The rationale

In India, China and Indonesia, Victoria has potential markets of 2.5 billion people and growing. Asia already contains over 60% of the world’s people and, according to the Asian Development Bank, by 2050 will also account for 60% of global GDP. China’s economy is likely to become the world’s biggest within the next two decades, during which time economic growth in may other Asian countries – including India, Vietnam and Indonesia – will be among the world’s highest. In short, Asia is booming. Countries that can successfully engage with this market will have access to boundless opportunities. Those that don’t will be left behind.

The economic benefits of an Asia-ready Victoria are obvious. If we can tap into even a small part of the region’s success, it will mean jobs, trade, economic growth, and numerous other benefits for our State. Unfortunately, we are just not ready to take advantage of these opportunities. Many Australian students currently learn little or nothing about Asia in their schooling. Student uptake in Asian languages has been declining since 2005, with fewer than 6% studying an Asian language to Year 12. While three-quarters of businesses surveyed by Asialink in 2011 indicated an interest in expanding into Asia, few have the inter-cultural or language expertise needed to do so. More than half of Australian businesses already operating in Asia have little board or senior management experience of the region.

Victoria cannot rely on Asia’s hunger for natural resources like Queensland and Western Australia. In NSW, Barry O’Farrell has appointed a Parliamentary Secretary for Asia-Pacific Trade to increase his State’s links with the region. Without a concerted effort to build an Asia-ready Victoria, our State runs the risk of being sidelined.

The good news is that with a multicultural population and strengths in the services, education and agriculture sectors, our State has a golden opportunity. By leveraging off our existing advantages and developing new skills, particularly by nurturing our community’s Asia-literacy, we can lead the rest of Australia in engaging with the Asian region. Setting up a Vic-Asia Unit will send a strong signal to the world that Victoria is serious about increasing its competitiveness in a shifting global environment. Not only will growing our inter-cultural and Asian languages proficiency be to Victoria’s economic advantage; it will also create a more educated, adaptable and harmonious society. As we move forward into the 21st Century, the ability to value and mediate among other languages and cultures will be just as important as increasing the flow of trade between Victoria and its Asian neighbours. In the words of General Peter Cosgrove, “language skills and cultural sensitivity will be the new currency of this new world order”.

Some good work is being done across the public and private sectors in an attempt to provide Victorians with the skills to operate in Asia, build Asian language proficiency and increase our understanding of Asian cultures. However, there is little integration between these initiatives and not enough co-ordination between government, business and the education sector. We need a comprehensive State policy to help build an Asia-ready Victoria.

There is no magic bullet to addressing Victoria’s poor Asia-literacy and lack of preparedness to connect with and prosper from a rising Asia. It requires a multi-faceted approach and serious investment. The Vic-Asia Unit would be set up within DPC and work closely with DBI, DEECD and other Departments and key stakeholders to develop a whole-of-government strategy aimed at building an Asia-ready Victoria.

More information on the structure of the Vic-Asia Unit is available here. The preliminary Business Case can be found here.


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