Anthony Albanese greets ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese greets ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn in Melbourne Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

ASEAN $2b business boost, koala almost steals the show

March 5, 2024

A $2 billion plan to strengthen Australia’s economic ties with Southeast Asia is the focus of day two of the ASEAN summit, as the prime minister embarks on a flurry of high-level meetings.

Moments after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a joint press conference to announce a string of new agreements, a koala was rolled into the summit, almost stealing the show.

A koala at the ASEAN summit
 A koala was on display during a press conference at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Captains of industry from sectors including mining and banking were among the crowd mixing with Treasurer Jim Chalmers and other ministers as Mr Albanese unveiled the business package.

New big ticket policies to shore up Australia’s standing in the region include $2 billion in loans, guarantees, equity and insurance to help support the clean energy transition and $140 million over four years to extend an infrastructure partnership program.

More support will be provided to businesses in Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City to increase technology services exports to Southeast Asian markets while 10 senior Australian business “champions” will facilitate greater links between Australia and the region.

There will also be extensions to business validity visas and more nations eligible for the 10-year frequent traveller visa scheme.

Two-way trade between ASEAN nations and Australia passed $178 billion in 2022, Mr Albanese said, greater than that of the US or Japan.

“There is room for much stronger economic partnerships between us,” he told the forum.

“Australia and Southeast Asia must together face this moment with a sense of optimism and urgency because while there is so much untapped potential, there is not unlimited time.

Dr Chalmers said it was crucial for investment in Southeast Asia to be expanded.

“ASEAN is where the action is, and we want a bigger slice of the action for our workers and for our businesses, and what this new investment facility is all about is making sure that we can turbocharge that two-way investment,” he said.

Opposition foreign spokesman Simon Birmingham welcomed the announcement of the investment facility.

“It makes enormous sense and (there are) great opportunities for Australia to grow and strengthen two-way investment ties with Southeast Asia,” he told Sky News.

It was a jam-packed schedule for Mr Albanese, who started day in high-level talks with ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn before a busy day of bilateral meetings.

Richard Marles, Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong
 Richard Marles, Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong during a bilateral meeting at the ASEAN summit. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

Dignitaries and members of the media took the opportunity to cuddled up to a koala named Hank, while other native animals including a possum and lizard also appeared moments after the joint press conference between Mr Albanese and Singapore’s prime minister.

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit is being held over three days in Melbourne, bringing together leaders from the region for talks on security, clean energy, emerging leaders and other pressing issues.