Anthony Albanese, Sonexay Siphandone and Hassanal Bolkiah
Anthony Albanese chats with a child during a Welcome to Country ceremony at the ASEAN Summit. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

‘Destiny’: Australia’s pitch to Southeast Asian leaders

March 6, 2024

Australia’s destiny lies in Southeast Asia, Anthony Albanese will tell regional leaders on the final day of an international summit.

The prime minister will outline commitments worth $61.5 million to strengthen connections at the ASEAN-Australia Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday.

The package includes funding for a cultural centre, university scholarships, professional placements and cooperation on energy.

English language training will be provided for people in Timor Leste as the small nation works towards joining the key regional bloc.

“More than any other part of the world, Southeast Asia is where Australia’s destiny lies,” Mr Albanese will say.

ASEAN delegates pose for a
 ASEAN delegates pose for a traditional “family photo”. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

“This is why we will continue to support your ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and ensure the stability and peace of our region.”

Australia is committed to upholding sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality and independence, Mr Albanese says.

“The regional architecture, with ASEAN at its centre, is vital in pursuing these goals, and for promoting trust and transparency among our nations,” the prime minister will say.

Australia will promise $36.7 million towards creating an ASEAN-Australia Centre in Canberra to build on business, cultural, education and community ties.

Some $12.9 million will be spent on 55 new fellowships for officials from ASEAN member states and Timor-Leste, in addition to $6.9 million on creating an ASEAN Centre for Climate Change in Brunei.

Other education programs are part of the announcement, including English language training for Timor-Leste to support its path to full ASEAN membership and 75 new scholarships for emerging leaders to study in Australia.

While there had been differing views among leaders at the summit on how best to deal with Chinese aggression in the region, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said ASEAN leaders were united on stability.

“Rather than thinking about what might or might not happen, we should focus on what we want to protect, what we want to ensure, what we want to assure in order to preserve peace, stability and prosperity,” she told ABC TV on Wednesday.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
 Penny Wong says the law of the sea must continue to operate to ensure freedom of navigation. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

“One of things we all want to ensure continues to operate is the legal law of the sea, the legal norms and principles that ensure that there is freedom of navigation, that trade can continue to operate unimpeded.”

All leaders gathered as a group for the first time late on Tuesday for the traditional “family photo”, holding hands with arms crossed.

That was followed by a reception with leaders’ partners, ministers, dignitaries and business heavyweights that featured a performance from Australian singer Jessica Mauboy.

A young child participating in the Welcome to Country approached Mr Albanese, sitting at the prime minister’s feet and chatting to him during the ceremony.

Over the course of the summit Australia has committed more than $2 billion to promote business ties and in excess of $277 million to international development, regional security and measures to combat climate change.