TRANSCRIPT : Graduating from our ‘salad days’ to a more sophisticated global agenda for Australia
WARRICK CRAMER: Good Morning distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Advance.org final roundtable for 2020. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the country on which you stand. Throughout Australia and recognising a continuing connection to land, waters and culture, and I pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging. My name is Warrick Cramer and I have had the privilege of joining the board of Advance.org, which as you know is the trusted platform that connects global Australians with one another and with Australia to unlock the economic and cultural opportunities through collaboration, investment and innovation. We recognise and celebrate the achievements of global Australians, many of whom are with us today, who are in the forefront of their field, and are an inspiration to the next generation. As a global Australian who’s recently returned from Luxembourg as CEO of Vodafone’s innovation centers, Tomorrow Street. It is clear to me, from just looking at the faces around this board that Advance.org is achieving its mission. I extend a very warm welcome to those who are joining us from across Australia, China, Japan, South Sudan, United Arab Emirates and the United States.
I would like to take a moment to recognise our distinguished guests, who have joined us for this conversation. The Hon. Arthur Sinodinos, the Australian Ambassador to the US, Steven Brady, Australia’s most recent ambassador to France, Max Moore-Whilton, who served as Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in the Howard government, and went on to carve out a distinguished career in the private sector, Bruce Wolpe, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and now non resident senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre. I also extend a warm welcome to the Advance Award winners with us today, Mineralogist turned Microbiologist, Professor Jill Banfield; Advance Award’s Life Sciences Winner 2020, Leader in Genomics, Professor John Mattick, Advance Global Impact Award Winner 2019; Rocket Company founder and CEO, Adam Gilmour, Advance Advanced Manufacturing Award Winner 2019; Malaria researcher, Professor Karen Day, Advance Global Award winner, and Advance Life Sciences award winner, 2015; plastic and reconstructive surgeon, specialising in the field of burn care, trauma and scar reconstruction, Distinguished Professor, Fiona Wood, Advance Award Winner 2016; leader in the global cancer community, Professor Richard Pessel, Advanced Biotechnology Award Winner 2014. And welcome to the finalists in 2020 who are here with us today, Vandana Joshi from South Sudan and Samuel Wills. I also extend a warm welcome to the Advance.org volunteer Ambassadors and Advisory board members who have joined us from Beijing, the US and Japan, Dr Lucy Chen, a member of the Advance Asia Advisory Committee, Advance Ambassador Emeritus to the US, Josephine Linden, Advance Ambassador to Japan, Melanie Brock, Advance ambassador to the UAE, Adam Mulouf.
Finally, I extend our welcome to the Chancellors and Vice Chancellors who have made the time to be with us at this round table today. It is a testament to the high regard in which our guest speaker is held that the list of dignitaries has taken me this long to welcome, it is also a reflection on the complexity of the world in which we now live. With pressure on so many elements of our economy, and the structures which have guided our decision making but are now a threadbare and weak. Having come from an environment where my work revolved around transforming the established to emerge more competitive and deliver better results for customers and shareholders alike, I am comfortable with disruption and innovation with uncertainty, within limits. When everything as you know is simultaneously upended and disrupted, it makes those around me, particularly in Melbourne, reach for some sense of certainty, normality and predictability. We reach for a sense of order which our special guest is renowned for bringing to a problem. Now before I introduce Peter Varghese, let me share with you a brief on how today’s program will unfold. I will introduce Mr Varghese and invite him to make opening remarks for about 20 minutes, then Advance CEO, Maria MacNamara will then facilitate a Q&A for a further 40 minutes, then Richard Umbers will close the session. To ask a question, please click on the emoji on the bottom right of your screen or raise your hand. Please I ask you to keep your camera on and your sound on mute unless you are asking a question. This discussion will be recorded and will be prepared, we will be preparing a summary that will be shared with you immediately after this discussion. With that, permit me to introduce our very special guest, Peter Varghese, Chancellor of the University of Queensland. Peter was appointed Chancellor to the University of Queensland in 2016. For over 4 decades, Peter led an extensive career in Public Service, diplomacy and served as secretary of the department of foreign affairs and trade, high commission to India and Malaysia, senior advisor to Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He produced a comprehensive Indian economic strategy to 2035 presented to the Prime Minister in 2018. Peter was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2010 for distinguished service to public administration, particularly in leading the reform in the Australian intelligence community and an advisor in areas of foreign policy and international security. With that, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr Peter Varghese.
