Friday, 11 March 2022

South Australia’s Global Future Forum, University of Adelaide

It is a great pleasure, as I am sure you can imagine, for me speak to you today at this public forum on “South Australia’s Global Future” and I congratulate the University of Adelaide on hosting it.

I speak, of course, as Governor and during a state election campaign. I will do my best to ensure both that conventions are upheld and justice done to the topic.

The very title invites questions and discussion and it is right, indeed I would say essential, that there should be a well informed and vigorous public debate about a subject on which so much else hangs.

While COVID has made it harder to meet in person, here or around the world, Zoom and Teams have given us a wealth of opportunities to hear the perspectives of people we wouldn’t have expected to meet in more normal times, participate in forums we would normally have attended and keep in touch with what is happening beyond our borders, state and national.

The Asia Society, Lowy Institute, South Australia’s universities and think tanks around the world have taken full advantage and for that they deserve our thanks.

And I welcome the Australian Institute of International Affairs’ announcement in January that it has opened a new South Australian branch in Adelaide.

There is clearly a lively interest in global developments here, but understanding the drivers of change in our Indo-Pacific region and indeed across the globe is vital if South Australia’s global engagement is to be more than the sum of our transactions with the world.

For this is a consequential time, challenging enough in geo-political and geo-strategic terms in early 2020 when COVID-19 began to spread, and unarguably more so now.

I am not sure that we yet fully understand the impact of COVID on the geo-political contours of the globe or our own region. This will take time to discern, including in all the micro ways it may impact on South Australia’s interests.

We know, broadly speaking, how countries, our partners, have been faring in terms of numbers of cases and deaths. We can access a wide range of economic and other data. We know as a general proposition, set out clearly in the 2021 edition of the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index that COVID has weakened the capacity of states to respond to and shape their external environment.

At a practical level, relevant to the many of us here who would normally expect to travel for work, international borders, including those of our largest trading partner, China, are not yet able to be crossed with pre-COVID ease. The context, the texture even, we get from face to face meetings overseas is not yet fully available to us.

You will know in your own fields something of the sectoral impacts, the disruptions to and reshaping of supply chains, for example. There will be positives and negatives, but I think it is important that we know what they are.

I think it is important too that we take the time to think, through the prism of South Australia’s interests, in a structured and organised way about what has changed and what that means for us.

South Australia has managed COVID relatively well and is emerging with momentum in clearly defined priority sectors for international engagement – defence, space, cyber, renewable energies, innovation and hi-tech, in addition to more traditional sectors such as resources and agriculture and the heavily COVID-affected education and tourism sectors.

It will be for a newly elected state government to determine what further work may be required and what form it might take – vision, strategy, implementation plans, or perhaps all of these.

Let me make some broader observations in the certain knowledge that my fellow panellists will have well informed views and you will have well informed questions.

Firstly, it is clear that great power competition has sharpened and intensified over the past two years and that this has practical effects, including economic ones, for South Australia.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shocked the world and confirmed the worst fears of Europeans who have long seen Russia as a threat.

Its full consequences are yet to play out, but the challenges it poses to the post-World War II international order, already weakened, are significant.

While the pace of globalisation may have been checked by COVID, the first order economic effects of the invasion on oil prices and other commodities have been felt immediately in South Australia. The secondary effects of the most comprehensive sanctions package in our lifetime are not yet clear.

In the Indo-Pacific, China’s assertiveness and its own challenges to the regional order and to rules and norms, including in the international trading system, have been the focus of much strategic, economic, defence, foreign and development policy and diplomacy not just in our own region, but globally.

In accordance with our Constitution, Australia’s response to meeting what are being described as the challenges of the twenty-first century is being determined at the national level, principally through deeper cooperation with allies and close partners.

The formation of AUKUS, a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, in September 2021 followed a steady and structured approach by Australia to deepening its relationships with a range of like-minded Indo-Pacific and European partners, commencing with Singapore in 2016.

The objectives of what are commonly called strategic partnerships are set out publicly and usually supported by detailed work plans. These provide useful guidance and reference points for South Australia as we contribute to the national effort and seek to benefit from economic opportunities where these are created.

Clearly, South Australia is playing a significant role in enhancing Australia’s defence capability and we are well placed to contribute in further practical ways to the achievement of priorities set through AUSMIN, AUKMIN and AUKUS

My discussions in Adelaide over the past fortnight with the High Commissioner for Singapore and Ambassador of Germany confirm that South Australia is seen as an active, capable partner and a desirable place to invest. Germany is Australia’s tenth largest source of Foreign Direct Investment but ranks more highly for South Australia at seventh largest.

I should add that years of engagement with Canberra-based ambassadors by successive Premiers, most recently Premier Marshall who has been very active with support from the Opposition, has contributed directly to their willingness to prioritise trade promotion, investment and the building of people to people relations with South Australia.

Universities, corporates, cultural institutions and, of course, diaspora communities all have roles to play and again we rate well in terms of ease of doing business and our ability to pursue what I would term a whole of state approach.

Of course, both the COVID-induced disruptions to supply chains and trade disruptions more broadly, whatever their origin, raise questions of resilience and it will pay to be attentive to this, again in a structured way.

The second point I’d make, briefly, in the knowledge it is bound to be discussed further, is that South Australia is a genuine leader in renewable energies, including in hydrogen which is the focus of so much international attention. Not every possible technological advance will necessarily be realised, but South Australia is well positioned to play an outsized role in meeting the now critical need for commercially viable decarbonisation technologies.

The need for sustainability, more generally, is increasingly recognised. It was strikingly evident in my first regional visit to the upper Spencer Gulf in October - at the Whyalla Steel Mill, the new secondary college there, the Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden at Port Augusta, Sundrop Farms with their leading work in horticulture powered by renewables, and Kelly Engineering’s focus on soil health. These are world class operations.

Thirdly, and I will be relying on Andrew Nunn as South Australian Chief Entrepreneur to do justice to this, the importance of private sector innovation and emerging technologies in South Australia’s global future. What I do know is that there are economic and national security dimensions and we need to be attentive to both and to their interplay.

The last thing I’d say is that like many other South Australians, one of the prime motivations for me in returning after years away was the opportunity to make a difference.

The world is not an easy place right now and there needs to be a sense of urgency if South Australia’s future is to be assured.

The past five months has given me a real sense of confidence that South Australians have the ideas and the capability to continue on what I already sense is an upward trajectory. That will require determined effort on all our parts, some new thinking and greater self-confidence, but it is achievable.

I welcome the contribution today’s forum is making to debate, discussion and, I hope, a determination to shape our future in the world and to seize the many opportunities.

Coming events