ASEAN and Australia - Opportunities to work together

National University of Singapore

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your warm welcome.

I’m delighted to be here - my first visit in my capacity as Australia’s new Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, and I think it’s very fitting that I am in Singapore.

This isn’t simply because Singapore is one of the world’s most competitive and business-friendly economies in the world, or because the country is a leader in technology and innovation—this in itself is invaluable, and I know Australia can learn a great deal from Singapore’s experience.

But more importantly, I’m honoured to be here because Singapore is a true friend of ours.

We have a longstanding relationship based on mutual trust, respect and common purpose.

We are natural partners in fields ranging from science and innovation to defence and trade.

And we share an enduring commitment to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

I’m thrilled that my visit this week coincides with the

Australian Festival of Innovation in Singapore and ASEAN— Good Science = Great Business —and I thank the Australian High Commissioner to Singapore, Mr Bruce Gosper and partner organisations for putting together such a comprehensive program.

This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our science, innovation and business credentials, and features experts in fields ranging from aquaculture to nuclear science.

Some of our best universities have also taking part—from James Cook University in my home state of Queensland which launched a new Tropical Futures Research Institute this morning, to the Australian National University in Canberra, which launches a Southeast Asia Liaison Office today.

Yet international education is about so much more than just receiving a degree—ultimately, it’s about building understanding of our region, and fostering relationships between our people.

So today, I’m deeply honoured to be here at the National University of Singapore—one of the world’s top universities and an institution that has worked closely with Australia.

Having recently come into the role, I would like to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about my own background.

As some of you may know, I studied mechanical engineering at the Queensland University of Technology and started my career working as a maintenance engineer in a power station in Queensland.

I worked in engineering for a number of years, both in power stations and more broadly in the petrochemical industry, before becoming a workplace consultant to small businesses.

This background has given me a strong understanding of the value of technology and innovation, the need to build a flexible and skilled workforce, and the importance of ensuring that what a government delivers represents value for money for taxpayers.

So I came into politics with real-world experience, and I come to my new role with a genuine appreciation of the importance of industry, science and technology to a nation’s prosperity.In Australia, more than one million jobs have been created since the Coalition Government took office in 2013. 

We also continue to enjoy strong economic growth—with real GDP growing by 3.4 per cent in the year to June 2018—as well as a relatively low unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent.

But we cannot afford to be complacent, and I know my portfolio will continue to play a crucial role in the Australian Government’s agenda of delivering jobs and prosperity for all Australians. 

Innovation, science and technology are fundamental to this endeavour, and I’m pleased to have this opportunity to speak about Australia’s commitment to engaging more with ASEAN countries in this area. 

I’m sure you are all aware of the benefits to innovation at the firm level—innovative firms are more competitive, and more likely to employ more people and pay them higher wages.

Expanding this to a national level, we know that innovation is critical to economic growth, job creation, high living standards, health and wellbeing, and a sustainable environment.

In fact, the OECD has found that innovation accounts for up to half of long-term GDP growth.

Innovation is not just the domain of one portfolio or department or Minister.

It happens right across our economy, and all portfolios.

In Australia, we are driving innovation in health, defence, agriculture, social services, and education.

This is important because, ultimately, embracing technology and innovating means:

  • solving problems, big and small, in businesses, big and small, old and new,
  • getting better at taking our world-class science and turning it into world-leading opportunities for our businesses, and
  • helping ALL of our people gain the skills they need to participate and benefit from an increasingly digital economy.

That’s why, just as it is for Singapore and other ASEAN nations, innovation is a national priority for Australia, and the key to ensuring we remain a globally competitive economy.

The Australian Government is investing approximately $2.4 billion in growing Australia’s research, science and technology capabilities, as announced in this year’s Budget.

This includes investments in national research infrastructure and cutting-edge satellite and positioning technology, a new space agency which will kick-start the local space sector, and an early investment in our artificial intelligence capability to support business.

It also builds on our $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, as well as other major investments, such as funding for Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

Yet I know that no country can afford to be an island when it comes to innovation.

Innovation relies not only on the skills and expertise in any one nation’s government or business and research sectors—it also depends on trusted partnerships with other nations. 

This is why I’m committed to strengthening Australia’s engagement with overseas partners - so we can build on our respective strengths and successfully innovate together. 

Australia has a longstanding partnership with ASEAN going back almost half a century, and I’m pleased that Australia hosted a summit with ASEAN leaders for the first time in March.

