by Senator Penny Wong, on The Interpreter, Lowy Institute
Australia’s future, and our future prosperity, are inevitably in Asia.
Julia Gillard pointed to this in 2012 when she launched the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ White Paper, saying ‘whatever else this century brings, it will bring Asia’s return to global leadership, Asia’s rise. This is not only unstoppable, it is gathering pace.’
As ASEAN celebrates its 50th anniversary of founding this month, we should recall its immense contribution to Asia’s rise and look to the future of both ASEAN’s and Australia’s place in the region.
For Australia, the ‘geo’ in geostrategic has been critical to both defining our place in the world, and to our economic prosperity. Over 20 years ago, former Prime Minister Paul Keating said ‘Australia needs to seek its security in Asia rather than from Asia’. Today, as we reap the benefits of over 25 years of uninterrupted growth, in no small part due to our geographic position, we ought to consider how best to engage with ASEAN to ensure Australia’s prosperity and security over the next 25 years.
Our national economic performance is shaped by our capacity to trade and engage globally. This is a fact Australians understand, as evinced by the 2017 Lowy Institute Poll. It found, perhaps counterintuitively, that 78% of Australians think globalisation is good for Australia, and 67% think open trade is good for their own standard of living.
Considering how to best advance Australia’s economic security agenda in our region remains a critical task for a future Labor government. My colleague Chris Bowen, Labor’s Shadow Treasurer has already made the case for a step change on our economic engagement with Asia, and with ASEAN in particular. This would contribute to higher growth for Australia by addressing how we as nation treat the opportunities of the growing middle class of Asia. ASEAN is a natural partner in this endeavour, with the full potential of Australia’s engagement with ASEAN having not yet been realised.