The Northern Territory community is unique in many ways.
Alone among all the states and territories, the NT does not have a Chinatown. That is unique because it underlines the nature of the NT connection with China and the China diaspora.
Darwin did have a Chinatown before the Second World War and in many ways it formed the heart of the settlement. After the bombing of Darwin the Chinatown area was compulsorily acquired, without compensation, by the Commonwealth.
It did not survive the war as a separate area. There was no rebuilding in the years that followed.
No Chinatown is evidence of the tapestry of acceptance that characterises the NT. That’s something that ought to be acknowledged, although it’s so easily accepted in the NT that it barely rates a mention.
And that’s a very good thing, because it means that our children don’t have to worry about the racism that is rearing its ugly head in southern states.
The NT’s separation from the rest of Australia by the central desert has meant the NT has always looked north for its business, its trade and, more recently, its investment. Northern engagement sits at the heart of the cattle industry and other enterprises.
For many businesses in the NT this has led to long-term engagement and deep business relations with our northern neighbours in a way that is poorly understood by those in Canberra.
I am no exception to this long engagement with Asia and China. In 2004, I was invited by the Shanghai Futures Exchange to deliver a session on trading methods for their futures traders.
In what I later came to know as typical Chinese fashion, I was approached at the end of the seminar to repeat the same session in the northern city of Dalian for the Dalian Commodity Exchange, north of Beijing and some 800 kilometres away.
“Can do,” I said. “Tomorrow can?” they asked.
We settled on delivering the session a few days later, but it underlined the thirst for knowledge, the speed of change, and illuminated the tremendous opportunities for business development.
Like many in the NT, I took those opportunities, making deep friendships with Chinese colleagues along the way. I was supported by the NT Government of all political colours because it was understood that Asia and China were where the future of the NT was located.
This idea is now under threat with a Canberra view that there is danger and adverse competition beyond our northern borders. It’s a view the NT should vigorously reject because it goes against the history of development of the north.
We cannot accept the Canberra suggestion that by doing business in Asia and advocating a more respectful and diplomatic approach that we are somehow undermining Australia’s’ sovereignty.
When I am flying over the South China Sea, over the expanses of Xinjiang deserts with their snow-topped mountains or flying above the jungles of Yunnan, I have had ample time to reflect on the way the Northern Territory has given me, and other NT businesses, the opportunity to build this international engagement.
It is, I reflect on many of those flights, a long way from when I was operating a grader and building roads in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is a long way from when I was working on Aboriginal communities in the Barkly and even a long way from my work today in financial markets, which most people usually associate with Melbourne and Sydney rather than Darwin.
Many NT businesses are engaged in the same outreach, working and making friends among the countries to our north. We largely do it by ourselves, sometimes drawing on family connections and always building new friendships, but we cannot forget the support that is given by NT governments that comes irrespective of our backgrounds.
The environment in southern Australia is becoming more anti-China. We cannot avoid acknowledging this because we all need to ensure that that particular virus does not overwhelm the NT and the friendships and connections that we have built up over years and generations.
The recent start of the Year of the Ox was an opportunity to reflect on our successes in 2020 and the work we have done to keep our international friendships alive through WeChat, Zoom and Skype.
It’s also a time to look forward to re-energising those opportunities, hopefully with face-to-face contact in 2021 as international travel opens.
The Australia China Business Council has encouraged the Federal Government to recognise
internationally accepted covid passports and the IATA Travel Pass initiative, which is founded on blockchain security.
The interests of the Australian community would be best-served by the development of covid-safe travel protocols that facilitate the resumption of international travel between Darwin, our northern neighbours and Shenzhen with the resumption of Donghai flights.
The mutual recognition of vaccine standards are required for quarantinefree travel. We encourage the Government to acknowledge Sinopharm in the same way as Astrazeneca and Pfizer vaccines for the purposes of quarantine-free travel.
This and covid passports are a platform for rebuilding trust and collaboration between Australia and China. Success is in the national interest of both countries.
The NT is unique in the way we engage with our northern neighbours and with China. The NT is unique in the way we build on the strengths of our diverse cultures, so we have an important role to play in re-engaging with China and our northern neighbours