Joe Hockey is Australia's ambassador to the United States, and on November 21, he was in Detroit, where he spoke to the Detroit Economic Club. His remarks were light-hearted in the beginning, constructively diplomatic at the end - today's quote is from the final paragraphs - and gutsy in the middle.
Hockeytown is one of the sobriquets for Detroit, and so at the start of his speech Ambassador Hockey joked,
"You named the town after me and I even understand that you named the stadium after me - the Joe!"
In the gutsy mid-section, he talked about Australia's changing industrial landscape. "Last month," he said, "the last Fords rolled off the production line when Ford Australia ceased manufacturing vehicles in Australia."
And it isn't just Ford, all of the major car companies that produced in Australia have either left or are leaving: Mitsubishi, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota. The pain of those decisions was noted. "It was really, really hard for those families," Ambassador Hockey said, but there is a larger context. "Australia hasn't had a recession for 26 years," he said.
His comments on Australia's automobile sector included a discussion of the changing nature of manufacturing, specifically the increasing reliance on automation and robotics and the concomitant loss of assembly-line jobs. On that development, Ambassador Hockey challenged the notion that we should lament these changes, saying:
"[F]or those of you that have ever stood on a production line, most people want to get off of it in one form or another, improve their skills.
I don't think anyone aspires for their child to spend their whole life on a production line in a low technical capacity job. They want people to expand, to develop their skills, to build a base. And that's what we all aspire to."
The heart of his speech, however, was about two things: the tremendous opportunities of Asia - opportunities for both Australia and the United States-and the free-trade policies necessary to seize them. Here are just a few excerpts from the Ambassador's comments on those themes:
"By any measure of economic growth, the Asian region is undergoing massive transformation. At the heart is the emergence of a consumer-driven middle class, currently 500 million people, growing to 3 billion people in 15 years' time - 3 billion."
"On Average more than 40,000 new businesses are set up each day in China."
"As you see the emergence of this Chinese middle class what do they want? They want better health care, better education for their children - don't forget for a long time they've only been allowed to have one child. Every child is precious, let me emphasize that - I've got three, but every child is precious. Because of the single child policy, China has two things that are particularly focused on. Number one that child gets everything they can possible have - there's ferocious competition in education - ferocious competition. But because of the one child policy China has the biggest demographic bubble in the history of humanity - aging population. That child somehow has to pay, for not only themselves and their opportunities, they've got to pay for their parents aged care and health system. They can see the challenges coming down the pipeline.
"What's America brilliant at? Innovation, particularly in health, pharmaceuticals, aged cared, health research. Do you want to get into that market? Australia got into that market through a free trade agreement with China."
And then he segued to TPP saying:
"And that's part of what the Trans Pacific Partnership was about - creating a platform that allowed the United States, not only to immediately partner with countries like Vietnam, Japan, Australia, of course Canada, Mexico, Peru but to use that as a platform to launch into Indonesia, to launch into other countries in the region, particularly China and potentially at the end of the day - India as well."