Andrew Hauser: Strangers in paradise

Speech by Mr Andrew Hauser, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, at the Opening Dinner for the Citi A50 Australian Economic Forum 2024, Sydney, 27 June 2024.

The views expressed in this speech are those of the speaker and not the view of the BIS.

Central bank speech  | 
01 July 2024


Picture if you can a thriving trading hub on the Australian coast. It uses imported capital equipment and processes, and temporary migrant labour, to extract and process an abundant natural resource for on-sale to China. The business brings wealth and prosperity to the local community. Over time, public debate emerges about whether rewards are being fairly divided between locals and foreigners, and how to manage ecological degradation.

A mine or refinery in present day Western Australia or Queensland? Could be. But what I have actually just described are the arrangements for trading in trepang – or sea cucumbers, a Chinese delicacy – that began around 1700 between the Yolŋu people of Arnhem Land and itinerant fishermen from Makassar on Sulawesi, part of modern-day Indonesia. By the mid-19th century, the Makassar fleet was supplying an amazing 900 tons of trepang to China every year.

The existence of such a striking historical echo of today's debates is less surprising when one remembers that Australia is home to the oldest continuing culture on earth. For more than 65,000 years this continent has been cultivated by First Nations peoples. In that context, I want to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we are meeting this evening and pay my respects to Elders, past and present.

I also want to welcome all of you to the A50 forum, an event initiated in 2016 to highlight the benefits of investing in Australia. There are many important issues to discuss in the current climate, and the organisers have put together a fantastic program tomorrow, involving government leaders, the regulatory community and the corporate and financial sectors, to do just that. With such a rich main course to come, I have no intention of competing. Instead, I offer merely a light starter to put tomorrow's discussions in context – reviewing the historical sources of economic growth in Australia, and the role played by foreign investment.