Australia in the Asian Century

On Sunday 28th October the Australian Government released its White Paper entitled ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ which outlines the potential opportunities that the development of Asia offers to the Australian economy.

As China and India’s economies continue to grow, not only does their demand for raw materials rise, but also their demand for consumer goods and services. The Australian government are keen to become more closely aligned to their prosperous neighbours and cash-in on the consumer demands of the growing middle-classes in Asia.

The White Paper sets out a roadmap for the next 13 years, to 2025 and outlines a number of targets for the country, which include; the average real national income per person increasing from $62,000 (in 2012) to $73,000 (in 2025); the Australian GDP per person moving from 13th to10th top in the world and most significantly maybe, the Asian market providing at least one-third of the country’s total GDP, up from one-quarter today.

The paper also states that Asian studies will be a core part of the Australian school curriculum; “All students will have continuous access to a priority Asian language—Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.” This is a measure of how integrated the Australian government sees the two neighbouring continents and the importance it is placing on the Australian people adapting, integrating and becoming Asia’s chief trading partner.

There will also be provision for improved immigration and tourism to the country, with the Department for Immigration & Citizenship stating that it will expand “its network of service and delivery partners to support online visa lodgement, multiple entry visas and longer visa validity periods.”  Students from China are of particular focus and by streamlining the student visa assessment process, more will be encouraged to study in Australian Universities. Chris Bowen, Minster for Immigration & Citizenship states;

“The Gillard Government’s improvements to our migration systems and visa processes will mean that we are well prepared to welcome people from across Asia who will contribute to our economy and culture.”

This may be seen as a slight departure from the tough on immigration image of Australia.  However, this can only be seen as a positive move and over the next 5 to 10 years we will hopefully see the Australian jobs market opening up to welcome more skilled non-nationals.

The White Paper sets out a comprehensive agenda for making the most of the opportunities ahead. It considers how Australia will successfully navigate the years ahead across five areas: “strengthening our economy; building our capabilities; connecting to growing markets; ensuring sustainable security; and nurturing deeper and broader relationships.”

We have already seen Asia’s demand for raw materials create an extraordinary boom in mining, minerals and energy investment and the Australian government predict a continued demand for a wide range of mineral resources, but it also wants to take advantage of opportunities across a wider spectrum of industry, services, manufacturing and utilities.

As if to echo this positivity, the Australia & New Zealand Banking Group released a report this month, stating that Australia’s government bond yields are advancing at the fastest pace in eight months, catching up with a rise in borrowing costs in China, and easing concern over threats to the South Pacific nation’s mining boom.

“We’ve had an improvement in global conditions,” said Tony Morriss, Head of Interest-Rate Research at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. There are “clear signs of stabilisation in China. We’ve had better data in the US overall.”

Of course the markets are up and down, and we will almost certainly see dips in this growth, however the long term predictions from the Australian government is that there is huge opportunity of which they require the country to be ready to take advantage.

According to Treasury modelling prepared for the ‘Australia in the Asian Century White Paper’,  by the end of this decade, Asia is set to overtake the economic output of Europe and North America combined and to become the world’s largest economic power. With this will come the rise of the Asian middle classes, anticipated to increase by more than 2.5 billion people by 2030 and account for around 60 per cent of global middle-class consumption.

The fundamental message running throughout this government paper is that the ‘staggering’ Asian growth will offer enormous opportunities for Australia across all sectors of the economy, including; resources, services, agriculture and manufacturing and therefore the strategy is for the Australian government to be a competitive force within the region through skills development, innovation, infrastructure, the tax system, regulatory reform and sustainability.

There are sceptics, Murray Hunter, Associate Professor at the University of Malaysia Perlis, writes in the Jakarta Post that;  “It’s not about learning Asian languages but about understanding different points of view, approaches, and “mindsets”.  Austro-centrism must take a back seat in relationships around the region for Australia to be seriously considered a member of the region [Asia].”

Hunter suggests that whilst Australia is still so closely aligned to the US, a relationship which spans back to World War 2, that it will struggle to fully integrate with Asia, he goes on to say;  “The white paper is still haunted by Australia’s past. Maybe it’s time for Australia to release the US security blanket a little and become a mature and independent nation within the Asian region.”

Contrary to this, in the Daily Telegraph today Professor Andrew MacIntyre, from the Australian National University, is quoted as saying that the “plan was visionary and would help Australia to adjust to a new phase we are going into”. “The scale of the change and the momentum of the change now is so huge,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “Australia has to adapt. We need to lift because the pace of change is not slowing down.”

Particularly pertinent to Allen & York and our role as sustainability recruitment specialists within Australia, is the section in the White Paper entitled; ‘A Resilient and Sustainable Australia in the Asian Century’ in which Ministers Greg Combet, Tony Burke and Martin Ferguson come together to enforce the message that Australia supports a sustainable and responsible approach to economic growth; “Australia’s actions at home and our engagement with Asia is ensuring effective action on climate change, sustainable management of our environmental assets and stronger food supply systems and energy markets.”

Reiterating the current Australian government’s commitments on climate change, the paper outlines the reduction of carbon emissions by at least 5 per cent compared with 2000 levels by 2020 and 80 per  cent by 2050.  Also, the target of 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity being generated by renewable energy sources by 2020.  These are not new targets, but they reaffirm the commitment to a sustainable model and the creation of jobs across the sustainability sector.  We look forward to seeing the developments of a closer relationship between Australia and Asia, and welcome the opportunity to support businesses to create innovative and robust sustainable teams.

Vicky Kenrick is an Advertising and Marketing Communications specialist for international sustainability recruitment consultancy, Allen & York.

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