Question Time - New Colombo Plan

  • Transcript, E&OE

JANE PRENTICE MP TO THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the New Colombo Plan and the benefits for students in my electorate of Ryan?

Ms JULIE BISHOP: I thank the member for Ryan for her question. As she knows, at the last election we took a promise to the young people of Australian universities, the undergraduates, that we would implement a scholarship program to give them an opportunity to live and study and work in countries in our region. This was a practical way of finding expression for the Abbott government's foreign policy of deeper engagement in our region. I can confirm to the member that we have successfully implemented a pilot program and that 1,340 undergraduates–young Australians between the ages of 18 and 28–have now been awarded grants and scholarships to study at four locations in the region: Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Japan.

Recently, in the presence of the Governor-General, who is patron of the new Colombo Plan, we awarded 40 scholarships that are longer term–six-month or 12-month scholarships–for young Australians to live, study and work at universities in the region. The member for Ryan will be pleased to know that four students from the University of Queensland were awarded scholarships. The member for Kingsford Smith was there on behalf of the opposition. Five students from the University of New South Wales were awarded scholarships. The member for Fraser would be pleased that the Yudhoyono Fellow, young student Emma Roberts, from ANU, has been awarded a scholarship. She speaks perfect Bahasa; she spoke to the audience that evening. She will make a fine ambassador for Australia in Indonesia.

Thirty-eight universities have now taken part in the New Colombo Plan and it has been warmly received not only by businesses and the university sector but by leaders in our region. I was personally delighted when Japanese Prime Minister Abe mentioned the New Colombo Plan as evidence of our growing people-to-people links when he made his address to the joint sitting here last week.

In 2015 this program will be rolled out across the region. China, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines and other countries are coming on board. It has been embraced by the university sector. Universities Australia, the peak body, said:

Our universities have been delighted to get behind this unique program because of the exciting opportunity it represents, not just for their brightest students but for those who embody the spirit of the Plan in celebrating Australia's commitment to the region …

The program has the potential to transform, not just the educational experience and global outlook of our students, but for Australian-Indonesia-Pacific relations …

And in a mark of what I think is the coalition government's soft-power diplomacy, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has offered to take Australian New Colombo Plan scholars in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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