Australian Embassy

Ambassador Hayhurst’s interview with the Mainichi Shimbun

Transcript – Interview with Mainichi Newspaper Hokkaido


Once again, my name is Ken and I’m from Mainichi Newspaper.

Ambassador, my first question is what is the purpose of your visit here to Hokkaido, and where will you be going?


Thank you. This is my first official visit to Hokkaido, and I'm here to pursue many important agendas. Firstly, Australia's energy partnership with Japan. We have some very important commercial partnerships with Hokkaido. I'm also here to learn about Hokkaido’s big, ambitious plans for semiconductors and digitalisation. I'm here also to meet Australian businesses, and to learn about our tourism connections. And I'm also here to learn about the institutions in Upopoy, for example, that promote Ainu culture and some of their exchanges with Australia.

Lastly, I was also very pleased to go to Hokkaido University to meet students and talk about education and research partnerships. So, it's a very busy agenda and I'm very pleased to be here, thank you.


What are your first impressions of Hokkaido, Ambassador?


I'm very impressed. It's very beautiful, the people are friendly, the food is delicious. and the government is obviously very serious about economic modernisation and decarbonisation. So, it's made a very strong impression on me.


You just mentioned something to do with the Hokkaido government and I believe that you met with Governor Suzuki this morning. Can I ask what it was that you spoke with him about today?


Well, we discussed the strong partnership between Australia and Hokkaido, our links in energy, in education, between First Nations people, and there was also an opportunity for it me to learn about the ambitious plan, on semiconductors, digitalisation, and data centres, as well as the renewable energy developments in this part of Japan. We had a very positive and productive discussion and I was very honoured and pleased to meet him.


The question I have next is about trends in terms of Australian tourism to Niseko and surrounds. It is an area that has had quite strong popularity among Australian tourists. But, given such things as the weak yen, I'm wondering what your opinions are, in terms of the trends for Australian tourism, in Hokkaido generally.


Well, to start with, for the whole of Japan there a record numbers of Australians traveling to Japan. Last year there was a record, this year we think we will break the record again.

Hokkaido is very popular. It's very popular in particular for winter sports and Niseko has been a big part of that story. Australian businesses and Australian individuals have been very important in the development of that very successful tourist resort.

Generally speaking, with such growth prospects, I think there will be more visitors from Australia to Hokkaido. Whether they will always or only go to Niseko, I don't know, but clearly there's a lot of growth potential in Japan for tourism.

All I can say is that I think it's a big opportunity for Australians to learn about Japan, to grow the friendship between our countries and societies.

As Ambassador of Australia, I hope we can encourage more Japanese to travel to Australia, because at the moment there are more Australians coming in this direction than there are Japanese visitors going to Australia. But I think the tourism story in Hokkaido is a really positive one, about the way Australia and Japan respect each other, appreciate each other, and how we can grow together.


What is it, from your perspective, Ambassador, that you think attracts Australian tourists, not just to Japan, but to Hokkaido especially?


Well, there are so many things, but let's start with the basics. I'm told it's some of the best powder snow in the world. So, you can't beat that.

But generally speaking, Australians like Japanese people, Australians trust Japan, Australians admire Japanese culture, they like Japanese food. When it's winter in Australia, it's summer in Japan. When it's summer, in Australia, it's winter in Japan. So, there's a counter-seasonal tourist travel that's very important.

Today in Australia, the Lowy Institute, which is a think tank, released a survey of public attitudes to international issues, and Japan is again seen by Australians as the most trusted country in Asia. So, there are many reasons. We like you and you have fantastic tourist offerings. So, it's a winning combination.


When it comes to Hokkaido and Niseko, and other, places there has been some discussion of, over tourism, rising costs as well. So, there is something of a trend to move away from international tourism in the public sentiment. So, I'd be interested to hear comments on these points.


Look, I can't really speak about the attitudes of the Japanese public. What I do know is that tourism is a very important economic industry in Australia, and presumably it's the same in Japan. Money goes very directly into local communities, foreigners bring foreign currency and they pay for goods and services, and they spend more on average per day than local people, because the foreigners are on holiday and having a good time.

It's a big economic boost. When there's been a lot of very quick growth and a big recovery after COVID, there's always some adjustment, and some communities may take time to get the infrastructure and services in place. And in a country with a tight labour supply, those can be issues as well.

It's not really for me to say, but my perspective would be that to focus on some of the adjustments required misses the great benefits that tourism bring. In Australia we want more tourists, not less, and where we have to adjust and regulate, we will. But broadly speaking, it's a positive.

Of course, every now and again there will be particular places that have to deal with overtourism and governments have ways of responding to that. But I think Japan is enjoying great success as a very popular tourist destination, and we wish it very well in that further development.


Changing the topic to the Ainu people of Hokkaido, of Japan, the indigenous population of this area, and of course Australia has its own First nations people as well.

So, I'd like to ask for your comments on these issues; Ainu issues in Japan in terms of the recovery of the rights of the Asian people and government policy with regards to our own indigenous population and comparison with similar policies and moves in your country.


I'm happy to talk about this.

Well, the first thing to say is that issues that are internal to Japan to do with Ainu people are really questions for Japanese, for the Japanese Government, and Japanese society, and Japanese people to work out.

In Australia we have a long and complicated history of relations between our indigenous people and the rest of Australian society, and there are still many challenges to overcome; social, economic, cultural, and in some respects political.

In many ways we are making some good progress. For example, we have ten Indigenous Australians, members of parliament, and we have two ministers who are First Nations Australians. There have been formal apologies for the Stolen Generation, which was where children, Indigenous children were removed from their families.

There is considerable effort to recognise and celebrate First Nations culture, and improve the social-economic and health outcomes for Indigenous people. But I think everyone would agree that there's still a lot of progress to be made and the issues are sometimes very complicated, and that have causes that often go back many generations.

So, it's complicated in Australia, but our government is very committed to advancing this agenda and to reflecting Indigenous Australian culture in our broader engagement with the world. And that requires considerable effort.

I assume many of the same issues apply in Japan, like they do in other countries. So, I can't comment specifically about your situation, but I do know that Ainu culture and institutions are yet another important link with Australia through our universities and First Nations institutions. So, I'm very committed to advancing that part of our partnership, as I am working in other areas as well.


I think we have made some progress in terms of Ainu in this part of the world as well, but that said, there still continues to be discrimination against the Ainu people in Japan. One glaring example would be the discriminatory comments made on social media by a parliamentarian by the name of Mio Sugita in recent years.

Given your position, I imagine it might be difficult for you to pass some comment on this particular point, but if you do have any, I'd be interested to hear it, and especially as ambassador of a country that also has an Indigenous population, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.


Thank you, for the question, but you're right that I can't comment about that specific issue. I can only speak for Australia and what happens in Australia. All I could say is in Australia there is no place for discrimination against people on the basis of their race, their culture, their nationality, their language, their identity, their gender, and certainly no tolerance for discrimination against Indigenous Australians. Although, there are still many inequalities that we have to address. So, Japan has its own issues and legacy to deal with, as we have in Australia.


In order to prevent discrimination against indigenous peoples, what sort of collaboration could engage in between our two countries.


I think it's always important for governments, especially ones that have a close and trusted partnership, to share lessons on public policy.

So, I think there is scope for dialogue and learning on both sides. And not just between Australia and Japan, but with other governments that also have First Nations populations. Governments like Canada and New Zealand. And of course, much more important than the governments, is to facilitate and enable communications between First Nations communities themselves.

Thank you.