PETER VARGHESE: Thank you very much Warrick for that very generous introduction and can I say how delighted I am to join this group this morning. It’s particularly nice to see some old friends on the screen and I do also want to acknowledge the work that Advance does to advance Australia’s international connections. Having watched Advance at close quarters in my DFAT days. Maria’s asked me to cover 3 extraordinarily broad topics, to say something about the international outlook through which Australia is going to have to navigate, to talk a little bit about India and the Indo- Pacific and then to say something about the outlook for the University Sector. Obviously in the limited time I have I’ll really be focusing on some headline points and hopefully we will be able to pick up something at a bit more detail in our Q&A session. I suppose it’s the conceit of every generation that is poised on the verge of something profoundly new. But, if you look out at the world today, there’s probably a bit of truth in that adage, because, in many ways, we’re facing a bonfire of certainties as so many of the structural pillars which upheld our international environment come under some very severe structural stress. I think the last 4 decades for Australia will be seen as our salad days, in which we’re able to enjoy both the strategic stability engendered by US predominance and the economic opportunities created by China’s remarkable economic rise. The world, I think, has just become so much more complicated for Australia, and indeed for many other countries. Driven in large part by shifts in China’s position, the abandonment of hide and bide, the willingness to use, sometimes quite crudely, economic leverage for geopolitical purpose, and it’s steady ambition to become the predominant power, at least in the Indo Pacific, if not more broadly. I think the single biggest challenge we face in terms of the international environment is a return to great power rivalry, which of course has been the historic norm for most of human history and apart from 5 minutes of geopolitical sunshine between the end of the cold war and the arrival of the global economic crisis in 2008, 2009, and a rather distorting detour in my view, post 911, great power rivalry is something we’ve always had to live with. At the heart, I think, of the challenge we all face is, what is going to be the settling point of US China relations, because where that settles and how it settles is going to have very profound implications for the rest of us in the international system.
So we’ve reached the point where hope for the best engagement with China is no longer a sustainable policy framework, but I don’t think we have arrived yet at what’s going to replace it. Now some would like a new Cold War as a new paradigm, wrapped in the decoupling of China from the global economy. Personally I think that would be a policy dead end and not at all in Australia’s interests. China is not going to go away, it will remain the second largest, or the largest economy in the foreseeable future. Its political system is unlikely to change anytime soon. And certainly won’t change through external pressure. So we are going to have to find a way to manage the situation that we’re in. I don’t think China will abandon its ambition to become the predominant power in the Indo Pacific, and by that I mean that China essentially wants to recreate the world of the middle kingdom in which hierarchy was harmony, China was at the peak of the hierarchy, and the rest preemptively conceded their interests in favour of China’s interests. That’s essentially the paradigm in which I think we’re going to be operating now. I think it’s important to understand that that doesn’t make China an enemy in the classical sense, and I don’t think China is a country hell bent on territorial conquest or territorial expansion, although it has a rather expansive view of where Chinese territory begins and ends. I think in many ways China seeks to achieve its objectives, short of war, in the way that Sun Su would have long advocated.
A call to a new Cold War isn’t in my view going to settle this issue, and my strong view is that we need a framework which has both engagement and a constraining China rather than a containment strategy. The need to engage is fairly obvious for a country like Australia, I mean China is a very significant economic partner for Australia. It is by a country mile our largest trading partner. There is much Australian economic opportunity to be gained by engaging with China, and I think there’s also a multilateral case to be made for trying to bring China into a framework which can hope to resolve global problems for which we will inevitably need global solutions. Whether that’s climate change, non proliferation, pandemics, which is obviously a topical issue at the moment. But insisting China play by the rules and act as a responsible stakeholder is not going to make it happen, so we need to find ways to constrain a China that might act in ways that are unacceptable. I think the only viable path to a constraining strategy is a measure of collective pushback by countries who for their own reasons, and those reasons will vary, are uncomfortable with the idea of a new strategic order where China is predominant. That discomfort relates from an Australia perspective, in large part, to the values of the Chinese system, it’s authoritarian character, it’s one party system, the idea that our strategic order will be shaped by an authoritarian system, and therefore influential in setting our rules, is not a particularly attractive one for a country like Australia. So how to build that equilibrium. How do you bring together countries who are both able and willing to exert a measure of pushback I think would be the big challenge of our time and it will take, I think, a very considerable period to get to the point where that is a functioning new strategic equilibrium. I think the quad, the US, Japan, Australia and India is going to be part of that, but we’re a long way from the Quad becoming anything like an Asian NATO or indeed anything like a grouping with a firm consensus on what they’re prepared to do collectively to push back against China. Ultimately we need a system where leverage is a two way street. Leverage doesn’t only apply when China chooses to use its economic power for strategic gain.
The only other point I wanted to make about the broader global outlook is on multilateralism, because clearly, we are at the end of a phase of a liberal international order, which served us well, Australia can neither buy or bully its weay in the world so we benefit from any system which is premised on might is right. I think we’ve seen the end of global multilateralism by which I mean institutions where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and where any country has the capacity to block a global agreement. In its place will come a rather messy combination of minilateralism, and plurilateralism, and coalitions of the willing, in other words, a multilateral system that will rotate around a selective involvement and selective issues. Even though that might sound like a very poor substitute for what we’ve become a custom to in a funny sort of way, it might also hold out the prospect to find a better balanced multilateral between power, and capacity to solve problems, because once a multilateral system moves too far away from the reality of power, i think its ability to do anything becomes munich more limited.
