As 11am ticked over on Sunday morning in Sydney I jumped online to download the hotly anticipated Asian Century White Paper, commissioned by the Federal Government.
During the last few days Australian media has been crammed with commentators putting their case forward on what the paper should contain and predicting the opportunities that Australian businesses will have from closer ties with its Asian neighbours.
The Paper I read was certainly comprehensive, more than 200 pages in fact, and contained a long list of ambitious targets and welcome initiatives to secure Australia’s rightful place in the Asian Century.
It was no surprise that reaction was broadly favourable, as business leaders in Australia recognised this had the potential to propel their businesses into new markets, such as Guangzhou, Surabaya or Naypyidaw, just as the Asian Tiger Economies of Seoul, Taipei, and Singapore were targeted 30 years ago.
In these new markets, with the emergence of millions of new middle class consumers, new revenue can be generated quickly by selling Australian products and services to a hungry new customer base eager for more.
It’s hard to argue with that rationale. A close relationship with Asia will undoubtedly bring an inward flow of benefits for Australian businesses.
But what struck me, as I read the report and watched the initial reaction from business, government and academia, was that Australia’s role in Asia doesn’t just start once Australian businesses leave Australia, en route to new, diverse and potentially profitable markets overseas.
Australia needs to realise that by also giving, rather than just taking opportunities in a new Asian century, Australia has much more to gain if it is prepared to be an open and constructive partner.
As a leader of a business with close ties to Indonesia through our affiliate Asia Pulp and Paper I know all too well the opportunities and challenges that an Asian business can experience in Australia.
We’ve been welcomed in many quarters since our arrival in Australia. But at the same time we have seen an opportunity for Australia to further expand its understanding of Indonesia and what the country and its companies have to offer.
But this vision will not be realised if Australia continues to see the opportunities only as a one-way street. If Australia sees an Asian century only as a way for Australians to expand overseas, rather than nurturing and supporting Asian businesses in this country it will miss a golden opportunity. It has to work both ways.
This means banishing the old school views around corruption, security and cultural stereotypes and accepting that countries across the region, including Indonesia, are being recognised for their improvements in corporate governance by international groups such as Transparency International.
It means removing potential barriers to entry. The legal logging bill currently in the Australian Parliament will potentially see Australian companies penalised for sourcing pulp and paper from Indonesia. Instead Australia must follow the lead of other jurisdictions, such as the EU, that are working with Indonesia on its SVLK standard to foster a healthy timber and paper trade relationship between the two markets.
And it means educating Australian businesses and consumers that it is okay to ‘Buy Indonesian’ at a time when they are asking Indonesians to ‘Buy Australian’.
As Australia digests the report and discusses its blueprint for a future in Asia I hope it acknowledges that to play a starring role in the region’s next 100 years it will need to learn the art of give and take.