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Amongst the best speeches by a head of government in a foreign country - Prime Minister Abbott talks to Indonesia and us

Here is a link to Prime Minister Abbott's speech today in Jakarta.  And here is a photo of an Australian Prime Minister and his wife representing Australian interests without wearing a batik shirt.

Prime Minister Abbott and President Yudoyhono

The delivery of this speech at this time is the most impressive thing I have seen Tony Abbott do.  Ever.

The tone he set - of an independent sovereign Australia acting as a great neighbour - was perfect.   Tony and his advisors have grasped the importance of being seen as capable, independent and no easy touch.   This will be noted in Indonesia and Prime Minister Abbott will score full marks for it.

Tony starts the speech by recognising that Australia has larger trading partners than Indonesia (a statement that will stimulate positive action in Indonesia) but he goes on to add that "we have no more important overall relationship because of Indonesia’s size, proximity and potential".

There are two key announcements in the speech.   The first is about education, with an apparently well thought through new version of the Colombo plan - with a focus on reciprocity.

Of those Indonesian students who choose to study abroad, roughly one in four make Australia their destination.

While tens of thousands of Indonesian students are studying in Australian universities and colleges, only a few hundred Australians are returning the compliment by studying in Indonesia.

Starting next year, the new Australian government will establish a new Colombo Plan that doesn’t just bring the best and the brightest students from the wider Asia-Pacific region to Australia but takes Australia’s best and brightest to the region.  

As a man with the credibility that comes from personal experience of the rigours of Rhodes Scholarship, Tony Abbott introduces the notion of an Asian equivalent to the Rhodes or Fulbright programs:

The Colombo Plan, operating from the 1950s to the 1980s, saw tens of thousands of the future leaders of our region educated at Australian universities.

A contemporary, two way street version of the Colombo Plan, would acknowledge how much the region can teach us as well as how much we can offer our region.

Operating at different levels and for different periods of time, and often with a business internship component, this new Colombo Plan could provide us with a new and more contemporary version of Rhodes scholars and Fulbright fellows, this time with a strong Asia-Pacific orientation.

As well, within a decade, working with the Australian states and territories, the new government aims to have 40 per cent of high school students studying a foreign language – as was the case in the 1960s – only this time the emphasis will be on Asian languages as well as European ones.

This New Colombo Plan aims to ensure that we are a more Asia literate country, more able to play our part in the Asian Century.

But it's Abbott's finish that is most impressive.   He points to Andrew Robb's presence and those business leaders who have travelled to Jakarta with the PM, Foreign Minister and Trade Minister.

Tony Abbott makes clear Australia's priorities and our recognition of the things our partners can expect from us

The new government’s approach is very straightforward: we will take a respectful, consultative, no-surprises approach to relations with Indonesia.

Our aim is to rebuild confidence so that both sides respect each other and trust other to keep commitments.

He goes on to describe realistic well researched trade opportunities and to apologise for Australia's shocking decisions that affected Indonesia's protein supplies through the live cattle export shutdown.

At another level, governments come together bilaterally to forge formal arrangements like the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

One of my first acts as prime minister was to ask the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, to accelerate the work with his Indonesian counterparts towards this new deal.

The new government’s approach is very straightforward: we will take a respectful, consultative, no-surprises approach to relations with Indonesia.

Our aim is to rebuild confidence so that both sides respect each other and trust other to keep commitments.

Trust is essential to the future success of the businesses represented here today.

There’s the hard grind of establishing regulatory certainty.

There’s the patient negotiation that helps to eliminate barriers to trade and investment and facilitate market access.

Then there’s the further engagement that takes place in the regional and global forums – such as ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, APEC, and the G20.

Forums like these are critical to the long-term prosperity of every country – and Australia hosting the G20 in a year’s time; and Indonesia, hosting APEC in a week’s time, will both be pushing for regional and global strategies to promote economic growth.

The new Australian Government intends to showcase fiscal restraint, deregulation, tax cuts and investment in economic infrastructure.

But I think it's his closing that is the most impressive element of the speech.   Tony Abbott delivers his last lines to the Australian businesses who will be responsible for creating the deals, signing the contracts, completing the sales and delivering the goods for Indonesia.   The only time we make any money is when we sell something.  Everything else is a cost.   Abbott implicitly states that the reality of bi-lateral trade with Indonesia is a multitude of deals between private enterprises.

His final sentence is not a predictable Prime Ministerial platitude delivered to his host country.   It is a statement of the Government of Australia's expectation of our business community, delivered to those businesses in our customer Indonesia's capital city.   This will play very, very well in Jakarta.   It is not what we want Indonesia to do - it is what we expect of our people in earning the right to do business with our neighbour.

More and more Australians now see Indonesia as a place to do business and to embark on joint ventures, as well as to have a holiday, as the business leaders’ presence here testifies. Our challenge is to ensure that more and more Indonesians see Australia as a good place to invest and do business: in short, as a trusted partner.

I am proud to be here in Jakarta with such a group of business leaders acting as ambassadors for our country.

I’m confident you can engender the trust in Australia that’s essential for our future.