That’s the context in which I wanted to move onto India and the Indo Pacific, and the policy choice that Australia has made to replace an Asia Pacific framework with an Indo Pacific framework reflects 2 fundamental factors; the first is that the strategic challenges of the future are going to be maritime and nature. And so a strategic construct that brings together the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, I think, is better suited to dealing with those emerging maritime challenges. We’re a long way from actually having a coherent, integrated, Indo Pacific strategic environment but I think that’s the direction we are moving, and a direction that serves Australia’s interests very well. We face both oceans in our own continental geography, but the Indo Pacific, as the Indo part of it suggests, is also a structure for returning India to the strategic matrix of Asia. Indians probably find it curious that they were ever not part of the Asian Strategic Matrix, but what we will see as India grows as an economy, expands its strategic horizons, chooses to play a greater role in the geopolitics of our region, I think we will see this Indo Pacific Construct becoming more clear. For Australia I think the relationship with India will become more consequential, I think it will be driven by three key things, the first is simply the scale of India and the potential of its economy.
There are some deep structural drivers behind India’s economic growth of which the migration of the world’s largest agrarian population into Urban Centers is probably the most significant, with economic growth in its wake. But India also has a young demography which is going to be an asset and a liability. The liability if it doesn’t get its economic act together, an asset in terms of its potential productivity. So I think we will see into the medium and long term, an Indian Economy which is going to matter more to Australia. The caveat I would put on that is that it rests on an Indian Government willing to pursue economic reform because the structural drivers I referred to aren’t going to be sufficient to deliver the rate of economic growth that India will need. In my report in 2018 I assumed an Indian Economy growing at 6-8%, that looks a bit sick at the moment, that prognosis, because even before COVID the Indian economy was slowing significantly to the low 4% and it’s likely to take a 10% hit in GDP as a result of COVID and so its regrowth trajectory is ultimately going to be driven by a willingness to reform. I don’t see yet, in Modi’s second term, any signs of a serious economic reform agenda. Indeed I think one of the less appealing aspects of India’s trajectory at the moment is that the immense political capital that Modi has accumulated seems to be more available for his border Hindu nationalist agenda than it is for an economic reform agenda. But, I think that will probably turn as the politics of Indian forces the government to address economic issues more seriously and historically India has only ever reformed economically when its back has been against the wall. That was the driver of the big opening in the 1990s off the back of a balance of payment crisis.
The second reason why I’m a long term optimist about the India relationship, even though im a short term pessimist about it, is that I think there is a structural complementarity between our two economics, in other words, the sorts of things a growing Indian economy are going to need will in many areas be the sorts of things Australia is well placed to provide. In my report I identified 10 sectors which fit into that framework. I think that complementarity will grow and I think it will be driven quite significantly by foreign investment because even though India is a highly protectionist country in its trade instincts, it’s foreign investment policy is much more open and getting more liberal. That opens up an opportunity for Australia. The third driver of a growing relationship with India will be the Indian Diaspora in Australia which is already over 700,000 people, and we will i think be an important bridge between the two economies as well as sebring as a bit of a cultural navigator for those seeking to do business in India.
The last point i’d make about India is something that I don’t think many of us would have been discussing in any serious way, and that is whether India is drifting away from its secular liberal democratic character. In my view that character is fundamental to the attractiveness of India as a partner for AUstralia, particularly a partner that goes beyond economic engagement, I’m not of the view that India has joined under Modi the ranks of Hungary or Poland or turkey as a illiberal democracy, but I think they are signs of concern, in relation to issues like the citizen amendment act, part of what’s been pursued in Kashmir, and the very strong attraction of the Hindu Nationals agenda to many of the people around Modi and indeed that’s where Modi’s p[olitical education began. With the RSS. It’s more a marker rather than a conclusion that India has chosen to go down a different path.
Let me just briefly talk about the third topic, which is Universities then I’d be very happy to come back to questions or comments. Clearly the Australian University Sector has taken a big hit from COVID and i think that is going to last through to maybe all of next year, but certainly the first semester of next year, it depends on when our international borders reopen. And what that’s done, and this is a feature I think of COVID more generally, is that it’s accelerated friends that were there before rather than create a brand new issue for the Australian University Sector, and it gives us an opportunity to reexamine and review the operating models for Australian Universities. In my view, one of the features of Australian Universities is they tend to all work to very similar operating models, as Glen Davis once said, Australia has 1 university with 39 campuses and a bit more diversity in our University System and Models I think would be a great plus. We’ve had to think hard about where international students are going to fit into our future as a sector, and the issue here is not just overdependence on a single market like China. I mean when I look broadly at the Supply and Demand curve for international students, I think the demand side of it is going to stay very strong across Asia and so, the opportunities for Australian universities, while they may go up and down from time to time, and with a very big question mark whether China will succumb to geopolitical risk, but in the broad supply and demand, I think will remain strong in the medium to long term. The issue that I don’t think gets enough attention in Universities is actually, how far do we want to go down the path of more and more international students. At the end of the day, this really goes to the heart of the question of the identity of universities as an Australian Public Institution. If you leave it just to the market, and with demand being strong as I anticipate, we will end up inevitably, with a university system where international students are by far the dominant cohort in what should remain, I think, an Australian Public INstitution. That’s not a nativist sentiment, that’s just, I think, an understanding of what our primary purpose of Australian Universities are, which is, to educate a generation of Australians.