This brought the leaders of ASEAN together in Sydney, highlighting Australia’s commitment to ASEAN’s mission of driving economic growth, and promoting regional peace and stability.

This was an historic moment and it is important that we now build on this momentum.

Australia has a reputation as a trusted partner, with an established record of working with ASEAN nations to promote regional cooperation, economic integration and inclusive growth.

I would emphasise that we can also learn much from the experience of ASEAN nations in growing their economies and capitalising on the technological progress of recent decades.

As a regional economic bloc, ASEAN’s combined GDP of US$2.5 trillion already makes it the world’s seventh-largest economy, and the region is set to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030, with economic growth rates that easily outpace the global average.

There are a number of factors contributing to this change including an increase in GDP per capita, a growing middle class, younger, better-educated populations, and new technologies.

This is creating tremendous opportunities for Australian researchers and businesses to work with their ASEAN counterparts, and I would like to elaborate on a few key areas where I believe we can forge even deeper partnerships.

I will start with science and research.

Australia already has strong scientific partnerships with all ASEAN members, including exceptional joint research output in fields such as health, medicine and earth sciences.

In particular, Australian and ASEAN researchers have joined forces to make a number of recent discoveries that will improve immeasurably the quality of life of all our citizens.

These include a promising new leukaemia treatment, a better way to manage chronic hepatitis B, a new understanding of quantum phenomena, and a better understanding of factors that contributed to previous Antarctic ice melting, just to name a few.

I’m pleased too that the National University of Singapore is working on projects with three Australian institutions—with the University of Queensland to predict changes in tropical coastal ecosystems, the Sydney Institute of Marine Science to improve the sustainability of city marine environments, and

CSIRO’s Data 61 to better coordinate disaster responses.

These projects are receiving a total of $1.4 million in joint funding from our governments.

More broadly, the work of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has enabled a number of our businesses to develop innovative products that are used across the ASEAN region.

For example, CSIRO researchers developed a prawn feed product called Novacq that enables prawn farmers to grow prawns in a faster, cheaper, healthier and more sustainable way.

A Melbourne-based company, Ridley, was subsequently granted a licence to commercialise the product, which it now sells in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as China and some smaller South Pacific markets.

This is not only boosting profits for prawn farmers across the region—it’s also reducing reliance on wild fish to feed farmed prawns, thereby helping to preserve global fish stocks.

CSIRO will be even more involved in the region in coming years. 

CSIRO’s new ASEAN hub will be based here in Singapore and supported by staff in Vietnam and Indonesia.

CSIRO already has a large portfolio of projects in the region including research partnerships with Singapore in areas like precision health and high-performance computing, and a role in the DFAT-led Aus4Innovation initiative to strengthen Vietnam innovation system.

The agency’s formal presence will now anchor Australia-Singapore science collaboration, as well as supporting our linkages with the innovation ecosystems of other ASEAN nations.

The Coalition Government is also helping our researchers and businesses to build strong links in the region through our $3.2 million Regional Collaborations Programme.

The program supports science, research and innovation collaboration that aims to solve regional challenges, and five projects were successful as part of the first round of funding.

These included a project between The University of Wollongong and partners in Indonesia and the United Kingdom to use remote sensing technology to monitor the impact of climate change, as well as a project between The University of Melbourne and partners in China, Singapore, the United States, Canada and France to try to discover a cure for hepatitis B. 

Today, I am incredibly pleased to announce the opening of a second funding round for this program.

More than $1.5 million is available for Australian researchers and businesses to join with partners from at least two economies, including one in the Asia-Pacific region.

This will provide much-needed support to open up lucrative business opportunities, while also making an invaluable contribution to supporting science across the Asia-Pacific region.

Applications are open for the next two months and I encourage interested parties to apply.

I am also delighted to inform you of an Australian space company, one from my home town of the Gold Coast, securing a significant investment to develop low cost rockets.

Gilmour Space Technologies is developing low-cost launch vehicles to put small to medium sized satellites into low earth orbit and has attracted $19 million in funding from the CSIRO’s Innovation Fund, Main Sequence Ventures, and Blackbird Ventures.

This investment is the 10th investment by CSIRO’s Innovation Fund, part of Australia’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, and is a great example of Australia supporting cutting-edge innovation in our space industry.

