Keynote address: Australia-Malaysia bilateral relations

  • Speech, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: It is my pleasure to be speaking with you here today, and thank you Professor Andrew Walker, President and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Australia.

I'm delighted to be back in Kuala Lumpur. This is my third visit to Malaysia as Australia's Foreign Minister, but I have been here many times before. In fact, as a young university student, I convinced my older sister that we needed to travel throughout South-East Asia, and in my first overseas trip I came to Malaysia and visited Penang and Kuala Lumpur, and my love affair with this nation has continued from that day.

While I've been here many times, I have to say what an exciting time it is to be here in Malaysia – the first change in government since independence is an historic moment for Malaysian democracy. It is a significant event for our wider region – the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific – where democratic foundations remain under development in many countries.

I congratulate the new government on its election, and we are eager to deepen our longstanding relationship. I have met with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister, and already we have discussed so many ways that we deepen, strengthen and broaden our relationship. Prime Minister Mahathir is a giant in Asian and world politics, and the Australian Government looks forward to working with him again.

Last night, when I met my counterpart, Foreign Minister Saifuddin, we discussed the enduring ties between our two countries and how we can work together to secure peace, prosperity, stability in our region.

Last November, the Australian Government released a Foreign Policy White Paper – the first in about 14 years – and it's a timely reminder of our global interest and our regional priorities. While one can't predict the future, we have set out a framework of our international engagement, the challenges, the opportunities. We are living in a time of great uncertainty, but there is no more important foreign policy priority for the Australian Government than to support and secure a strong, prosperous, stable Indo-Pacific.

In these times of volatility and uncertainty, we must be prepared for change. For example, the lull in post-Cold War great power rivalries has ended, and for the first time in history, simultaneously, the United States, China, Japan and India are all economic powerhouses. We are seeing the rise of protectionism and economic nationalism in some areas, some nations around the world. There is mass movement of people, capital, ideas. The technological advances are of a scale unprecedented in world history, disrupting the way we live, the way we work, the way we engage.

Most disturbingly, the international rules-based order is under challenge, under strain. This is the network of alliances and treaties and conventions and norms underpinned by international law that has evolved since the Second World War, and has determined how nations should behave and importantly towards each other. Some nations are openly defying the rules-based order, some are cherry-picking parts that they think apply to them, some are securing narrow interests ahead of the international order. I believe that like-minded nations, and those who've benefitted from the international rules-based order should defend, promote, protect and strengthen that international rules-based order, particularly because hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty under that order. We have had relative peace and stability, in that there has been no third global conflict.

Australia and Malaysia are natural partners – constitutional monarchies with Westminster Parliaments and an embrace of common law. We are both members of the Commonwealth of Nations, committed to the values enshrined in that charter. We are both proud, multi-cultural societies with open outward facing market economies. Our relationship is strengthened by our common interests and values.

Australia and Malaysia are also close because of our shared history and the bonds between our institutions and our people. We have a long history of bilateral defence and security cooperation, dating back to the Second World War, and that continues to this day. This year, we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the presence of the Royal Australian Air Force at RMAF Butterworth in Penang. At its peak, more than 2,000 Defence personnel were stationed at Butterworth.

Today, we are working together on new challenges, new frontiers – terrorism, transnational crime, people smuggling, drug trafficking, and our cooperation to combat these challenges is fundamental and vital to both our nations.

The Australian Government is working with the Pakatan Harapan Government and we are committed to further strengthening the friendship between our two countries and peoples. Australia welcomes the new government's commitment to reform and we are already collaborating and sharing our experiences and ideas.

This morning, I announced a bilateral Gender Policy Dialogue in partnership with Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah. A profound shift in women's empowerment is already underway in Malaysia, for example, in the last 10 years, women's labour participation has increased by 8 per cent to 53 per cent.

One of the many pioneering Malaysian women is Professor Jamilah Ariffin, who is a leader in global health right here at the Malaysian campus of Monash University. Promoting gender equality is not just the right thing to do, it makes for smart economics. Countries cannot achieve their full potential until they embrace the talents, energy, skills and ideas of the 50 per cent of the population that is female. Women must have opportunities to embrace political, economic, social elements of their nation.

Our new dialogue will enable us to exchange perspectives and insights and experiences on the development of gender and women's empowerment policies with the focus on the contribution that women can make to law reform, to business, to peace and security. One of the most powerful aspects of the relationship between Australia and Malaysia is our educational exchanges and as a former Education Minister, I know Monash University well, and this is Monash University's first campus overseas and the first campus of a foreign university in Malaysia. As Monash University Malaysia celebrates its 20th anniversary, it has obvious pride in the quality of its teaching and its research. The largest overseas campus for an Australian university, this showcases the high quality and high standards that Monash University achieves and this has been a remarkable success story, embedding a world-class Australian university within the Malaysian community.

