White Paper Recommends 1/3 of Board of Australia’s Top 200 Public Firms Must Have Deep Experience, Knowledge of Asia

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By Vittorio Hernandez | October 29, 2012 9:57 AM EST

To indicate the importance that Asia will play in the prosperity of Australia in the next 100 years, the Asian Century White Paper released on Sunday recommended that one-third of board members of the top 200 public companies in Australia must have deep experience and knowledge of the continent by 2025.

"Organisations that are successful in the Asian century will need staff who have specific knowledge of the products and markets of Asia, along with the cultural and language capabilities needed to be active in the region," the white paper said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the 312-page white paper, which took over a year to craft. The paper lists 25 national goals to 2025 which would cover improvements in productivity, skills, education, Asian language capabilities and cultural ties, and the needed concerted and coordinated efforts. It will serve as blueprint not only for the government but also businesses, unions and the broader community.

To ensure that, Asian studies will become a major part of the Australian school curriculum and all students would have the chance to learn Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese languages.

"While Australia was changing - Asia was changing too. 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," Ms Gillard pointed out.

"It is not enough to rely on luck. Our future will be determined by the choices we make and how we engage with the region we live in. We must build on our strength and take active steps to shape our future," the prime minister added.

The paper noted ANZ Bank as a good example of an Australian company that has engaged Asia. Over 70 per cent of the bank's top 100 executive have international experience and more than half of its new employees who are 2011 graduates have a second language. Asian operations also accounted for 21 per cent of the almost $6 billion profit reported last week by ANZ.

Major business groups in Australian supported the white paper, but Opposition leader Tony Abbott said that while he welcomes the thrust of the document, he said it lacks funding and specific detail.

"The government is playing catch-up politics with its new commitment to Asian languages and its Australian Awards," Skynews quoted Mr Abbott who pointed to the federal government ban of live cattle exports to Indonesia as example of its serious failures in its relationship with Asia.

"I think we take Asia more seriously than this government and I have said repeatedly that we need more Jakarta and less Geneva in our foreign policy," Mr Abbott added.

Miners are also critical of the paper because it allegedly did not address important issues the industry is grappling with such as the need to encourage Chinese investment in Australia and allowing the entry of more foreign workers from Asia to address manpower shortages.

"Foreign investment is essential to our survival, now more than ever. People forget that without Japanese investment in the 1960s (in iron ore) we wouldn't have got started," The Australian quoted former Fortescue Metals Group official and Confucius Institute head Philip Kirchlechner.

Duncan Calder, head of the West Australian branch of the Australia China Business Council and KPMG partner, pointed out that since its peak in 2010, Chinese investment in Australian has been on a downward trend, and China is outspent by Australia's traditional investment partners such as the U.S. and U.K.

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