SUBJECTS: Labor’s investment in Asian languages and literacy; defence; record low wage growth.

ALICIA PAYNE, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CANBERRA: Good morning, my name is Alicia Payne. I'm Labor’s candidate for the new seat of Canberra. It's wonderful this morning to welcome Tanya Plibersek and Chris Bowen to the electorate to talk about the exciting announcement for Asian languages and the importance of that for our communities’ engagement with Asia. It’s great as well to have Gai Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh here. I think this is a very exciting announcement as well for students in Canberra schools at the moment who are hoping to study Asian languages, so I will hand over to Tanya.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thanks very much Alicia, it’s a pleasure to be here at the Australian National University, a university that shows its commitment to teaching Asian languages and Asian culture every day. We've met with some students today, some whom have been studying an Asian language all through their school, and other who have taken it up since they have arrived at university, and it is important to offer this opportunity to more Australian students. We know that the fastest growing region on earth is right on our doorstep. We know that nine out of every ten of the next billion people who will enter the middle class globally live on our doorstep and to take full advantage of those economic opportunities we need to make sure that more young Australians learn an Asian language and more young Australians are Asia-literate. So today Labor is making a very important announcement in eight parts, focusing, most importantly, on encouraging more Asian language speakers to become Asian language teachers. Today we are announcing that we would provide up to 100 scholarships each year for people who are native speakers of an Asian language or who do really well in high school in their senior schooling in an Asian language. We want them to become Asian language teachers, because year after year we have seen a decline in the number of Australian school students who are studying an Asian language and we have got to critically low levels now, at least in part because we have too few teachers who are able to teach Asian languages. We also need to make sure we are working with school communities, with principals and other school leaders, to give students more opportunity to become Asia-literate in a broader sense. Looking at things like student exchanges, sister school arrangements, not just teaching Asian languages but teaching Asian culture in our schools; history and art. Now we also need to make sure we are working on our curriculum materials from preschool right through to Year 12. There is some terrific early years curriculum materials for preschool students, not broadly enough used. We need to make sure that those first quality curriculum materials are available right through a student’s schooling, so that we don't see students dropping off in later years of school. We need to do this with the states and territories and with the advice of the experts, but I am convinced that with this commitment, with this investment, we can ensure more young Australians are prepared for the jobs of the future. We are on the brink of the fastest growing part of the world, in the beginning of the Asian century. We need to make sure our young people are equipped to take advantage of it. Thanks Chris.
CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks Tanya, it’s a pleasure to join Tanya and our colleagues for this very important announcement. When you think about what the Government of Australia could be doing to arm Australia’s young people to compete in the Asian century, to arm our economy to compete in the Asian century, there is little more important than learning Asian languages. Of course learning an Asian language makes it easier to do business in our region, but learning a language also almost inevitably mean learning more about the country, immersing yourself in the culture of the country, in the business environment of the country, in the history of the country. Getting that love of our region and immersing ourselves in the opportunities of being part of the Asia-Pacific, the Indo-Pacific region. So this is a very important announcement today. We need to be doing better. As a country we have been going backwards. If you look at the economies that will populate the top five economies in coming decades, apart from the United States, it’s clear - China, Japan, India and Indonesia. Just take Indonesia as one example, currently not in our top ten trading partners. The country next door to us will be the fourth largest economy in the world and we have been going backwards; university after university closing down their Indonesian faculties, more Australian school students learning Bahasa Indonesia in 1972 than do in 2018. We can’t let this continue. Now this is not easy, Tanya is not suggesting it’s easy, I'm not suggesting it’s easy. We are not suggesting we have a magic bullet. We know that this is a big ship to turn around but we know this as well: unless we try failure is guaranteed. Unless a government is focused on improved language education we will continue to go backwards. We need a government, a Federal government working from the Prime Minister down to lift our level of Asian economic engagement, working with state and territory governments, working with universities, working with schools, working with the not-for-profit sector and that’s what a Shorten Labor Government would do. Last year I announced on our behalf, our FutureAsia framework, we have continued to announce policies underneath that framework, Jason Clare and I announcing a few weeks ago a range of policies to improve economic engagement with India in particular. This important announcement today from Tanya and more to come. A Shorten Labor Government is focused on economic opportunities for our country, ensuring that our 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth continue, but it won’t happen unless we are fully and entirely engaged in our region. And unfortunately under this Government there has been a complete lack of action and focus on Asian language and literacy which would change with the election of a Shorten Labor Government.
