Dramatic demographic changes in the Indo-Pacific zone over the next three decades will have a significant transformative effect on the region, according to the Hon Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister.
Ms Bishop, speaking at the In the Zone forum at The University of Western Australia today, said population trends, ageing populations and increased education demand were just some of the challenges facing countries in the zone. With India set to take over as the world's most populous country with 1.65 billion by 2050, while populations in other countries, such as Japan, dropped, Australia must be flexible in moving with trends and demands.
"In the twenty-first century, population change will reshape and redraw the nations and lives that we live in our zone. What we do with the demographic cards we've been dealt is every bit as exciting as the cards themselves. Demographic change will be a powerful force in shaping our region in the twenty-first century, but it is our region's leadership that will determine how much it does so," Ms Bishop said.
She said that to capitalise on change, Australia must be open to ideas, trade and investment, and technological advances. "And because we believe in the opportunities of demography, we are deeply committed to working with others in the region," Ms Bishop said, pointing to free trade agreements as being at the heart of economic diplomacy. A broad range of initiatives - such as the New Colombo Plan scholarship program - that enhanced deeper relationships with regional partners were being actively pursued.
Ms Bishop said Australia needed to ensure it had forward-looking government policies that promoted economic growth, and fundamental reforms were required to both implement and sustain growth.
"There are countless opportunities for economic growth, particularly those driven by innovation, creative reform and economic policy," she said.
Ms Bishop said Australia must continue to support and promote peace, prosperity and freedom in the region and right around the world. She said that since the end of World War II, the emergence of a particularly virulent and barbaric form of terrorism, illustrated by organisations such as DASH and ISIL, was concerning and Australia would continue to play a role in countering terrorism.
Ms Bishop reflected on a week that had been very challenging in the zone. "The Indo-Pacific zone has presented some particular challenges this week. There was the devastating earthquake in Nepal, and Australia is providing timely relief. And of course, there were the circumstances surrounding the death sentences of two Australian citizens, where our diplomacy and our relationships have been put to the test," she said.
Ms Bishop said there remained, however, no question about where Australia's foreign policy focus lay. "Our priorities and focus is unambiguously on a neigbourhood that is one of the most vibrant regions in the world. There are certainly challenges."
"We are in for a particularly exciting time. Looking north ... means looking out on some of the most favourable demographics anywhere in our time. We are in a truly exciting region. A powerful set of opportunities awaits. We are exquisitely placed and geography will be our destiny," she said, highlighting an innovative new aid program in the Indo-Pacific.
Leaders from government, business and academia have convened today at this year's In the Zone Leadership Forum at University Club of Western Australia.
In the Zone is The University of Western Australia's premier forum on geopolitics and international trade. A group of outstanding speakers and thinkers will discuss this year's theme Capital Ideas for the Twenty-first Century.
In the Zone is presented by The University of Western Australia together with Principal Partners Rio Tinto, the Perth USAsia Centre and the State Government of Western Australia.
Foreign Minister Hon Julie Bishop and In the Zone moderator Aiko Doden, Senior Commentator NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation)
In the Zone is The University of Western Australia's premier forum on geopolitics and international trade. Our ambitious conference series aims to engage stakeholders in Australia and in key Asian cities directly, to encourage networking and collaboration between decision makers across the zone and to share our vision of Perth and Western Australia's place in this dynamic region.
This year, In the Zone has convened two high-profile events, our annual Forum on 1 May 2015, and our first venture into Asia in Singapore on 13 April. Venture Asia extended the In the Zone narrative beyond Perth.
THE ZONE / ~ noun the time zone shared by Perth, 60 per cent of the world's population, and the nations that promise the greatest economic growth of the twenty-first century.
Sonia Nolan (Media Manager, In the Zone ‘15) (+61 4) 01 034 103