The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

14 January 2013

Asia's voice in global finance: Government's role in the turbulent global economy

Asian Financial Forum, Hong Kong

***Check against delivery***

It's great to be back here in Hong Kong. Just a couple of months ago, we released our Australia in the Asian Century White Paper which underscores just how much weight we put on our relationship with the entire region. It's my third visit to Hong Kong in the last two years – in fact, our whole government and all of our ministers are frequent visitors to the region because we know how important these economic and cultural links are. For Australia, the economic maths is simple. The colossal economic force of the world's fastest growing region – including the world's soon to be largest economy – sits within just 10,000km of our shores. In just over 10 years from now, we expect half of the world's economic output to be generated within this economic zone. So as I said, the arithmetic is simple for us. But carving a pathway to get there will take foresight and hard work.

I'm deeply proud of Australia's economic resilience and I'm optimistic about our future in the Asian region. Our economy is 13 per cent bigger than it was five years ago, because we got the big economic calls right to avoid recession during the global financial crisis. Unlike most other countries, we've got solid growth, low unemployment, healthy consumption and a huge pipeline of business investment at the same time as we have contained inflation and record low interest rates. We've got strong public finances with our net debt only one-tenth of the major advanced economies because we've got a track record of responsible fiscal management. While continued turbulence in the global economy has made it unlikely we'll get back to surplus this year, we've put in place a responsible fiscal consolidation which is appropriate for our economic circumstances. We've taken a balanced approach which supports growth and jobs. Our fiscal discipline has helped Australia become one of only seven countries in the world with the gold-plated, AAA rating with a stable outlook from all three global ratings agencies – a coveted trifecta. And we've got one of the safest and most dynamic financial systems in the world, with a well funded and highly capitalised banking system and a massive superannuation savings pool that's still rapidly growing. It's this last strength that really goes to the core of our theme today.

We're all here because we know that a healthy and vibrant financial system is the backbone of any modern economy, and the flow of credit is the lifeblood that pumps through its veins. We also know that there are enormous opportunities for our region to work together to unleash the flow of capital across Asian borders, to build on the big economic gains we've made from opening up our trade. We put these objectives right at the centre of our White Paper, where we identified the expansion and integration of our regional markets as one of our five key priorities. This sits alongside our focus in the White Paper on boosting productivity growth, building our capabilities through investment in education and skills, strengthening our regional relationships and ensuring our security. What our region can focus on together is further deepening our economic engagement - because we know that more than ever before, our interests and our futures are bound up together.

Australia's mining and agriculture sectors have already helped fuel the industrialisation and urbanisation of much of Asia, and we see a massive role for other sectors of our economy as Asia's middle class booms. But all of us in the region face challenges, which is why we've got to keep putting in place structural reforms that will support growth and jobs. Of course, these are different for developed and developing countries. In Australia, we've nailed down some really big structural reforms in recent years. Like putting a market price on carbon pollution to secure our economic competitiveness for the future as countries around the world do the same to combat the effects of dangerous climate change. Or the structural separation of our monopoly telco provider Telstra to deliver the holy grail of microeconomic reform in telecommunications, as we also turbocharge productivity with our National Broadband Network. And we've done this during a very turbulent period in the global economy and a pretty rugged domestic political debate – so that's something I'm immensely proud of.

When it comes to developing countries, as I said a moment ago, the reform focus will need to be a bit different. As my Singaporean colleague Tharman Shanmugaratnam said recently, the emphasis for developing economies should be on investments in education, skills and infrastructure as the next drivers of productivity and economic growth. Like new and better ways of financing infrastructure investment by unlocking private capital and developing their domestic capital markets. As Tharman says, this type of supply side reform is critical to unleashing the potential of developing economies in our region. This is a big part of the G20 agenda and Australia will continue that focus when we host next year. And with our region driving a greater share of global growth, it's also never been more important for the global economy. We have to keep reforming our economies to lock in the gains we've made and further build prosperity and opportunity for our people. As I said earlier, building an even more resilient, deeply integrated and better connected Asian financial system will be right at the heart of this.

In Australia, we've already taken some important decisions to ensure we continue to have one of the strongest financial systems in the world. Our $3 trillion banking sector is the right at the core of this. Our banks didn't engage in the risky lending practices we saw in some other countries in the lead up to the global financial crisis. But we acted quickly to introduce a wholesale funding guarantee so they could access offshore funding on competitive terms. We accelerated the introduction of the Financial Claims Scheme we'd been working on so Australians knew their money was safe in any of our deposit-taking institutions. We stepped in as a cornerstone investor to preserve the superstructure of the RMBS market to support banking competition. These actions secured the flow of credit to our economy.

