Australia-Canada economic leadership forum (AusCan) opening remarks

10 July 2018

Speaker Jennifer Westacott AO
Venue AusCan Economic Leadership Forum 2018
Delivery Tuesday, 10 July 2018 


It’s great to be here in Montreal at this sixth Australia–Canada Economic Leadership Forum.

I’d like first to thank my friend and co-chair, Norman Steinberg, for his hospitality and opening remarks. I’m looking forward to a great discussion over the next couple of days.

Can I thank our organising committee and mostly, thank you for travelling in some cases, very long distances to be here.

As a very proud Australian I want to particularly acknowledge our former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is here with us today, and ask you join with me in welcoming him.

Last year I began my remarks by observing that we were meeting at an important time in world history.

I noted that globally, we were facing tremendous forces of change…

  • The collision of rapid technological developments;
  • The dilemma posed by mass migration, including the dislocation of people from war and conflict; and
  • The significant challenge of sluggish economic growth and disparity of wealth.

Not surprisingly these forces continue to play out, albeit world economic growth is ticking up.

But we also now face growing trade tensions between the US, EU and China.

Canada too has been caught with new tariffs on iron and steel and continued tension over NAFTA.

Australia is caught in the wider US-China trade relationship, with 30 per cent of our trade China-bound.

As I also noted last year, these forces have triggered a change in popular sentiment that means people are increasingly sceptical of the benefits of trade and globalisation, innovation and economic growth.

This shift in sentiment is playing out politically. People are electing leaders out of the political mould. They are voting for greater national sovereignty.

They are increasingly suspicious or unconvinced by global or multilateral institutions.

At many forums that I attend these days, there is a tendency to blame these trends on personalities, the US President most notable amongst them.

The discussion of idiosyncratic administrations has become a surrogate for a proper understanding of the serious forces of change.

The tendency to personalise complex social, economic and geopolitical problems is rarely a way of solving them.

The fact remains that the US President and others who are challenging what many of us would regard as the sacrosanct world order, are in the majority of cases, products of democratic elections (not coups), and are symptomatic of deeply held community sentiments.

But we must ask ourselves: How did this happen?

And I think the answer is that it is we have failed to modernise the global institutions and check if they are fit for purpose.

We have not properly and continuously explained the benefits of trade and open markets.

And finally we must make the community confident that there is a way of managing the transition in labour markets as a result of technology, to date we have not done that.

At the end of the day, this is our collective failure, not that of any one person.

So as we go into this two day forum let’s think about the role our two countries have in re-energising the centrist, open, world trade global order and how we make it relevant and meaningful to people who are feeling disenfranchised.

If we, Australia and Canada, truly believe in liberal democracy and a rules-based, international order, we need to double-down. Australia and Canada can — must — play an important role…

We must hold true to the principles of economic and social freedom:

  • the freedom to trade, the commitment to free enterprise and markets underpinned by the rule of law;
  • we must double down on the need for inclusive, compassionate societies which give people economic opportunity through education; and
  • we must preserve social institutions which defend human rights and individual liberties.

But we must do this not just in what we say, often language of the elite, but in what we do.

How we run our own societies and economies and our corporations so that we are collective exemplars of the benefits of open, free and cooperative societies.

This is the only way to expose the illusory benefits and long-term risks from a retreat to protectionism and isolationism.

Clearly, we are at a flashpoint with the global trading system. Our two countries must work together to preserve it, not just in our own interests but for the sake of world prosperity and peace.

The signing of the TPP11 came at a critical time in this respect.

It demonstrates a positive counter-example of rules-based trade and investment liberalisation on a cooperative basis.

It might even help in other contexts, such as stimulating progress in the WTO.

I look forward to its ratification by Australia and Canada soon.

We should work with others too, like the EU, and all those committed to a rules-based approach.

Australia is starting FTA negotiations with the EU, just as Canada has.

Together, we can be the locus of gravity in the global trade policy debate, and seize back the initiative.

That involves building strong coalitions, and creating the competitive dynamic that will encourage others to re-join.

In a sense, amid the current turmoil on many issues, there is a great opportunity for Australia and Canada to show global leadership.

We have chosen themes for our forum today where we think there is potential to take things further, in respect of:

  • strong collective advocacy and leadership;
  • practical ideas sharing; and
  • real on the ground collaboration.

So, in addition to geopolitics, world trade and developments in the Asian region, our panel sessions will also include:

  • energy and natural resource markets;
  • financing infrastructure in Canada and Australia;
  • economic development for indigenous and First Peoples;
  • the outlook for defence industry development in both countries; and
  • skilling for the workforces of the future, which I believe is the only real response liberal democracies can take to technological change, which I suspect is destroying more jobs than trade deals.

I’m sure we’re going to have a stimulating and productive discussion on all these issues.

I also hope we continue to build partnerships and collaborate between our business communities, our education sectors and our Governments.

In this context, I’d like to mention the work of Roger and Lesley Gillespie in forging links between Australia and Canada.

The Gillespies who are here today, have been wonderful supporters of this Forum.

The Gillespies are not only business leaders, but are also long-time supporters of the Breast Cancer Network Australia, and now also of prostate cancer research that links Australia and Canada.

Several of our best research bodies are collaborating to improve understanding of the genetic drivers of prostate cancer, such the universities of Melbourne and Toronto; the Australian Prostate Centre; and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

So thank you Roger and Lesley. There are so many examples, as I got around the room last night talking to people, of the fantastic collaboration between our businesses and our education sector.

So, I hope over the next two days we

  • Renew friendships – make new ones;
  • Drive greater economic, cultural and strategic collaboration; and
  • Perhaps, together, show the leadership the community across the world is crying out for.

Thank you.


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