Building strong Tighe’s The Aussie HK connection

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Paul Tighe sheds a light on the changes coming down the line in the Hong Kong – Australia bilateral relationship – and introduces us to a Black Prince.

Mr Paul Tighe Consul-General of Australian Consulate-General, Hong Kong Interview


As in the song ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’. The first thing Diplomat cleared up with the CG was how to pronounce his name. “Well, that’s how I pronounce it.” Like the popular 1957 song about a stockman on his deathbed, Paul Tighe has been a hit around the world and even carried some of his adventures with him to Hong Kong.

Everyone knows the impressive story of the natural resources and wine exporting powerhouse. Diplomat takes a look at a different slice of this country with Paul Tighe, the Consul-General of Australian Consulate-General. The country bears reexamination as it is changing rapidly, starting at the top with the new government.

New wine, new labels

The government in Australia recently changed and the two parties do have starkly different world views and platforms. The previous Labor government of Julia Gillard had produced a white paper, Australia in the Asian Century, that outlined objectives and actions to be taken to 2025.

However, within less than two weeks after the election of Tony Abbott’s new Liberal government, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had consigned the paper to the National Library’s Archives, suggesting they will have their own plan for Australia’s future engagement with Asia.

There are some standout issues between the two jurisdictions. Hong Kong finally, some years ago, decided to get on the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) bandwagon and has concluded 27 agreements and has 12 under negotiation. Australia and the US are notable by their absence of an agreement with Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s recent enactment of a law that will see them join a global regime for sharing financial information between nations (see The OECD’s Latest Demands Prove They Cannot Be Appeased, this issue) may have reduced any incentive Australia had for signing a DTA with Hong Kong.

In fact, according to The Australian (May 30, 2013) , the Labor Rudd and Gillard administrations snubbed the Hong Kong government and The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AustCham) by refusing to enter negotiations on either an FTA or DTA.

FTA and DTA – hope anew?

Hong Kong was keen: “Cameron Boardman, the head of Invest Hong Kong for Australia and New Zealand, said a DTA would be “a significant catalyst for cross-border investment both ways”. From the same article, then opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop was broadly supportive. “Hong Kong is keen to get on with both deals, since there’s a mutual benefit, and it’s hard to see why Australia isn’t interested.”

Ms. Bishop’s job today? Minister for Foreign Affairs in Tony Abbott’s Government. Quoted in the AustCham News (Issue 156, September 2013), she said of a future government that it “will pursue the opportunity of an FTA with Hong Kong.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong had been developing relationships for some time. They had their communications ready to go and have already met with the new Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb. On his recent visit to Hong Kong – his government less than two months old – he met AustCham. Andrew Quinlan, interim Chief Executive Officer, confirmed his Chamber’s strong continued support for the establishment of a DTA. Mr. Tighe seemed to think it now could be on the cards: “Australia is considering Double Taxation Agreement.”

Furthermore, the former CEO of The Aust-Cham Hong Kong and Macau, Kirsty Boazman, is now the new Chief of Staff for the Industry Minister, Ian McFarlane. Of course her priorities will now align with her new role, not her old one, but it can’t hurt to have someone who knows the Hong Kong issues in a prominent role so close to Cabinet.

The new government will no doubt be busy setting up shop for some time and will have other priorities that make more immediate demands on their attention – like an FTA with China and the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. Mr. Tighe explained that Australia was currently working on agreements with Japan, Korea (since concluded) and China. He noted that even though it was a new government, both Minister Bishop and Minister Robb had already been to Hong Kong. Given Hong Kong’s keen interest, it could be a quick win for a new government to quickly conclude an FTA with Hong Kong.

“We will certainly have a look at a free trade agreement as our resources allow”

Diplomats and politicians will want to see if the change of government signals a significant change in position on this
issue. If they do, they will have an experienced set of hands to manage relations – Mr. Tighe has had his term in Hong Kong extended, which is, according one insider Diplomat spoke to, ‘quite unprecedented for [an Australian CG in] Hong Kong.”

Mr. Tighe’s speciality is trade and economics and the earliest part of his career in government, before Foreign Affairs, involved giving advice on liberalising vast swathes of the Australian economy. His 8 years work at the Industries Assistance Commission (reducing tariffs) and then Treasury Department (1980-1988 combined) helped to set the country on a decades long course of reform that would see it become a repeat top performer on the Economic Freedom indices and an economic powerhouse that weathered the financial crisis fairly well. Being involved in negotiating an FTA or DTA would be well within his skill set.

Trade data: winning the horse race

That is not to say there is much of a problem with bilateral trade today. To get it out of the way – wine, meats, natural products, and high-end consumer goods are all on the export list, making Hong Kong Australia’s 15th largest export market for merchandise trade. No surprises there.

