Australian Mission to ASEAN

ASEAN Workforce Skills Development Mission

Welcome remarks by Mr Simon Merrifield

Australian Ambassador to ASEAN

to the

ASEAN Workforce Skills Development Mission

Le Meridien Hotel, Jakarta

21 October 2013


Good morning.  For me, one of the great themes of Australia’s engagement with South-East Asia over the past six decades has been education.  As I take up my role as the first resident Ambassador to ASEAN, I could not ask for a better program to speak at than one focused on education, skills and training.    

The Colombo Plan and subsequent scholarship programs provided great Australian education experiences to generations of deserving scholars from this part of the world since the early 1950s.  In a good number of ASEAN countries you would struggle to find a cabinet room or a board room without Australian alumni at the table. 

The emerging post-colonial nations of 60 years ago are now, of course, dynamic, prosperous and successful countries looking to close the development gap with the industrialised world and seek further prosperity through open borders and economic integration.  This sophistication and new ambition brings with it an appetite for new knowledge and learning opportunities delivered through innovative and targeted mechanisms.  And that what brings us here today. 

So I very warmly welcome Australian education and training providers to this mission and acknowledge their support of this regional program and their enthusiasm to explore in-market partnership opportunities.  I welcome the involvement of both public and private Australian education providers, and I commend the wide range of sectors represented by participants.

In that regard I note one of the real strengths of Australia’s education and training sector is its industry relevance, which in the Southeast Asian context aligns it very well with the regional connectivity agenda. 

I would like to acknowledge the support of the ASEAN Secretariat for this forum and welcome participants from the Secretariat including:

Mr Eddy Krismeidi Soemawilaga, Infrastructure Division, Ms Mega Irena, Social Welfare, Women, Labour and Migrant Workers Division, and other colleagues: Ms Ruri Narita Artiesa, Mr Kamal Mamat,  Mr  Budidarmo P. Kuntjoro-Jakti

I would further like to acknowledge and thank Mr Wayne Crosbie, Director International, William Angliss Institute for offering to provide a case study of their work with the ASEAN Secretariat around the Tourism & Hospitality MRA.  As you will see this reflects the close engagement between the ASEAN Secretariat and one of our top providers, which is something I would be delighted to see more of in the period ahead. 

If I may I’d like to say a few words about Australia’s relationship with ASEAN.  Our links are long and substantial.  We became ASEAN’s first dialogue partner in 1974.  Back then, key themes had a strategic and security focus.  That remains, but added to it, ASEAN has also become one of our most significant trading partnerships.  Taken collectively, ASEAN economies constitute our second largest trading partner after China, ahead of Japan, accounting for 14.4 per cent of Australia trade in 2010-11 [China 19.7 per cent, Japan 11.8 per cent].

And there are strong prospects for further growth in our trade and investment relationship, particularly through the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, AANZFTA, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), currently under negotiation

At the same time, ASEAN member countries are working to integrate even more closely through an agenda for an 'ASEAN Economic Community' by 2015. 

For Australia, this evolution has been in lockstep with the ASEAN region’s economic importance to us.  And, although the region will face the same global headwinds we all do, over the longer term, ASEAN’s future growth has a way yet to run. For instance, we expect to see a doubling of the number of middle class households in ASEAN from 2010 to 2017 (40 to 85m).

Achieving the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 is an ambition that focuses and drives regional growth.  And progress is good.  At their summit in Brunei earlier this month, ASEAN leaders announced that a total of 279 measures itemised in the AEC blueprint had already been implemented, which by their own measure translates as having travelled almost 80 per cent of the journey.

As we know, this economic story means there is a demand for skilled labour in South East Asia, including in the vocational sector to service ASEAN economic growth and its connectivity goals.

Australia is pushing on an open door in seeking to meet ASEAN’s education needs.  Education is a key shared regional interest which has underpinned our cooperation in the past and present, and for which there is great scope for further development.

For the vocational sector in particular, you have the opportunity to grow Australian education in situ, with cohorts of potential students both close to the markets of growing and increasingly integrated regional industries and supply chains, but also cater to students who would not otherwise be able to afford to travel to Australia for their education and training.

I sincerely welcome closer collaboration between Australian education and training providers and their counterpart providers in the to find sustainable partnerships to deliver affordable training solutions to address the growing skills needs as we move towards the AEC in 2015.

I wish the Australian mission delegates every success during their program in the region.  Thank you.