Westpac's strategy follows government statistics that show China and India are two of Australia's largest trading partners but business has been slow to recognise the importance of learning their cultures.
Presenter: Claudette Werden
John Brumby, Victorian Premier; Alice Wong, head of Westpac's Asia and Migrant Markets; Jennifer McGregor , Director AsiaLink
WERDEN: In launching the intitative Premier of the Australian state of Victoria John Brumby said knowledge and understanding of different cultures were keys to greater global engagement.
BRUMBY: when we look at relationships between countries in our region, there's a trading relationship and investment relationship but in many ways the most important part of that relationship and the evolutiong going forward is the people to people relationship.
WERDEN: China and India make up two of Australia's fastest growing migrant groups. Alice Wong who head's Westpac's Asia and Migrant Markets says the idea of an asian cultural and language learning program was borne out of her personal experience.
WONG: I find it very frustrating to really convince the aussie understand what I want, what I meant, for example in Chinese we don't have singular or plural and when you talk to me, I think in Chinese and then I process in my brain in Chinese and I talk to you in Chinese that means sometimes I speak to you with Chinese english with that in mind that's why I say I need to have more Australians understand Chinese culture, then Indian culture, then later on Indonesian culture ,Korean culture.
WERDEN: The bank is hoping the program will help staff and clients better engage with Asian markets improving business opportunities and growing australia's economy. Department of Foreign Affairs figures show one in five australian jobs relate to import/export activity. China is Australia's largest trading partner with 85-billion dollars of two way trade last year, India is Australia's third largest export market. The Westpac initiative is being supported by Melbourne University's Asialink centre which promotes Australia Asia engagement. The Centre's Director Jennifer McGregor says Australian business has been slow to recognise the strategic importance of cultural awareness.
MCGREGOR: One of the reasons is that many of the senior people in this country have been from fairly white anglo-saxon backgrounds and they haven't seen the need to make the investment but we're now getting generations of people who have that cultural intelligence getting into those senior positions and they're recognising that this is an investment you have to make and it will pay dividends many times over.
WERDEN: Ms McGregor believes a new informed awareness and improved familiarity with Asia will help shape Australia's future business decisionmaking.