Vice President, Ministers, Ambassadors, distinguished guests; it is great to be here at the Laos Australia Institute. I want to thank the Vice President Dr Viphavanh for joining me to open the Institute.
Also thank the Director of the Institute Bill Pennington and his counterparts at the Foreign Languages Resource Centre for hosting us here today.
As you know I have flown in for Hangzhou China, after attending the G20 Summit for my first official visit to Laos, to Vientiane, during the ASEAN-Australia and East Asia Summits.
When I think about the next phase of growth in Asia, I see the Indo-Pacific as the epicentre of opportunity. We are living in times of unprecedented and rapid change and Laos sits on the crest of that wave. You are one of the region’s smallest nations and yet you have one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. People in Laos and across the region are connected to the global marketplace and each other as never before. The Laos Australia Institute is part of this movement. The 31 exceptional young people receiving scholarships today, now you are too. You join a pipeline of more than 1,200 of your fellow countrymen and women who over three decades, travelled south to study in Australia on Australian Government scholarships.
The Minister for Education spoke warmly of her time at Deakin University in Geelong and has benefitted enormously from that experience, as indeed did Australia from your time in Australia and we thank you that.
You have returned home as leaders and global citizens. Take Phavanhna Douanboupha for example. Phavanhna came to Australia with a scholarship to study engineering and IT at the University of New South Wales. She lived and studied in Sydney for five years and after graduating returned to Laos to work on a national science technology and environment agency. She went on to win a Fulbright scholarship to study for a master’s degree in the United States after which she returned back home to work in the Laos telecommunications sector.
Opportunities like these Australia awards open doors. This morning I met with your local café owner, entrepreneur and coffee roaster Ariya Khamvongsa, better known as ‘Pop’. He too studied in Australia, not just at university but he studied as a barista in a very practical way. He brought back the knowledge he acquired to Laos and he launched a string of thriving businesses. What these stories illustrate to me – and I always say this about the Australian people and our workforce but it’s no less true here – is that your greatest asset is the creativity and the ingenuity of your people. Our greatest assets are our people. It’s our capacity to innovate which allows us to address and solve our most intractable problems. It’s why Australia has placed a strong focus on innovation at home and in our aid program.
Through our basic education program here in Laos, which the Minister spoke about a moment ago, we’ve established an Innovation Fund to encourage new solutions to the biggest problems. We know for example that in remote areas of Laos, many children don’t have access to books. But many do have access to a television, so under the Innovation Fund the local film production company SB Clay Studios, will pilot an educational television program, the first of its kind for primary school children in Laos.
Investing in education is an investment in our human capital. It is an investment in our greatest asset, quality education of the young Laos people who will deliver a huge return on that investment in the years ahead. It’s an investment in Laos and it’s an investment in the ties our two countries share.
For a very long time education has been a key element in our strong bilateral relationship. I’d like to congratulate the Laos Australia Institute for its commitment to strengthening these bonds.
I have no doubt the Institute will continue to do outstanding work in these refurbished premises to support Laos’ development and to strengthen the links between the people of our two countries, because the benefits of those close personal links produce much more than increased economic growth figures. They drive the cultural exchange, they drive the strength of bonds that are built and the people-to-people experiences, the personal experiences of which the Minister I notice spoke so warmly a moment ago.
So to the scholarship recipients, I wish you every success for your time in Australia. As the Minister said, study hard, enjoy your time in Australia and you can return to Laos to advance the future of your great country. We look forward to welcoming you in Australia.