Through industry partnerships with investors like CSIRO and Main Sequence Ventures, and the establishment of the Australian Space Agency, the Australian Government is advancing Australia’s innovation and space sectors, helping to drive economic growth and jobs for Australians into the future.

More broadly, I know there are thousands of Australian businesses looking to connect with Asian partners, invest in the region, and bring new products and services to market, and this brings me to the second area where I see potential for deeper cooperation with ASEAN—business partnerships aimed at capitalising on export opportunities and creating jobs.

This morning, I was pleased to attend a roundtable discussion about the experiences of the aspiring companies that are working out of the Australian Landing Pad in Singapore.

The Landing Pad is run by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission—or Austrade—and operates out of a Singapore workspace of the co-working company WeWork.

It provides Australian market-ready startups and scaleups with a short-term base where they can access business development, investment and mentorship opportunities, as well as a network of contacts in Singapore and ASEAN to help them expand into new markets.

One company that has benefited from the Landing Pad is Victorian-based Zed Technologies, which has set itself the goal of being a global leader in cloud delivery of medical imaging.

Zed Technologies has developed a cloud-based service that enables over 4 million X-rays and scans to be delivered to over 15,000 doctors and 2 million patients each year via an app.

The company arrived at the Landing Pad in February last year, won a major Singaporean client in its first week, and has since built a solid sales pipeline, forged valuable local connections, and hired a Singapore-based business development manager.

Zed technologies has also secured a deal with Singapore’s leading private diagnostic and molecular imaging provider -

RadLink - and has visited other ASEAN nations including Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam to secure a promising pipeline for the future.

It is a great example of a small, enterprising company that is being rewarded for having a go.

Another company participating in the Landing Pad is Matchbox Exchange, an online platform working to eliminate the process of returning empty shipping containers by organising exchanges between wharf carriers.

As part of my visit to Singapore this week, I also have the privilege of leading the Australian Medtech Trade Mission alongside Ms Sue MacLeman, who is the Chair of MTPConnect—Australia’s Medical Technology and Pharmaceutical Industry Growth Centre.

The mission is seeking to promote Australian capability in medtech and connect our best companies to Singapore with a view to capturing emerging opportunities in this region. 

The global MTP sector is expected to be worth almost $3 trillion by 2025 and, even more important, new technologies offer huge potential to boost life expectancy.

This may benefit people in many ASEAN countries where life expectancy remains below 70.

Earlier today, I listened to a panel of regional medtech experts discuss the industry’s growth.

One of the speakers was Mr Justin Leong, who is the President of the Asia Growth Markets section at global medical device company ResMed.

Since being founded in Sydney by Australian entrepreneur Dr Peter Farrell in 1989, ResMed has grown from humble beginnings in Sydney to become a world leader in treating breathing disorders.

Today, ResMed manufactures more than 50 per cent of its sleep and respiratory care products at a 95,000-square foot facility in Singapore, before distributing them worldwide.

Its story shows that a fledgling company can quickly transform itself into an established player and that Australian innovations can be harnessed to help people around the world. 

The Australian Government has introduced a range of initiatives that are designed to create more success stories, not only in the field of health and medical technology but also more broadly in growth sectors such as advanced manufacturing, resources, and cyber security.

For example, last week I announced the opening of a second funding round for the Global Innovation Linkages program which provides Australian businesses and researchers with funding to work with global partners on science, research and development projects.

In the first round, nine Australian organisations shared in almost $8.7 million in funding, and a total of $8 million is on offer in this round, with individual grants of up to $1 million.

I encourage Australian research organisations and businesses to work together to apply, as well as international partners to pursue opportunities to work with Australia. 

Last week, I was also pleased to launch a $20 million Small and Medium Enterprises Export Hubs Initiative to help SMEs grow, export and generate local and regional jobs.

The initiative will support the establishment and operation of hubs where businesses can work together to export through activities such as developing collective brands, taking advantage of local infrastructure, and connecting to global supply chains. 

The initiative will provide matched funding of up to $1.5 million for up to four years, and will see great Australian companies team up with each other to open export opportunities. 

The ASEAN community is already one of Australia’s most significant trading partners.

Five of Australia’s top 15 trading partners are ASEAN members , and the value of our total annual trade with 5 ASEAN stands at more than $100 billion.

Australia has also recently amended our free trade agreement with Singapore. The upgrade to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement is a major outcome of the Singapore Australia Comprehensive Partnership, building on one of Australia’s most successful free trade agreements.

