Tuesday, 1 December 2020
I rise to address one of the great opportunities of our time: the changing geopolitical environment, especially in relation to Hong Kong and China. It is my view that some of the commentary on China is quite unsophisticated. In relation to Hong Kong, having spent a bit of time there before I was elected to parliament, my sense is that it will remain an important gateway to China and it will transcend any of the short-term political changes we are living through. I don't think it will have the same resonance for companies that want to have regional headquarters in Hong Kong. Frankly, people won't want to have their executives in danger or in the line of the national security law. That means there will be opportunities for Sydney and Melbourne, in particular, to capture some of the business that will leak out from Hong Kong. Sure, the obvious competitor may be Singapore, but it may also be Tokyo. Certainly my experience was that the changes that Shinzo Abe made, especially in relation to the increasing role of female executives in technology and in finance, were significant. Japan is now a more open financial and tech centre which will genuinely compete with Singapore as we try to win some of the business that will definitely be leaving Hong Kong.
I want to congratulate and put on the record my very strong support for the actions the Prime Minister has taken to establish the Peter Verwer committee, which is looking to attract talent and new investment into Australia. This is something that we should have been doing for a long time, frankly. In some ways, Singapore operates like a business. It's able to go into other jurisdictions, cut deals and bring investment and jobs back to Singapore. That is what I'm hoping we'll be able to do as a result of the Verwer process which the Prime Minister has established. One of the key focuses that I'm hoping the Verwer process will take is in relation to fintech—financial technology. This is an area where we have considerable expertise. We have developed half a dozen unicorns, which are valued at over $1 billion, in just the last few years. We've developed industries like buy now, pay later here in Australia, which is a great source of national strength. It is true that we have taken Uber from California, from the United States, but it's also true that in 2020 there are people in the US—Californians—who are using Australian based software like buy now, pay later, which is truly a very good development.
I have established a committee to support Peter Verwer, led by former Macquarie banker Andrew Lowe, which brings together 15 very sound business minds so that there can be every opportunity for a market focus of these efforts. I do worry—being new to Canberra in many ways—that here in Canberra we can be a long way away from the market. Certainly in terms of technology and fintech we're a very long way away from the market.
I want to note, for the record, that I think we have a great opportunity to win some business from Hong Kong as we face our first recession in almost 30 years. As with everything else that we have ever done as a country, we must be competitive, and this will take a cultural shift. My sense is that the architecture and the framework that's been established in this Verwer process is very positive. It could result in us being as ambitious and as focused as Singapore has been in attracting investment and growth into what is, frankly, a very small city state. We have many more advantages than Singapore has had, but culture is what has dragged us down in the past. My strong hope is that we will turn the tables with this very exciting Verwer-led process.