Together with the intense supervision of our world-class regulators, and the sound risk management of our institutions, they saw our banking system come through the biggest stress test in 80 years. And we've continued to build on our strengths since the crisis. Australia is well on track to implement its global reform obligations through the G20, the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board. Our banks are well placed to meet the new Basel III requirements. They are even better capitalised, with more high-quality capital. They've got longer term funding profiles, and more stable deposits. They are also well funded for a long period ahead and don't have any material exposures to troubled European nations or lenders. All of this means our four major banks are among only a handful in the world to have credit ratings in the AA band. We're also implementing global reforms in our broader financial system. We have a legislative framework in place to implement our commitments on the G20 OTC derivative reform agenda. We continue to engage in the global discussion on addressing the systemic risk of too-big-to-fail institutions. We're putting in place important reforms to support the creation of a deep and liquid corporate bond market. And we're committed to maintaining a liquid and efficient government bond market, to ensure businesses can hedge their interest rate risk.

An important part of our agenda to continue strengthening the Australian economy is our commitment to increase national savings and ensure a decent retirement for all Australians through our superannuation system. Australia is a capital hungry country. We've got high national savings, but even higher investment. In fact, if investment was running at the level of a decade ago, we would have a large current account surplus. In recent years, our gross national saving has been around 24 per cent of GDP - over one-third higher than the average of G7 countries. But our national investment in recent years has been around 28 per cent of GDP – around 50 per cent higher than the average for G7 economies. I think it might surprise a few people that Australia actually still funds more than 85% of our investment domestically and that we only look to global investors for the remainder. We've worked hard to secure our status as one of the most attractive investment destinations in the world.

At 4.3 per cent of GDP, Australia's inflow of foreign direct investment is more than double that of the OECD average. Where we were once seen as an optional investment destination, Australia is now seen as a necessary part of any portfolio. But we also want to further build our own national savings pool. Of course, this starts with our responsible budget management. But we also see our country's huge superannuation savings pool as one of our greatest strengths. We've already got the fourth largest superannuation savings pool in the world - nearly $1.5 trillion, around the same size as our economy. And we're determined to build on that. That's why we're putting in place a really big economic reform to boost superannuation contributions from 9 to 12 per cent. Our reforms will add another $500 billion to Australia's national superannuation saving pool by 2037. It will see Australia's pool of superannuation savings grow to around $6 trillion by that time, making it 1.2 times the size of our 2037 economy. Together with our historic increase in the aged pension, it's also a vital reform to ensure that all Australians can count on a decent retirement. It means that a 30 year old Australian on average full-time wages will have an extra $118,000 in super savings in today's dollars. That's a massive boost to their retirement savings, and will make a big difference when it comes to affording a comfortable retirement. So it's a reform that I'm deeply proud of.

And just as Australia will need to continue our reform journey, so too will our neighbours in the Asian region. You're all here because you know Hong Kong has a big role to play. From a historic trading port bustling with fishing boats, to one of the world's most sophisticated financial hubs - trade and finance have always been in Hong Kong's blood. You're an economic powerhouse in your own right. You're also at the centre of vital reform pathways like China's gradual transition towards an open capital account and a convertible currency. Australia strongly supports these efforts, with the internationalisation of the RMB as the first step along the way. That's why last July, Financial Secretary Tsang and I announced a new high-level dialogue between senior business leaders from Australia and Hong Kong on RMB trade and investment. We'll host the first RMB Forum in Sydney in the coming months. Greater engagement in RMB internationalisation was an explicit pathway set out in our White Paper. And we're already seeing some great results.

Since I raised this issue in Hong Kong and China last year, Australia has climbed from 12th to 4th among the rest of the world for use of the RMB for global SWIFT payments. We're also working with China to establish direct trading between our two currencies on the mainland, and we're making great progress. This would make the Aussie dollar only the third major global currency to achieve this exclusive status, after the Yen and US dollar. This all builds on the A$30 billion bilateral currency swap set up last March between the RBA and the People's Bank of China. And it's all part of the collective pathway I talked about before towards a more deeply integrated Asian financial system. A regional financial market which sees capital flowing where ever it's needed most in our region to fund new investment. It's going to be a critical part of supporting growth and jobs across our region, and in turn that's vital for the strength of the global economy. Australia looks forward to being a leading partner in this journey. And I look forward to discussing it further in today's panel session.