It builds on the strong partnership that already exists between Singapore and Australia.

But what is most important is not the quantity or dollar value of our trade—it is that we share a vision of open markets and the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas.The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement underpins our trade relationship, and is complemented by our bilateral FTAs with Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.

More recently, Prime Minister Morrison and President Widodo announced the conclusion of negotiations on the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

This will open up diverse opportunities for businesses from both countries—helping to drive two-way trade and investment and create jobs in Australia and Indonesia.

I am also encouraged by the negotiations between ASEAN, Australia and other countries in the region to deliver a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

This would be a landmark agreement that would account for almost half of the world’s population, more than 30 per cent of global GDP, and more than a quarter of world exports.

Turning now to the third area where I see an opportunity for Australia to engage more closely with ASEAN nations—supporting girls and women to study and pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as STEM.

This is an issue that is very close to my heart.

I mentioned earlier that I studied mechanical engineering at university.

In fact, I was one of the first two female graduates from the Queensland University of Technology, and I then pursued a career in what was a very male-dominated profession.

Unfortunately, gender imbalance remains in place today right across the STEM fields.

As the new Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, one of my personal goals is to do what I can to change this and ultimately ensure women excel in STEM studies and careers.

A 2016 report from the Office of Australia’s Chief Scientist found that women comprise only 16 per cent of the qualifies STEM population, and only 27 per cent of the STEM workforce. 

2015 research by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated that changing just 1 per cent of our workforce into STEM-related roles could as $57 billion to our GDP over 20 years.

Given STEM skills are vital to solving challenges in a range of areas—from health to space travel to poverty—we simply cannot afford to miss out on the talents of half the population.

So I’m pleased we’re now adopting a range of initiatives to increase gender equity in STEM. 

For example, we’re developing a Women in STEM Strategy to help coordinate our efforts, as well as a 10-year roadmap to achieve sustained increases in women’s STEM participation.

We’re also appointing a Women in STEM Ambassador to advocate for gender equity, and we’re developing a toolkit to help young girls understand what a STEM career can involve.

I believe there’s also the potential to work more with regional partners to address this issue.

We’ve been approached by countries such as Japan, India and others looking to understand what we are doing and how they might learn from our experience.

I know that Singapore also faces similar challenges to Australia, and I’m pleased that we’ve recently started to work together on this issue.

For example, my predecessor, Michaelia Cash, joined Ms Ho Ching, the wife of Singapore’s Prime Minister and CEO of wealth fund Temasek, at a Women in Business breakfast in Sydney in March, and also took part in a Women in STEM Roundtable in Singapore in June.

Our nations also contribute to the APEC Women in STEM initiative which includes an APEC-wide survey of initiatives to increase the number of women in STEM courses and careers. 

As part of this, Australia will host a workshop in Brisbane next month on promoting women’s economic progress through STEM, and I expect many ASEAN nations to attend.

Today, I would also like to propose a new international initiative directed at supporting women in STEM—the establishment of an ASEAN Women in Innovation Leaders Dialogue.

This will provide an opportunity to discuss shared challenges, learn about country-specific programs, and explore options for multilateral initiatives to promote women in STEM.

I plan to invite my ASEAN counterparts to attend an inaugural dialogue next year, and am confident we can work together to overcome barriers for women in STEM across our region.

I can tell you my own passion for STEM disciplines remains just as strong today as it was when I began my studies, and I am determined to see more women progress in these fields.

As I said at the outset, I feel it is timely to be visiting Singapore during the Australian Festival of Innovation.

I’m particularly looking forward to tonight’s gala dinner, and think it’s fitting that Professor Brian Schmidt, the ANU

Vice-Chancellor and a Nobel Laureate, is the keynote speaker, given his outstanding contribution to global scientific endeavour.

I’m told there are a total of more than 40 events being held as part of Good Science = Great Business , and each of these has been an opportunity to promote cooperation across the region 

I am confident that Australia and Singapore can provide leadership in this regard, and feel there may even be scope to expand the innovation festival concept to other ASEAN nations

For we all know that innovation and an embrace of industry, science and technology must be at the heart of our economic policies—to drive growth, job opportunities and prosperity

Working together is the lifeblood of innovation, and so I invite ASEAN countries to partner with Australia to seize the economic opportunities and contribute to a stable and secure region.

I trust we will work together and learn even more from each other in the years ahead.

Media contact: Minister Andrews' office 02 6277 7070