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Speech by CS at Asia Society Australia Breakfast Briefing in Sydney (English only) (with photo)

     Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the Asia Society Australia Breakfast Briefing in Sydney today (September 18):

David (Epstein) and Philipp (Ivanov) from Asia Society Australia, Suhanya (Raffel) and John (Richardson) from Art Gallery of New South Wales, Judith (Rutherford) from VisAsia, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning. It's a great pleasure to be back in Sydney and my honour to be speaking at this Asia Society Australia gathering. I know I'm joining a long line of global leaders and Hong Kong government officials, all of whom have welcomed the opportunity to address the Society over the years.

     Today is day six in a full-to-bursting tour of Australia, one that has taken me from Melbourne to Canberra and, since yesterday, Sydney. Every day, each night, has been eventful, informative, entertaining. Inspiring, personally as well as professionally.

     Indeed, last night I joined an enthusiastic audience for the Australian premiere of "The Legend of Mulan", performed by the Hong Kong Dance Company.  An ancient Chinese classic, "The Legend of Mulan" is rife with bravery, honour, treachery and high drama. This also sounds a lot like another day in politics, both here in Australia especially this week seeing the installation of a new Prime Minister and back home in Hong Kong.

     "The Legend of Mulan" is also a dazzling fusion of East and West, a description that applies to both Hong Kong and Australia.  And that is surely one explanation for the fruitful relations our two economies, governments and peoples have long enjoyed.

     To understand the connections, it helps to consider the numbers. Hong Kong is home to some 90 000 Australians íV not to mention a happy party of koalas, wallabies and laughing kookaburras. They're part of the new "Adventures in Australia" exhibit at Hong Kong Ocean Park, our world-class entertainment, conservation and education theme park. The good news is that the transplanted wallabies have been busy.  I'm pleased to tell you that Ocean Park is now home to the first red-necked joey ever born in Hong Kong.

     The flow - certainly in people - is two-way. Nearly 80 000 individuals of Hong Kong origin live in Australia. That includes nearly 40 000 right here in New South Wales.

     We like to visit Australia, too. Last year, Hong Kong was Australia's ninth-largest inbound market, with 202 000 visitors, up 10 per cent over arrivals in 2013. New South Wales, I should add, was the destination for nearly half of those Hong Kong visitors. At the same time, we welcomed some 600 000 Australians to Hong Kong in 2014.

     Business as much as pleasure seasons our relations. Some 550 Australian companies call Hong Kong home. A further 1 000 Australian businesses keep representative offices in Hong Kong. They take in just about every sector you can think of. Prominent in the financial and professional services, Australian companies in Hong Kong are also active in transportation, construction, design retail and, of course, food and beverage.

     A good many of Hong Kong's most popular restaurants, pubs and sports bars are Australian. And I can assure you that, over the next six weeks or so, they will be particularly, shall we say, buoyant, given the opening, later today, of the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham Stadium. And the patrons may well be enjoying wine and beer from Australia. Good news, too, for your beverage companies.

     All that good business keeps the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong hopping, so to speak. The Hong Kong AustCham represents the largest Australian business community outside Australia and has done a great deal to enhance the bilateral trade relations between the two places.

     Our trade statistics reflect that robust co-operation. Last year, Hong Kong-Australia bilateral trade, in goods and services, was worth more than AUD8.5 billion. That's up 5.4 per cent over the previous year. The uptake was contributed largely by a nine per cent increase in Australian merchandise exports to Hong Kong.

     Australian business looks to Hong Kong for investment opportunities as well. At the end of 2014, Hong Kong was Australia's sixth-largest source of investment, bringing in a total of AUD77 billion.

     I am pleased to note that Australia, just three months ago, signed a free trade agreement with Mainland China, subject to parliamentary endorsement. I am confident it will provide Hong Kong with more business and investment opportunities. And I believe, too, that an Australia-Hong Kong FTA would bring our business co-operation to even higher levels.

     To facilitate further investment flows, a double taxation agreement between us would also serve as a boost for our respective businesses. And I look forward to an early commencement of negotiations in this regard.

     After all, our relations are strong and secure because of the many things we share. That, of course, includes our legal systems, which are based on common law, our use of English as an official language, and our unwavering reliance on diversity, accountability and economic freedom.

