The Australia in the Asian Century Whitepaper

The team at Beasley Intercultural welcome the release of the government’s ‘Australia in the Asian Century Whitepaper’. If ever there was any doubt about the business case for a greater focus on Asia, the whitepaper dispels it. The paper creates a cogent, coherent and compelling case for more strategic business engagement and integration with the economies of our region.

The challenge for Australian businesses which still remains will be leveraging these opportunities. The white paper clearly defines the ‘what’ of engaging in the region. The conversation about the ‘how’ to ensure Asia capability in our businesses is only just beginning. The challenge with any such government initiative is the implementation. Who will take the plunge and invest in enabling and creating greater Asia capability in our organisations, institutions and businesses? This is an investment in our future, not merely a cost to be written off.

We commend the government for committing in the white paper to educating all of our children in Asian languages, and cultural literacy. However, we need deeper Asia capability in our business sector now, and we don’t have time to wait until these children graduate and enter our workforce. While the report says “Australian businesses recognise their approach must be based on a good understanding of the region”, research shows* a significant lack of board members or senior executives with Asian experience or language ability in Australia’s leading companies. Many businesses do not yet recognise or understand the cultural differences and the impact these have on business relationships, process and outcomes.

It is critical for our business people to develop or access intercultural awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability. These Asia-skills will enable the strategic approach, development of nuanced relationships and adaptability it takes to succeed in the diverse markets of the region.

* The Asialink / Australian Industry Group survey found that businesses see capability issues as among the greatest impediments to planned expenditure or expansion into Asia. Less than half of the 380 businesses surveyed in 2011 report having any board members or senior executives with Asian experience or language ability.

Hosting events for HE Yingluck Shinawatra Prime Minister of Thailand

What a week! As National President of the Australia Thailand Business Council, I was involved in many of the events regarding the visit of HE Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand. It all kicked off with a media interview with ABC and progressed to lunch at Parliament House.  Julia Gillard was hosting, it was great to see two women leaders for a change, and equally great to see so many friends in the Australia-Thailand relationship in one place.

Next stop was Canberra airport – nearly didn’t make it back to co-host the dinner with Jennie Lang from the Asia Society.  Our plane had a broken propeller and we were all disembarked.  A highly surreal moment on the tarmac, calling the Thai delegation to see if we could get a ride on the PM’s plane, only to discover we wouldn’t make it, and chatting to the US Ambassador and other business and government reps about plan B.  Fortunately Qantas came through and the next flight was ok, a dear client provided an express lift straight to the hotel and made it with 5 mins to spare.


The dinner was a whirlwind, HE Yingluck is a dynamo, and was keen to meet lots of representatives of the Thai -Australia Business relationship.  The PM was accompanied by 70 leading Thai business people and four senior ministers, and it was a delight to meet so many strong advocates of collaboration.

On Tuesday,  I was MC for the BOI ‘Unbeatable Thailand Seminar’ with the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary General of the Thailand Board of Investment and some great speakers from business and the National Economic and Social Development Board.  Some fabulous case studies on the restructuring of Australian businesses to make the most of the ‘Asian Century’ and better position themselves to thrive in the changing economic context.  The study of the Australian Business experience in Thailand presented by John Andersen, President of AustCham Thailand was also striking for its positive outlook.

Thailand invests nearly $5 bn in Australia and we invest only $1.9 billion in reverse.  Thailand and Australia have two of the more resilient economies in the world, and it makes sense to further develop opportunities in a Southeast Asian region destined for significant future growth.  The economic turmoil and declining markets of the past day heighten the importance of focusing on our own region and the opportunities provided there.  I am looking forward to hosting a Boardroom lunch tomorrow with Asialink in Melbourne at Baker & Mackenzie to hear from Australian Ambassador James Wise regarding his insights and reflections on the visit.