And it could not have come sooner, after a PricewaterhouseCoopers report 'Passing Us By' revealed that Australia has not invested enough in trade relationships with the world's fastest growing region, especially in the ASEAN.
The New Columbo Plan aims to encourage university students to study in Asia and to develop closer ties and links as a result of cross-cultural experiences.
Hopefully such experiences will create a future involvement in and connection to Asian countries for both cultural and trade related purposes.
The Federal Government's New Columbo Plan is being piloted in four Indo-Pacific countries - Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade oversees the program that offers scholarships and mobility to Australian students to live, work and study in Asia.
The New Colombo Plan has a budget of $100 million to spend over five years on scholarships and in-country study support for semester, short course, internship and mentorship options.
Knowing the importance of investing in Asia-literate future leaders, three businesses within the private sector have recently partnered with the Australian Government to deliver training to support students taking up the mobility arm of the program.
ACICIS, an organisation that facilitates in-country study in Indonesia, will use its funding to make up to seventy scholarships available for students from eleven Australian consortium member universities for study in Indonesia.
Over twenty of those scholarships will be earmarked for students participating in the Jakarta Business Professional Practicum.
The funding will also enable ACICIS to develop a new semester program in Agriculture, Food Science and Resource Management.
ACICIS’ Consortium Director, Professor David Hill said that with the projected dramatic growth in the Indonesian economy over the next two decades, it is inevitable that Australian businesses in all sectors of the economy will need to understand and operate effectively in Indonesia and the Southeast Asian region.
"Any student graduating from a business degree program in Australia will benefit from a knowledge of the business environment in Indonesia," Professor Hill said.
According to ACICIS, the Jakarta Business Professional Practicum will be modeled closely on ACICIS’ highly successful, existing practicum programs in Development Studies and Journalism.
Students will undertake a two-week language course at Atma Jaya University in Jakarta, followed by a four-week internship placement at a Jakarta-based business organisation.
Placements will include small and medium enterprises, government departments, businesses in the banking and finance sector and the Indonesian stock exchange.
According to ACICIS, networks developed over the course of the placement will sow the seeds of increased engagement between Australian and Indonesian businesses.
The New Columbo Plan is not just vital to people to people relations but for Australia to take advantage of the opportunities to do business with its closest Asian neighbour, slated to become the world's seventh largest economy by 2030.
'Passing Us By' provides a worrying indictment of the current scale of investment and engagement - paltry in comparison with our investment in other countries with smaller populations and economies.
According to the report, last year, just 5.7 per cent of Australia’s foreign direct investment went into ASEAN countries.
"By contrast, Australia invested more in New Zealand, a country with less than four and a half million people and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 2.5 per cent," the report stated.
"The biggest issues seem to have at their core, problems in relation to culture, our willingness to deal with change and our ability to manage and operate in an Asian
"Putting it bluntly, Australian business has operated in a relatively sheltered, comfortable competitive environment. And we have become complacent."
The New Columbo Plan is a great step in the right direction to prepare a generation of bright and talented Australians to go forth and connect Australia to Indonesia's, indeed Asia's, rise and rise.
Lauren Gumbs is Blog Editor at Indonesia Today and Director of Social Media at the Indonesia Institute.