Address, Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast

04 Nov 2019
Bangkok, Thailand
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Allan, for that introduction. The only way I can top that is to give the entire speech in Thai – that’s not going to happen.


But it’s wonderful to be here. Your Excellency, Deputy Prime Minister, Ambassador, Wayne Williams the President of AustCham here in Thailand.

I will give it a crack though [inaudible] so forgive me for any mispronunciation.

Sa-wat dee krap. Pom roo suek yin dee yang ying tee dai maa nai wan nee.


Now, like me, if you didn’t understand that, what I meant to say was ‘G’day, I’m delighted to be here today’.

I want to thank everyone for joining me here at the hotel this morning.

This hotel was, of course, Siam’s… this place was the first capital of Siam and the name means ‘dawn of happiness’ I am told.

Given you’re up early for this business breakfast this morning, and we’re all fired up with ideas and coffee, the name I think seems pretty apt.

Former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, the founder of the party I lead today, once said, ‘It's a good thing to be a friend by treaty, but it's a better thing to be friends in the heart, in the spirit and in the mind.’

He was actually, when he said that, talking about Thailand.

The occasion was a State Banquet at Parliament House in 1962.

I’d hazard a guess, and Minister Birmingham is here with me this morning, that it was nothing as grand or as impressive as the banquet we enjoyed last night as the guests of the Thai Government at the ASEAN Banquet. That was, I would daresay, the best beef green curry I have had in a very long time. And it was very hot.


But at that State Banquet, the guest of honour were His Majesty the late King Bhumipol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.

Earlier, thousands of people had filled the streets to cheer their arrival, and the Royal Australian Air Force Band had welcomed them by playing works composed by the King, who was a keen musician and jazz aficionado.

The visit had only just begun, but already the warmth and affection were very obvious.

At the dinner, the King exhorted the assembled dignitaries to think of Thailand - and this is very important for an Australian audience - not as the ‘far East’, but as the ‘near North’.

Remember this was the 1960s, and this was not necessarily the way Australians looked at the world at that time. We certainly do today. We understand our geography very well.

And the King followed up that visit by sending his son, the Prince - now his Majesty the King - to Australia to study at the appropriately named The King’s School in Sydney.

The school magazine from 1971 includes these words of reflection from their royal pupil, which may resonate with some of the Aussie expats here:

‘The word ‘Australia’ is no longer just a word, but brings up memories of gum trees, wattle in bloom, dust, floods, suburbs, outback mineral resources, and Australians.’

His Majesty later underwent military training at our prestigious Royal Military College at Duntroon, where he coincidentally was in the same governing class as our Governor-General His Excellency David Hurley, before heading to Perth to train with the Special Air Services Regiment.

I’m informed by the Ambassador that His Majesty speaks very fondly of his time in Australia, and I must say the feeling is very mutual.

I’ve discussed this with Governor-General and he has many fond memories.

This year, Australia also had the honour of welcoming Her Royal Highness the Princesses Sirindhorn and  Chulabhorn.

Australians love Thailand.

We have all travelled here, many of us, for different reasons and in different ways. Each year, some 800,000 Australians come here to experience this beautiful country and its beautiful people.

And I’m delighted that we’ve recently agreed to increase the number of young Australians and Thais who can visit each others’ country under our Work and Holiday Visa Program. This will increase from 500 to 2,000 places, a significant increase.

I can think of plenty of young Aussies who will be thrilled to take up an opportunity just like that, because of their love for this country.

The genuine affection and care was on full display during last year’s rescue of the Wild Boars from the Tham Luang cave.

When all 12 boys and their coach emerged safely from the cave, carried by steady pairs of hands from around the world, millions of Australians shared Thailand’s exhilaration and relief for these young boys and their families.

Likewise, we shared Thailand’s deep sadness at the loss of former Thai Navy SEAL, Lieutenant Commander Saman Kunan.

Australia was proud to bestow bravery honours on the Australian rescuers who risked their lives to save others.

Cave divers Richard Harris and Craig Challen were named our Australians of the Year for their efforts. And I’ve got to say, it was a pretty big field.

It was a very strong field and to recognise that act of bravery on their part and the ingenuity and skills that they were able to bring to that very challenging situation and that is was exercised not on our own shores but on foreign shores I think says something very much and we honour them as our Australians of the Year, that we see ourselves as a nation as people with commitments that go beyond just our own waters.

Our two nations have been through a lot together - times of celebration and sadness, joy and collaboration.

We do share a similar outlook.

