AustCham Singapore Ministerial Dialogue Reception

15 April 2024



Well, good evening. Thanks very much to the Commissioner for the introduction. Thank you for all your work. These Austrade organisations are really important to the Australian government and the work that you do is really valued.


High commissioner and Deputy CEO of Austrade, it's terrific to be on this delegation with you and to be following through all the work that Austrade does in the region. James Lee, I really want to thank you for your support on this event and across all the work on everything that's going on this week.


It is really terrific to see so many people from the Australian business community here in Singapore. It's a testament to not just the opportunities of now but to a deep shared history between Australia and Singapore, of shared engagement, shared perspectives about the region, and a rich history, I think of being critical to each other’s national development – that’s really important - I think Australia was the second country to recognize Singapore as an independent nation - but also important in lots of ways to the regions as well.


In 2003, the Singapore Australia Free Trade agreement came into force. It was, in fact, the second preferential trade agreement that Australia ever entered into, and notably eliminated all tariffs all at once, which is quite an achievement. In no small part due to that work, Singapore is Australia's top two-way trading partner and investor in South East Asia and our fifth largest trading partner globally.


Our two-way trade was worth more than $50 billion dollars in 2022 - 2023. Next year will mark ten years since we elevated our partnership by establishing a comprehensive strategic partnership. That is a commitment to cooperate on trade in science and innovation, education in the arts, the digital economy, and the green economy. So, we are two countries that are important to each other, and I have to say that in my work as Australia’s Assistant Minister for Trade, I’ve always learned to listen carefully to Singapore’s perspective. Trade Minister Gan is a valued colleague for Australia. The relationship with Singapore is really important and Singapore plays an outsized role in international affairs and international trade affairs.

We have together pioneered a series of landmark and groundbreaking issues. The green economy agreement between Australia and Singapore is important to both of our countries. It is a framework that will allow for all sorts of investment relationships and trading relationships to develop. But it's also really important, again, to the region. The role that it will play outside of the boundaries, events and economies, will be very significant. Newly agreed principles on cross border electricity trade provide much needed clarity and predictability to businesses and creates jobs in both of our economies.


We've seen significant success in mutual trade and investment in defense and security, education, the arts, and science and innovation. Not just because of that, the CSP – the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, in one sense, mobilizes a whole lot of activity, but it also is a reflection of the work that has already been undertaken.


At the last Annual Leaders Meeting on the 5th March 2024, Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Lee committed to increase the ambition of our comprehensive strategic partnership in its next phase from 2025 to 2035. That coincided with the ASEAN Australia Special Summit held in Melbourne just a few weeks ago.


I was very proud of not just how significant that it was, and what it says about this government's determination, in the way that we are engaging with the region and see the region and see our own future firmly in this region of the world. I think it was a reflection of reciprocity in that relationship. It was also a signal of intent. It says something about the relationship between Australia and the region in a contemporary setting. It is about our trade, our approach to policy, our shared vision of the future of the region. Prosperity, economic security, the environment and peace are all interwoven in the tapestry of economic, cultural and people relations. It's the way that we see a shared future for the region.


I think the Prime Minister's dictum is right. That if you don't shape the future, the future has a tendency to shape you. And if we have a shared approach with our ASEAN partners to the future of this region, then, for the future generation of citizens of this region, is going to make a very big difference.


I was very pleased for that reason to speak at the opening for the small and medium enterprises event at the summit. I saw about two hundred SMEs engage in a really full-throated way over the course of that conference. Some of those business leaders are in this room today. There is a lot of experience and expertise here in this room about the commercial and business and investment opportunities in Singapore. My job today is not to lecture you about what those what those opportunities are, I’m much more interested in the discussion that we're about to have. But one thing is certain, there is always room for growth. Indeed, according to Nicholas Moore's report, there is a lot of room, a lot of headroom for growth in Australia's business relationship with the region.


Nicholas Moore prepared an ambitious strategy. It's not just a matter of commerciality, although that is important. It is not just a matter of commercial success and profitability. Although those things are very important. There is a vision here for a shared future that requires a web of economic relationships across the region. And that means Australia, for our part, there is a requirement for us to step up. To step up in terms of our strategy, to step up in terms of Australian foreign direct investment in the region, to step up in terms of two-way trade.


There's a number of initiatives that have been announced and supported by the Australian Government. We've established a $2 billion Southeast Asia investment financing facility that is all about boosting infrastructure and clean energy financing. We're expanding partnerships to improve regional infrastructure development and attract more diverse and quality infrastructure finance. We've identified ten Business champions to turbocharge greater commercial links and relationships between Australia and the region.


