The Hon. John Murphy MP
The Hon John Murphy MP
Former Parliamentary Secretary for Trade

Speech

26 February 2008

Council for Australian Arab Relations: Launch of the Young Professionals Exchange Programs

Mr Glen Simpson, Chairman, Council for Australian-Arab Relations
Mr Chris Stewart, General Manager, Australian Business International Trade Services
His Excellency Mohamed Tawfik, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am pleased to be here this afternoon to join you in the launch of the Council for Australian-Arab Relation's Young Professionals Exchange Program. The Government, through its numerous bilateral foundations, council and institutes, is committed to supporting the promotion of people-to-people links between Australia and key regions of the world. 

The Council for Australian-Arab Relations has been doing a wonderful job since 2003 strengthen relations between Australia and the Arab region in a diverse range of fields.

The Young Professionals Exchange Program is a commitment the Council made in 2004 to give young Arab and Australian business people - and university students - the opportunity to learn more about each other's contemporary society and business environment.

This is the third phase of the Program and is the most ambitious in scope. The Council's contractor for this phase, Australian Business International Trade Services, has done an excellent job fulfilling the mandate to identify, and bring to Australia from across the Arab world, the present group of 16 young professionals.

The aims of this program are:

While this program will no doubt be of great value to our guests, an important message will also be reinforced with Australians through their interaction with these outstanding young professionals.

The message is clear - the Arab world has a great diversity of commerce, culture, religion and politics – extending well beyond often superficial media portrayals.

There can be no doubt that it remains incumbent on us all to break down any remaining mistrust and misunderstanding between Australia and the Arab world.

There are far more things that unite our regions than divide them.

Australia's links with the region date back over a century and range from archaeology to assistance with institution-building.

People of Arab ancestry also make up an increasing proportion of Australian society, and we have the opportunity to draw on their knowledge and skills. Arabic is now the fifth most-spoken language in Australia.

One of the strongest relationships between Australia and the Arab world has been in trade.

In the last financial year, two-way merchandise trade with the region increased by more than 10 percent, to exceed $10 billion. 

Traditionally that trade has been in the primary industries – agriculture, livestock, meat and dairy from Australia; oil products, potash and fertiliser from the Arab region.

But trade is diversifying beyond the primary industries to move into manufactured goods and services. 

Australia's biggest single merchandise export to the Middle East in the last few years has been passenger motor vehicles.

Manufactured items - including food, machinery and pharmaceuticals – have traditionally been imported from the US and Europe. But demand for such high-quality items is growing in the Middle East, offering enormous scope for Australian businesses to challenge for some of the market. 

The Government is encouraging Australian businesses to pursue these new opportunities.

In the services area, Australia's high-quality and cost-efficient education services are gaining an excellent reputation in the region. Student numbers from the Arab world studying in Australia have increased by 150% in the last five years.

Rightly highlighting the importance of education, the Council offers a scholarship program for postgraduate students from the Arab region to study at Australian universities in fields of relevance to Australian-Arab relations.

Tourism contacts between our countries are also growing as airlines increase the number of direct routes between the Middle East, particularly the Gulf and Australia.

Etihad Airways, the newest airline in the Gulf, has chosen to invest in supporting the links between our two regions and, I am pleased to say, is an important sponsor of this Young Professionals Exchange Program.

Australian businesses are increasingly recognising the Arab region as an attractive market and have underlined its importance to their export strategies. The Government is currently negotiating a comprehensive and high-quality Free Trade Agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council - the process having commenced in mid-2007.

An agreement would deliver opportunities for those in the primary industries, manufacturers (such as motor vehicle manufacturers), and service providers (including those involved in education, health care, construction and tourism).

I know the Minister is extremely committed to working with the Gulf Cooperation Council on arrangements - including timing - for the next round of negotiations on this comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.

Conclusion

In light of the many existing - and potential - trade linkages, the Council for Australian Arab Relations has a significant foundation upon which it may promote relations between Australia and the Arab world.

I congratulate the Council on the excellent job it has done promoting trade opportunities in both Australia and Arab nations.

Building on these linkages, the Council is also an important forum to promote political, cultural and social links between our regions.

There can be no doubt that the Council has brought our mutual foreign policy interests to the fore.

There can also be no doubt that the Council, by broadening awareness and understanding between our regions, has done a lot to produce outcomes that are economically mutually beneficial. 

The Council has achieved a great deal over several years to strengthen the relationship between Australia and the Arab world – dispelling myths, prejudices and misconceptions along the way.

But there is always more to do.

The young Arab professionals who are here today are proof of the hunger to engage and to learn even more about Australia. Please avail yourselves of this unique opportunity to engage with them first-hand.

Thank you.

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