Wednesday, 9 November 2022

I’m so pleased to join you on my first visit to Vietnam as the Governor of South Australia.

But while this is my first visit as Governor, it is not, of course, my first visit to Vietnam.

I was here most recently in 2019 during my time as Secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, accompanying then Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

It was during that visit that the Vietnam Australia Centre, or VAC, was first announced, as a joint initiative of Prime Ministers Morrison and Phuc.

As such, it is a great pleasure not just to be back here in Vietnam, but also to be the first guest speaker to address students here at VAC.

The creation of the VAC speaks volumes about the growing strength of the relationship between Australia and Vietnam.

It’s location here in the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics is a symbol of trust and of partnership between our countries.

The VAC represents a vision in which Australia and Vietnam share the very best knowledge and expertise that each country has to offer, and work to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the future together.

And it builds on the extraordinary education and people to people linkages that our countries already share.

Around 100,000 Vietnamese have studied at Australian education institutions.

There are Vietnamese communities in every capital city in Australia – with more than 330,000 people claiming Vietnamese ancestry in Australia’s 2021 census.

And of that 330,000, about 270,000 were actually born in Vietnam.

In my home state, South Australia, there are around 40,000 people of Vietnamese origin.

In fact, I’m proud to say, my immediate predecessor as Governor of South Australia was the Honourable Hieu Van Le, a distinguished Australian of Vietnamese origin.

Hieu Van Le was the first person of Asian origin to be appointed Governor of any of Australia’s states and the first person of Vietnamese origin to be appointed to a vice-regal position anywhere in the world.

The story of the people-to-people links between Australia and Vietnam – and South Australia and Vietnam – is full of successes like that one.

And I feel certain there are further successes to come.

When she launched the VAC in June, Australia’s Foreign Minister – Senator Penny Wong, herself a South Australian, made the point that the future of Vietnam will be shaped by the minds, talents and ambitions of the next generation of leaders.

And leadership is what I wanted to talk about today.

I’ll confess to some hesitation to address the topic of leadership in an academy named after one of the most significant leaders of the 20th century.

So I’ll keep my commentary to the 21st century.

In doing so, I will make three main points.

I’ll talk briefly about some of the uncertainties of the current international environment, and the growing cooperation and deepening relationship between Australia and Vietnam.

Finally, I will talk about the importance of creative and empathetic leadership - of encouraging it, unlocking it, and embracing a diversity of views in the decision-making process, so that we can navigate the uncertainties of the future together.

In my previous role of Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade I oversaw the development of Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.

The White Paper spoke about powerful drivers of change that were re-shaping the international order.

It spoke about a more contested and competitive world, affected by changing power balances and by the disruptive forces of new technology.

These trends have only accelerated since 2017.

Economically we face a period of tremendous uncertainty.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to linger.

The recovery is increasingly threatened by rising inflation and disruptions to global supply chains.  The prospect of recession is real in many countries.

Environmentally our planet is under increasing strain.

We face the urgent challenges of climate change, and the need for rapid and sustained international action to reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures.

We are seeing an unprecedented economic and technological transition, as new technologies and industries replace outdated ones.

This offers new opportunities for those able to innovate and take advantage of emerging technologies – something that we are proud of doing in South Australia, where 68% of our power is now produced from renewable energy.

However, it is undoubtedly creating economic and social disruption in many countries.

Political polarisation is growing.

Meanwhile geopolitical tensions are rising.

We see the once unthinkable - war in Europe – as the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  This is having cascading impacts on the global economy and the international system writ large.

And here in the Indo-Pacific, the region is being re-shaped as China’s power grows and it seeks to assert itself on the regional and international system.

I could talk for some time about these trends, what drives them, and what they mean for countries like Australia and Vietnam.

What is certain is that they are profoundly significant for both our countries.

They mean that our cooperation has never been more important.

And now to my second point, growing Australia-Vietnam cooperation.

When she was here in June, Senator Penny Wong made the point that Australia and Vietnam share an interest in a region that is peaceful, prosperous, and where sovereignty is respected.

A region where disputes are settled peacefully in accordance with international law – not by size and power.

