It is my pleasure to be here and speak with you tonight on behalf of the Premier. This Gala Dinner celebrates the continuing strong trade relationship between Australia and Hong Kong and the wider Asia- Pacific region.
Historically Hong Kong and Australia have shared substantial commercial interests, ranging from financial services to manufacturing. Over 80,000 Australians currently reside in Hong Kong and close to 2000 businesses are either based or have some form of representation in Hong Kong.
If we glean over trade figures we see that Australia's total merchandise trade with Hong Kong in 2011 was worth over $4 billion. This trading relationship is still increasing with the annual growth in bilateral trade between Australia and Hong Kong growing by an impressive 12% in the 2011 financial year.
Hong Kong has been an economic powerhouse and a driver of innovation throughout the Asia- Pacific region.
This legacy continues with Hong Kong being one of the world's international financial centres. Hong Kong's economy is based on a market system with low taxation and free trade. Hong Kong is reputed for its well managed economy, maintaining its triple A credit rating even in the context of challenging global economic conditions.
Hong Kong has maintained a policy of promoting business activity. This has been achieved through the removal of unnecessary red tape and maintenance of a strong banking sector and very low public debt.
I note that every year since 1995 the Index of Economic Freedom has ranked Hong Kong first in the world for economic freedom.
In addition to being one of the world's freest economies, Hong Kong is also one of the easiest economy's to start a business in. In 2011, Hong Kong was ranked second in the Ease of Doing Business Index. This index, compiled by the World Bank measures the ease of which a small business can be established.
This economic freedom and encouragement of free enterprise has delivered Hong Kong one of the highest standards of living in the Asian Region. This makes Hong Kong a model to be emulated across the globe.
It is through strong small business activity and flourishing trading relationships that a nation is able to improve the quality of life of its citizens. Nowhere is this concept better demonstrated then in Hong Kong.
The NSW Government is committed to the promotion of small business activity throughout this State. The 2012-13 NSW Budget outlined a number of initiatives that seek to increase the ease of doing business across NSW. The newly established Office of the Small Business Commissioner aims to work with small businesses to help ease existing regulatory burden. Another recent initiative is the introduction of payroll tax rebates announced under the Government's Jobs Action Plan which will support business and create jobs.
Part of this Government's initiatives to strengthen the domestic economy included the establishment of the Multicultural Business Advisory Panel. This Panel advises the NSW Cabinet on measures to strengthen the trade and investment relationship between NSW and its key trading partners.
Beyond just economic and financial ties, I have always been a firm believer that we must encourage a better cultural exchange between our nations. This particularly involves an increase in Asian language teaching across NSW.
It is unfortunate that so few students from Australian backgrounds are currently studying a Chinese language. According to a recent report by CPA Australia less than 300 students are currently studying Mandarin, with even less studying Cantonese.
This is a worrying trend and will make it difficult for Australia and Hong Kong to make the most out of future trading relationships.
With around 10 000 people speaking either Mandarin or Cantonese residing in the Oatley electorate, I have seen firsthand the impact that language barriers can sometimes have on business activity.
I am a strong advocate for Chinese languages being taught in our schools. The ability to understand and communicate with each other means that our young people can create new opportunities for our communities to grow together.
Making the most of future opportunities is particularly important as Mainland China continues to emerge as a major economic power. Australia's relationship with China has grown considerably since diplomatic relations were first established 40 years ago. China is currently Australia's largest trading partner, with a large component of Australia's resource exports flowing to China.
As China's middle class continues to grow, there will be an increasing demand for Australia's exports beyond commodities. A case in point will be the increasing demand of Australia's education exports which have already seen tremendous growth, particularly over the past decade.
This puts Australia in an important position in the Asia Pacific region. Making it crucial that our diplomatic relations and economic ties continue to strengthen into the future.
I would once again like to congratulate the award winners this year and I look forward to the opportunity to work with each and every one of you to create a brighter future for NSW, Hong Kong and Australia.