I think we need to be very alert to emerging push back from our domestic students to the increasing number of international students, if we don’t attend to that, if we don’t make sure that the experience of our international students is one of genuine integration into the campus and not living in a self contained universe, then I think we will pay a bigger prize down the track. I think we’re also going to have to think harder about how we increase our domestic postgraduate intake in Australian Universities, and this goes to the heart of continuing education, recognising that into the future we’re going to need an education system that not only delivers graduates or people with postgraduate qualifications, but which delivers education and credentials to people at various points in their careers. Responding to that is going to be very important. As is industry partnerships for Australian universities, we do need a much closer relationship with industry, I don’t think Universities and Industry understand each other particularly well, I don’t think we speak a similar language, I think we need more interpreters in that. Unless we work hard at those industry partnerships, I think our overall prospects will suffer. I also worry a bit about the collateral damage to the university sector in terms of reputation, from the culture walls that we are facing in Australia, in which the US of course has been through in a much deeper sense. I think the hit on the humanities, take one example, is one expression of the culture walls. I think it would be a great tragedy if the reputation of Australian Universities were to suffer across the board as a result of that. I think there’s an obligation on universities to ensure that we don’t contribute to that outcome. To that I include a commitment which is not just a rhetorical commitment not just to fundamental principles of freedom of expression and academic freedom.
The last point I would make about the university sector is, obviously our future as a country and an economy is going to depend to a very large extent on our productivity performance and our productivity performance is going to depend to a very large extent on our capacity to innovate. Universities, I think, are a crucial incubator of innovation and if we don’t get university systems right, we will suffer. That is not even getting into the broader role and purpose of a university in terms of enriching our society and producing a generation of Australians who not only have the skills to enter the workforce but have the mental furniture to deal with a world that is changing to which Australia needs to contribute. Let me end my remarks there and i’m very happy to go back and pick up anything that anyone would like to raise or other issues i havet had time to cover.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thank you very much, Hello everyone, My name is Maria MacNamara and i’m the CEO of Advance.org. Welcome to this marvellous conversation, Peter has been able to masterfully cover those three broad topics and zero in on some very important elements. Thank you Peter, and welcome to our Chairman, Yasmin Allen as well. I’d like to offer our personal thanks to you for joining us today, as Warrick mentioned, it’s the last roundtable of the year and I couldn’t think of a better guest to join us. Today we have 3 current or former Ambassadors, 2 former Chiefs of Staff to Prime Ministers, 3 former Howard PMO members and a former Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet [in the Howard Government], 6 Advance Award Winners, 4 Chancellors that have registered to attend so it’s not just me that holds you in high regard Peter! So let’s get going with the Q&A. What I might do is start with one of my own. Tony Bilken, Biden’s pick for Secretary of State gave an emotional story of his father surviving the Holocaust, which showed the mark of the man, he went on to say, “…now we have to proceed with humility and confidence, humility because we can’t solve the world’s problems alone, we need to be working with other countries, we need their cooperation, we need their partnership, but also we need our confidence, because America at its best, still has a greater ability than any other country on earth, to bring people together to meet the challenges of our time. And that’s where the men and women of the State Department, the Foreign Service officers, the Civil Service, that’s where they come in. I’ve witnessed their passion, their energy, their courage up close. I’ve seen what they do to keep us safe and make us more prosperous, I’ve seen them add lustre to a word that deserves our respect, diplomacy.” So Peter, after a career in public service and diplomacy over 4 decades, where you held senior positions in foreign affairs, trade policy and intelligence, do you think Australians view diplomacy with sufficient lustre and respect, and is Australia exercising diplomacy to its full potential, given the remarks you opened with.
PETER VARGHESE: thank you Maria. I can’t say that broad public support for diplomacy is deep and abiding. When I look at the challenges that we face, I think it is fundamental to our success in navigating this much more uncertain environment that we have the capability in diplomacy. I would also add, in defence, to protect and advance out interests. Regrettably, we are underinvesting in our diplomacy. I’m very pleased that we are investing significantly in define, it’s not a question of taking from one to give to the other. Australia, perhaps more than many other countries, is reliant on our ability to persuade and reliant on our ability to develop a network of relationships across a very broad range. So, we don’t have the luxury of belonging to a tightly knit group or the comfort of numbers that you get in … or the EU, so we are going to have to make our way in the world, not alone, because I don’t think Australia is going to be a lonely country, but relying on ourselves a lot more. That means, I think, we ought to be investing more in diplomacy, including the reach of our diplomatic representation offshore, where amongst G20 countries for instance, we’re pretty close to the bottom. It means having a capability in Canberra to engage in serious policy analysis and policy advice. All systems, I think, are hostage to the tyranny of the current. The pace of our politics probably reinforces that at the moment. The ability to be able to think through these issues to provide advice to the government, to have the capacity to implement policies, to have the reach, globally, to persuade, and to have the skills that go with that, I think, are going to be very important. I would hope that we can turn around the decline in our diplomatic resourcing because I really do believe it’s going to be quite fundamental to our future. I wouldn’t say it’s something which has enormous popular momentum at the moment Maria.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thank you, Melanie Brock has her hand up so I will invite her to remove her mute and ask her question.
