PM meets ASEAN leaders, focus on $2b business boost

A crocodile and a koala walked into a summit of global leaders, but the focus stayed firmly on strengthening Australia’s economic ties with Southeast Asia.

The native animals made a brief appearance at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne, causing a flurry of excitement on a day packed with high-level talks between political and business heavyweights.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with several leaders including outgoing Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Thailand Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

The Australian leader also made an appearance with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to spruik new agreements on border security, electricity and shipping corridors.

Maritime operations and security are a key focus of the summit, with China’s influence in the region and territorial disputes in the South China Sea looming over the gathering.

It was raised at the joint appearance, with Mr Loong acknowledging differing national perspectives as Mr Albanese doubled down on the need for freedom of navigation in the area.

Mr Albanese was keen to keep the focus on Australia’s $2 billion boost to encourage trade and investment in Southeast Asia, saying it would create new jobs at home.

‚ÄúIt is in our national interest, one in four of Australia‚Äôs jobs are trade dependent,‚ÄĚ Mr Albanese told reporters in Melbourne.

The $2b Southeast Asia Investment Financing Facility will provide loans and insurance, with a focus on clean energy and infrastructure development.

Other announcements include an extra $140 towards an infrastructure development program, better on-the-ground support for Australian businesses overseas and visa extensions.

Billionaire and Fortescue chief executive Andrew ‚ÄėTwiggy‚Äô Forrest was among captains of industry mixing with Mr Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers at the summit.

Two-way trade between ASEAN nations and Australia passed $178 billion in 2022, Mr Albanese said, greater than that of the US or Japan.

Shadow foreign minister Simon Birmingham welcomed the $2b announcement.

‚ÄúIt makes enormous sense and (there are) great opportunities for Australia to grow and strengthen two-way investment ties with Southeast Asia,‚ÄĚ he told Sky News.

The Business Council of Australia also welcomed the plan while the Australian Council for International Development was cautious, asking for further details about how the financing program would work.

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit is being held over three days in Melbourne, bringing together leaders from the region for talks on security, clean energy, emerging leaders and other pressing issues.

On Monday, Australia committed more than $270 million to international development, clean energy and security programs.

 

Rachael Ward
(Australian Associated Press)

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