The Vic-Asia Unit

Project need

The centre of the world is shifting and it is moving towards Asia. Although Victoria sits right on Asia’s doorstep, we find ourselves looking the other way. We need to be better prepared for the future and better placed to grasp the opportunities that a rising Asia offers our State. We also need to respond to the resulting shift of capital and resources to the mining sector, which will continue to put Victoria at a disadvantage. What we need is a dedicated Vic-Asia Unit, to harness the untapped knowledge and expertise across the Victorian Public Service and the wider community, to co-ordinate existing initiatives, and to develop new policies and programs to build an Asia-ready Victoria.

Project status

This website and the accompanying video were created to promote the Vic Asia Unit, one of five projects short-listed in the Open Category of the Victorian Public Service Innovation Challenge. On Monday 30 May 2011, this initiative was announced the winner of a VPS-wide, peer voting process and was subsequently presented to the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and a number of other Departmental Secretaries with a view to progressing the initiative.

Structure of the Unit

Building an Asia-ready Victoria requires a dedicated team with a clear focus on developing whole-of-government outcomes. The Vic-Asia Unit would initially consist of 6 VPS employees, reporting to a Director and ultimately to Cabinet through the Premier. A Steering Committee, made up of senior departmental representatives and possibly the CEO of Asialink, as an external adviser, would provide expertise and strategic direction to the Unit and ensure collaboration between all of the key Departments.

The Vic-Asia Unit would be tasked with analysing the current state of play, developing new policies and programs, and better co-ordinating the existing initiatives being carried out across government. The Unit would develop a unified strategy across four inter-related focus areas:

  1. Providing the tools for Victorian businesses and government to deal effectively with Asia.
  2. Creating an Asia-literate Victoria, by educating the next generation of Victorian students as well as the wider community.
  3. Putting Victoria on the map by raising our State’s profile across Asia.
  4. Gathering and analysing up-to-date information to develop the best policies going forward.

The Unit would also encourage links between the often disparate spheres of education, business and research and provide support to Departments in implementing the elements of an Asia-ready strategy. Consideration was given to housing the Unit within DBI or DEECD (as the Departments already most heavily involved in Asia-related initiatives). However, given the focus on whole-of-government policy development and inter-departmental co-ordination, the preferred approach is to set up the Unit within DPC. Further details on the model and rationale for the Unit can be found in the detailed business case here.


The first 6 months following the formation of the Unit should be focussed on developing a work plan, engaging in wide-reaching consultation, building awareness about the role of the Unit, and gathering empirical analysis of existing and future trends and needs to inform the work of the Unit going forward.

The second phase would be to draft a whole-of-government policy focussed on building an Asia-ready Victoria. While the Vic-Asia Unit would have a co-ordinating role, the details of the policy would require input from all Departments, the private sector and the broader community. As this policy will be relevant to a large number of portfolios, it would need to be developed through a governance structure that allows for the appropriate Cabinet deliberation and decision making.

Once the Asia-ready policy has been released, the Unit would commence the program development and implementation phase. Depending on their nature, specific programs will be developed in co-ordination with, and ultimately implemented by, different Government departments including as well as other government and non-government bodies like the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Asialink.

Intended outcomes

If the Vic-Asia Unit is successful and the policies and programs it generates deliver their intended benefits, the following outcomes would be expected in the medium to long term:

  • A greater uptake of Asian language learning and inter-cultural studies amongst Victorian students, from primary school to high school and through to university;
  • More Victorian businesses doing business in or with Asia and attracting investment from Asia and a higher volume of direct trade between Victoria and Asian countries;
  • More Asian tourists visiting Victoria and vice versa;
  • Increased knowledge sharing and flow of expertise between Victoria and Asia; and
  • An increasing level of knowledge of Asia and “positive sentiment” towards Asia amongst Victorians and vice versa.

Potential programs for further consideration and development

While program development is a longer-term goal of the Vic-Asia Unit, which will initially be focussed on strategy development and co-ordination, it is useful to indicate some of the programs that might be explored once the broader Asia-ready Victoria strategy has been developed. Planning for some of these programs could commence in the shorter-term where Departments such as DBI or DEECD already have the relevant expertise and capabilities.

STREAM 1: Providing tools and support for Victorian businesses and government to increase investment in Asia
  • Improve resources for Victorian businesses wanting to work in Asia, trade with Asiaor attract Asian investment (Asia-Linked Businesses), to develop inter-cultural competence, including better co-ordination between the VGBOs.
  • Create a database for Asia-Linked Businesses to tap into a workforce that is Asia-literate (across all professions and trades).
  • Train and retain an Asia-ready workforce, by increasing the focus on and funding for Asian languages and inter-cultural training (push factors) and educating Victorian businesses about the value of employees with Asia skills (pull factors).
  • Initiate work experience opportunities for Asia-literate secondary school students in Asia-Linked Businesses.
  • Develop a world-leading cultural awareness training program and make it available to senior managers in both the public and private sectors.
STREAM 2: Educating the next generation of Victorians and building Asia-literacy across the community
  • Improve Asian language learning and resources for teachers and students, set up local area networks of language teachers, raise the level of support for teachers and fund language teachers to participate in language exchanges or 2-week “refresher” courses overseas.
  • Enhance the inter-cultural studies component of the school curriculum (turning the new Australian Curriculum, agreed at COAG, from words into action and fast-tracking Victoria’s adoption of it).
  • Increase awareness of Asian culture across the community through film festivals, art exhibitions, exchange programs, writing festivals, etc.
  • Encourage the federal government to lift travel bans on countries like Indonesia, or at least create more useful categorisations, to allow school trips to occur, in order to make Asian languages come alive for students, rather than just being dry words on a page.
  • Develop language learning technology, which makes use of platforms like Skype, to allow students to actually interact with the people and cultures they are studying about (this initiative could build on work done by the Asia Education Foundation on virtual school partnerships through the Bridge program).
STREAM 3: Raising Victoria’s profile in Asia and putting Victoria on the map
  • Establish websites and social media programs to promote economic, policy and cultural links between Asia and Victoria.
  • Establish a special visitor program for future Asian business, government and community leaders.
  • Undertake a scoping study on how to showcase Victoriathrough investment in exhibitions and workshops in Asia.
STREAM 4: Providing an empirical basis for the work of the Vic-Asia Unit:
  • Work with educational institutions, businesses and the ABS to collect up-to-date information on current trends and to test the effectiveness of programs as they are developed and rolled out.
  • Establish research grants to identify existing gaps inVictoria’s Asia-literacy and cultural competency and develop international best-practice for addressing these gaps.

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