten liveable cities in the world – Perth, Sydney, Melbourne. It's a great place to live, to study, to work, to retire.

But we're more than a lifestyle superpower – we're also a minerals and energy superpower. We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and the export of our commodities has underpinned Australian economic growth for a long time now. We're the world's largest exporter of coal; we have the world's largest reserves of uranium. By 2020 we will be the largest exporter of LNG in the world.

Just last week I was in South Korea, where I launched the largest semi-submersible platform in the world. I'm actually the Godmother of this platform, I'm very proud of my Godchild, it is going to be part of the Ichthys project off the coast of Western Australia. INPEX Corporation has made its largest investment, indeed one of Japan's largest investment in the world to date, about $40 billion, in a single investment in this energy project in Australia.

But it's not just our commodities that make our economy strong. About 70% of our economy is made up of services – financial, banking, architectural, legal, professional services, and we are exporting our services through our people to the world.

We're also one of the most creative nations on the planet. Don't take my word for it, there is apparently a Creativity Institute in Canada, and Australia was recently graded the most creative nation on earth. When you think about our talented skilled and educated workforce, it really is not an overstatement to say that Australia's greatest natural resource is our people, our greatest natural asset is their creativity, entrepreneurial flair and spirit of enterprise. And if it's architectural design, or technology, or fashion, or film, whatever it is in the creative industries, Australia excels. I learned recently that there are about 30,000 Australians working in Silicon Valley, many more in technology hubs around the world, bringing their skills and acquiring skills, which we hope one day they will bring back to Australia and add to the productivity of our economy.

Austal Ships in my home state of Western Australia, is now the fourth largest ship builder in the United Sates and builds ships for the US Navy and is a world leader in building aluminium vessels.

Warner Brothers' latest family Hollywood blockbuster, Lego Batman movie (if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour) the entire production was done in Sydney. It's an animated movie with all sorts of digital technology, produced and created exclusively by an Australian firm, Animal Logic, with extraordinary technological capability.

In the mining and resource area, as our friends from Woodside can attest, we have world-leading, cutting-edge practices that makes ours one of the most efficient sectors across the globe.

So Australia is a creative, innovative, service-oriented nation that gains much from our open markets and our ability to trade our goods and services into market places across the world.

That's why we have been unrelenting in our pursuit of free trade agreements over the last ten or fifteen years. We have concluded about a dozen high quality comprehensive trade agreements: with the United States, but much more recently with China, Korea, Japan, the three North Asian giants. These have underpinned our ability to expand our exports in goods and services into some of the most dynamic markets in the world. Just think, the Asian middle class is currently 600 million people. By 2030 it will be 3 billion, and Australia is exquisitely placed as the best location to launch into Asia.

So to all the Irish business people here, who are thinking about or already exporting into Asia, think of Australia as the launch place. There is no better. We have similar perspectives, similar systems, similar understanding. To operate out of Australia into Asia is one of our great strengths.

Likewise we look to Ireland, particularly post-Brexit, as a gateway into the EU. I have to say 12.5% corporate tax does bring a tear to many a corporate leader's eye in Australia, very attractive. But we also see the work force here, the skilled and creative people of Ireland and the regulatory regime as a real opportunity for Australian businesses to be based in Ireland and have access to the consumer market of some 500 million people that makes up the EU.

We are natural partners, Australia and Ireland. In fact there is a high level engagement but there could be so much more in terms of trade and investment. I was given a statistic this morning; it seems that per unit of GDP Ireland trades 30% more with Australia than the UK does. Think about that.

We could engage far more deeply and broadly in investment in infrastructure, R&D collaboration, in education. Tourism is another area where we could increase the level of engagement between our two countries.

In a post-Brexit world, I think there are enormous opportunities for Ireland and Australia to become even closer partners. I am pursuing, as my colleagues are pursuing, a free trade agreement with the European Union. Federica Mogherini will be visiting Australia, we hope, in the middle of this year. We have set up an EU-Australia Business Council, and it would be my hope that we could launch formal negotiations for an EU-Australia agreement at that time.

We are committed to our relationship with Ireland. Seventy years of diplomatic relations, but the ties are so much deeper. In our last census about 2 million Australians claimed Irish heritage and I'm sure many, many more would have liked to if they had found the right box on the form!

Australia is a multi-cultural nation. We are based on immigration, about 25% of Australians were born overseas from every country around the globe. Almost 45% of Australians have one parent born overseas. So we are a vibrant, dynamic economy and society.

We have much in common with our friends here in Ireland, and I believe that even in this time of challenge, of uncertainty, anxiety, there are opportunities for Australian Irish businesses that are unprecedented. As far as our two nations are concerned I have no doubt that the very best days of Australian Irish relations lie ahead of us.

- Ends -

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