Monday, 28 August 2023

The Role of Sister Cities in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Thank you to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR) for allowing me to give this distinguished lecture during my first official visit to Malaysia as Governor of South Australia.

I acknowledge Dr Shazelina Zainul Abidin Director-General of the IDFR and her team and thank them for organising today’s lecture on the Role of Sister Cities in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

From time to time, diplomats and scholars will debate the value of the contribution of sub-national entities to building bilateral relationships between countries.

My experience as Australia’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China between 2011 and 2015 convinced me that there was a role for sister-state sister-province relations and that cities, too, could make a useful contribution in some circumstances.

One of the primary motivations for my visit to Malaysia is to celebrate the Sister City relationship between George Town and my hometown of Adelaide, which turns 50 this year.

While the Sister Cities were established in 1973, prompted by South Australia’s then-Premier Don Dunstan, we know the unique connection between the two cities goes back much further.

In 1786, Penang was founded by Captain Light, and 50 years later, Adelaide was selected as the site for South Australia’s new capital by his son, Colonel William Light.

Colonel Light’s vision for the new capital, and instrumental work in setting up South Australia’s land system as the first Surveyor-General still make him one of the state’s most recognisable historical figures.

Almost two hundred years later, Dunstan, in his search for economic links in Southeast Asia, came across Penang, and observed that it demonstrated an incredible opportunity for cultural and economic partnership.

The unique connection that Adelaide and George Town share with the Light family was of course a main source of inspiration for the Sister City relationship for the Premier of South Australia, who at that time was married to a Malaysian woman, born in Penang – Adele Koh.

Dunstan recognised Australia, and Adelaide’s, increasing connection with its neighbours in the Asia Pacific and suggested that the City of Adelaide should consider establishing links with George Town.

Dunstan lobbied the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, Penang's Chief Minister, to pursue sister-city status based on the Light legacies in both cities, with an eye to a progressing a more substantial relationship built upon strong people-to-people links.

The sister city agreement was signed on 8 December 1973 by the Chief Minister of Penang Eu during a visit by the Premier.

I am proud of the 50 years of friendship between Adelaide and George Town. The anniversary we share this year is a testament to the enduring nature of the cooperation between our cities and, I would add, to a degree of mutual attraction.

It must also be acknowledged that this has been bolstered by the friendly relations that Australia and Malaysia have shared for nearly 70 years.

Our bonds were forged in the Second World War, when Australian soldiers fought to defend Malaya and liberate Sarawak, Sabah, and Labuan.

Australian soldiers were also subsequently involved in the Emergency and the period of Confrontation.

As Patron of the South Australian and Northern Territory Branch of the Malaya and Borneo Veterans’ Association of Australia, I look forward to laying a wreath to honour the bravery and sacrifice of Australian and Malaysian soldiers while I’m in Penang, ahead of Malaya and Borneo Veterans Day on 31 August, also Malaysia's Independence Day.

Defence relations are strong to this day through the Five Power Defence Arrangements, which celebrated 50 years in 2021, and the Malaysia Australia Joint Defence Program.

Just last week, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence visited Malaysia to reinforce the Australian Government’s commitment to our defence relationship for the future, not only the past.

While we think of our defence relationship, at least in part, in hard power terms, Australia and Malaysia are fortunate to have abundant soft power enlivening our bilateral relations.

Malaysians made up the largest cohort of students to study in Australia under the original Colombo Plan Scholarships from the 1950s onwards. This began a long tradition of Malaysians choosing Australia for education, becoming long-term residents and contributing at the highest levels of our nation.

I’m pleased that almost 20,000 Malaysians have chosen to study in South Australia over the past decade alone.

You’ll be aware Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong was born in Kota Kinabalu. She moved to Adelaide at the age of eight. But you probably don’t know that Minister Wong’s father met her mother while studying in Adelaide as a Colombo Plan Scholar.

