The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
 FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AUSTRALIA

Speeches

Canberra, 12 February, 2003

White Paper on Foreign Affairs & Trade: Advancing the National Interest

Ladies and gentlemen

The Howard Government produced the first ever White Paper on Australian foreign and trade policy some five years ago.

Today, the Government is releasing the second such White Paper.

Advancing the National Interest, as we've called it, sets out the Government's strategies for advancing the security and prosperity of Australians in a world that has changed in many important ways.

Australians have every reason to be confident about our prospects in the world.

Our values as a liberal, democratic society - of tolerance, opportunity and a fair go - inform our dealings with the world, and how the world sees us.

The Government's successful economic management has made Australians more prosperous, and has lifted our international standing quiet significantly.

Our defences against terrorism are stronger, and our borders have been made more secure. In our region, we assisted East Timor's transition to independence and helped settle the destructive conflict in Bougainville. We have played a valuable role in defeating terrorism in Afghanistan.

But Australia's world is an uncertain world. It has changed in important respects since the launch of the first White Paper in 1997.

Then we focused, at least in part, on how Australia would respond to the challenges of economic globalisation. Our response has been successful, as we saw during the Asian financial crisis, when the Australian economy continued to grow strongly.

Today, we now find ourselves grappling with what could be coined the increasing globalisation of security threats.

The horrific bombings in Bali last year were a manifestation of global terrorism.

The continuing efforts of states like Iraq and North Korea to acquire weapons of mass destruction are worrying in themselves. The possibility that terrorists might gain access to such weapons even more so.

We face serious transnational threats - people smuggling, drug trafficking, the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and the tensions that could arise from shortages of resources, for example shortages of water.

And regional security threats remain of great concern. The Asia-Pacific region contains three major flashpoints - the Taiwan Strait, the Korean peninsula and Kashmir.

The terrorist threat from Islamic extremism, importantly, is not limited by geography.

It has a particular edge for Australia in South-East Asia. But it threatens Australians around the globe.

These terrorists are not amenable to negotiation.

They oppose the tolerant message of Islam. They target the citizens and values of Western countries. And they seek to overthrow moderate Islamic governments.

The Government has taken strong domestic measures against terrorism.

But no country can deal with this threat on its own. No countries are islands in the terrorists' world.

The success of the joint Indonesian-Australian investigation into the Bali bombings has shown how much we can all gain from cooperation.

So the Government will continue to strengthen counter-terrorist cooperation with our Asian neighbours, of course with Indonesia, but also others in the region, and help build their counter-terrorist capabilities.

But terrorism is a global threat. Working in and with our region is only part of the answer.

We will work closely with those countries that can produce the intelligence and bring to bear the resources that are needed to combat terrorism.

The United States is clearly a key ally in this respect. The United Kingdom and other partners are also important.

Multilaterally, we will work to freeze the finances and restrict the movements of terrorist groups.

The Bali bombings were an unprecedented test of the Government's consular assistance to Australians abroad.

And remember, more than one million Australians are overseas at any one time, and we must work to ensure that our consular services are the best available.

Ladies and gentlemen

The desire of terrorists to inflict civilian casualties on a large scale makes the need to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction all the more urgent.

Proliferation is best handled multilaterally, and Australia will remain at the forefront of multilateral efforts.

Continuation of the status quo with regard to Iraq, however, is not acceptable.

The United Nations Security Council must shoulder the burden of collective responsibility, and act to ensure international security.

If the international community does not act now, it will deliver the next generation an even more difficult problem of proliferation - or we rely on those willing to act now.

Collective action based on collective responsibility is a great challenge for our age.

Through our aid program, and our practical advocacy, we encourage others to benefit from good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights.

Increasingly, it will be issues of good governance that will separate those countries that prosper from those that don't in a globalised economy.

We want the United Nations to reform its treaty body machinery and other programs to work more effectively for those ends.

Ladies and gentlemen

The success of Australia's global strategies - trade and economic, as well as security - depends on the strength of our bilateral relations in different regions of the world.

The Government will consolidate and expand those links.

Australia does occupy a unique intersection of history, geography and culture.

We are a Western country, located in the Asia-Pacific region, with close ties and affinities with North America and Europe, and a history of active engagement in Asia.

Our links with different parts of the world are mutually reinforcing.

An advance we make in any relationship need not be at the expense of others.

Close engagement with the countries of Asia is an abiding priority for Australia. It has been for a long time and still is.

The Government is committed to working closely with our Asian partners on the basis of mutual respect and shared interests.

Australia's success in winning the contract to supply liquefied natural gas to China - our largest-ever single export deal - showed that our political and technological strengths work well for us in Asia.

The Government is pursuing a program of regional economic integration with Asia that is unmatched in Australia's history.

That program, together with our growing counter-terrorism cooperation, our contribution to regional problems like people smuggling, and our strong security links, are all practical measures that involve Australia in the broader dynamic of regional cooperation in East Asia.

Australia's links with the United States are, of course, fundamental for our security and prosperity.

The global pre-eminence of the United States is clear and it is likely to continue.

The United States is our closest security ally and our largest single trade and investment partner.

The free trade agreement that the Government is negotiating with the United States could put our economic relationship on a footing similar to our close security relationship, based on the successful ANZUS alliance.

Our alliance remains highly relevant to changing security circumstances - such as our formal dialogue on counter-terrorism.

There are important issues - such as multilateral arms control and US trade protectionism - on which we and the United States disagree.

The Government will use its close ties with the United States to argue forcefully when US actions do not suit Australian interests.

In the South Pacific, Australia has a particular responsibility to help the small, fragile island countries deal with deep-seated problems.

But we can help effectively only if the Pacific island countries are prepared to help themselves.

We are not a neo-colonial power. We can't impose solutions.

Our links with New Zealand, let me say, are uniquely close. We continue to pursue an ambitious program of economic integration. But remember we are two separate, sovereign countries, with all that this implies.

The European Union, which is expanding and deepening, is increasingly important for Australia.

We will use our strong bilateral links with EU member states, particularly the United Kingdom, to complement our direct dealings with the institutions of the Union.

Geography has never been the sole determinant of Australia's international links.

In a world of global economic integration, and global security threats, we will increasingly consider our global links less in geographic terms, and more in terms of shared specific interests.

Latin American countries, for example, are key allies in our effort to ensure that global trade negotiations liberalise trade in agriculture.

The coalitions with which we work on issues such as terrorism, trade, global climate change and resource protection include a wide range of countries.

Ladies and gentlemen

Australia is well placed to meet the challenges of a fluid and uncertain security environment and the tests that economic globalisation imposes upon us.

We have clear goals - the advancement of the security and prosperity of Australians.

We have enormous domestic assets and strong international relationships.

We have clear strategies.

The White Paper sets these out forcefully - and here I would like to acknowledge the contribution made to the White Paper by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Ashton Calvert, and his officers, in particular Gillian Bird and Ric Wells.

I commend the White Paper to you. Thank you.