Thousands of young professionals in Australia and Indonesia will go on six-month exchanges to build their language and cultural skills if Labor forms government.
It’s part of Labor’s push to get Australian businesses better equipped to do business in Asia, which is set to drive global economic growth in future decades.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says there is an alarming lack of Asian language and cultural literacy in Australian business.
“More work is also required to build the Asian business skills of young Australian professionals,” he told a FutureAsia event in Sydney on Friday.
Labor is promising to do a deal with Indonesia to see 1000 Australian nationals and 1000 Indonesian nationals intern in each other’s countries for up to six months.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was recently in Indonesia to push ahead with a free trade deal, the first major deal of its type the Asian nation has done.
Australia and Indonesia are close neighbours and both in the world’s top 20 economies but neither is in each other’s top 10 trading partners.
Mr Bowen said more important than free trade agreements was giving businesses the tools to succeed in Asia.
“If signing FTAs was the answer, then we wouldn’t have businesses looking to enter Asian markets citing the biggest barriers as lack of knowledge and limited language capabilities for developing business relationships,” he said.
The coalition government has pursued free trade agreements to drive economic growth, but Mr Bowen signalled a different path for Labor.
“Signing trade agreements can be good. If properly designed they open doors to new markets and lower the costs of doing business,” he said.
“But it’s not the only driver.”
Mr Bowen is also promising to commission an independent Indonesian economic strategy, similar to former top diplomat Peter Varghese’s recent report into India.
“We will use this report as a guide to setting out the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for Australia and Indonesia,” he said.
The shadow treasurer said Australia cannot afford to stagnate in engaging with Asia.
“In the next 15 years, four of the world’s five largest economies in purchasing power parity terms will be in Asia: China, India, Japan and Indonesia,” he said.