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Asian Century stillborn as activity stalls

Date
Dr Craig Emerson minister for trade at Parliament House.

Dr Craig Emerson minister for trade at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

Rumblings within the public service suggest the much-publicised Asian Century white paper has stalled in its implementation stage, with the government taking too long to appoint an advisory board and to detail a course of action aimed at achieving results.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard released her Australia in the Asian Century white paper last October, hailing it as a vital document to help the nation take advantage of the Asian boom by 2025.

The 300-page document outlined 25 objectives divided into five key areas of the economy, education and skills, commerce, regional security and culture.

But while the government insists all is going to plan, some senior public servants are quietly expressing frustration at the pace of its implementation.

Even some government backbenchers are concerned that not enough is being done with the white paper.

''This could be a political win for us if we sell this right, but it could be politically damaging if we are not seen to be doing something concrete with it,'' one MP said.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Craig Emerson, who is also the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy, said substantial work was under way with the white paper.

''The implementation process is on track and on time,'' the spokesman said. ''The government is close to announcing the final line-up of the advisory board of experts.''

The spokesman said no consultants had been engaged to help with implementing the white paper's objectives.

But public sector sources insist there has been no significant progress made on implementing the recommendations.

''There is some level of angst because a lot of work went into getting this out fast and now it is just sitting there,'' one senior public servant said. ''It is shaping up to be another big idea from the government but with no real plan to make it happen.''

Another source said there was a growing thought within public sector ranks that the Gillard government was returning to the ''bad old days'' of Kevin Rudd, when huge demands and urgent deadlines were placed on public servants only to have their work pushed to one side once it was delivered.

''When Kevin was in charge it was actually Julia who made sure things happened, but now she is doing exactly the same as he did,'' the contact said.

''It's all frantic to make an announcement and get a document out, but then there's no follow through.''

But other sources, and close to Ms Gillard, said getting the most for Australia from the Asian boom was one of the Prime Minister's highest priorities.

''Implementing the Asian white paper is a serious agenda item,'' one said. ''She hasn't made all this fuss about it only to leave it sitting around collecting dust.''

Although the white paper is scant on detail, it sets out targets for Australia over the next 13 years to enable it to compete with Asia.

It aims to have Australia's school system ranked in the top five in the world by 2025 and have 10 of its universities in the world's top 100.

Asian studies will be a core part of the Australian school curriculum, and this nation's business and political leaders will be more Asia-literate.

Australia's trade and diplomatic footprint will also be extended throughout Asia.

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