I'm really pleased with the announcement that Shayne Elliott, ANZ’s Chief Executive, appointed by the Prime Minister, as the business champion for Singapore. That is a very substantial commitment from Shane, who's one of our most significant and respected business leaders. I'm very grateful, the government is very grateful to him for making that commitment to this task in the interests of trade and investment, yes, but also important in terms of the Australian national interest.


We didn't need Nicholas's report, of course, to understand that there's an opportunity to significantly increase our two-way trade investment. Taking that opportunity will be a substantial contribution to the region's stability and prosperity. To be successful we need to increase our business presence in the region and our knowledge and skills around doing business with the region, and a lot of the report is directed towards that work. Investment is key.


This is the fastest growing region in the world, meaning these people have more than half of the world's population. It is growing hand over fist. It is absolutely vital that Australia is part of that story. The scale of the regional challenges in energy terms, the industrialization terms, the growth of the digital economy… these are enormous challenges that the region is tackling with ambition and a sense of urgency. Australia has deep capabilities that we can share with the region in a thoughtful and effective way that will make a real difference.


We should be a leading participant in the region's growth story. First of all, we have to know each other more deeply. That is what the Southeast Asia Business Exchange Program is designed to do, that is to support the work of their business communities and investment communities, engaging with each other in a structured way, supported by government. Of course, this is work that Austrade here in Singapore has been doing in a very effective way for a very long time.


What the Australian Government wants to do with the Southeast Asian Business Exchange is lift up that activity and support your work in a strategic way. And I'm delighted that the first one of these business exchange programs is here in Singapore this week. They're not here with us this evening. I think they're over at the at the Maritime Conference, working hard engaging with people from across the region in the investment and trade opportunities.


In a few days’ time we head to Malaysia. It is a very strong business delegation. People from right across the green energy, shipping and infrastructure sectors. And that program, if we get it right, if we focus our effort and energy on that program, my view is that it will build a new generation of business leadership in Australia and across the region who understand each other and listen to each other and have got a deep level of expertise. It is absolutely critical that we lift up that level of engagement.


I want to say finally, a lot of the focus in Australia and in the region is on the transition to net zero. You’ll see that the Australian Government has made some announcements about our approach to the Future Made in Australia strategy that the Prime Minister set out last week. You'll have seen some of our work, whether it's the National Reconstruction Fund, or the Rewiring the Nation Fund, big efforts in Australia, to make sure that we use our natural advantages in energy, in our mineral sectors, in our workforce, to make sure that we become, over the coming decades, a renewable energy superpower for the region. We are determined to make sure that we capture the economic and investment opportunities in Australia to make that contribution. So that will be no surprise and there will be more incoming over the coming weeks as we approach the budget.


I want to say to you as somebody who has represented Australian Manufacturing Workers in my trade union career, who grew up in a country town, where manufacturing opportunities disappeared over the course of the last three or four decades…now in the position of representing the Australian Government, as Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Trade, I just want to share with you a bit of my perspective on how we are approaching these issues as a government.


In the Australian context, manufacturing industry policy on one hand, and trade policy on the other, really was seen, over the course of the last three or four decades, as irreconcilable objectives. Having a strong position on industry development and being an open market trading economy was seen as very difficult to simultaneously achieve. That is not the Singapore Story. The Singapore Story is trade and investment, and industry policy have been closely aligned. And one of the great challenges for Australia, of course, is that we are determined to build the industrial capability that we need. But the future for Australia is not a protectionist future. It is a series of national challenges that we are determined to make personal. Secondly, as the Prime Minister said, this represents Australia, in a clear-eyed way, of seeing the new competition and the new contours of the global trading environment.


We are determined to effectively reconcile these challenges in the Australian context. That means an approach that faces the new competition. We will have a strong approach that will be a future Made in Australia approach, but we are an open market trading economy, ready to engage with the region and with the world. We are going to continue in that approach, reconciling these objectives in an Australian in a way that suits the challenges of the modern era. I'm very confident that Singapore and our two business communities are going to absolutely critical in that endeavour.


So, I was going to try and be a little bit shorter. I’ve probably been a little bit longer than I intended to be. But I'm very open to discussions. Despite the High Commissioner’s urgings that you spend the time while I was talking constructing the most difficult questions that you could, go easy on me. Thanks very much.