Smart engagement, stronger Australia: our future in the Asia-Pacific

The rise of Asia requires vision and action in Australia, according to a new report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).

Smart Engagement with Asia provides new insight to the complexities of our relationships in the region, and a blueprint for the bridges Australia can build.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb AC called for a national commitment to our future in the region.

“The ambition of our Asian neighbours is reflected in their strategies to grow their economies through innovation,” Professor Chubb said. “It is no coincidence that science and research are central to their national plans.

“Our geography opens opportunities for business and research alike, but our strategy will determine what we make of them.”

Professor Ien Ang, Chair of the Expert Working Group and co-author, said the report was a timely reminder of the barriers that still remain to cultural understanding and economic exchange.

“We need to progress from short-termism and opportunism to see the two-way benefits of deeper engagement,” she said.

Priority actions identified in the report included:

  • Using Asian communities in Australia and Australian communities in Asia to play a bridging role.
  • Encouraging greater interest and proficiency in Asian languages.
  • Investing strategically in science and cultural diplomacy through a national framework
  • Recognising and nurturing grass root community initiatives as an essential complement to short-term missions and delegations.

Eight per cent of Australia’s population was born in Asia, a much higher percentage than the USA (4%) or UK (2%).

Professor John Fitzgerald, a member of the Expert Working Group, emphasised the need to recognise and involve Asian and Pacific communities living in Australia in all aspects of a smart engagement strategy.

“Asian Australians bring with them skills, social networks and cultural knowledge, which can enhance links between Australia and various parts of Asia. They should be involved regularly as informal ambassadors focusing on entrepreneurship, innovation, philanthropy and volunteerism,” said Professor Fitzgerald.

“These relationships exist informally but if Australia were to scale them up, all Australians would reap the benefits.”

The report is available on

ACOLA is an independent organisation that supports evidence-based interdisciplinary research.


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The final report is available here