Address to the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI)

  • Speech, check against delivery

Thank you for that very warm introduction. I am delighted to be here this morning, and thank you Antonio, for the warm welcome, and I see some friends – Pedro, wonderful to catch up with you again – in the audience this morning. I'm really delighted to be in Argentina on the first leg of a ten day visit through Latin America and the Caribbean and there is not a moment to be wasted.

I began this morning by taking a long run through the streets of Buenos Aires, and at pre-dawn you can still get the vibrancy of this city. I have just met with a number of Argentinian women at a breakfast at our hotel – they were from business, academia, politics, journalism, fashion, banking and IT. Most certainly the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise and the energy of the women in that room I believe epitomises contemporary Argentina. I've long been an admirer of Argentina's capacity in science and technological innovation. Indeed, when I was Australia's education and science minister in 2006, I well recall shutting down Australia's old nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney, as the new OPAL nuclear reactor built by the Argentinian company INVAP came online, giving Australia an edge in nuclear medicine and radio pharmaceuticals. It was a milestone in our bilateral relationship.

For Australia, this is an exciting time to be more deeply engaged in your part of the world.

Two continents separated by the widest ocean on earth – and yet, in a globalised world, our two countries have a greater capacity to work together than ever before.

Australia and Argentina share a firm resolve to respond to global challenges – to counter terrorism, to reduce poverty, enhance human rights, control the flow of arms and unregulated migration, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and better manage global resources.

Now, these are all significant commitments.

However, I believe that one global challenge stands out as the key area for cooperation between Australia and Argentina, and other Latin American nations.

That is the collective management of the global economy, at a time when the international rules-based order is under strain.

A stronger global economy is conducive to underpinning the international rules-based order, and that is fundamental to peace and prosperity.

Today, the international economy – like the global community – is more interconnected than ever before.

Globalisation has delivered extraordinary benefits.

Since 1990, it has helped lift more than a billion people out of poverty.

It has helped to rapidly expand the global middle class.

Yet in many parts of the world, our interdependent global economy is increasingly coming under pressure from protectionist sentiment and behaviour.

International collaboration has – on some issues – been put behind nationalist, self-interested instincts – that may seem to make sense to a domestic audience, yet inevitably lead to decline.

Rapid change is undeniably challenging.

Ours is a time of unprecedented technological innovation – and most traditional sectors and industries are experiencing major disruption.

Many point to international trade as the source of their troubles and in the last year in particular, it has become a scapegoat in political quarters.

Unfortunately, as history has shown, protectionism is at odds with the benefits of globalisation – for, it is proven that international trade stimulates economic growth.

Half of the slowdown in productivity growth since the Global Financial Crisis of 2006 has been due to declining participation in international trade.

A retreat into protectionism causes economic contraction and that hits the poor the hardest.

The best defence against protectionism, of course, is success – policies that help drive new economic growth, new jobs, and new industries, in countries all around the world.

Global coordination of economic policies is our best hope of enabling all countries to benefit from their comparative advantages.

That includes ensuring the benefits are shared equitably throughout societies.

There are long established international institutions that have helped us reform the global economy over the last 70 years.

More recently the G20 has demonstrated its capacity to promote productive economic integration and to counter protectionism.

We also put a high priority on the World Trade Organization.

Now comprising 164 nations, and subject to increasing influence from non-government organisations, the WTO has its challenges, however it remains the cornerstone of international trade arrangements.

Big multilateral trade outcomes such as the Uruguay Round are harder to achieve although sectoral and incremental outcomes are still possible.

We must work harder to preserve the integrity of the system – and to move it forward.

The international system faces serious strategic stress: nuclear brinkmanship on the Korean Peninsula; breakdown, conflict and terrorism in the Middle East with associated humanitarian crises; Brexit and uncertainty in Europe.

There is a new administration in Washington that has taken different positions from its predecessor on trade and climate change.

In Australia's region, China's rise is an achievement of historic proportions, and in some ways a development miracle.

China's rise, and that of India, Indonesia and others are crucial to the achievement of our international commitment to end poverty.

We look to China to play a constructive role in the international system, helping to shoulder the burden of global challenges.

Now, these challenges are profound, although Australia is optimistic about the strength of the international system.

We believe strongly that it has the capacity to evolve in ways that sustain the benefits.

Yes, the system will have to adapt to the realities of 21st Century shifts in relative power.

New institutions, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and new alliances are emerging.

While the Bretton Woods institutions, and the WTO, are under pressure, they are showing resilience.

