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Face to Face with Jane Duke

Posted By , Wednesday, 5 July 2017

AustCham Singapore board member Dr Fraser Thompson is President of the newly formed AustCham ASEAN, which was officially launched at our recent lunch with the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia. After the event Fraser caught up with Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN, Jane Duke, who holds a role which symbolises the importance of the region to Australia’s strategic interests.

How did you come to be Australia’s Ambassador to ASEAN?

This is my third overseas posting for the Australian Government but my first as Ambassador. My last posting was as Deputy High Commissioner in Malaysia and before that I was posted to Australia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva. On returning from Malaysia to Canberra, I worked on ASEAN issues and wanted to continue to work on South East Asia and on ASEAN. This job was a perfect opportunity and fit. It’s an enormous honour and privilege to pursue Australia’s interests overseas in such a role, after a career in public service in several different agencies.

There’s a lot of momentum about ASEAN at the moment with a number of free trade agreements and partnerships being formed. Can you tell us how important ASEAN is from an Australian Government perspective?

It’s a very high priority. Australia was ASEAN’s first external partner in 1974 and we have extensive cooperation across many sectors. Australia, together with New Zealand, has a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN, which remains ASEAN’s most comprehensive free trade agreement to date. We have agreed to hold biennial leaders Summits and have elevated our relationship status to a Strategic Partner, which makes us one of ASEAN’s top tier partners along with others like the United States of America, China, and Japan. ASEAN is more important than ever for Australia’s security and prosperity, as we’ve just heard from Prime Minister Turnbull in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue. That’s why he’s invited all ten ASEAN leaders to Australia for the ASEAN – Australia Special Summit which will be held in March 2018 in Sydney.

That Special Summit is obviously a big occasion, as Summits are rarely held outside of ASEAN. Can you tell us a little bit more about that. What are the objectives and what can we hope to see emerge?

The primary objective is to take our engagement with ASEAN to a higher and deeper level by looking at ways that we can further our cooperation on security and economic matters. We want to reinforce Australia’s relations with ASEAN as an enduring, engaged and constructive strategic partner. Of course, the central component of the Summit will be the dialogue between the leaders from each ASEAN Member States and Australia’s Prime Minister, but there will also be two major side events in the margins of the leader’s dialogue. One is a business forum with two components, a CEO-level forum and an SME forum – in recognition that so much of the growth in ASEAN has been in the SME trade and investment space. The second major side event will be a Counter-Terrorism Conference, given terrorism is a shared concern across Australia and the ASEAN Member States. Running through the whole summit are the two themes of partnership for security and prosperity.

What are your goals for your time as Ambassador?

I would like to see ASEAN view Australia as a partner of choice and for ASEAN and Australia to continue to work together on our shared interests across the spectrum. I’d like to deepen our cooperation in key fields like security and in our economic partnership. I’d like to promote the very important people-to-people links that we share that differentiates Australia from many of ASEAN’s other partners. Our close ties have been fostered throughout our history through education links, dating back decades to the Colombo Plan. Education exchanges have helped successive generations develop life-long connections between our nations. Enhancing these close people links through scholarship programs including the New Colombo Plan, helps to engage a new generation of young leaders with a better understanding of the region in which we live.

From a business perspective, what do you think are some of the biggest opportunities for Australian business in the region?

I think there are a lot of opportunities for Australian businesses to meet ASEAN’s primary growth drivers. We all know the trends of ASEAN’s enormous population, with the growing middle class and rapid urbanisation. I believe Australia’s skills and natural resources are well placed to meet those needs. Whether that’s in infrastructure, resources, financial services, health care, logistics or education…. I think we have a lot of opportunities right on our doorstep with this market that is diverse in its individual components but collectively presents so much opportunity.

Have you seen a change in the way Australian business views ASEAN?

There are a lot of iconic Australian companies that have invested in ASEAN and have strong regional strategies. We just saw at the event today hosted by AustCham Singapore a number of representatives from important companies like BlueScope, Telstra, Qantas and ANZ, that have invested in the region and see the opportunities here. I think there’s room to share these success stories and the experiences of working in the region and how to do it. There is a perception in the Australian community that it’s hard to operate in the region and a tendency to focus on bigger markets in Asia like China. But if due diligence is done and the right business partner and strategy chosen, it is worth a close look. I hope that if more stories are shared of success, and lesson learned, it might encourage other Australian businesses to look carefully at the opportunities in the region.

You travel a lot and work long hours, so when you’re outside of work and have some free time how do you like to enjoy yourself?

I enjoy spending time with my family and all the great things that South East Asia has to offer like the diversity of food, people and geography and all the fantastic tourism locations. For example, we went snorkelling in the Komodo islands recently with our kids, and also saw the Komodo dragons, a real “bucket list” experience.

- Interview published in Access Asia Magazine Jun/Jul 2017 issue.

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