MELANIE BROCK: Good morning Peter, lovely to see you here, I know you’ve been a strong supporter of the Australia-Japan relationship in your time, and you visited many times, and it was lovely to see you here. I’m keen to know what lessons you think Australia might learn from how Japan engages with China, and how some of those focus points might help us navigate some very tricky waters at the moment.
PETER VARGHESE: Thanks Melanie, and good to see you. I think Japan has handled it’s relationship with China very effectively, they come to that relationship with a deep history, a difficult history, they come to that relationship also with an instinctive desire to ensure that the region is not a completely China Dominated region. I think Japan has maybe managed slightly more effectively than we might have, balancing the sort of domestic issues in its relationship with China. Finding a way to maintain a channel of communication with China, and the prospect of a leader level meeting is at least in play, even if it doesn’t occur. That said, we each have a different political system, I think the compulsions on the Japanese Government, to be seen to be taking a strong position may be less than the compulsions on an Australian Government, or at least the way an Australian Government perceives it. I think we’ve also suffered, in one sense, from being an early mover on issues that have irritated China to a very large extent. We weren’t an early mover because we wanted to be in the vanguard, we were an early mover because we had to make certain decisions at a point in time. I mean, for instance, our decisions on Huawei and our telecommunications network. So, at one level, Melanie, I think we’ve been a bit unlucky in timing. I also think that China had a view that they could put more heat on Australia and expect an outcome than they could get away with Japan and we’re seeing that at the moment. So it’s very difficult to take a leaf out of another country’s book in how you manage your relations because every relationship was going to be different and the drivers of Australian policy are going to be different to the drivers of Japan’s policy. Personally I think we should try and find a way to put a megaphone down and if we can, try and deal with some of these issues behind the scenes. That’s easier said than done, and I don’t think there’s been a lack of willingness on the part of the Australian Government to use those more private means, I think what we’re seeing is a very different China. A China that’s prepared to take off the gloves if it thinks it’s going to achieve its objective. So I suspect we’re going to have to live in this uncomfortable world for a little world before things hopefully settle onto a more even keel. Posture is not a policy, and we should keep reminding ourselves of that.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thank you very much Melanie and Peter. Arlene Tansey has a question for us, and we’re moving to the subject of education, Arlene is non executive director at Wisetech Global, TPG, Vodafone/TPG and Aristocrat, Arlene would you like to ask your question.
ARLENE TANSEY: If you wouldn’t mind asking it for me my connection is pretty unstable, thank you.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Arlene is asking how the university is enhancing its technology and innovation to support the recovery of the economy.
PETER VARGHESE: It’s a great question. So we’ve had to do a lot of things on the technology front in a very short time, most obviously in terms of moving from face-to-face teaching to online teaching which I think all of us did in a very effective way very quickly. Look, I think the answer to this question goes to what I was saying earlier about the role of universities in promoting innovation. So, to take one example, and it’s close to my university’s heart, which is the work we’re doing on a vaccine, and the UQ vaccine, I very much hope, after the trial data is unmasked, will be on track to be available towards the second half of next year. A vaccine is an essential prerequisite for economic recovery. I don’t think we’re going to see international borders reopen without some measure of confidence, which could probably only be provided by a vaccine. I think universities have quite a large role to play in terms of innovation across the half dozen sectors which the government, through the COVID commission, have already identified as sectors of promise for Australia. In each of those sectors there is an innovation agenda that is essential to its success and its productivity. Whether you’re talking about Advanced Manufacturing, whether you’re talking about agriculture, technology is going to be, and innovation is going to be at the forefront of that. I think Universities also have quite an important role in contributing to the broader economic debate about how Australia positions itself in a post COVID environment and in particular, where the productivity dividends can be found because ultimately the resilience of our economy and the effectiveness of our strategies in terms of raising living standards is going to turn on our productivity performance. I think Australian Universities, whether you’re an economist or not, can contribute to that. The point about national strategies is that they all operate in an ecosystem. It’s finding the connections across disciplines which will make our contribution to this national effort I think, much more effective. Universities are more and more conscious of the need to move from research silos to bring disciplines together to solve problems in a multidimensional way. I think that applies to the bigger national economic recovery story as well.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Georgie Skipper is here, you’ll remember her from her work with Julie Bishop, would you like to ask your question?
GEORGIE SKIPPER: Thanks very much Maria. My question relates in regards to energy security and the way in which you see, in particular India, but also other major powers like China and the US approach the issues of energy security and climate change in the next few years, particularly under a Biden administration. Clearly there are some very important geo-strategic interests at play in this regard, the way in which particularly India has approached some things, for example the launch of Modhi’s ‘One world, One solar, One grid’ program is very interesting in terms of harnessing the resources, particularly the renewable resources that India has available to itself. I’d love to hear your insights about how you see that p[laying out the major powers globally.