     In that regard, Hong Kong, earlier this year, was again named the world's freest economy by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. That makes 21 years in a row. We are proud of that recognition, and we are determined to maintain it in spite of severe competition in the region.

     Add a simple, and low, tax system, free flow of information and capital, and world-beating communications and infrastructure, and you know why Hong Kong remains the business and trade hub of Asia.

     Indeed, the Hong Kong market counts nearly 70 million eager consumers. That's taking in Hong Kong's more than seven million residents, along with the nearly 61 million visitors we welcomed last year - most, to be sure, from Mainland China.  That makes Hong Kong China's window to the world.

     No less important, Hong Kong remains the world's gateway to Mainland China. Despite the Mainland's recent economic challenges, its economy is still growing at a rate most of the world would envy. And Hong Kong is at the heart of it. At the end of 2013, inward direct investment from the Mainland to Hong Kong totalled AUD570 billion, accounting for nearly one-third of the total IDI in Hong Kong. And outward direct investment from Hong Kong to the Mainland reached AUD690 billion, accounting for nearly half the national total for Mainland China.

     As Hong Kong's economic integration with the Mainland deepens, we will continue to expand our "super-connector" role - helping a world of companies find markets on the Mainland. We will also continue to use our free trade strengths, expertise in professional services and our international connectivity, to support the Mainland's opening up to the world.

     I encourage Australian investors to make good use of Hong Kong as the shortest route to the markets of China and throughout the Asian region.

     Given the close links between Hong Kong and Australia, it is no surprise that some of you may be following closely the constitutional development in Hong Kong.  As I'm sure you are aware, it was the goal of the Hong Kong SAR Government to secure our legislatures support to the proposals to implement universal suffrage in the selection of the Chief Executive in 2017. And I can personally assure you that pressing ahead with democratic development in accordance with the Basic Law is also the most sincere wish of the Central Authorities.

     I had been personally working on this very important subject for Hong Kong for 20 months since October 2013 as the Chairman of the Task Force on Constitutional Development. This past June, however, despite the support expressed by the majority of Hong Kong people after two rounds of extensive public consultations, our proposals for selecting the next Chief Executive by universal suffrage did not manage to secure the two-thirds majority approval required under the Basic Law.  We had hoped to make history in Hong Kong, enabling all eligible voters, some five million in total, to choose our next Chief Executive by "one person, one vote". And it is most regrettable that this hope is now dashed.

     I understand, of course, that our community has a wide range of views on constitutional development. After all, Hong Kong is a pluralistic and open society. And we respect the different views expressed by different sectors of the community.

     Communication, the seeking of common ground, is the only way forward, if we are to select our Chief Executive through universal suffrage that is constitutionally and legally sound, that responds to political realities, and that is fair and reasonable to all concerned.

     The veto of the proposals by the Legislative Council will mean that the method for selecting the Chief Executive in 2012 will continue to be applicable in 2017.  In other words, selection of the Chief Executive by a 1 200-member Election Committee. And the Hong Kong SAR Government will focus on developing the economy and improving people's livelihood in the remainder of its current term.

     Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to our organisers - the Asia Society Australia, and supporters - the Art Gallery of New South Wales and VisAsia Council - for their interest and gracious hospitality.

     On a related note, the Asia Society will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year. And I understand that the Asia Society Australia and the Asia Society Hong Kong centres are planning a joint photo exhibition in honour of that anniversary. Established in 1990 by a group of Hong Kong community leaders, Asia Society Hong Kong Center has played an important role in enriching Hong Kong's cultural and intellectual life, especially since the commissioning of its new permanent home in Admiralty, Hong Kong at the Old Victoria Barracks, Former Explosives Magazine site in February 2012. As the former Secretary for Development responsible for heritage conservation, I supported this major undertaking of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center. Through careful conservation, restoration and adaptive re-use, this heritage site was successfully transformed into a cultural, artistic and intellectual hub in Hong Kong and offers a broad variety of programmes in the form of lectures, performances, film screenings and exhibitions to the community.  For those of you who have yet to visit the Hong Kong Center, I hope you could take advantage of the 60th Anniversary to come to the exhibition in Hong Kong. Our Sydney ETO will be more than happy to recommend to you a list of other revitalised historic buildings worth visiting.

     Finally, I look forward to expanding the flourishing ties that define Hong Kong-Australia relations - and at every level.  Together, I know we can make a difference.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Friday, September 18, 2015
Issued at HKT 09:54


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