Every Australian child should learn Mandarin, Hindi or other regional language as the nation’s future is tied to the rise of the “Asian Century,” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a policy speech on Sunday.
“Whatever else this century brings, it will bring Asia’s return to global leadership, Asia’s rise. This is not only unstoppable, it is gathering pace,” Gillard said in a long-awaited policy white paper entitled, “Australia in The Asian Century.”
The policy outlines 25 objectives Australia must achieve by 2025 to take advantage of Asia’s rise to boost the wealth of Australians.
Chief among the goals are that every child learn an Asian language, in particular Mandarin, Japanese, Indonesian or Hindi, and that they leave school having studied Asian culture.
“Children in kindergarten now will graduate from high school with a sound working knowledge of Asia,” Gillard said at the Lowy Institute in Sydney where she unveiled the white paper.
The Prime Minister said “a hundred years ago we spoke of the working man’s paradise. Today we speak of the high school, high-wage road. We have always wanted to do it our way.
“We long saw Asia as a threat to all this—racially, militarily, and economically. Indeed this was precisely the moral paradox of the working man’s paradise. A hundred years ago, high wages meant white man’s wages. No more,” she said.
The Gillard government will create a new ministry of Asian Century Policy to drive the reforms across education, infrastructure, tax and regulatory reform.
If the objectives are met, Gillard predicts about one-third of the Australian economy will be tied to Asia, up from 25% in 2011, and the average national income will increase to A$73,000 (US$75,700) per person, up from the current A$62,000. The white paper notes that Australia will seek to stay competitive by abandoning its historic fear of low Asian wages and by becoming a “higher skill, higher wage economy with a fair, multicultural and cohesive society and a growing population.”
Opposition party members are broadly supportive of the government’s ambitions for deeper economic and social engagement with Asia, but skeptical it can be delivered.
“It is full of laudable goals but not very many specific initiatives and certainly no commitment of money to any of them,” said opposition leader Tony Abbott.
Polls show the Prime Minister’s goals for greater Asian engagement are broadly accepted by Australians. But there are caveats.
According to a Lowy Institute poll, a majority felt Australia did not fall into recession in the global financial crisis because of Asian demand for Australian resources. However some 56% thought there was too much investment from China and 63% were strongly opposed to allowing foreign companies to buy Australian farmland to grow crops or farm livestock.