Investing in and a focus on education means Malaysia has a highly-skilled workforce with the ability to fuel the next generation of growth and innovation in the economy. Young Malaysians have a strong interest in Australia's vocational education and training and English language courses, and it is a matter of some pride for us that Australia is the number one destination for Malaysians studying abroad. Australian universities have 11 overseas campuses in total, with three located in Malaysia. This campus of Monash University, and Swinburne University of Technology, and Curtin University. Australia welcomes and encourages the new government's focus on education. We see many potential areas for cooperation at- such as the Australian Government's signature policy, the New Colombo Plan.

The original Colombo Plan, which began in the 1950s, brought nearly 4,000 Malaysian students to Australia to gain qualifications in our universities, to live in our families, on our campuses, in our communities. Today, around 400,000 Malaysians have studied in Australia including 32,000 enrolments in the last year alone. Just think of what a remarkable cohort of Malaysians are connected to Australia through an educational experience.

Under the New Colombo Plan our students are also flowing back into the region. Nearly 2,500 Australian students will have participated in New Colombo Plan Mobility and Scholarship programs in Malaysia by the end of 2019 and that includes 840 students from Australia studying Malaysia this year. This makes Malaysia the fifth most popular New Colombo Plan host location out of the 39 participating nations across the Indo-Pacific. Since its inception in 2014 up until 2019, around 40,000 Australian undergraduates will have lived, studied, and undertaken work experience, internships, practicums in countries in our region.

We are fortunate to have with us today all three of this year's New Colombo Plan scholars, and two further New Colombo scholars will come to study in Malaysia in the next few months. Kate Fuller, from the University of Wollongong, is studying Accounting and Finance at INTI University. Stephanie Hugh from Deakin University, is taking International Humanitarian Law subjects at Taylor's University, and Amelia Caverick-Stawell, from the University of Western Australia, is researching the Lango monkeys and forest fragmentation in the jungles of Penang with University of Science Malaysia.

We also have with us Tristan Winters, the 2017 New Colombo Plan Fellow in Malaysia. After completing his University of South Australia Construction degree with the University of Malaya, he joined Australian company Lendlease as an intern working on the iconic Tun Razak Exchange project in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Tristan is now working, on contract, with Lendlease in Malaysia, having turned his New Colombo Plan experience into a new career.

This is what it was all about – the friendships and connections these and other New Colombo Plan participants gained through the program will pay dividends for both our countries for decades.

It is hard to conceive a better investment in our future than preparing our next generation of leaders with a greater understanding of our region and our place in the world; an experience that gives them new skills, new insights, new understanding and connections and networks that will last a lifetime, and we know they will, because the original Colombo Plan networks are alive and vibrant to this day.

Initiatives like the Monash Law-Malaysia program also build priceless connections for New Colombo Plan Mobility students. This year, it's bringing together more than 130 students and staff from different law schools focusing on contemporary issues in international, Asian, and comparative law. As a law graduate from Adelaide University a long time ago, I really wish such a program had been available – I would've been the first to sign up.

In addition, today we are announcing five Malaysian recipients of the prestigious Australia Awards ASEAN Scholarships. These scholarships were an initiative of the first and historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit that was held in Sydney in March this year, when the leaders of the ASEAN nations were hosted by Prime Minister Turnbull. These scholarships will enable 50 outstanding young students from ASEAN countries to undertake masters studies in Australia.

Next year, we're also expecting a group of students from Curtin University, in my home town of Perth, to visit Malaysia under an Indigenous Culture Program which aims to create new connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from Australia and Malaysia.

Australia and Malaysia both understand that the wealth and prosperity of our region derives from the free flow of goods and services. Malaysia is Australia's 11th largest trading partner. The ASEAN Australian-New Zealand Free Trade agreement and the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade agreement have further integrated our economies. In fact, our trade has doubled in the past decade – two-way trade in total and goods and services is now worth more than $20 billion dollars.

Over 3,800 Australian companies export to Malaysia each year and some 300 Australian companies have a presence here in Malaysia. They include giants like BHP Billiton and BlueScope but household names in Australia like Boost Juice and Cotton On Clothing. There are many people who work hard to build our economic ties but today, I particularly acknowledge the Malaysia-Australia Business Council, which represents its members so competently and professionally here in Malaysia and I welcome its representatives here today. We have shared interests in promoting and protecting regional trade. That is why we work together – Australia and Malaysia – to conclude the comprehensive and progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. We call it the TPP-11 and continue to work towards concluding a meaningful, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP. Our economic growth and our standard of living depends on our ability to trade our goods and services throughout our region and across the globe and Australia and Malaysia, together, are symbols of the success of open, free, liberalised trade.

Ladies and gentlemen, from the moment I arrived here, it was evident to me that Malaysians are energised by the recent election and the smooth transition to a new government. That is no mean feat. In Australia, we certainly do it more often than every 61 years. This has inspired hope for a new, secure, prosperous chapter in your history. My wish and the wish of the Australian Government is that our already warm and close relationship will be enhanced, for together we can achieve much as reliable partners and as trusted friends.

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