Hong Kong is the 9th largest market for export of services (especially education) and it is Australia’s 6th largest source of investment ranging from individual house and flat buyers to Hong Kong power companies’ holdings there to a hopeful casino and golf resort magnate looking to build in Cairns.

“I call up my mates back in Australia and tell them my job is to promote Australian wine, seafood, beef  and horse racing and they get very jealous!”

Many other countries can make similar claims in similar categories and compete fiercely with Australia in these sectors. One area in which Australians are the undisputed leaders is in a sector that is key to Hong Kong’s identity, its culture, and its passion. That passion: horse racing.

Australia – as Hong Kong as horse racing

“There’s been a long-standing relationship between the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Australian racing industry.”

The Australians are big players in the gaming business, punching far above their weight in this area. From the Packers’ co-investments in Macao with Lawrence Ho to the turf in Happy Valley, they bring investment, technology and expertise to every level of the industry.

In Hong Kong, this means horse racingand the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Macau Jockey Club. Relationships are front and centre when Paul Tighe is regularly called upon to present awards and Cups in the two SAR’s. Most recently, he presented the Victoria Racing Club Trophy to the winning owner of Lucky Forever on November 13 in Happy Valley. And the winning jockey: Australian. The Victorian Racing Club in Melbourne holds a reciprocal Hong Kong dedicated race as well.

Australian reach goes far beyond Paul Tighe’s ceremonial duties. For decades, Australian bred horses and jockeys have dominated the pitch. About 33% of the approximately 400 current horses are from Australia. Legendary Aussie steeds have included past ‘Horse of the Year’ winners Silver Lining, Co-Tack, Mystic, Fairy King Prawn, Silent Witness, Sacred Kingdom, Mr. Vitality and Grand Delight.

Right now, Australian Zac Purton is top of the winners board this year with countryman Tye Angland in 4th. John Size is the 7-time Champion Trainer and now in the leading position of the Trainer Premiership Table – and a fair dinkum Aussie.

Australian technology is used in to manage the starting barriers. Aussie software is in the betting system. Of course the F&B operations are replete with Australian victuals and vineyard produce. Virtually every aspect of a HKJC experience has even a little Australia in it.

And every year, Australians gather at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Happy Valley Racecourse to cheer homegrown runners during live broadcasts of the Melbourne Cup – a show of appreciation from the HKJC for Australia’s contribution to the sport here.

Australian community in Hong Kong

That community doesn’t just turn out on Melbourne Cup day. The first time Diplomat met Mr Tighe was during the recent elections. Over 90,000 Australians, many active voters, live here. While some nationals cannot vote in their home countries if abroad too long, Australia encourages it and politicians and activists even campaign here. This Consulate hosted the second largest voting centre in the entire Australian electoral system (see Diplomat September 6th story) in the recent election. Whoever is in, or out of power, in Canberra, it can’t hurt to visit Hong Kong and make sure Australians are feeling a little special attention.

One of the strongest connectors reflects the strength of one of their biggest export sectors: Education. With over 90,000 Australian nationals, many of whom want to keep their children in the Aussie education system, there are more than enough people to support the Australian International School located in Kowloon Tong. It is estimated there are more than 120,000 graduates of Australian education programmes in Hong Kong, deepening the connection.

The “new Colombo plan”

The favour is about to be returned as Aussies come to learn in Asia. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, over 40,000 Asia students went to Australian schools with scholarships under a programme dubbed The Colombo Plan. This week, Julie Bishop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, launched the ‘New Colombo Plan’ that will send students from Australia around the region.

While the full plan will launch in 2015, Hong Kong is one of the jurisdictions in the pilot scheme launching in 2014. With over $100 million AUD backing it, it is going to be a major contributor to regional educational exchange. For the rest of the community, the usual proliferation of expatriate bankers are complemented by an unusually high number of pilots and engineers and architects, among other professionals in Hong Kong. The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong is the largest Australian Chamber of Commerce in the world outside Australia.

The ‘big, strong, diverse relationship’, as described by the Consul General, explains why the Australian Consulate General here in Hong Kong is the second largest passport issuing office in the world. ‘That makes us a very busy consulate,’ said Mr. Tighe. Last year, just over 9,500 passports were issued here, second only to the Australian High Commission in London. Apart from processing passports, insiders know it also houses a fine collection of domestic wines and beers in their quintessentially Australian, unpretentious venue, The Wombat Hole. Mr. Tighe is the kind of CG you wouldn’t object to having bevvie with and we hope the readers of Diplomat get the chance during is tenure in Hong Kong.

Mr Paul Tighe

Former Postings

  • Australian Consul General, Hong Kong (2011 till now)
  • Ambassador to Greece (2005-2008)
  • Deputy Head of Mission in Bangkok and Permanent Representative, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (1998-2001)
  • Counsellor in the Australian Delegation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Paris (1991-1995) education background
  • Bachelor of Science degree with first class honours, University of New South Wales, Australia