GAI BRODTMANN, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Namaste, Aap kaise ho, it’s a great pleasure to be here today at the Australian University for this announcement. 20 years ago, 21 years ago I was posted to India with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and I have an enduring interest in our engagement with Asia since that time, and I have watched our engagement wax and wane over that time, as Chris has mentioned. We saw a lot of engagement under Keating particularly, and since then it has fallen away particularly under this government. So I really welcome today's announcement but also the range of announcements that we’ve made over the last 18 months in terms of enhancing our engagement with Asia and ensuring that Australia is set up to succeed in an Asian century.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Terima kasih. As a former ANU Professor and a member of the advisory board for the ANU Centre on China and the World, it is a real pleasure to have my colleagues here at this great centre of languages education. When I was a child, I lived for three years in Indonesia and that experience of learning Indonesian and attending local school was important in terms of reminding me that language is not just communication. Language is also, as Chris said, about cross-cultural understanding. It's much harder to think of yourself in a little bubble isolated from the world when you know another language. The world seems bigger and richer and more exciting when you are engaged with the world’s languages. So this announcement is an economic measure. But it’s not just that. It's also about expanding the possibilities and it reflects Labor's commitment to an Australia which stands proud on the world stage. An Australia which engages with the world. An Australia which isn't scared, which doesn't take a 'little Australia' mentality but steps boldly onto the world stage, engaging in business, in diplomacy, being out there in the world as tourists and travellers and entrepreneurs. That's the kind of Australia we want to build and the languages component is vital to that.
DR NICHOLAS FARRELLY, ACTING DEAN OF COLLEGE OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC, ANU: Good morning. My name is Dr Nicholas Farrelly. I am the Acting Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University here in Canberra. Our college has, since 1946, been responsible for ensuring that Australia has a deep reservoir of knowledge about the peoples, the cultures, the languages, the politics, the economies and the futures of the Asia-Pacific region. We're proud that we teach 14 Asian languages, including the big ones that everybody talks about - Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Indonesian, but we also sustain a very important program when it comes to the teaching of less commonly taught languages, languages like Thai and Vietnamese, Tetum, Tok Pisin, the list goes on. The investments that are required to ensure that Australia is Asia-capable for the big opportunities and challenges of the future require thoughtful consideration from us all. We all need to be prepared to ensure that our children are well placed through their high school years and then through to the university level to have the skills and the techniques, the mindset and the networks that will give them a chance to play constructive roles over this very exciting century to come. And so with that in mind, ensuring that we do have a strong foundation at the primary and high school levels is very much in the interests of our College of Asia and the Pacific, and with that in mind we welcome the announcement of further resources that can ensure future successes.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Yes. What is Australia missing out on with this current lack of language skill?
PLIBERSEK: It's a great economic cost to Australia. If we don't have Australian business people who speak Asian languages, are conversant with Asian cultures, we miss business opportunities. But it is also important for our strategic interests as well. We need to be able to talk with and work with our neighbours.
JOURNALIST: Are there any languages that are a priority?
PLIBERSEK: Our 'Australia and the Asian Century' White Paper did identify a number of priority languages but as you've seen here at ANU it is important that we continue to have the capacity to learn Asian languages more broadly.
JOURNALIST: Tanya, this issue of the Asian century, for a number of years now we've been looking at trying to get more business relationships going with Australia. Other than languages are there any other barriers that we've got at the moment? We don't seem to be embracing it as much as I thought Australia would have in the last decade.
PLIBERSEK: Well I think that fact that we've seen such dramatic falls in the number of people who are studying Asian languages and speaking Asian languages is part of it, and as Chris said very importantly, when you're learning a language you're not just learning the language you're learning about a culture, you're learning how to do business in and work in that culture. The students that we've spoken to today, all of them I think have done exchanges overseas, where they've lived and worked in the country whose language they're speaking. Those kind of person to person links are absolutely critical to doing business in the future, and one of the great underused resources we continue to have in Australia is so many people come from our region to study in Australia. We want them, when they return to their home country, to take with them not just great memories of Australia but the sort of person to person links that will help establish and keep strong future business to business links. Chris might want to add a few words here, because of course the study of Asian languages is only one small part of our FutureAsia strategy.
