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Speech by CS at Australia Day Reception (English only) (with photos/video)

     Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the Australia Day Reception this evening (January 26):

Paul (Australian Consul-General to Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Paul Tighe), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good evening.

     It's a pleasure to be here tonight, celebrating Australia's National Day with all of you. My attendance tonight is of some significance, not because I am going to tell you, as I did on the French National Day last July, that this is probably my last appearance as the Chief Secretary for Administration, but because I am coming here to congratulate this wonderful country following a most fruitful official trip to Australia in September last year. My week-long visit to Australia was upon the invitation of the Hon Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister, and two days after my arrival, Australia had a new Prime Minister but amazingly, none of my scheduled appointments with senior government officials and Members of Parliament were affected. In addition, Consul-General, I must take this opportunity to again express my gratitude to your Government for the meticulous preparation that had gone into arranging my programme and the warm hospitality extended to me by everyone I met. I particularly appreciate the lady bodyguards who had accompanied me throughout my stay in Australia, a privilege that the Hong Kong Police Force has never bestowed upon me whenever I am acting Chief Executive!

     I understand the theme of this year's Australia Day is "Celebrate What's Great". Yes, Australia has much to celebrate. Starting with breath-taking diversity - in land and climate, in flora and fauna, and, of course, in its people: nearly one in four of the some 24 million people who make up the world's sixth-largest country were born outside Australia. Many more are first- and second-generation Australians.

     I saw, first-hand, your country's diversity and its beauty - and why you have so much to be thankful for - during my week-long visit to your country. In particular, I am honoured that the Governor of Victoria, the Hon Linda Dessau, hosted me and my colleagues at the gorgeous Government House during our stay in Melbourne. And when we were in Sydney, the Hon David Hurley, Governor of New South Wales, invited us for lunch at the equally impressive Government House overseeing the famous Sydney Opera House.

     With the strong support provided by your Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I met with various senior government officials at the federal, state and city levels, to discuss and exchange views on various fronts ranging from trade and investment to design, arts and culture. I travelled from Melbourne to Canberra and on to Sydney, meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews, New South Wales Governor David Hurley and Deputy Premier Troy Grant, as well as other senior officials, politicians and leaders from the business and cultural sectors. I also called on the Hon Tony Smith, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament, and had the opportunity of attending a Question Time at the House of Representatives.

     I am glad to tell you all that it was a fruitful and productive trip, forging stronger ties between Hong Kong and Australia. In particular, I received very enthusiastic responses to our proposal to strengthen collaboration between Hong Kong and Victoria in the area of design. In fact, shortly after my trip to Australia, Governor Dessau paid a visit to Hong Kong. After hosting a lunch for Governor Dessau at my official residence, I took her and her colleagues to PMQ, our creative landmark with designer stores, studios, architectural offices, exhibition spaces and a marketplace. My colleagues are already following up with the Victorian Government and the Melbourne City Council with a view to materialising projects for collaboration and I hope that such projects can come into fruition soon.

     Collaboration in the area of culture and creative industries is no less important than forging closer economic and trade ties. Indeed, one of my personal highlights during the visit was officiating at the premiere of "The Legend of Mulan" performed by the Hong Kong Dance Company at Sydney's Concourse Theatre. And I should also mention my visit to the Sydney Dance Company, meeting their many talented dancers and previewing their rehearsal performance for our Hong Kong audience. I strongly hope that our collaboration in this area will continue to flourish.

     Australia and Hong Kong have long been good friends, and good business partners, keen to co-operate, whatever the opportunity.

     In business, our mutual appreciation of free trade, and the value it brings, is clear and compelling. I must congratulate the Australian Government and, in particular, the Hon Andrew Robb, Minister for Trade and Investment, for sealing free-trade agreements with North Asia's three largest economies: Mainland China, Japan and South Korea.

     Our commitment to free trade is very much in evidence in Hong Kong-Australian trade relations. Merchandise trade between us was up nearly 9 per cent, year-on-year, through November 2015. And, in 2014, Hong Kong was Australia's seventh-largest trading partner in services. The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong is the largest Australian business community outside Australia.

     But what strikes me, and something I confess I did not know prior to my visit, is that Hong Kong is Australia's sixth largest source of investment, totalling A$77 billion at the end of 2014. Our investment ranges from infrastructure and mining, to telecommunications, banking and agriculture. During my visit to Australia, I was briefed by the New South Wales Government on the Sydney Metro Northwest project, which is Australia's largest public transport infrastructure project under construction and first fully automated rapid transit network. Hong Kong's MTR Corporation Limited is the majority shareholder of the joint venture which will run the rail operations. Consul-General, I am glad that our know-how in project management and railway operation is able to contribute to your country's infrastructure development.

     Given that we are both staunch advocates of trade and investment liberalisation, I believe that an Australia-Hong Kong free trade agreement, as well as a comprehensive avoidance of double-taxation agreement, would only expand our co-operation right across the board: in trade in goods and services, in investment and in the flow of people. That can only bring about economic benefits for both sides. This is why I appealed to your senior government ministers for their support in the early agreement to commence negotiations with Hong Kong on these important pacts, and I am glad that this has the full support of the Australian Chamber of Commerce.

     The Chief Executive said in his 2016 Policy Address earlier this month that the Hong Kong SAR Government will play an active role to facilitate the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, which includes the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road linking China through the South Sea and South Pacific to the Indian Ocean and Europe. This provides a wealth of opportunities for Australia, especially in the light of your country's vision to unlock the great potential and opportunities of the north and the ever increasing investment from China in those areas. And Hong Kong, as the "super-connector" between Mainland China and the rest of the world in a wide range of aspects, can certainly play an important role to strengthen the ties between China and Australia, riding on the opportunities under the Belt and Road Initiative.

      Our role as "super-connector" is not only limited to the area of business, and what helps business to flourish is not just government agreements. As you have just heard from the Consul-General, our relationship is built on the real friendships at both professional and personal levels over many years. This is why our Chief Executive has mentioned on many occasions that we can play a role in strengthening "people-to-people bond". For example, in the area of education, Australia is among the most popular destinations for Hong Kong students. As of last June, nearly 8,200 Hong Kong students were studying in Australia and during my trip I met some of them studying in the University of Melbourne. And, thanks in part to Australia's New Colombo Plan, more Australian undergraduate students are studying in Hong Kong universities.

     Australian youth are also visiting, and working, in Hong Kong through the Hong Kong-Australia Working Holiday Scheme. Established in 2001, which is the second among all the 10 similar arrangements that we have signed with other countries, it has attracted about 1,600 Australians to Hong Kong and more than 50,000 Hong Kong youths to Australia.

     My speech cannot possibly finish without mentioning tourism. Over the first 11 months of last year, Australia was Hong Kong's eighth-largest inbound market for visitors. Some 520,000 visitors from Australia came to Hong Kong during this period. This, of course, can be attributable to the excellent connection between Hong Kong and Australia, with around 100 flights between Hong Kong and Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth per week. And from early January this year, Gold Coast has become the seventh city with direct flights from Hong Kong.

     Ladies and gentlemen, the outlook for closer bilateral relations between Hong Kong and Australia is very promising. And I thank you all for playing a part in fostering this strong bond between the two places. Since it's still January, and with Chinese New Year just around the corner, may I wish you all a very prosperous and successful Year of the Monkey.

     Please join me now in a toast to the great nation of Australia, on its National Day.


Ends/Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Issued at HKT 19:41


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