PETER VARGHESE: I think each country will need to find their own pathway to energy security because it will have to reflect their particular circumstances. The availability of resources within their borders, their willingness to be dependent on imported energy, and all the while, also, working their way through what the most sustainable energy mix is going to be for them. The answers to those questions are going to be different in Australia, India, the US. The US is already well advanced in terms of its own energy self sufficiency and therefore energy security. But while each country is grappling with those sets of issues, clearly there is a broader global set of issues which go to climate change and you can’t separate calculations about energy security and strategies on energy security from the broader effort on climate change. Now under the Biden administration, all the signals are that climate change will be a big priority, I think that will have an impact on the way in which countries choose to respond and in particular, I think it will probably accelerate the trend which is already well underway in terms of a transition to a mix that has a much greater proportion of renewable energy. A country like India, for Instance, is not going to be able to make that transition quickly, nor is it going to be willing to give up its access to reliable energy in order to fuel its economic growth. Technology is going to be a very big factor in all of this. Ultimately I think the solutions, if we are to find solutions, to get to climate change objectives, whether we pitch that at one degree, or one and a half degree limits to temperature increase, ultimately, I think technology will be the single biggest contributing factor to that. The case for more collaborative research on renewables and technology and how that works its way through energy security, I think, is going to be particularly important. That applies as much to Australia as to any other country. I think universities will have a role to play here, by no means exclusive research role, but i think the emphasis on technology is the right emphasis, there’s a lot of political static around the climate change issue. But if you’re in the business of solving problems, and you want to reduce emissions, and you want to increase the role of renewables, you are going to have to break through the current technological barriers to that, whether that’s battery storage, whether it’s how you scale up other renewables. I think this is something which will be a common thread wherever you are, whether you’re India, the US or China or Australia or Japan or any other country.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thanks very much. Nigel Warren, Executive Director from the CSIRO, welcome Nigel.
NIGEL WARREN: Thanks Maria, good to see you again Peter, I actually had a follow on question so I did not conspire with Georgie. Peter, we’re doing a lot of work, and made some significant investment in hydrogen, and I noticed in your report that you called out hydrogen as part of the future mix of the energy portfolio in India. We’ve done a lot of work in India over the years in different sectors, agriculture, water, but we’re yet to really develop more connections in the energy sector, particularly around hydrogen. Do you see any way that the momentum would shift to blend that portfolio where a source like hydrogen might work its way up the priority list of India, is it technology driven or driven by other factors?
PETER VARGHESE: My sense Nigel is that India is going to be interested in a whole range of options for how they can achieve their energy requirements in the most sustainable way. So they will live with an energy mix which will range from fossil fields all the way to renewables for a considerable transition period. And, I think hydrogen can be part of that, I think they would be the willingness on the part of the Indian system to look at how you could make hydrogen a bigger portion of their energy mix. Now, the technology behind the production of hydrogen is obviously going to be a crucial issue there, and whether you achieve hydrogen production in essentially a clean renewable way, or whether you have to use access to other energy sources to produce it is something that all of us are dealing with. For Australia, Hydrogen is a huge opportunity to produce it and export it, I included it in my Report, really off the back of conversations with Alan Finkel. Alan has religion on hydrogen and I think he’s onto something, I think Australia can position itself globally as one of the leaders in terms of production export of hydrogen. India is obviously going to be a very important part of that strategy going forward. The whole energy relationship with India, I think, is a very significant part of what we do together bilaterally because, I spoke earlier about structural complementarity between the Australian and Indian economies and when you look at what India needs on the energy side, and what Australia is in a position to provide, across the whole mix, in the short term, including coal, but more and more into renewables. I think that’s the direction to which India is going. Just to take one example, Adani, which has a very high profile in Australia, as a coal miner, is now pretty close to the world’s largest producer of the world’s solar energy. You can see how this transition is going to take on more and more substance as India looks to achieve its energy requirements in a sensible and low emissions intensive way as possible. Hydrogen I think will be a part of that.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thank you very much, we have a question from Luther Poier on education. Luther is managing director of Blue Chilli Australia.
LUTHER POIER: Thanks Maria, and thank you very much Peter for your very deep focus on both innovation and education. Certainly one of our focuses is running a local accelerator to really promote 21st century skills in Australia. One thing I’d like to ask is, what do you see as the main challenges for essentially our workforce and our up and coming workforce, to engage both with Australian business and also increase our impact as a global economic power. We’re sitting on the edge of Asia, as you pointed out, we have deep ties in the education system. How do we deepen that, support that, and make sure we don’t end up on the back end of developments in our wider Asian ecosystem.
