Remarks at New Colombo Plan Reception, ASEAN Australia Special Summit

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JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Prime Minister. Your Majesty, Excellencies, my foreign ministry counterparts, and I particularly mention Lao Foreign Minister Kommasith, because he is an alumnus from Monash University, indeed the first Lao alumnus from Monash University and he'll be speaking shortly, and to all the students and alumni here today on the New Colombo Plan, the Australia Awards and Endeavour Scholarships. We are meeting here today in Sydney amidst the first ever ASEAN-Australia Special Summit with the leaders of the ASEAN nations, gathering to discuss matters of regional interest.

As the Prime Minister indicated, 51 years ago , ASEAN was formed between five Southeast Asian nations –Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines – who decided that together they could better promote economic growth, social development, cultural development and progress, and peace and stability.

Australia very quickly saw the value in ASEAN playing a central role in our region. We became a dialogue partner in 1974. Since then, the relationship has strengthened. We are now strategic partners with ASEAN. We have a dedicated ambassador and diplomatic post to ASEAN in Jakarta. We have a trade agreement with ASEAN, and now this Special Summit.

As the Prime Minister also indicated, student exchange has been at the heart of our deep engagement with ASEAN. We started with the days of the original Colombo Plan back in the 1950s and 1960s which brought students from the region – including from ASEAN countries – to Australia to study in our universities and then return home with Australian qualifications. Likewise with the Australia Awards, we support masters and PhD students coming to Australia to gain qualifications.

Then in 2014 we established the New Colombo Plan, which was a program supported by the Australian government to fund undergraduates from our universities to study in the universities of our region. there are about 40 countries that are partners with Australia in the New Colombo Plan and each one of the ASEAN nations is a very valued and trusted partner with us in the New Colombo Plan.

From a standing start in 2014, when Singapore and Indonesia were two countries that supported our first pilot program, to the end of 2018, over 30,000 young Australian undergraduates would have lived and studied in the universities of our region and 13,500 of them have been in one of the ten ASEAN countries.

So we are delighted with the partnerships that are being built between the nations of our region, the ASEAN nations and the Australian Government; between the universities who are hosting our students; and between businesses and public and private sector organisations who are providing students with an opportunity to undertake an internship and gain practical experience.

I have a number of initiatives that I am delighted to announce here today that will build on the strength of our student exchange.

The first is we recognise that there's a need for greater skills development in the area of infrastructure - an important topic of concern for Australia and ASEAN nations. So I'm pleased to announce that Australia is supporting a new initiative: the ASEAN-Australia Infrastructure Skills dialogue. This initiative will bring together representatives from the vocation, education and training sector – and I acknowledge our Minister Karen Andrews here today – from government and from industry from the ASEAN nations and Australia to particularly focus on how we can develop more skills in transport and logistics, civil construction, and in port operations for example.

The second announcement I'm very pleased to make today is that we will have for the first time a New Colombo Plan ASEAN fellow. So we have selected from our group of 2018 New Colombo Plan students an outstanding recipient of the first fellowship – the New Colombo Plan ASEAN fellowship. I'm delighted that it's Hayley Winchcombe. Hayley, step forward, from the University of Western Australia.

She is in her honours year studying politics at the University of Western Australia and she won a scholarship to study at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. She began in January and her focus is on Asia-Pacific and issues involving the Asia-Pacific. So each year we will have an ASEAN fellow who will undertake research and studies in an area of interest to the ASEAN countries and Australia.

The third initiative that I announce today is that we will now have, under the Australia Awards, an ASEAN scholarship and we are announcing today that there will be 50 of these scholarships to bring Masters students from the region to Australia and focus their research on a matter of concern to the ASEAN nations and Australia. Some of the issues that this Summit will be discussing will be the topic of research undertaken by these postgraduate students.

I'm delighted that Australia has established an Australia Global Alumni network, so that wherever students have studied in Australia, or Australian students have studied overseas, we can connect through a series of programs and initiatives, and I invite everyone of one of our alumni here today to be part of our global network.

Finally, Australia has a public diplomacy program called Australia now! This involves a series of events driving economic and trade ties, showcasing Australian creative industries and cultural events throughout a particular country. For example, we've had Australia now! in Germany, in Brazil and this year it is in Japan. Today I'm pleased to announce that our Australia now! program for 2019 will be focusing on Southeast Asia – how befitting it is that we should make Southeast Asia the focus of our public diplomacy program next year.

So, Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we're absolutely delighted to have this opportunity for our young alumni to meet the leaders of the nations where they've studied. I wish you all the very best for your deliberations for the Summit. And enjoy this afternoon. We are sure the network of students will continue to flourish and thrive.

Thank you. I invite Foreign Minnister Kommasith to say a few words.

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