Stories like Minister Wong’s are the story of modern Australia.

Australia’s latest Census showed that more than 50 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or have a parent born overseas. This includes the nearly 180,000 Malaysian-born people living in Australia.

In addition to Penny Wong, I’m proud of several more prominent Malaysian Australians who hail from South Australia.

MasterChef Australia runner up Poh Ling Yeow – was born here in KL and singer Guy Sebastian – was born in Klang.

And, of course, MasterChef winner and TV personality Adam Liaw – who was born in Penang and moved to Adelaide aged three. The perfect ambassador for the sister city relationship!

Malaysians are world famous for your love of food and your culinary talent.

And we South Australians are grateful the Malaysian diaspora has brought these with them, to make South Australia one of Australia’s top food destinations.

My program in Malaysia includes a visit to George Town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Adelaide-George Town Sister City Relationship, during which I will be launching the Gourmet South Australia Food Fair in Penang.

This will be the third iteration of the Food Fair, with a specific focus on the celebration of the Sister-City relationship, providing Penang residents and visitors with a chance to experience the best of South Australian food and beverage products through the month of September.

Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

I have seen how these relationships blossom and provide reinforcement for one another – through the privilege of my roles both as Governor of South Australia, and formerly the Secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Indeed, my last visit to Malaysia was in 2019 as the Secretary of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I was here to participate in Senior Officials’ Talks – held every second year to take stock of progress under the Australia-Malaysia bilateral relationship, to discuss shared opportunities and challenges facing our region, and how we could deploy the tools of diplomatic tradecraft to shape outcomes for the region we both want.

In 2021 – my final year as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Australia and Malaysia signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – elevating our diplomatic relations to the highest tier. I was pleased to join Prime Minister Morrison for the ceremony, conducted virtually because of the pandemic, with Prime Minister Muhyiddin.

Since the CSP was signed, Australian and Malaysian agencies have shared regulatory assessments on COVID-19 vaccines and worked to support Malaysia’s vaccine R&D and genomics capabilities.

Our national security cooperation is significant and growing. Our respective agencies have active cooperation on transnational and organised crime, counterterrorism, financial intelligence, customs, civil maritime security and border protection.

This year, we also celebrate 50 years of the Australian Federal Police’s presence in Malaysia.

We have worked on harmonising food safety and halal standards, to make trade and investment between our countries more seamless and predictable.

In 2023, we celebrate 10 years of the Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA), which we are working to upgrade to ensure the agreement is on par with the levels of ambition in the RCEP and CPTPP.

Malaysia is Australia’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN.

We are actively exploring opportunities for cooperation, trade and investment to harness the digital and green economies.

Malaysian companies have invested extensively in Australia, and it’s great to see strong interest from Malaysian firms, such as Gentari and TNB, in Australia’s booming renewables sector.

Likewise, interest from Australian companies in Malaysia has increased significantly since the pandemic. Recent investment announcements from Australian companies Cochlear, NEXTDC and Arnott’s are testament to Malaysia’s attractiveness and competitiveness.

I know deepening Australia’s economic links with Southeast Asia is a top priority of the Albanese Government. And Australia’s forthcoming Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 will boost Australian investment in Malaysia.

Australia and Malaysia’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership allows us to work to create a future that is digital, green, innovative, inclusive, and with space for younger and more diverse leaders to play their part.

On several fronts, South Australia and Penang are well positioned to accelerate this modern relationship.

South Australia and Penang share strengths in tourism, the arts, food and beverages, digitisation, preserving heritage, education and training, and sustainable development.

The global energy crisis, precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels.

The world has experienced its hottest days on record in 2023 – felt in heatwaves throughout Southeast Asia.

Mitigating and adapting to climate change is an urgent moral and economic imperative that will require countries to work together.

Malaysia and Australia have both committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and, to this end, Australia is helping Malaysia build your National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, so you can account for emissions efficiently and accurately across your economy.