PETER VARGHESE: It’s a great question and one that universities obviously think a lot about because, how do you prepare the workforce of the future and what skills are you looking to impart and how do you do that at a time when technology is really shifting so fast what’s required in the workforce. Look, my personal view is that increasingly, education is going to put a premium on the mastery of first principles and an ability to adapt. We can’t say for sure where the jobs of the future are going to be. It’s the nature of this churn that we’re in, that could move in all sorts of directions, some more predictable than others. And so, I think the ability to integrate knowledge, in other words, to break down some of the silos that our education tends to build into their teaching is going to be very important. How you do that and still provide graduates with deep skills that they’re going to need. I’m not making the case that you can forget about expertise, that it’s all going to be about adaptability because at the end of the day you need people with expertise. This is going to be really, a test of mindset as much as it is of acquired skills. So digital literacy is going to be essential for anyone going through our education system. Irrespective of what discipline you chose. I think the instinct to collaborate across different sectors, different disciplines, different areas of knowledge, is something we need to deepen in our own students. I think managing human relationships as technology takes particular twists and turns is going to be also a very important skill set. So, you know, I think universities should be looking to maximise the flexibility of the graduates they produce because I think a system which maximises the flexibility, and therefore the resilience of people entering the workforce, combined with an ability to ensure that you can bring people back into the education system at various points in their career to give them the sort of upgraded skills that they need in their own particular area of work. It’s the combination of those two things. An undergraduate education with a premium on flexibility and collaboration, and then a system that’s geared towards bringing people back in as their work continues. The whole continuous education cycle.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Christina Slade is with us, Christina would you like to ask your question.
CHRISTINA SLADE: Thank you very much Peter for the talk, I should explain that I was Vice Chancellor in England and I have some experience in these matters, and I really want to press you on the Culture Wars. Next year the University of Queensland I think will be beginning to teach with support from the Ramsay foundation, and at the same time, the cost of humanities degrees, at least not languages, is being raised by the government. I want to know whether you think either of those initiatives will have any impact on the Culture Wars.
PETER VARGHESE: Thanks Christina. We’ve actually started our Ramsey program, I’m delighted we have because I was a very enthusiastic supporter of signing on to the program. Will it make much difference to the Culture Wars? To some extent it will because I think it’s a demonstration of the fact that we have 2 or 3 campuses at the moment in Australia who take the idea of diversity of thinking and knowledge, is a core function of the university. I think what Ramsay does is, takes the ideology out of some of the debates in the humanities, and I actually found it a very encouraging process to navigate approval for the Ramsay curse through the University system. I think it’s a fantastic course, if they didn’t have an age restriction on it I would be enrolling for it because it’s such a terrific opportunity. I think fundamentally important for people going through an Australian University System, to understand the wellsprings that intellectual and other wellsprings, that have shaped the society in which they live. And you know, the idea that this is some right wing plot to indoctrinate students under the guise of studying Western Civilisation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Universities need to be absolutely clear that they are in the market of ideas. To pre-screen ideas because they don’t fit some template, I think is to go absolutely against the purpose of a university. So, I hope it sends a signal that the culture walls aren’t quite as dire as they’re sometimes made out to be.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thanks so much, we have a question from Armit Singh, the Managing Director from AlphaBeta who couldn’t be here today but did want you to capture your response. He was asking for your reflections, with a focus on the Indo Pacific, on the selection of Kamala Harris as US Vice President.
PETER VARGHESE: So, I’m not sure, in of itself, the selection of Kamala Harris will have any particular consequences for the Indo Pacific, I think in terms of US India relations, having someone with her background may prove to be a plus, although it may also be the case that some of these issues to which i referred in terms of India’s liberal secular democratic character may be taken up by her in a way that perhaps they weren’t previously. So, I don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact one way or the other on substance, but I think in terms of the optics of it, it may be a plus. I think the Indian system tends to bestow a certain amount of pride on people of Indian origin who’ve made good in other countries, and maybe that will be a factor, but ultimately, as Vice President, she will bring to her office a perspective grounded in American interests and how she sees American interests. Of which a strong US India relationship will be very important, and I expect that that relationship, which is bipartisan on both sides, will continue to grow and deepen, and the China dynamics will only contribute to a stronger strategic relationship between India and the US. I think the other thing about strategic congruence with India, supplying as much as it does to Australia as it does to the US, on the ledger of a rules based international system, you would put India pretty squarely on the side of a country which wants to see a rules based system. That doesn’t mean that India will be comfortable with abiding by rules over which they had no say in, but they do see a rules based system as in their interests in the way Australia does.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thank you, i’m going to ask Johanna Pitman to ask her question next, Johanna is the incoming Executive Director of Advance, and then we will close with the question from Bruce Wolpe.
JOHANNA PITMAN: Thanks very much Maria, and thank you Peter, you’ve outlined a very compelling case for why India is a very important part of Australia’s strategic matrix and you also spoke about the role of the Indian diaspora in building those relations, and really taking advantage of those opportunities. For Advance.org, we believe strongly in the power, the soft power of individuals, whether they’re in business, international students, or in cultural spheres, in research, we have a number of eminent researchers on our call today. Where do you think would be a good place for us to really emphasis over the coming year, in terms of building that soft power relations with India, and what organisations like Advance could do.
