Australia: Our place in the Asian Century: Southeast Asia as 'The Third Way'

CEO & Partner John W.H. Denton participated in a Panel Discussion in response to the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and the launch of the Asialink Report: Our place in the Asian Century: Southeast Asia as 'The Third Way'.

Hosted by Corrs Melbourne on Thursday 29 November, the event was moderated by Sid Myer, Chairman, Asialink. John was joined by panel members Professor Ross Garnaut AO, Vice-Chancellors Fellow and Professorial Fellow in Economics, the University of Melbourne, Professor Tony Milner AM, Basham Professor of Asian History, ANU, Jenny McGregor, CEO, Asialink and Lesley Alway, Director, Arts, Asialink.

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here, and to have the opportunity to discuss the Asian Century with some of the finest minds working on Asia.

It's a tough job summarising all the work that went into the White Paper into such a short time, so I'll try and divide my talk tonight up into a couple of brief sections.

Firstly, I'll talk a little about the findings of the White Paper, and how these can be used as a way to guide our activities.

Then I'll talk about some of the specific strategies noted in the White Paper, and discuss some of the ways we can implement these.

Finally, I'll look at a couple of key priorities coming out of the white paper and discuss possible ways to pursue them.

A feature of the White Paper is that it does more than just document issues, it aims to distil goals and the policy pathways to achieve those goals. The purpose was to provide a blueprint for predictable and consistent national policy for years to come.

The White Paper notes that right now, we're doing well from the Asian Century. We have one of the strongest economies in the world. Unemployment is low. Inflation is contained. The terms of trade are high. Although commodity prices appear to have passed their record peak, considerable minerals and energy investment is still to come and large-scale production and exports are yet to flow.

So that's a bit of a "good news story". But the other bit is what needs to be done to make the most of our opportunities. In answer: The task force thought that now is the time to push for more reform. Not just incremental change but to raise the ambition of the nation and force us to think though how we will do things differently. In our view More of the same but faster will not be enough. And that is because the scale of the opportunity is unlike anything we have seen before.

So the ambition lies in the five key areas listed in the Asian Century White Paper.

The first is building on our strengths, and reinforcing the things we already do well. Because we must keep our own house in order, as this is what makes us attractive to Asia.

The second is developing the capabilities of our people, and making sure they understand the region. We need these capabilities and this understanding in order to build stronger relationships and partnerships across the region.

The third is ensuring that the business sector develops strong relationships with others in the region as well. We'll need new business models and new mindsets to operate at our best in Asian markets, and to seize the opportunities in our region.

The fourth is keeping our region stable. We will work to build trust and cooperation in the region, and to secure a greater role for Asian countries in the rules-based regional and global order. We'll do this while maintaining a strong alliance with the US, and encouraging China to fully participate in regional developments. It is not to down play ASEAN but to work with it as well.

The final key area is to strengthen Australia's relationships across the region at every level. A wide range of groups — from businesses, to educational institutions, to community groups, to unions, to cultural organisations and even to sports teams — can enjoy stronger relationships through Asia. It will be these relationships that form the base for future improvements in Australia's relations with Asia.

There is, obviously, an enormous number of actions necessary to implement these themes. The government, of course, has a leadership role in this and in case you missed it has already announced steps to establish a framework in which this implementation can happen:

  • A dedicated Cabinet Committee has been established to oversee implementation, which will include the Prime Minister, Treasurer and other senior Ministers;
  • Dr Craig Emerson has been appointed as the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy, to oversee implementation of White Paper commitments and engagement with key partners in Australia and in the region;
  • Individual Ministers will be responsible for advocating and pursing their relevant policy directions in the White Paper;
  • To tie all these responsibilities together, a cross-agency Taskforce has been established in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to support whole-of-government implementation of the White Paper
  • And as with the White Paper development, a Strategic Advisory Board of external experts will have an ongoing role in promoting public dialogue and advising Government on implementation and emerging policy issues. This will include the original external panel members, including myself. But others will be appointed.

A key priority for the first 12 months is to raise awareness and increase momentum. In delivering on this priority, key stakeholders such as Asialink are instrumental. And the Asian Literacy Roundtable held earlier this week is a good example of this.

So what are the critical 'implementables'?

The first is to re-emphasise that we welcome foreign economic investment. Economic investment is good for us. It creates jobs. It boosts our tax base. And it lets us engage and interact with Asia.

At present, investment from Asia in general is much lower than it should be given the relative size of Asian economies. There are a number of specific actions listed in the paper, and they will help support welcoming environment for investment. These include domestic reforms to strengthen our regulatory environment through improving the functioning of bodies such as COAG and COAG Business Advisory Council. And they include Australia playing an active role in international fora to reduce barriers to investment and trade, particularly for 'behind the border' reforms.

