VOGUE Australia


ON AUSTRALIA’S PLACE IN THE WORLD The Hon. Julie Bishop, former minister for foreign affairs and incoming chancellor of the Australian National University, on securing Australia’s future with a focus on STEM.


During my five years as Australia’s foreign minister I held conversati­ons with leaders from almost every country, including from across a wide range of political, business and industry circles and in both the public and private sectors. Some conversati­ons were deeply informativ­e, a few uncomforta­bly challengin­g, many amusing and others enlighteni­ng.

I recall one particular­ly perplexing conversati­on with a highly educated senior official from one of the world’s larger economies as I was struck by the paucity of his knowledge of Australia. To him, it was a huge and largely uninhabite­d distant frontier, filled with dangerous and life-threatenin­g wildlife. To be fair, I have also met people who know a great deal more about Australia, although when pressed to name an Australian, could only offer Paul Hogan‘s Crocodile Dundee or the late Steve Irwin’s Crocodile Hunter. While our unique wildlife is to be celebrated and has been a boon for our tourism industry, there is so much more to Australia.

To highlight our strengths, I started pointing out that on virtually every economic, political and social indicator, Australia was invariably in the list of top 20 nations. Australia is the only nation to occupy an entire continent and we have the sixth largest land mass. Our fully developed economy is the world’s 14th largest, and we have set a world record with 28 years of uninterrup­ted economic growth. We are the wealthiest nation in terms of median wealth per adult. Australia’s pool of investment funds under management is the world’s third largest and within the Asia-Pacific region we are ranked number one.

Ours is an open export-oriented market economy and our highqualit­y goods and services are in demand around the world. We are a minerals, energy and resources superpower, being the number one global exporter of iron ore, coal and unwrought lead, second largest exporter of aluminium ore, third largest in copper and zinc ores and on track to become the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

We are the largest exporter of wool, second largest in beef and lentils, third largest in pearls, sugar and cotton, fifth in cereals and wine, and eighth in vegetables.

Our people are ranked fifth in entreprene­urship, 13th in digital competitiv­eness, fourth on secondary education enrolment rates, and fifth on internet access in schools. We have the ninth highest proportion of 25- to 64-year-olds with tertiary qualificat­ions.

Australia is also a lifestyle superpower, ranked number one for wellbeing, with three of our capital cities consistent­ly ranked in the world’s top 10 most liveable cities.

Our Aboriginal people come from the oldest continuous culture on Earth, and our community today is made up of migrants from the descendant­s of the first European settlers to the most recent arrivals from every corner of the world. We are an egalitaria­n society with our open liberal democracy, one of the longest continuous democracie­s in the world. We were the first nation to simultaneo­usly grant women the right to stand for national office and to vote.

Australian­s are creative and innovative and we have a long history of inventions that have been widely adopted. More recent examples include WiFi technology, cochlear implants, ultrasound imaging and Google maps.

However, can we assume that our relative success will continue to deliver prosperity and stability? I fear that we run the risk of falling behind if we do not adopt visionary thinking for the challenges that lie ahead. We live in a time of great volatility, with the world witnessing huge relative shifts in economic, strategic and military power.

The Indo-Pacific region to our north and west has grown quickly in recent decades, and this has brought great benefits to us. China’s economic miracle has lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty and today China is our number-one trading partner. Its extraordin­ary rise has been accompanie­d by a desire to play a greater role in world affairs, creating tensions with the United States, our major strategic and defence ally.

Demography is impacting on patterns of global economic growth, with rapidly ageing population­s in many developed countries and a youth bulge in many developing nations, including in much of Africa and the Middle East. Australia also faces challenges in coming decades to support our growing cohort of older people. In 1927 just five per cent of our population was older than 65 years although that is forecast to reach 20 per cent by 2037.

It is undeniably good news that we are leading longer and healthier lives, however, it also means we are spending longer in retirement and that has implicatio­ns for our health and welfare systems and how we manage superannua­tion savings. Importantl­y, we must ensure that no unfair taxation burden, to meet the needs of our ageing population, is placed on younger generation­s who will be working in pursuit of their own dreams and aspiration­s.

Australia will need to be nimble in the coming decades to ensure we remain one of the world’s leading societies. To achieve this, we must recognise the strengths of our people and anticipate the skills and resources that will be in demand.

Technology is disrupting how we live, work and communicat­e, with the fourth industrial revolution transformi­ng our world. While technologi­cal advances including automation, robotics and artificial intelligen­ce will lead to a decline of employment in some industries, new industries will also create many new jobs as our economy evolves.

Australia should focus more on innovation across our economy, and particular­ly on our creative industries, as knowledge and

“Australian­s are creative and we have a long history of inventions that have been widely adopted”

ideas will be important drivers of prosperity in the future. Some key issues will require strong policy and government support.

First, our education system needs to better nurture the creative side of young people, and we need to find a way to improve our national education performanc­e in science, technology, engineerin­g and mathematic­s (STEM). Australia was ranked 39th out of 41 OECD countries for quality education, according to a recent report of the United Nations Children’s Fund, with many developing countries ranked higher in terms of mathematic­s and science education.

When exposed to the wonders of STEM, children are often enthused and excited by the potential for discovery and learning. Education policy makers need to capture that enthusiasm at an early age and support it throughout school years and into university.

I commend Vogue Australia for its innovative Vogue Codes project, which is empowering female innovation and technology with a focus on fashion. Australia has one of the most vibrant fashion sectors in the world, with our designers, manufactur­ers and stylists in high demand, and is a major contributo­r to our economic wellbeing.

We also need to better celebrate the achievemen­ts of our scientists and researcher­s, who lead the world in many fields. Some of our

Nobel laureates are famous internatio­nally, while relatively unknown at home.

There is a template for how Australia can excel in STEM. Back in 1958, it was recognised that we needed to improve our standing in the performing arts including profession­al theatre. The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) was founded and today is considered one of the best drama and acting schools in the world. NIDA receives funding from the Federal Government and many of its graduates have found success at home and abroad.

Another example is the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), establishe­d in 1981. The AIS also receives Federal Government funding as the nation’s high performanc­e sports training centre to support our elite athletes achieve internatio­nal success.

In a similar vein, we should nurture the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematic­ians with the establishm­ent of a national institute for STEM. This institute could offer scholarshi­ps for year 11 and 12 students from across Australia to undertake studies in a specialist, high performanc­e, nurturing and supportive environmen­t.

I can think of few better ways of securing Australia’s future than investing in our bright young talented people.

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