In recognising what has been termed the ‘Asian Century’, Australia has been making a significant push to deepen relations with its neighbours. Paying more attention to Asia and the Southeast Asia in particular, Foreign Minister Bob Carr has made frequent visits to the region, including a visit to Malaysia last month. And Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has gone as far to say that “adapting to Asia’s unstoppable rise is… the next chapter in our nation’s story”.
We are already seeing the benefits from this renewed outlook. Malaysia is currently Australia’s 10th largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth almost $16 billion in the last financial year alone. This can only grow in 2013 with the successful passing of the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which will come into force on January 1st – allowing our exporters duty-free entry to the Australian market.
This emphasis on bilateral ties also bodes well for students seeking to further their studies. Australia is investing in a long term relationship, supporting cross cultural exchange and education.
There are currently over 22,000 Malaysians studying throughout the country. This number will rise significantly with the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on higher education in Perth. Australia has agreed to provide a three-year package of up to 21 scholarships, fellowships, awards and exchanges in support of Malaysia’s economic reforms. Recognising that the next generation of Australian leaders will need to be increasingly Asia-literate, the MoU also specifically seeks to increase the number of Australians coming to Malaysia to study, as well as participate in internships or practical placements.
The Australian government has given a clear vote of confidence in Malaysia and our economic transformation. I urge all Malaysians to take advantage of these new developments. Our countries have a strong shared history, having fought side-by-side in World War 2 and the Emergency. Our shared future is looking even stronger.