The Hon. JANELLE SAFFIN: I direct my question without notice to the Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council. Will the Treasurer please provide the House with details of the latest financial organisation to establish its Pacific regional office in Sydney.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: I thank the Hon. Janelle Saffin for her question.
The Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans: You just happen to have the answer here.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Yes, I do. Although my answers are always better when I do not have them prepared. They are more entertaining when I do not have a written response.
The Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans: You just refuse to answer them in the House.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: You are doing a Duncan; just calm down. That is Labor Party slang and I will not say what it means. I am pleased to advise the House that the World Bank plans to open a regional office in Sydney in July. The bank will move its Pacific office from Washington to Sydney to service East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific islands. I am told that once the bank is fully established it will employ around 10 professional staff. This is a very important win for Sydney and reinforces our position as a major finance centre in the Asia-Pacific region. The World Bank is an internationally funded body linked to the United Nations with a charter to provide development funding to projects in emerging economies.
The World Bank is expected to channel more than $350,000 in aid to East Timor in the next few years. A number of factors have contributed to Sydney's growth as a major financial centre in the Asia-Pacific region over the past few years, including, obviously, the dominance of the Australian Stock Exchange, which is the largest stock market in South-East Asia after Japan, and the eleventh largest in the world. Sydney also has the largest futures and equity options exchange in the Asia-Pacific region. Sydney's foreign exchange market is the fifth largest in the world and the Australian dollar is the sixth most frequently traded currency in international markets.
The Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans: That is helpful.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: It is, actually. Is the honourable member suggesting that it is not?
The Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans: It is not how frequently traded it is.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: Well, what is it?
The Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans: Whether it is going up or down.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN: At some stage I would like the Hon. Dr A. Chesterfield-Evans to give the House a dissertation on the exchange rates. We may then come to understand what he means by the importance of their going up or down. That factor by itself is quite important to the Australian economy, because since Australia has had a floating exchange rate it has been of great benefit to our economy. It would have been very difficult for Australia to weather some of the external economic shocks without the benefit of a floating exchange rate. Some people think it is bad news if the dollar is low, or falling. I would have thought that that is good news, not bad news, for our exporters.
The only time I complain about the lower exchange rate is when I am going overseas; that is where it hurts. For the rest of the time a low dollar rate is certainly of great benefit to Australia's exporters, particularly our farmers. Since April 1995, 14 international finance, insurance and banking companies have set up their head office in Sydney, and 33 of the 36 foreign banking groups in Australia have their head office in Sydney. In fact a former member of this House, the Hon. Robert Webster, is the chief executive of IBSA, the organisation which represents foreign banking groups. He does a fabulous job not only for that organisation but also for the promotion of Sydney as a major financial centre.
The rapid expansion of Sydney's finance services industry has reached critical mass. Major international financial companies now regard Sydney as a viable alternative to Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo for their Asia-Pacific headquarters. Once again, I welcome the World Bank to Sydney and commend the industry on its continuing efforts to provide the best financial services in the Asia-Pacific region. If I have not done so before, I also commend the Commonwealth Government for the appointment of a Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, Mr Hockey. I also congratulate Mr Hockey on his excellent appointment of Mr Les Hosking to head up the task force that the Commonwealth Government has established to promote Australia as a major financial centre. They are two good appointments.