Australia and Vietnam do indeed share many key interests.

We share a commitment to free trade.

We share a commitment to multilateralism and international law.

We have complementary economies, and there is huge potential for both countries to further develop our trade and investment relationship, including under the rubric of the Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy agreed by our governments in 2021.

We are Strategic Partners since 2018 and cooperate closely on development, education, border protection, law enforcement, innovation, trade and investment.

And with the 50th Anniversary of diplomatic relations approaching in 2023, we are seeking to further elevate our ties.

We are working together more closely than ever to shape a region that is in our collective interest, and we are doing so in the context of the disruption I referred to earlier.

Building a peaceful and prosperous future for our countries, and our region, will require innovation and vision.

Creative and inclusive leadership will be critical to this objective.

And thirdly, to creative and inclusive leadership

Building creative leadership begins with high quality education

Training, and education, is a particular passion of mine.

It’s a large part of the reason I’m visiting Vietnam at the moment – I’ve spent much of my time here highlighting the strength of South Australia’s education institutions.

And it’s why I am so pleased to be addressing an institution like the Vietnam Australia Centre, which brings the best Australian educational expertise and ideas to Vietnam.

Another passion of mine is supporting and promoting gender equality. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it improves standards of leadership, and results in better outcomes for all.

I note I am speaking to you during Equality Month in Vietnam!

When I was appointed Governor of South Australia, I was very pleased to be not the first or even the second – but the third woman to take on the role.

But when I became the Secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, my portrait went up on a wall they have with the faces of each of the past Secretaries.

Mine was the first female face amongst 39 male predecessors.

The current Secretary, by contrast, is the third successive woman to serve in the position.

And these three women have served under three successive Australian Foreign Ministers – also the first three women in these roles.

So progress is possible.

But progress is not just about symbolism.

Having greater numbers of women in leadership matters because having women fully involved in decision making makes a difference to the quality of that decision making.

Whether through informal influence or formal positions of power, the contribution of women is critical.

Women are essential to understanding and engaging with other women, and developing a different appreciation of the needs and wants of the community as a whole.

For example, a UN Women examination of 40 peace processes, found that where women were involved, parties were significantly more likely to reach agreement, and that those agreements were more likely to be successfully implemented.

Increasing the number of women in leadership requires deliberate and planned strategies.

As DFAT’s inaugural overarching Diversity and Inclusion Champion, I worked – with support from many passionate, capable colleagues – to drive organisational and cultural reforms that recognised diversity in leadership, and in our workforce, as central to our value proposition as an organisation.

This program brought about real, measurable, and sustainable change to the department.

Between 2015 and 2020, the proportion of female Ambassadors and Heads of Mission increased from 27 to 43 per cent.

The number of women serving in senior executive positions increased by more than 10 percentage points.

Policies for flexible working arrangements, initially created to support women with caring responsibilities, enabled the Department to rapidly adapt to Covid lockdowns and working from home.

These gains mattered for DFAT, but they also reflect a broader global awareness about the importance of women’s participation, and of diverse and inclusive leadership

In the world of business, increased female representation – and indeed increased diversity of all kinds, including culturally and linguistically diverse groups, people with disability, and LGBTIQ+ people – increases profitability and productivity.

Diversity encourages innovative ideas, and challenge old and outdated assumptions.

It makes workplaces more attractive to the best talent, and better placed to retain them.

In 2020, the McKinsey Global Institute calculated up to USD 13 (AUD 18.5) trillion could be added to global GDP by 2030 if the global gender gap is narrowed.

So greater inclusion means greater wealth.

The international evidence on this is absolutely clear.  Inclusive societies are not just more cohesive, they grow faster. They also grow sustainably.

This is relevant to Vietnam because of its highly ambitious goals to reach upper middle-income status by 2030, and high-income status by 2045.

Greater levels of inclusion will be critical to meeting these objectives.

That’s also why inclusion, gender equality and women in leadership will be such critical priorities for the Vietnam Australia Centre, and for the training it provides to you and your successors.

I encourage you, as Vietnam’s future leaders, to embrace diversity so that all people in this country can contribute to their fullest potential, and shaped a shared, peaceful and prosperous future.