**DOORSTOP** Bran Black, ASEAN-Australia Summit

05 March 2024

Event: **DOORSTOP** Bran Black, ASEAN-Australia Summit
Speakers: Bran Black, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: ASEAN-Australia Summit


Bran Black, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia: Thank you so much for your time today. We're very excited to be here at ASEAN. It's such an enormous opportunity for Australia. ASEAN is the fastest growing region in the world. It's also as a region, our largest trading partner, but the opportunities, I'm talking about what's happening right now, the opportunities into the future, are truly quite immense. It's got a 680 million strong population. And of that 680 million 55 per cent are under the age of 35. So that's a dynamic population, an ambitious population. And we know that it's ambitious, we look at the statistics with respect to the low and middle class, right now in ASEAN you've got 33 million households with disposable income at about $15,000 US a year. That's projected to increase to 144 million households by 2040. So in just 16 years that will hugely increase. The BCA is so excited to be part of this process of expanding Australia's footprint in ASEAN. We've been part of the strategy of helping Nicolas Moore AO in relation to the preparation of his landmark document. Before it was prepared, we were in Indonesia last year when the document was announced and released. And today we've been delighted with Minister O'Connor, with Nicolas Moore, with BCA members and with representatives from right around ASEAN, to have the chance to launch our own contribution to the program so far, at least, which is the Young Professionals Exchange Program. As the name implies, that will see young professionals from Australia have the opportunity to participate in exchanges and internships with counterparts in Southeast Asia and vice versa. That'll create more jobs, more opportunity and understanding. What does it mean for Australia? Well, it's very clear it's more jobs, it’s more opportunity, and it's more growth. I'm very happy to take questions. Thank you.

Journalist: It feels like we've heard for years and years and years that, you know, there's huge opportunity, investment with Australia is under done but we're hearing the same story over and over again. What is going to be different this time and how helpful is it, the things the Government has announced? The business champions and the landing pads, are they actually going to make a tangible difference?

Bran: I think that they really will. What we've seen, of course, I think there is some truth to the idea of there has been a lot of talk for a long period of time. But what I have picked up in the time that I've been in this role, is that there is real interest across ASEAN countries, with counterparts and business organisations in taking that relationship further. And what I think the Government has done that's been really useful since coming to office, with Nicolas Moore, is that Southeast Asia is tangible. So, it's not talking about simply lofty ideas. It's providing tangible actions to screen opportunities for engagement. And that's so useful. It's so important to focus on what's practical. Somebody once said to me that vision without delivery is just a hallucination. I think that what we're seeing with this strategy is an opportunity to turn the vision into something very new.

Journalist: Southeast Asia will be really happy with the visas in particular but also the Funding Facility. But the things you just mentioned though, rhetoric without action, isn’t this business champions idea, something along those lines, essentially just a nice thing that may not actually result in any real tangible benefits?

Bran: I think that there are quite a few initiatives that very much do and will result in tangible outcomes. You've got to look at it as the sum of all parts though. I think you've got business champions and they are necessarily looking for opportunities to bring business to Australia and vis versa. But if you combine that with, for example, the Young Professionals Exchange Program, then that is very tangibly increasing connectivity between Australia and Southeast Asia. And my experience is that that connectivity directly translates into more opportunities for trade particularly. We know that one in four regional jobs, one in five Australian jobs more broadly relies on trade. So, to the extent that we can use those relationships to increase trading opportunities, we're going to create a better future for all of us here in Australia.

Journalist: A lot of these countries are heavily reliant on China for trade, is this kind of engagement really going to move the dial in terms of where that main reliance lies?

Bran: I hope fundamentally that these types of engagements, these types of opportunities, increase Australia's scope and trade right around the globe. It is, of course, very useful to have a better relationship now with China, than we have over the course of the last few years, but we've got to remember that it doesn't matter what type of geopolitical arrangement you're dealing with. It's always going to be better if you've got opportunities right around the globe, if you can diversify your interests, if you can expand then that creates more jobs and creates more opportunity. So, we see that a better relationship with China is a good thing. But we also see having an extraordinary relationship, a strong relationship with ASEAN and individually with ASEAN countries has been very strong and positive too.

Journalist: Do you think one of the limitations with dealing with these countries and being to a million of these seminars over the years is sovereign risk. You go to places like Indonesia and stuff, and there's corruption and all that sort of stuff to deal with. A lot of the banks made a big push in Indonesia a couple of decades ago, but not many of them stuck because of those reasons. Is that still in your view, a big impediment for people risking their money and their time in some of these ASEAN nations? And would you like to see that recommendation by Nicolas Moore about political risk insurance? We'd love to see the Government adopt that.

Bran: The report that Nicolas speaks to and that recommendation particularly was especially interesting. We are very interested in working through what that might look like if it is something that the Government's looking at. But what I would say is that there is, in my experience, a recognition on the part of ASEAN countries and their business chambers, and of course, with Australia as well, that it's the breadth and the depth of engagement that we have that is ultimately able to try and narrow the issues that might otherwise preclude trade and otherwise preclude investment opportunities. No business relationship can be risk free, but to the extent that you can minimise risks, to the extent that you can work together, and that of course means working business-to-business, person-to-person, but also government-to-government then that's ultimately what you do.

Journalist: Some Southeast Asian diplomats have grumbled over the years that Australian businesses have been too risk averse on the point that Phil was raising. Is that a fair criticism of Australian investors, and superfunds in particular, over the years? Have they been too hesitant or is it an understandable response to a fairly uncertain environment?

Bran: I think the thing to concentrate on now is what the future holds. And my sense is, in terms of looking at the interest that we see with Australian businesses just this morning, by way of example, the number of Australian businesses that were keen to appear and be part of our initiative, as it's been launched, they see that there is an opportunity for them to embed themselves even further in Southeast Asia. For that to be a reciprocal arrangememt. I think that the future is very positive and that's where the opportunity lies.

Journalist: What does business make of the Coalition's concerted effort to have nuclear as an energy option, is that realistic?

Bran: The fundamental thing from a Business Council perspective is to make sure that we've got a credible plan to take us forward to 2050. So, I think part of that is of course setting what the country’s 2035 targets look like. The Business Council is engaged in a significant body of work in that regard, that they're working through at the moment. That will necessarily mean that we need to look at policy settings. What type of discrete policy changes are needed in order to help us, a) set a target but, b) deliver on it through to 2035 and beyond to 2050. But we also think we need to look at the technology that is required to deliver on our ambitions as well. The business Council's position is that we are technologically agnostic. We are looking very carefully at the process that I just mentioned. And what that means in terms of our capacity to deliver both policy outcomes and technology outcomes, but I'll have more to say about that once our work is finalised. Thank you very much.


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