5 March 2024

Address to the ASEAN-Australia CEO Forum, Melbourne


A region of prosperity in a world of uncertainty

Thanks for the opportunity to be here this afternoon and with so many CEOs and business leaders from across the region.

We meet near the banks of a river the Wurundjeri people have been gathering on for thousands of years.

Today, I acknowledge their elders, customs and traditions and pay my respects to their continuing connection to country.

On their traditional lands, we’re called to act with purpose – to shape our collective futures against a backdrop of accelerating challenge, change and churn.

To make our people beneficiaries of all that change.

To maximise not just manage the big shifts in our societies and economies.

And to make this a region of prosperity in a world of uncertainty.

That 100 leading executives are gathered here from across Australia and from across South‑East Asia shows that you share this same sense of purpose.

The same sense of commitment and confidence.

Today, you’ve heard from the PM and others about how we’re trying to help you shape that.

So, I won’t cover exactly the same ground in the time I have with you today.

But what I do want to do is explain to you why the partnerships we’re building with you are such an important part of our economic agenda.

Economic conditions

We are all balancing our near‑term responsibilities and pressures with our obligations to the future.

Shepherding our economies through difficult times while laying the foundations for future growth –

By grasping the vast economic and industrial opportunities presented by the energy transformation and new technologies.

These were some of the issues I discussed with G20 counterparts last week in Brazil.

Inflation is still our main concern – it’s still too high even though it has moderated in welcome and encouraging ways.

But while inflation remains the primary challenge, the balance of risks in the global economy is shifting towards growth.

A soft landing is assumed but not assured.

The Japanese and UK economies finished 2023 in recession.

That means around a quarter of the G20 is now either in recession or has narrowly avoided one.

The impacts of the synchronised tightening of monetary policy are still flowing through.

And there’s destabilising disruption coming from conflicts in Europe and the Middle East.

Australia is not immune from any of this.

When our national accounts are released tomorrow, we expect growth to be quite weak.

The combined impact of global uncertainty, higher interest rates and persistent inflation is weighing heavily on our economy.

But we’re still one of the best placed economies in the world to deal with what’s coming at us.

Low unemployment, with high participation.

Business investment growth which remains much stronger than we expected despite tighter financing conditions –

Inflation moderating to two years lows.

Our return to real‑wages growth ahead of schedule.

And a stronger near‑term budget position.

The first budget surplus in 15 years, with a second in prospect.

Faster jobs growth since we came to office than any major advanced economy.

With public debt well below the G20 average.

All of this means that Australia confronts the future from a position of strength:

Because of our labour market.

Because of our investment opportunities.

Because of our relatively strong fiscal position.

And because of our place in our region as well.

Australia and ASEAN

Australia’s great economic project of the late twentieth century was opening up to the world, and ASEAN is central to that.

As we sought to build a future within and through our region.

The impact of that work and its legacy has created opportunities for trade and growth and investment that we’re still seeing the benefits of today.

In the last two years alone –

The value of two way goods and services trade between Australia and ASEAN economies has increased by 78 per cent.

Our investment in the region by 12 per cent.

And we’ve built up our people‑to‑people links too.

ASEAN was the hope of the side fifty years ago and it’s the hope of the side today.

ASEAN is where the action is, and we want a bigger slice of that action.

In ways that benefit all of our people and economies.

At a time when the balance of risks is shifting towards growth –

The ASEAN region is due to grow at more than 4.5 per cent over the next five years –

Contributing more than 10 per cent of global growth.

For a region that represents around 6 per cent of the global economy in total, that’s a pretty incredible statistic.

Maximising this opportunity

By 2040 ASEAN is also on track to be the fourth‑largest economy in the world –

With a young and growing population –

And a consumer market ten times larger than Australia.

These projections are important and impressive.

And they inform and underpin a big central plank of our overall economic agenda.

In the lead up to the Budget you’ll hear all about our focus on the three Rs:

Relief – from cost‑of‑living pressures.

Repair – of our budgets, balance sheets and supply chains.

And Reform – across a range of areas and sectors.

But there’s a fourth R, just as important – Region.

A new and deeper focus on our Region.

This part of our plan is all about matching up our strengths for mutual benefit.

Aligning our deep pools of capital with opportunities to help uplift investment.

Leveraging the reliability of our suppliers to help make sure you can meet the demands of growing populations.

A regional middle class supported by around $18 billion of exports from our region –

And making the most of our outward‑looking, forward‑thinking business community to help transform challenges into new opportunities for growth.

South‑East Asia Economic Strategy

All this is tied together through our South‑East Asia Economic Strategy.

Here I want to pay tribute to the work that Nicholas Moore has done putting the strategy together.

Nick identifies not just the sectors of our economies where we have clear complementarities – in agriculture, energy, digital, health and more –

But the enablers that will help us act on them.

We’re taking a comprehensive and strategic approach to this.

We’ve already implemented, or are implementing, 23 recommendations – and working on many others.

And the PM has given you a sense of some of the new initiatives we are progressing today.

Our goal is to align our agenda with Nick’s work in areas where we can make the biggest difference.

Which is why across our implementation strategy so far, we’ve been so focused on investment.

It’s investment that will transform our energy systems, strengthen supply chains, create new trading opportunities and unleash the benefits of data and digital.

It’s investment that will help our region flourish through the big shifts we’re facing, in mutually beneficial ways.

Our deal teams are the first piece of the puzzle here – working on the ground in key ASEAN centres to identify investment opportunities for Australian capital.

Those opportunities will be supported by the $2 billion South‑East Asia‑focused financing facility the PM just announced.

At the same time as the South‑East Asia Business Exchange works to raise more awareness and forge better partnerships.

In this there’s a role for companies in this room today.

Those investment opportunities will give you more reason to connect – and we want to make it easier too.

That’s the vision behind our decision to lengthen the business visitor visa from three to five years for ASEAN countries.

And to provide access to the Frequent Traveller stream too.

Defining decade

If there’s one thing that defines the relationship between Australia and ASEAN, it’s shared opportunities.

Opportunities to align our markets.

Opportunities to build on our strengths and complement each other.

Opportunities to be maximisers not managers of the big shifts that will shape the future.

That’s what the next era of partnership can be about too.

Middle powers binding together to stake their claim as the big beneficiaries of the change around us.

As I said at the start:

A region of prosperity in a world of uncertainty.

With our South‑East Asia economic strategy –

With the help of the dynamic and successful businesses here today –

And with the leadership of all those from across the region who have come together in this great city –

We’ve got all that we need to make it happen in what will be a defining decade for all of us.

Thanks very much.