“Australia is a priority for our public and private sectors”

Antonio Garrigues moderated a breakfast meeting with representatives of Spanish civil society

“Australia is a priority for our public and private sectors”

Antonio Garrigues, Patron of Honour at the Spain Australia Council Foundation, welcomed the Australian delegation to his company’s offices. The agenda of the Leaders’ Programme included a breakfast meeting to put the Leaders in contact with representatives of Spanish civil society, including former ministers Pedro Solbes and Carlos Westendorp.

The Chairman of Fundación Garrigues made some opening remarks emphasising the work done to drive Spain’s presence in Australia over the past 15 years: “Before that, we had no presence in the country beyond isolated contracts, but now we can say Australia is a priority, both for our public and our private sector.”

After a brief overview of the Programme’s agenda, Garrigues invited his guests to introduce themselves formally. Ken O’Dowd, MP for Flynn, focused his address on the challenges faced by Australia in terms of defence, an important issue due to the size of its population (around 23 million people) and its geo-strategic location, and mentioned the acquisition of a set of submarines, a significant budgetary effort, to illustrate his point. Australia’s defence budget takes up 2% of the country’s GDP and the acquisition of equipment and materials represents a major opportunity for cooperation with Spain.

Russell Matheson, MP for Macarthur, talked about security as yet another major challenge and mentioned projects such as Sydney’s international airport and the renewed interest in border and immigration control: “This trip has given us the chance to learn about Spain’s advanced technology and we believe it would make a great strategic partner.” According to Matheson, the issue is carving its way into the Australian electoral agenda at the same time as new security regulations are being approved, and the aim is to curb corruption and control money flows in the banking sector to prevent the financing of terrorist groups, among other things.

Matt Thistlethwaite, MP for Wannon, focused on Australia’s position in foreign affairs. “Centuries ago, our foreign affairs were based on the UK, in the 20th century we strengthened cooperation with the US and New Zealand and over the past 20 to 30 years we have focused our influence on the Asia-Pacific region, first on Japan and now on China,” he said. Australia maintains a fruitful relationship with China and exports natural resources, which has been highly beneficial for its growth. However, Thistlethwaite mentioned that there is a risk that Australia could be excessively affected by China’s economic performance. Nevertheless, he said he was convinced that a strong position in the region is positive for Australia’s future prospects and to allow development to reach disadvantaged countries.

Jennifer Hewett, a columnist at the Australian Financial Review, was the last to introduce herself and addressed the country’s economic challenges. She agreed with Matt Thistlethwaite that “the problem with basing the economy on natural resources and exports is that it is not a guarantee in the long term.” She advocated for the Government to adopt a strategy to drive economic development through renewable energies and infrastructure with international and cooperation relations not only multilaterally, as with the EU, but also bilaterally, as with the Leaders’ Programme.

After the introductions, a roundtable was held to look more closely at those topics and other issues on the international agenda of interest for the two countries. As well as former ministers Pedro Solbes and Carlos Westendorp, the other participants were Juan Miguel Villar Mir, Chairman of SACF and OHL; Ernesto de Zulueta, Director General for North America and Asia-Pacific at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation; Ramón Moreno, Managing Director of Casa Asia; Manuel Cacho, former Ambassador on Special Mission to the UN Human Rights Council; Carlos Sánchez de Boado, former Ambassador of Spain to Australia; Andrés Ortega, Head of the Observatory of Ideas and Researcher at Elcano Royal Institute; Álvaro Ortiz, Chief Economist for Emerging for the Cross Analysis of Emerging Economies at BBVA; Alberto Priego, Professor of International Relations at Universidad Pontificia de Comillas and Alberto Masegosa, Head of the English Language Division at EFE.

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