SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you very much Professor Ian Young for that welcome. Vice-Chancellor it is a delight to be here at the Australian National University for this very important occasion, the opening of the centre for China. The opportunity for this university to be able to cement its position as not just one of Australia’s leaders in China-Australia studies and relations but, of course, one of the world’s leaders in relation to China studies. I acknowledge you, the Vice-Chancellor, to the chair of the advisory board the Hon Warwick Smith; it is wonderful to have you here. To the director, Dr Benjamin Penny, thank you very much. To all who have gathered here, thank you for attending and in particular to Tina Brown thank you for the welcome to Ngunnawal country. It is, I think, particularly appropriate that on a day such as this when we are celebrating research and knowledge and investigation in to one of the oldest cultures and nations in the world that we are here, in Australia, welcomed by the custodians of our own ancient cultures and traditions. I welcome the Dean of the Consulate Corps and other officials and representatives of the Diplomatic Corps in Canberra.

Can I commence by paying particular tribute to those who have helped to make this centre a reality. To Professor Geremie Barmé the Founding Director and driving force behind this vision. To the others who have contributed to the academic vision, to the research vision, but also to the physical surrounds that we stand amongst today. To the architects, to the builders, to those engaged in ensuring that this building, this facility, will not only go on to house some of the finest research discussions and thoughts in relation to China, but also symbolises much of modern and ancient China bringing together those different traits that make the China we have today such a fascinating and important part of our world.

The Australian National University was, of course, founded as a national endowment for the Australian nation and in its 70 years it has demonstrated that it is living up to that vision. As a university, it contributes to the richness of Australian life and to the expanse of Australian knowledge in many vast and different ways. In that time the university has, of course, become the proud home to more Nobel Prize recipients than any other university in Australia, with 5 of the 11 Nobel Prize recipients. It houses more fellows of learned academies than any other university. It is an institution that is a national treasure and is one which our government is proud to continue a bipartisan tradition of support for and encouragement of.

Of course, the ANU boasts global partnerships that are the envy of many institutions around the world. Partnerships that reach right throughout our world but are strongest, most appropriately, in our own region, in the Asia-Pacific region and with nations such as China. It boasts a rich and appropriate role in assisting the development of public policy, especially through the Crawford School which I’ve had pleasure of visiting and addressing on numerous occasions and which provides an ongoing source of advice and knowledge and information to all of those in Canberra and beyond in Australia who contribute to our public policy outcomes.

This centre will, of course build, on that public policy knowledge, on those global partnerships and on that reputation for academic excellence the ANU has. This centre will ensure a multidisciplinary approach is taken to the assessment of our relationship with China, to the understanding of China as it is today, but importantly how it has come to be the China of today. The deep history of China, how that history has influenced the way China has developed and how that history in today’s developments will, of course, influence the way China continues to develop in to the future. 

China sits as a very significant nation for Australia, everybody appreciates that. Our largest trading partner, the largest country not just in our region, but within the world, a nation that has such significant weight of influence in economic terms, in cultural terms, in security terms. That ensures that we have a rich relationship with China but, of course, a complex relationship. Any successful, deep and mature relationship is filled with complexities and that requires us to have the deepest possible understanding of one another and it is through a centre such as this that we will be able to enhance and further that mutual understanding of each other.

Importantly as a government, we’re very committed to ensuring that the building of the relationship with China is very much one of two-way mobility. A signature policy of our government has been the New Colombo Plan which is supporting Australian students to spend more time overseas. We have long been proud of and are committed to continuing are international education sector here in Australia that provides opportunities for thousands of international students including thousands of Chinese students to learn and study and advance their knowledge here in Australia.

Importantly, we are now doing more to make sure that experience occurs in reverse with hundreds of Australians now experiencing life studying in China and ensuring that their knowledge and understanding and cultural connections to our largest neighbour are strengthened through the New Colombo Plan. 

So, this centre ties in fabulously with the ambitions we have for an even stronger connection. It is especially timely that although the centre’s work has been going on for a little while now, we have this formal opening just one week after the deal for the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was finally cemented and passed through the House of Representatives. Timely in that it demonstrates the richness and diversity of the connections we seek to build. As the Chinese Commerce Minister noted, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is the most liberating China has ever signed, it ensures that the richness of connection between our countries at an economic level, at an education level, at social and cultural levels will only continue to expand and through the work of this centre we can be confident that that FTA will deliver the type of benefits for both nations that were envisaged upon its negotiations by our governments. 

In closing, can I acknowledge and pay particular tribute to Professor Young. As he acknowledge, this is my first visit here as the Minister for Education and Training and while I hope and trust that it will not be my last, it is possible that it may be my last during your tenure as the Vice-Chancellor. So, thank you Professor Young for your leadership of this national treasure, for what you have done to ensure the ANU’s reputation has gone from strength to strength under your leadership and I have no doubt thank you for the continued contribution you will make to Australian society in different ways in to the future. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be with you today and to have the great honour of declaring this wonderful centre open. Thank you very much.