We believe in strong and transparent rules, in fair and open competition, open markets and free trade.

Those key tenets that our countries share are vital to our economic futures. In Australia, one in five of our jobs relies on trade.

Now, Australians often ask me why are you at this Summit, or at that Summit, or travelling here or there.

There is a very simple answer - one in five Australian jobs depends on our trade.

We have never been a country that has seen our future economically as selling things to ourselves. You don’t get rich selling things to yourself. And Australia has always had, right from its very beginnings and indeed from ancient times in Australia, with Indigenous Australians, has always had an outward look to the rest of the world as to how we can engage.

We have shared interests in a stable, peaceful, prosperous and independent Indo-Pacific region, and we work closely with our partners, particularly here, our ASEAN partners and Thailand - in promoting regional stability and prosperity.

We’re committed to working together on education, on tourism, on defence, on intelligence, on security, on combatting terrorism, on transnational crime, on removing plastics from our oceans and better managing our waste for the future.

This is a deep and very full bilateral relationship between Australia and Thailand and it is strong and it is getting deeper.

Our trade has more than doubled since free trade agreement between Thailand and Australia came into force in 2005, under my predecessor John Howard, to reach more than $25 billion last year.

There’s an increasing footprint of Thai investment in Australia, as Thai companies seek to expand their global interests, develop supply chains, enhance competitiveness, and bring Australian industry expertise into their domestic operations. 

Linfox is here today, Bluescope is here today, many other Australian companies who have positioned themselves here well and are respected and are making a contribution as part of those supply chains that I refer to.

The investment is in sectors vital to Australia’s economy.

There’s a big presence in energy-related companies. Think of Banpu, which owns Centennial Coal in NSW. Ratch Australia, which churns out almost a gigawatt of power via its gas stations, and wind and solar farms right around Australia, from Kemerton in WA to Mt Emerald in Queensland.

Thai investors have also contributed to the success of our tourism sector - think of Minor International, which operates a portfolio of more than 50 hotels in major cities and regional areas under the Oaks brand.

Thai investment is also found in Australian sugar, oil and gas exploration, the dairy sector and in the manufacturing of automotive parts.

The fact that we’ve seen so many Thai companies expanding their Australian business interests through re-investments is a sign of long-term investor confidence in our economy.

Thai investment is creating jobs in Australia. It’s creating prosperity in Thailand. This is a win-win arrangement.

Australia is doing the same by investing here.

Our investors are attracted here because of the scale of the local economy, the regional links, the long-term growth trends and the competitive costs of doing business.

While traditionally it’s been seen as an attractive manufacturing base, in the past five years there’s been a big increase in Australian investment in the services sector and in the digital economy.

Today, the picture looks like this - we’ve got more than 200 Australian companies here, many of which are with us in this room today, including more than 30 manufacturing firms along the Eastern Economic Corridor, Thailand’s Special Economic Zone.

I’ve already mentioned Linfox, but there’s Blackmores, there’s ANZ, Bev Chain, Visy, Meinhhardt, ARB, Air International and of course Qantas, and many others are investing in transport services, education, resources and energy, food, consumer goods, agribusiness, manufacturing and automotive sectors.

We’re linked up. That’s my point. Our economies are interconnected and have been for some time and those connections are getting stronger.

Not just out of a sense of affinity, but out of a clear sense of commercial interest.

And that is building those supply chains and welding them together in a very practical way and we want to see this continue. 

We’re very proud to be partnering with Thai institutions to give people the chance to fulfil their career aspirations.

A good example of that is ANCA. ANCA is in the advanced manufacturing sector.

Their highly technical machines produce critical components that are used across a huge range of sectors – medical, aerospace, telecommunications, IT, wood-working and automotive.

ANCA recently signed an MoU with the Institute of Field Robotics at King Mongkut’s University of Technology in Thonburi to produce more highly-skilled workers in the fields of research, design and new product development.

The company also runs apprenticeship centres in both Melbourne and Thailand.

Bluescope Steel is also doing some great work with upskilling the construction sector workforce.

It has invested around $5 million in training initiatives, including two mobile training trucks that travel across Thailand’s 77 provinces, equipping local builders and construction companies with the skills they need.

Over the past six years BlueScope has trained more than 10,000 people across Thailand.

Australian investment is also helping train pilots and chefs.

All of this is supporting the Thai Government’s 20-year economic plan to transition Thailand’s economy, or ‘Thailand 4.0’ as it’s known.

We stand ready to work with Thailand on its economic and reform challenges which, with the right policy settings, can help Thailand realise its potential as an engine of growth for the region.

