Asian Spectator

Malcolm Turnbull remarks to the Australia China Business Council

  • Written by Malcolm Turnbull

Thank you very much John and I have got 15 minutes but I will be brief in my remarks and maybe we can take a couple of questions.


Thank you all very much. The Australia-China Relationship gets stronger and stronger. It is built on so many connections. It is built on great economic engagement, it is built on history but above all it is built on family.


There are 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage, two of whom – hey Craig how are you! I was quoting him yesterday, in support of one of my arguments I don’t know if the Labor Party appreciated it, good to see you - two of whom are Lucy and my grandchildren, our son and daughter-in-law’s children.


It’s a very deep relationship and it gets deeper all the time and we have literally hundreds of thousands of Australians and Chinese now going back and forth, studying in each others countries, all of the engagement – it is at enormous levels and growing all the time. 24 years is not a very long time – truthfully – but I think back to when I was in a – does anyone here know Hebei Province well? Zhangjiakou? Right. Zhangjiakou I’m sure is full of five star hotels now.


I was there in the early 90s negotiating a mining project which became quite a large zinc mine actually now listed on the London Stock Exchange. I remember working there with the geological bureau and you know as China was short of capital and it was a different world.


The growth that we have seen has been enormous. But you know what? In those days the partnership between Australians and Chinese, the spirit of working together and the engagements that came from Australian Chinese was so important.


I mean one of our geologists, some of you, some of you may know him, Zhou Bo, who is a, he was educated in China, did his PhD in Australia and has been doing business back and forth ever since.

You know this is what I say, I talk about family and engagement, so much of this is being driven by people and those personal ties.


And that's why it's very important to ensure that where you often, you'll see in the media and sometimes you'll see from politicians and I know there's been a bit of negativity expressed by my political opponents in the course of today's sessions. You can often see a lot more negativity presented than is actually the case.


That engagement, that opportunity, building those economic achievements is one that is happening at a very personal level so it is always important to reinforce the reality of the relationship and the relationships above all.


Now we're seeing very strong economic growth in Australia. We're seeing the strongest jobs growth that we've had ever actually. Last year was the strongest jobs growth in Australian history and we're seeing that because in large part we have embraced free trade.


I remember when the G20 was in Hangzhou, one of the most beautiful cities, I don't know how many of you have been out on the West Lake at dawn but that is one of the most extraordinary experiences with the beautiful islands - the artificial islands and the lake look as though they're floating. It’s a magical place, but we were there we had the G20 there and the both Premier Xi and I use different metaphors to talk about protectionism.


He talked about it as being like locking yourself into a dark room and cutting yourself off from others. And I used a slightly different metaphor, I said that anyone who thinks protectionism is a ladder to get you out of the low growth trap is kidding themselves, it's not a ladder, it's a shovel to dig that trap much deeper.


And as all the economists here know very well we actually have seen that movie before in the 1930s. So protectionism is not the answer and that's why we are unashamed advocates of free trade. And you know, right now when you add up our free trade agreements both in place agreed and in force and under negotiation we have an agenda that will provide better access for Australian businesses to markets totalling 65 trillion US dollars or 80 percent of global GDP.


And that is what has been providing us here in Australia with the ability to recover from the big shock of the end of the commodities construction boom, because of course we had a prices boom, you know, when iron ore trebled.


We all remember those halcyon days and then there was a huge amount of investment which supercharged the economy and resources investment in the resources sector I think got up to about 14 percent of total investment across the country. That was always going to scale back. How do you avoid having a hard landing? Well a big part of that was the big export markets that we opened up and of course, no one bigger than China.


So we’ve both committed to more free trade, more open markets and we know, both China and Australia know that's what drives jobs.


Now from time to time, there will be differences in terms of issues, particular issues, but the important thing is we deal with them as friends with respect. Mutual respect is the absolute key. And that's what we undertake and I know that's what characterises our relationship.


Sometimes you'll get issues at a fairly granular level. You know recently there were reports of containers of wine being held up on the docks. Well, we went to work to ensure that that could be resolved and indeed so it was. Thanks to Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and all of our officials, our trade officials, we were able to work through issues like that.


So the important thing is to keep building the relationship. As I said it's based on mutual respect. Yes, we have different political systems but as long as we respect each other, recognise that we have so much in common to share and above all recognise that we have a great economic relationship - which of course always fills the pages of The Financial Review - but it is a family relationship as well.


You could not imagine modern Australia without our 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage and it is just part of our extraordinary story, this great Australian project, the most successful multicultural society in the world.


So I'm filled with optimism about the relationship. I think we should all be positive about it and recognise the strength of the engagement and also note that sometimes in the media there is always going to be an emphasis on differences, on conflict, on problems.


Overwhelmingly the relationship is strong and by any measure getting stronger.


So I'd be happy to take a couple of questions.




Well thank you Prime Minister for your time. My name is Dyson from ANZ. My question is I recently came from back from China for a trip, I went to see a lot of my clients. Every single meeting I went to the businessmen in China asked the same questions, they ask what's going with the government to government engagement between Australia and China.


So now you have the opportunity to send a message. What would you say to them? Thank you.




Well thank you and that's why I'm sending that positive message again it is a - and Dyson you're in a position of course to provide the reassurance that you've been here with the Prime Minister and you've heard how strong the relationship is, how committed we are to it, and how it's based on mutual respect.




I was very fortunate enough to attend your first Australia China Business Council in China I think three years ago now, was it three years ago? Australia Week in China. Yes, yes it was great.


