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Time to re-build "Team Australia"

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Australian states should work together as “Team Australia” to recover lost business links with South East Asia, a key economic forum in Adelaide heard yesterday.

Former Northern Territory Chief Minister Shane Stone told the Australia ASEAN Business Forum at the InterContinental Hotel that Australia had stopped looking outwards.

Stone was acknowledged by Prime Minister Paul Keating in the 1990s for his work in building strong trade and business links into South East Asian countries.

Yesterday, Stone returned the favour, but said the efforts of State and Federal Governments had faded as the Global Financial Crisis saw Australia look inward, rather than outward.

“I remember the efforts of Paul Keating and Bob McMullan and others in his government; it was a golden era because the engagement with South East Asia was there and every state and territory government (except New South Wales) was in it boots and all.

“It cut across party lines,” Stone said.

“There was a tremendous effort, for example, coming out of South Australia at the time from John Olsen. There was an agency in SA which worked with us in the NT to build technical and further education links into the region.

“Then we lost the threads.”

He said the somewhere along the line, the political will to engage with South East Asia fell away.

“Then the GFC hit and I think as a nation we started to look inward and not outward.

“So, we need to re-engage and restore those threads.”

Stone urged businesses to link with their respective state and federal government agencies.

“For businesses, the people who get you through the door, to get that foot in the ASEAN door are on the state minister’s trade delegations.

“They can get you there; then it’s up to you.

“Don’t underestimate either the capacity of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It’s a partnership to help you do business.”

The former NT Chief Minister left politics in 2000 to return to the business community.

As Executive Chairman of the APAC Group of Companies, he led negotiations on the $25 billion North West Shelf natural gas deal with China.

He currently sits on the Thiess Advisory Board where he leads the company’s engagement with Indonesia.

He was a keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Australia ASEAN Business Forum, organised by the local Council for International Trade and Commerce, SA (CITCSA) headed by Francis Wong.

Summaries of the forum can be access at www.citcsa.org.au

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