I know the Deputy Prime Minister, I was very pleased to meet with today. In fact, he shared a story with me which shows that Australia has played quite a unique role in current Thailand politics.

It was actually at the ASEAN Summit which was held in Sydney, where the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Thailand actually first met. It was at our invitation that we invited the now Deputy Prime Minister to Australia for that event and they saw each other across a crowded room.


And they were able to meet, and here they are now, working together as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Australia, the great matchmaker of regional politics.


But it was tremendous to meet with you, Deputy Prime Minister, today. He has a background in business. He knows what it is like to value a strong economy and how a strong economy creates jobs, that it improves living standards. It means that you can afford to deliver important health services, which the Deputy Prime Minister and I were discussing in part of our meeting this morning and the further partnerships and cooperation between Australian companies and service providers and the needs here. 

Remote telehealth we were talking about today, an important issue here in Thailand, but equally, a very important issue in Australia where we have quite a lot of expertise.

I also want to mention how fantastic it is to see Thailand’s strong commitment to conclude a modern, high-quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

This is something that of course Australia, Thailand, Japan, many other nations have been working closely together on and we hope to make further progress on that while we are here over the course of this Summit.

This is important for jobs in all of our countries, it’s important to integrate those supply chains to make them more effective which expands even further the prosperity that’s there for all to share.

RCEP countries together represent almost half of the world’s population and almost one-third of the global economy.

Through this partnership, Australia aims to provide the certainty that investors need by securing commercially meaningful outcomes for goods, services and investment.

It will ensure modern rules address contemporary business priorities and enable business to tap into regional value chains.

So many of our trade arrangements from many years ago were set in a different time and a different economy.

But here, in south-east Asia and particularly with our partnerships with ASEAN and Thailand and others, we’re able to put in place new rules that reflect the modern economy, the new economy. The economy that our children will grow up in and seek to find their prosperity in the future.

It will create further opportunities. Australia is also a strong supporter of Thailand signing up to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership also.

This was the biggest trade deal since the birth of the WTO and a positive affirmation of what we can do by working together and it has the potential to deliver substantial commercial opportunities for Thai businesses at a time of great economic turbulence.

It would also be an important signal if they were to move forward of Thailand’s commitment to further trade liberalisation, so I hope for further news on that front.

As we look ahead from here, I see plenty of scope to augment our thriving bilateral trade and investment relationship with Thailand.

We can further support Thailand’s 4.0 agenda in areas like digital capabilities, smart cities, energy, education, funds management and health.

We can make the most of opportunities to work together in sectors, such as supply chain investments, agrifood and renewables.

And we can further improve our trade architecture, whether through building on our own free trade agreement with Thailand, or the CPTPP.

As Prime Minister Prayut once said, ‘What we do today will become tomorrow’s history. Therefore, we must make the best of today, so that ten or twenty years from now we will be remembered for our actions.’

That’s what we have the opportunity to do today while we are here at this ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.

This is why Australia has been the best friend of ASEAN - 45 years we have stood alongside ASEAN to support the independence and the sovereignty, the economic development and the boosting of living standards with our friends right across the ASEAN member countries.

It is a truly wonderful relationship where we absolutely respect each of those country’s abilities and passion and ambition to see the best for each of their own economies and each of their own countries.

And we just want to partner with them and that’s what we’ve done. That’s what our presence here today, I think, reflects and more than that, the actions that we’ve undertaken together whether multilaterally as part of ASEAN or bilaterally in terms of the direct relationship that we have as two governments between Australia and Thailand.

But beyond that, the commercial engagements which are represented by the Chamber here this morning and how that work is the real substance of the relationship. 

That’s what works out of the frameworks that we put together as governments and enables business to go forward.

And so whatever sector it might be, Australia at present has got some challenges in terms of our agricultural sector but I was very pleased to hear the reports of rain overnight. Very encouraging, we know that that rain of itself is not drought-breaking but I would say that it has been a tremendous encouragement to those western districts of New South Wales who have been particularly looking forward to that.

But our agricultural sector, despite the fact that we face droughts and floods, continues to be strong, like all sectors of the Australian economy, and we continue to prove to be an outstanding partner whether here in Thailand or anywhere else. 

And we know that by continuing to forge these partnerships it is great for Australian jobs but it’s also great for the wellbeing of our partners as well.

Our partnerships are based on us both winning, and that has always been our record of engagement and there is no better example of that than what we’re doing here in Thailand. 

Thank you so much for your attention.