Australia is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, and South Australia has a crucial role to play as a world leader in renewable energy.

Over the past couple of decades, South Australia’s energy mix has undergone a truly remarkable transformation, from 1 per cent variable renewable energy to about 70 per cent variable renewable energy.

And in 2021, South Australia was able to meet one hundred per cent of its energy demand through renewables for 180 days of the year.

With Australia’s natural advantages of excess renewable energy capacity and our geography, we are well-positioned to be a reliable supplier of clean energy to the Indo-Pacific region.

South Australia is looking to share our experience and become a reliable partner in the energy transformation that is underway around the world, and here in Southeast Asia.

South Australia strongly welcomes opportunities to explore clean energy partnerships and supply chains with countries like Malaysia.

Our next big step is to add hydrogen into the energy mix.

During most days in South Australia, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, even with the ability to export energy across the borders, more electricity is generated than the existing demand. I understand that Malaysia holds similar ambitions.

While this had previously been thought of as an environmental quirk for our state, it is now proving to be a super power in the energy transition.

Hydrogen production provides an opportunity to harness surplus renewable energy generation into a portable and storable fuel source.

Since the current Government of South Australia came to power over 18 months ago more than half a billion dollars has been committed to the implementation of the Hydrogen Jobs Plan which will enable South Australia to be a world leader and major world supplier.

A 250MWe electrolyser, a 200 MW hydrogen-fuelled power plant and hydrogen storage facility are to be operational by December 2025.

In April next year, South Australia will host the Australia 2024 International Renewable Energy Conference (AusIREC) in Adelaide, together with the Australian Government and Clean Energy Council, and supported by REN21. We would welcome representatives from Malaysia to come to Adelaide to attend and participate in this important opportunity for knowledge sharing.

South Australia will be showcasing our renewable energy credentials and setting out our ambitious hydrogen agenda over the coming years.

The Role of Sister Cities

I have spoken about the importance of the bilateral relationship between our nations – but every level of government holds its own particular strengths and opportunities to be drawn upon.

Sister city relationships have evolved considerably since they appeared in international discourse in the early 1900s, when they were used to foster international communication.

Building on the strengths of historical cultural exchanges, the international friendship shared between sister cities today extends to other key areas that support mutually beneficial outcomes.

Sister city relationships can reciprocally improve educational systems through knowledge sharing, exchange programs, and language programs.

An internationally recognised qualification, such as the South Australian Certificate of Education, and reciprocal programs, such as the New Colombo Plan, can heighten education quality and opportunities throughout both cities.

Between 2018 and 2020, the ASEAN-Australia Education Dialogue (AAED), a Track 2 educational diplomacy platform with education and training institutions, took place in Adelaide and Penang, with the third Dialogue marking the 47th anniversary of the Adelaide-George Town Sister City Relationship.

Through this year’s anniversary celebrations, South Australia is fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with key Penang businesses such as the supermarket AEON, to promote South Australian food and produce as part of the Gourmet South Australia Food Fair.

In October, Adelaide will stage its annual OzAsia Festival which showcases performing arts, visual arts, literature, food and culture from Asia. In 2019, OzAsia Festival audiences were lucky to experience a live performance by Malaysian pop icon Siti Nurhaliza.

And at this year’s festival, I’m delighted that the George Town Literary Festival will be partnering with OzAsia Festival to send a number of Malaysian writers to South Australia; again, providing South Australians with the opportunity to engage with thought-leaders from our close partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

I encourage those of you here today to visit South Australia, during Festival season, or indeed at any other time of year. And to that end, I am delighted to hear that direct flights between Malaysia and Adelaide have recommenced, thanks to Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air.

I think an argument could be made that the case for the initial establishment of direct flights was strengthened by the existence of the Sister City partnership. They have helped sustain our relationship ever since and they are now an important enabler for South Australia to contribute to the achievement of our national objectives under the Australia-Malaysia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

I rest my case.

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