Russ: This is PKF Texas Playbook. I’m Russ Capper, your guest host, and I’m here with the Honorable Kelly Ralston, Consul General and Senior Trade Commissioner, Australian Trade Commission, who is taking part in Coffee with the Consuls this Wednesday, August the 12th. Welcome to the Playbook Kelly.
Kelly: Thanks Russ, great to be with you.
Russ: You bet. Well, from my perspective the United States and Australia have a very good and unique relationship; Texas and Australia and even Houston and Australia really do. Share your perspective on that.
Kelly: Okay, well thanks, that’s a long question there Russ.
Russ: Yes it is.
Kelly: I’ll have to break that down. I guess Australia and the U.S. have had a long standing relationship; it goes back to our historical and defense ties. I think Australians and Americans fought together in World War I. I think the formal defense alliance was agreed in 1951 with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty and I think we’ve fought together in all major incidents around the world since that time, so I think it’s a very long-standing defense and military relationship.
Russ: Right, the good part of that is that we were always on the same side, right?
Kelly: Indeed, I think that’s probably the case.
Russ: I hope that is.
Kelly: So I guess that’s sort of along with the history. I think there’s obviously been trading history for many years, from Australia’s inception up to now there’s a long trading and investment relationship, which I might spend a bit more time on if we can. There’s obviously sporting connections, there’s film/movie/arts/entertainment connections that are growing. I think it’s really the commercial relationship which I think is the really important thing from my point of view as representing the Australian Trade Commission here in the United States. It’s been a long-standing relationship; the U.S. is one of our economic partners. It is the largest two-way investment relationship; the U.S. is the largest investor in Australia. This is the number one destination for Australian investment abroad and that’s a significant part of our relationship.
So you also asked about the relationship between Australia and the great state of Texas and I guess there are some really interesting similarities. Of course people often go things like where big open spaces, we’ve both got very identifiable accents, a string sense of identity and I guess pride in our cultures. But I think some really interesting parallels that people might not know about, I mean our populations are a similar size; Texas had 26 million people, Australia has approximately 23 million people. Our economies are largely the same size; Australia’s the 12th largest economy and Texas, if it was considered in its own right would be the world’s 13th largest economy. The things that have driven our economic success both in Australia and Texas that are similar are obviously our reliance on energy and minerals and things like truism and education.
And I think also the cost of industry for the future are very similar opportunities to focus in on, so that’s why from our point of view it’s a very attractive place for us to be doing business.
Russ: Really interesting. As I told you, I have a very dear friend who that in Western Australia and as he liked to point out a similarity he liked to point out is how much larger Western Australia is than Texas.
Kelly: Yes, well I wouldn’t compare land mass anyway, I often compare our land mass to the United States but again the population is quite different, as well as the Texas population so.
Russ: Really neat; cool. Okay, what I also think is very interesting, maybe in the other direction is that until now Australia has not had a Consul General office in Houston for a decade or two; is that accurate?
Kelly: Yes and I don’t know the full history but there was a consulate here up until the mid 90s or late 90s. From about 1999 I think it was we’ve been represented in Houston by a wonderful woman, Nana Booker, who was our Honorary Consul. She served for about 14, 15 years representing Australia ably in this market. She’s been a great friend and advisor to us along the way. I think the government also bestowed the honor of our first honorary consul emeritus to Nana, so it’s the first time we actually declared somebody an Honorary Consul Emeritus, so we’re very proud of the relationship.
Russ: Okay. Well what motivated the idea to make it official now and come here and I understand you would have been quite involved in that in the trade commission, right?
Kelly: Sure, and I guess it comes back to the second part of your first question which was the relationship between Australia and Texas and Australia and Houston. I guess really the thing that’ brought us here is the strong reputation Houston has as a global energy. Australia is an energy power, we are a global hub for resources energy and becoming more so. Natural gas is a big part of our economy, we currently are exporting a lot of our gas but by 2020 there are predictions that we may well become the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. So the ties between the American companies who are involved in exploring and developing and producing those resources in Australia and Australian companies who are servicing those projects but also supplying projects into the United States is long and tight and so I guess it was an obvious starting point for us to be here.
Russ: Great. Well I know that Australia has this very significant history in mining and maybe though the abundance of gas is kind of a new phenomenon, right?