I'm really glad that you're able to put everyone back on track today because I was a little bit disappointed with a lot of the Labor leaders representing today because today should be about how we can help each other, not how we can kick each other and make comments in relation to about what our political parties were doing.


And I'd just like to say that I think it was very gracious of you, on the way you handled it, and I wish that our other representatives of other sides would understand that today is about uniting, about working together, not talking about what one Prime Minister did and what the other one didn't.


So I've just felt that I needed to say that and thank you very much.




Thank you.




I'll be brief, Prime Minister. Laurie Pearcey from UNSW Sydney. I'm just wondering what message you have to the tens of thousands indeed, the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying here and their parents back home and many of the other Chinese students that are thinking about coming to study in our great country.




Well work hard and study hard as I'm sure they will. That's the first, that's what their parents will say to them, by the way, I am a grandfather, you see, I have to take that position of parental instruction.


Look I think Australia is a phenomenal place for foreign students. Obviously, you have a large number from China, because we are a multicultural society.


We are the most successful multicultural society in the world. I don't know how many of you are watching Question Time. It's a bit terrifying, yes. Of course.


Do you notice in the House of Representatives and the top floor, the public gallery. It's glassed in. That's where the school groups are. At first I thought that was so if the kids you know shouted or something, misbehaved, it wouldn't disturb the chamber, but now I realise it is so the teachers can't be heard when they're saying to the kids, “If you behave like that when we get home you’ll cop it.”


With all of that fury, it is nonetheless, this is a remarkable multicultural society. Obviously investment bankers are not popular in some quarters at the moment, so I gather from Question Time. But you know when I was an investment banker when I was a partner of Goldman Sachs in fact, the firm used to hire, as did many of the other, many other global companies, more Australians than they could ever employ in Australia.


I asked I said, “Why do you do that?” And they said, “Because Australians are such outstanding global citizens, because you grow up in a multicultural society.”


You know, when you look in a mirror you say what does an Australian look like? You can look like anybody, you can have a Chinese face, an Indian face, a European face, an Aboriginal face.  We are such a remarkable society.


And that means that people who come from every corner of the world, whether they're coming here as immigrants or whether they're coming as students, know that they will always feel at home.


I just want to say in passing, well I've already spoken to him myself, but Matt Green's recent award for his achievements in photovoltaics - I don't know if everyone knows this but - obviously the, you know, the huge improvements in the efficiency of photovoltaics, the technology, the science that enabled that came from the University of New South Wales, and in large part led by Matt through collaborations between Australian and Chinese scientists and Australian Chinese scientists working together.


And that's, well I don't need to emphasise what an important technology it is.


Now maybe one more and then I’d better go. There's a lady there, please.




I’m an Australian - Chinese business person. It seems everyone in this room knows that the relationship does not match the trade between two countries.


I have a very simple question to you. Do you have a plan which will improve the relationship?




Well the relationship is very strong and, you know, the most important thing is to recognise that it is a very strong relationship.


The gentleman from UNSW was talking about the thousands of Chinese students here, we've seen the trade figures improve every year, we're seeing enormous engagement across the board.


It's important not to be distracted by media and political commentary which is often designed to highlight difference and highlight friction or even possibly accentuate friction.


The relationship is a very, very strong one and the runs are on the board. You know there was a lot of concern about some containers of wine - that's been resolved.


It's important to emphasize the strength of the relationship, the enduring nature of the relationship and above all that it is based on mutual respect and that's my commitment, to ensure that the relationship, it gets stronger and stronger. Mutual respect is the key. And I know that that will be enhanced and delivered and embodied if you like by the commitment that all of you have and so many other Australians and Chinese business people have to developing and growing this vital relationship.


And of course when Australian football, Kochie, takes over as the national sport in China, I suppose the agenda will be complete!




Will you commit to Australia Week in Shanghai?




Well I’ll leave Julie or Ciobo to talk about that. But I mean from my point of view, the more engagement, the better. You know, there isn't a market or a place that I'm not looking at seeing how we can get more access for Australian businesses.


I mean and whether it's a huge country, the biggest country by population, China, or whether it's smaller country like Peru where we had a free trade agreement, or whether it’s a group of countries like the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


My job as Australia's Prime Minister is to create as many opportunities for Australians to do their best and achieve their aspirations, to use a topical term.  To put it in a sporting metaphor, Kochie, I believe Australians are the best. The most competitive, the most talented.


And so the bigger and wider and broader playing fields Australians can run onto, the better.

So that's what our free trade engagement is about. That's what our diplomatic agenda is about; creating more opportunities for Australians to do their best.


And we know that is good for Australia and for Australian jobs and it's also good for the countries with whom we're dealing and of course in this case, China.


And I know China's leaders take exactly the same view and as I said, President Xi and Premier Li, for that matter, and I have talked about protectionism and why it's a dead end in essentially the same terms, just with some differences in the metaphors we've used.  And you can see my commitment and my Government's commitment to free trade with the way we kept going with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


I tell you that everyone, just about everyone thought that was dead and I was criticised politically for sticking with it but I stuck with it and got it signed without the US as the TPP-11 and we're working now on RCEP and many other deals.


So the more opportunities, the more jobs, the more enterprise of Australians that we can enable, the greater prosperity for Australia and of course for our partners in trade, in this case China.


So thank you all very much but above all remember the relationship is not - we've got great ministers, you'll hear from Julie Bishop in a moment, our incredibly talented and eloquent Foreign Minister. You have got our great Trade Minister Steve Ciobo - but above all the relationship is built by you.


So believe in yourselves, believe in the relationship, believe in Australia and recognise that the more we work together the more we'll achieve. Thanks a lot.

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