28 April 2023

On 26th February, 1973, former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam formally established diplomatic relations with Hanoi.

It was one of the Whitlam Government’s first foreign policy acts.

And it began a decisive shift in Australia’s world view, putting our region at the centre of foreign policy.

Half a century later, more than 300,000 Australians identify as having a Vietnamese background – part of the rich tapestry of modern, multicultural Australia.

An Australia where half our people were either born overseas, or have a parent born overseas.

And home to the world’s oldest continuous civilisation.

Our Foreign Minister Penny Wong said to the UN General Assembly:

“When Australians look out to the world, we see ourselves reflected in it. Equally, the world can see itself reflected in Australia. A nation whose people share common ground with so many of the world’s peoples.”

That common ground between Australia and Vietnam is fertile ground for cooperation.

Our two countries share a commitment to a stable, peaceful, resilient and prosperous region.

Deepening engagement with Southeast Asia is a key priority for the Albanese Government and we are taking tangible actions to create economic opportunities in the region.

Australia’s relationship with Vietnam is one of our most important, diverse and dynamic in the region.

It is a relationship grounded in mutual respect, social and economic cooperation, deep people-to-people links and, of course, cooperation in education and training.

In 1974, only one year after we recognised each other as nations, Australia offered its first scholarship to a Vietnamese student.

Since then, over 80,000 Vietnamese students have completed studies in Australia. I had the great pleasure to meet some of these alumni during my visit to the Mekong Delta last year.

Vietnam is currently the fifth largest source market for international student enrolments in Australia. And in Vietnam, nearly 20,000 students are currently studying for an Australian qualification at an Australian institution.

And while study by Vietnamese students in Australia represents a significant aspect of our cooperation, it is only one part of our growing education partnership.

When students come to Australia to study, we enter a solid contract with not only those students but their mums, dads and families back home, to not only offer a top-quality education but to keep them safe and sound while they’re here.

Last December, I joined Vietnam’s President of the National Assembly, Dr Hue, and Ambassador Thanh, in Melbourne for the Vietnam-Australia Education Cooperation Forum.

That forum really drove home how deep our collaboration in education goes – with twelve higher education agreements exchanged there.

And of course, RMIT University, which is graciously co-hosting us today, was the first foreign university to open a campus in Vietnam, 23 years ago.

Our economic partnership has also flourished.

Last financial year our two-way goods and services trade reached a record $22.1 billion – almost 40 per cent higher than the previous financial year.

And two-way investment in 2021 amounted to A$2.4 billion –extraordinary numbers, particularly considering the challenging economic environment.

We’ve committed to becoming top ten trading partners and doubling two-way investment under the Australia-Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy.

This is the first economic strategy Australia has developed in partnership with another country.

I know Australia’s Trade Minister Don Farrell and Vietnam’s Industry and Trade Minister Nguyen Hong Dien met in Hanoi earlier this month and reaffirmed their commitment to continual implementation of the Strategy, which will see shared benefits across trade, industry, education, agriculture, clean energy and the digital economy.

Both countries are already both party to the CPTTP and AANZFTA, and are continuing to expand market access for a range of goods and services, particularly agriculture and food products.

Vietnamese consumers can enjoy Australian live tiger abalone, as well as peaches and nectarines, because of trade achievements last year.

And Australians get access to Vietnamese longans, lychees, dragon fruit, mangoes and rice.

During my visit to Vietnam last year, I had the chance to see some of the work that Australian company SunRice is doing at its mill in the Dong Thap Province.

SunRice has partnered with Australian and Vietnamese researchers to develop higher yield, higher value rice crops.

That means increased incomes for farmers.

And it means more sustainable farming practices – which are vital as climate change puts pressure on water security and supply.

This project is just one example of how we’re working together for a more sustainable and prosperous future.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) partnered on this project with SunRice, 30 years after commencing their first program in Vietnam.

Over that time, the ACIAR Vietnam program has implemented more than 243 projects, highlighting the strength of collaboration on research and development.

That is a really proud legacy for the Australian agriculture sector.

Whitlam hoped to build “good, constructive relations with peoples and nations throughout the world.”

I wonder if he would have predicted that in just fifty years, Australia and Vietnam would be working to elevate our relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

It’s a great honour to be here today with you to celebrate half a century of diplomatic relations.

Thank you.