Kelly: It’s certainly been – natural gas is part of the energy mix in Australia, I think as an export though I think the growing world share is a big part of that. We have currently 4 major gas producing projects happening around the country. There are 6 of the world’s largest LNG projects still under construction, they’re due to come online I think by 2017 and I think that will lead to a fairly large export market going forward.
Russ: Right, right. So it seems like the United States are very similar in some of our debates on energy too. I mean there’s a – from what I understand there’s quite a sustainable energy/clean energy movement in Australia that probably sort of competes and conflicts with the fossil duels world. Is that accurate?
Kelly: So yes, there’s definitely a mix of energy sources in Australia; traditional fossil fuels, obviously a growing proportionate share of gas as well as renewables in the form of solar particularly, hydro is a significant part of our economy as well. So other sort of renewable sources as well are in development.
Russ: Well and then if you look at the overall Australian economy now exporting has always played quite a huge role, right?
Kelly: Sure has.
Russ: Right. Okay, so Kelly although trade has always been quite significant between our two countries, it’s really sort of been in a continuous upswing for a decade or so, right?
Kelly: I think that that’s very true and I think it’s interesting that this is the 10th anniversary of the Australian – United States Free Trade Agreement coming into effect and I think in that time we’ve seen two-way trade to about 60 billion dollars and we’ve seen two-way investment more than double. I think obviously our consumers have all benefitted from our tariff going both directions. I think it’s been an important part of that story.
Russ: Great, great. So you’re really sort of brand new to Houston right now, what are you thinking so far? You love this nice climate?
Kelly: Well I mean the climate, I had a week away in a Southern Hemisphere country last week to get a little bit of a break from the heat but apart from the heat I think Houston’s been a very welcoming city I think. I think people are excited that the Australian government has established a presence here, people have been very welcoming. People have been inviting us to various networking functions; PKF for example have invited me along to a couple of women’s networking functions which is a great opportunity to meet some new connections. I guess one of our goals is to – we had a fairly established business relationship when we here, we’ve got a very active Australian American Chamber of Commerce, but I guess part of our goal is to go beyond the connections we have beyond the energy connection which are the basis for us really being here and really start to explore other industries and other opportunities for Australia.
We think there are many – it’s interesting, the first couple of companies that visited me when we opened 3 months ago the first company was actually a sort of innovative healthcare provider; provided healthcare solutions. The first university from Australia that came through with their Vice Chancellor was coming here to talk about the state of the tropics and conditions of health in tropical climates and economies. So quite different from the traditional energy conversation that we’ve been having. So I think that’s really been great fun to explore what’s in Houston which provides opportunities for Australians but also for the broader relationship.
Russ: Great. So I know before Houston you had a stint in Washington, but share your back ground.
Kelly: Sure, so I’m interestingly, I guess the post here is established and lead by the Australian Trade Commission which I’ve been part of that organization for about 14 years. My background is government, I’m a lawyer by training way back, but for the last 14 years I’ve been working with the Australian Trade Commission. Prior to coming to Houston I was in our Washington embassy and I guess we were running and looking after our business development for this part of the country from there, which I guess it was quite clear that it was a very difficult thing to do. I think one of the interesting challenges, we would often make field trips to Houston but we really didn’t get a chance to get beyond Houston so to understand the rest of Texas and the other 3 states in our jurisdiction which include Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana was very hard to do. There’s so much opportunity here in Houston that we kept getting trapped. So I guess by being here we have a really good chance to broaden connections beyond Houston and around the state.
Russ: Okay, and I understand you’re stint here is probably not going to be real long.
Kelly: No, I’m here to establish the office so I guess having been part of that business development for the last 2 or 3 years I guess I was very keen to see the office be established, to be a part of its inauguration, but we have appointed somebody to a long term position. We haven’t announced who that person is yet or the dates of their commencement
Russ: It’s a good time to do it right here.
Kelly: But yes, I expect that I’ll be heading back to Australia towards the end of this year.
Russ: Well Kelly, thank you very much for sharing your perspective on this interesting commerce topic.
Kelly: great. Thanks Russ, it’s been good to be with you.
Russ: You bet. This has been another Thought Leader production brought to you by PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.
brought to you by