BOWEN: Thanks Tanya and you're right, there's been a stop-start approach over the last twenty years. New governments have started again and other governments have not provided the attention that's necessary. This needs a whole of government approach, and that's what our FutureAsia framework does. A FutureAsia framework outlines a determination to put deeper economic engagement with Asia at the front and centre of our economic policy and then underneath that comes a range of policies. There's the policies that Jason Clare announced a couple of weeks ago about India, embracing the Varghese Report into closer economic engagement with India and certain states in India in particular which have been identified as key growth areas. There's the work we've done around announcements about how we would approach the G20, working closely with Indo-Pacific Finance Ministers before each G20 meeting. There's the work we've done announcing a Two plus Two we would put to Indonesia with the Treasurer and the Indonesian Finance Minister and the respective Trade Ministers to take that level of engagement to the next level on an annual basis and ensure that we are always focusing as a Government and of course an important part of the FutureAsia framework, we've announced that if I was Treasurer we would provide an annual update to Parliament on our success or what roadblocks we've faced in terms of deepening that level of economic engagement to keep the Government accountable for our commitments. We don't just want to make these announcements and see the announcements sit on the shelf unimplemented. We're determined to implement them and we'll report annually to Parliament on progress in doing so.
JOURNALIST: Not on the language question, but should Australia stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia?
PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important in the light of the death of the Saudi journalist in Turkey that Australia sends a very strong diplomatic message to Saudi Arabia and it is important not just that the Australia Government sends that strong diplomatic message but that governments around the world do so.
JOURNALIST: And I've got one for Mr Bowen, a bit of a double barrel, I'll make it a bit easier. The first bit is obviously just returning back, are we doing enough to promote commercial businesses to go into Asia to build relationships that way, government to government we seem to do it really well but it doesn't seem to be filtering through that way, and the other one actually from the journalist is the new Treasury Secretary has warned Australia will need to start dipping into its savings to counter low wage growth, so with consumption underpinning growth, are you worried about any slump in that when we (inaudible)?
BOWEN: Sure, no problem. I'll deal with the first matter first. You're right. It's not just about government to government. We need a whole of nation approach and part of our FutureAsia framework announcements that we've made are just about that. So one small example, we've announced that we think it's a problem that people with Asian language literacy and Asian business experience find it very difficult frankly to get onto boards in Australia and senior management. We have a board culture which doesn't embrace the opportunities of the Asia-Pacific. Based on some success, not enough success, but some successful programs to get more women on boards, we would partner with the Australian Institute of Company Directors to provide mentoring to people with language and Asian business experience to crack through and get onto boards of our big companies. The level of Asian business experience of our boards is lamentable, very poor. We want to work with the private sector to improve that. So this is a whole of nation approach.
In relation to your second question, yes. We're warned constantly, without being alarmist, that while there are risks in the global economy, Australia is exposed. We have the second highest level of household debt in the OECD, in the developed world. This is not a record we should be hankering for. This means a couple of things: the Treasury has said that we are going to draw down on our savings and that's right and that's a problem. Drawing down on our savings and loading up more household debt exposes us more. What do we need to do as a country? A few things. Firstly, build the buffers - bigger budget surpluses over the short and medium term - Labor's policy. The commitment we've made and the policy decisions we've made underpin that. We want to get to bigger, healthier surpluses so there's a bigger buffer, as well as funding our very important initiatives in health and education, women's superannuation and other things, we need bigger budget surpluses and Labor will deliver them. Secondly, we need to ensure that the tax system is fit for purpose and doesn't encourage more leverage than is prudent. We have the most generous property tax concessions in the world, for example. We have very high household debt. At least, to some degree, there is a link. Labor has made the decisions necessary to get our tax system fit for purpose, not to encourage more and more debt and expose us more, but to ensure that the tax system is encouraging productive investment, our Australian Investment Guarantee for example. So yes, the global economy is good. The global economy is very benign at the moment. It's good for Australia, but we have to be preparing for an inevitable slowdown and Australia, with the policy levers that have been whittled away, we don't have the monetary policy levers we once had, we need bigger fiscal policy levers and we need to be noting the fact, dealing with the fact that we have the second highest household debt in the developed world.