PETER VARGHESE: Thanks Johanna, look, the diaspora is going to play, I think, a couple of roles. One is, they will help shift ideas in India about what contemporary Australia is, because in my experience, and India is not unique in this regard, there is quite a long time lag between the way countries perceive Australia and what Australia in 2020 is. I think that diaspora connection is going to help modernise thinking in India about Australia, or at least in parts of India, about Australia. In terms of what is the best sort of structural way to handle this. Structure is not going to deliver you the outcome here, I mean, it’s the nature of diaspora connections that they weave their way into all sorts of nooks and crannies in a relationship and it is their ability to do so that actually gives you the impact. But, having said that I think it’s important, whether it’s Advance, whether it’s other organisations in Australia with a brief to strengthen our links into the region and into Asia for us to use those channels to really try and develop a more sophisticated understanding in Australia and indeed in the other country about each other. Because the deficit in understanding a country like India and Australia is quite large and the reverse also applies. The networks that you have I think are going to be an important part of that. You mentioned research collaboration and I think that is a significant part of the future of our relationship with India. The bringing together our researchers across a number of different fields and you’re already beginning to see in the university sectors relationship with India an increasing focus on this post graduate research component. UQ, my university, has set up an arrangement with the IIT where we’re going to run a joint PhD program which will produce 200-300 PhD’s with a UQ/ ITT doctorate upon graduation. I think it’s a question of using those networks to further the ability to collaborate and then using that collaboration bit by bit to strengthen the links we have between the two countries, and that in turn i think gives you a better platform for pursuing the sort of bigger economic and strategic agendas that we have with India.
MARIA MACNAMARA That’s marvellous, and it encapsulates the power of working a diaspora effectively. Finally, we have the last question of today’s session from Bruce, over to you Bruce.
BRUCE WOLPE: Thanks Maria and to Advance, Peter it’s wonderful to have this opportunity to connect with you again in this special forum. I’m pleased to advise everyone here today that the campaign for female education CAMFED has established a foundation here in Australia to advance it’s work in support of girls education in Africa, and Peter that’s what I want to ask you about given your deep experience at DFAT and now as Chancellor, to reflect on the importance of girl’s education in developing education, and the importance that this objective might play in Australia’s foreign aid policy.
PETER VARGHESE: Thanks Bruce, and very nice to see you. I think the importance of girls’ education cannot be overestimated. I think it is fundamental to the development story in Africa or elsewhere. This is not just an equity issue, this is an issue about how decisions are taken, how you empower a group of people who can make an enormous contribution, not just to the well being of their own community and family, but to the broader well being of their society. So I sit on the board of Care Australia, and Care has a very particular emphasis on women and girls because if you can get this right, you will create an environment in which families and communities and nations can do so much better than they otherwise would. So it is and ought to remain a very high priority from a policy sense for Australia’s development assistance program. I think it does have a priority in the development assistance program, the focus is more in our region than it is in Africa but the principles behind it are applicable everywhere. And I think the empirical evidence in this area is pretty compelling. The difference it can make, the economic opportunities that it opens up, they have been clearly demonstrated. If you’re looking for a policy which is soundly based in evidence, but also desirable from a values point of view you couldn’t find a better combination Bruce.
MARIA MACNAMARA: Thank you so much, and with that I’d like to invite a new Director who just joined Advance, and that’s Richard Umbers to close.
RICHARD UMBERS: Thank you Maria, Peter, I now understand why Maria kept this roundtable till last, you led us on a thought provoking conversation that revealed a fascinating perspective on world events and we thank you for your insights. It’s a rare quality to synthesise such clarity from the overload form conflicting messages we receive at the moment in the bonfire of certainties as you so beautifully described it. Amidst the emerging rift with China it was fascinating to hear your thoughts on how a collective pushback might be achieved and from Australia’s point of view, how important India could be in achieving a new China equilibrium. What really is, in Australia’s best interests. China containment, or China engagement. Australia alone or in a multilateral model. Your alternative Indo Pacific Multilateral model is a thought provoking new dimension to the Asia pacific framework. You also invited us to think deeply about our university sector and its objective to educate a generation of Australians. Does it fulfil this role but churning our graduates, or is our future economic success better served by also developing stronger coordination with industry and educating across all career stages. And on content, are we giving the next generation the mental furniture to deal with the changing world. What a question to leave us with! Peter, please accept my thanks on behalf of those who joined today, the board and management team at Advance.org. Before I close, I invite you to provide your feedback on a single question poll that will appear on screen just about now. Please note today’s conversation will be shared with you should you want to watch it again. In time a transcript will be prepared which will also be available on our website, and later today a summary of the key issues will be prepared and sent to you. Please also feel free to let us know if there are any particular issues or speakers on which you would like us to focus as we develop the program for 2021. Finally, on behalf of the board of Advance and our management team, I once again thank you for joining us today. I’ll hand back to Maria who I should also mention is closing her last roundtable under the Advance banner, and what a program it has been over the past year. We will be of course staying close friends with Maria as she moves on, thank you and back over to you.