Published November 19, 2021
For Australia’s High Commissioner to Singapore, the Hon Will Hodgman, COVID has changed – and will continue to change – the very landscape for trade and diplomacy at a governmental level.
“It has forced us to reshape how we do business,” Hodgman – also a former Premier of the Australian state of Tasmania – told ANZ Chief Economist Richard Yetsenga, as part of his Blue Lens on Mic podcast series.
“It does make it tougher. Just the day to day business of being a diplomat,” he said.
“A lot of our work requires face-to-face contact that's become increasingly difficult. [There have been] fewer events, conferences that we're able to attend.
“So much of this is now done digitally, and that does, in many respects, impede our core tradecraft, our core business. We've had to adapt.”
You can listen to the conversation on podcast below.
For Yetsenga, the pandemic has recontextualised the debate around government – both the role it plays and method of approach.
“Some of the perennial debates are between small government and big government or even, from a broader perspective, between capitalism and socialism, or other forms of managing your economy,” he said.
“The pandemic seems to have done away with those delineations and really focussed minds on effective government versus ineffective government.
“The size is not the issue. It's what you do with the powers you have.”
Aside from the pandemic, the rise of digital communities has had a significant impact on governance – and it is one governments around the world are perhaps yet to fully embrace, Hodgman suggested.
“[The disconnect is] a constant source of concern and a subject of interest to governments,” he told Yetsenga.
“I think there's sufficient concern…that we need to look at a more modern contemporary framework by which these things can be managed, [in a way] that not only government can do its business and the parliamentary democracy can be robust, but also people's welfare and safety are also protected.”
Yetsenga agreed, noting a growing demand from global governments to “really [get] their arms around it”.
For Hodgman, it’s not “just about control”, but cooperation, between different governments and between government, social media platforms and those who trade digitally.
“There's a lot happening [there] that's very important and critical to our progress and our prosperity,” he said. “But cyber security now is also an increasing concern, and that can disrupt business, trade, and government services.”
Hodgman said in that context, it makes sense for “forward-leaning” governments like Australia and Singapore to “look to digital trade agreements”.
“There's never been a more important time for very positive foreign affairs and foreign relations than now,” he said. “Because the world has looked inward on itself, perhaps with a lot more caution, a lot more concern [about] the risks that present from a global pandemic, but also other geopolitical tensions across the world.”
“It's really important now that we continue to be forward leaning and very, very open to getting positive outcomes with very little margin for error.”
Hodgman said the post-pandemic era presented ample opportunity for businesses looking at leveraging Singapore as a gateway into broader Asian trade.
“Singapore is really an excellent launchpad and landing pad for the business, for diplomatic and foreign affairs and also for important people to people links,” he said.
The south-east Asia region contained some of the world's fastest-growing economies, Hodgman said.
“Notwithstanding COVID, the economic outlook is very strong [in the region] and with a huge consumer base, right now Australia’s neighbourhood has enormous opportunity to access that market as we emerge from [the pandemic].”
The conversation also touched on the impact of family violence, the future of truth in politics, and broader geopolitical issues. Listen to the podcast above to find out more.
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