But there's a great deal that the business community can do to help boost investment. We can work together with colleagues in the region to guide and influence the formation of regulatory frameworks and capabilities to strengthen our confidence and enable us to boost our own investment stock in Asia. We currently trade heavily with and invest scarcely in the region we live in. Recent estimates have it that 50% of our trade is with Asia, but only 5% of our investment is. We can look to build deeper financial market ties with Asia. At present, like the other countries in Asia, we're much more financially integrated with other parts of the globe than in Asia.

But in the longer run, Australia getting more out of the Asian Century is not just about more investment. There are many other things we need to address:

  1. we need to have much greater flow of goods, services, capital, ideas and people;
  2. we need to have stronger trade links;
  3. we need to encourage and be a part of more comprehensive regional agreements; and
  4. we need to see and understand Asia as a working partner.

This means knowing Asia's legal institutions, political leaders, commercial practices, cultures and governance standards better across the board.

This greater knowledge, and this push to make Asia our partner rather than only our supplier, will need to come at all levels of society. And it will require us to develop a raft of new capabilities. And I know Jenny will have much more to say about these, so I'll be brief: by 2025, should we successfully be able to implement the capabilities roadmap of the White Paper, every Australian student will have the chance to engage comprehensively with Asian languages, history, culture and studies. They'll have the chance to pair with Asian schools. And when they leave school, they'll have university courses and commercial opportunities that will allow them to continue engaging with Asia.

Driving this is the knowledge that we, as a country, will succeed in the Asian Century through the quality of our people.

We already have a highly skilled, hard-working and creative population. We have many world leading research institutions in education, health, environmental management, science and design. But not enough.

We can add enormous value to cross-border value chains and regional production networks. And we have the intellectual property frameworks and traditions to allow us to make the most of all this talent. We need to continue building on this.

But winning in the Asian Century isn't just about Australia: it's also about our friends throughout the region.

Asia will become an increasingly significant source of new ideas, technologies and leading-edge science for Australia. And our population — more than a quarter of whom were born overseas — and our large diaspora can help to build social, business, and, cultural networks that help us work together with Asia to make the most of their new ideas.

These networks are vital. They bring with them many, often-unanticipated benefits. Today's students, tourists, and friends are tomorrow's investors, business partners, professors and political leaders. Being intertwined in Asia requires us to be intertwined through people.

Businesses can enjoy similar benefits. More sophisticated relationships between our firms and Asia will encourage us to share knowledge, and to specialise in the things we do best. to do this, we need more knowledge of Asian institutions and 'cultural norms', this is where the notion of one-third of all board members and senior public servants having a 'deep knowledge of Asia' has relevance.

But we also need to shift our mindsets. We need to look afresh at the opportunities that are happening before us, in our very region. We need to work now to build the relationships that will make us more effective there in 20 or 30 years time. And we need to figure out what we can create with and give to Asia, as well as what it can give us. Anachronistic thinking is to our peril.

Part of this mindset shift involves opportunities outside Australia, but another, oft-overlooked part can happen here in Australia. It can happen through us creating ways we collaborate at a national and community level to make the most of these opportunities across society.

The Asian infrastructure market is a concrete example of this. The region needs lots of infrastructure and fast. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently estimated that the 32 ADB developing member countries are expected to need almost US$8.2 trillion (in 2008 US$) to meet their infrastructure needs to 2020.1 And most of this investment (around 68 per cent) is needed for new investments in infrastructure.

But the ADB developing member countries have committed to only US$330bn worth of these projects that are thought likely to be profitable or likely to succeed, leaving a gap of around US$8 trillion.

Australia has all the tools it needs to make the most of this infrastructure boom. Australian business has vast experience with infrastructure funding, with infrastructure building and with the many services that go with both of these activities.

The Australian and state governments have made infrastructure a priority through actions such as the recently-launched National Infrastructure Construction Schedule and the Victorian Governments revised model for PPPs.

The former brings information on all major government infrastructure projects in Australia, and which if successful could be a stepping stone to an even bigger database of information.

The latter thinks through approaches to PPPs in a post GFC world.

Clearly, on the individual level, Australian firms could be very successful chasing this infrastructure pot of gold. But we can be yet more successful working together and seeking networked advantage. That is the adoption of an Australian PPP platform across the region.

This is the promise of the Asian Century – that the biggest opportunities (and challenges) in the world are now in our region. The challenge becomes how we all work together to make the most of it.


1 Bhattacharyay, B.N. (2010) 'Estimating demand for infrastructure in energy, transport, telecommunications, water and sanitation in Asia and the Pacific 2010-2020'. Working Paper Series, No. 248. Tokyo: Asian Development Bank Institute

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Most awarded firm and Australian deal of the year
Australasian Legal Business Awards
Employer of Choice for Women
Equal Opportunity for Women
in the Workplace (EOWA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.