The United Nations, for all its flaws, retains universal investment and regard among states.

Australia, like Argentina, remains a strong supporter of the United Nations.

As the world's 13th largest economy, we are the 12th largest contributor to the UN regular budget and 11th largest to the UN Peacekeeping budget.

The success of our multilateral institutions ultimately depends upon the commitment of members to contribute.

Like Argentina, Australia is committed to assisting the new UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to reform the UN system to make it as effective and efficient as possible.

That includes helping advance the cause of human rights around the world.

Australia has launched a bid to serve on the UN's Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term.

We believe that we would bring a unique perspective given that Australia is arguably the most successful, and diverse multicultural society on earth.

We are proud to be the home of the world's oldest continuous culture, and our Indigenous people are represented in every aspect of public life – in parliament, in government, in sport, in the arts.

Gender equality is enshrined in our laws, and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, disability, age, religion has long been illegal in Australia.

Strong, liberal-democratic institutions underpin our free, peaceful and prosperous society, attracting people from all over the world.

Indeed, people from virtually every nation on earth have migrated to Australia over time and have integrated into our communities.

If elected, we would be the first Pacific nation to serve on the Human Rights Council.

I welcome the opportunity to share perspectives with Argentina on the international rules-based system, and how and where we can collaborate to ensure it endures.

It's particularly encouraging that, in the last year or so, Argentina and Australia have re-energised our relationship.

We have shared perspectives on processes of economic reform.

And this has been a major theme during recent visits, including the delegation of Argentinian ministers to Australia, led by Vice President Michetti, in March of 2017.

Our Governor General visited in 2016 and the President of our Senate more recently.

It is our experience after decades of reform to enhance our international economic competitiveness, that we have delivered both national prosperity and international influence.

These decades of reform have resulted in 26 years of continuous economic growth.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, Australia and Argentina were top ten economies.

In 1901, at Federation, when our modern political system was established, we largely took the path of inward-looking economic management – a grand bargain in which we thought our natural-resource advantages would protect Australia from the vagaries of the world market.

It was not until the 1980s, that we began to make significant change in opening up our economy.

We floated the dollar, wound back tariff walls, and began a series of reforms to expose our industries to international competition.

By 1990, even though the process of opening up had begun, the cost of decades of reliance on protectionism became clear – we had slipped to 19th in the international ranks of GDP per capita.

Through long, concerted effort in opening our economy to the world and largely supported by both major political parties, we ranked 11th by 2016.

Along the way, we rode out successive downturns without economic contraction – the Asian Financial Crisis, the Dotcom Crash, the Global Financial Crisis.

We shifted our focus from unproductive, protected industry, linked to government largesse, to productive investment in skills, in education and our competitive advantages.

By 2015, Australia ranked equal second on the UN's Human Development Index.

In 2016, according to Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report, we were the second wealthiest nation, measured by wealth per adult.

A number of international organisations, including the IMF and the OECD, in analysing Australia's record have found that the government's reform programs were substantially responsible for our success.

Four aspects of these reforms were particularly important.

First, we established an evidence base to guide policy development.

Objective analysis of the costs of protectionism, incurred by all consumers and all businesses, established that everyone would do better if we embraced international competition instead. In that spirit, I congratulate the Macri Government for the reforms to Argentina's statistics agency.

I am delighted that Argentina is interested in our Productivity Commission – the Australian Government's independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, science and environmental issues that affect the welfare of Australians – which has played an important role in our reform journey.

Australia has gained much from objective analysis and we believe this is a lesson for others.

Second, we recognised that to be internationally competitive and adaptive, we needed to invest, not in relatively inefficient industries, but in education and innovation.

For example, the Turnbull Government's recent $1.1 billion National Science and Innovation Agenda – focusses on investing in start-ups and training, and in women taking STEM subjects and careers, to make our economy as nimble as possible in a world where the pace and scale of change is unprecedented.

We also realised that welcoming foreign direct investment more readily, would have a significant effect on our capacity to grow and innovate.

The United States is now Australia's largest foreign direct investor.

Third, we understood that for economic reform to work, all levels of government and all major institutions had to adopt comparable disciplines.

From 1995, the Federal Government has prioritised competition policy, which provided incentives and penalties to encourage reform at all levels of government throughout our nation.

According to our Productivity Commission, competition policy alone has lifted productivity and added about 2.5 per cent to GDP.

Australia has shared some of these lessons in microeconomic reform with Argentina as well as Chile, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Uruguay.

As another example of our collaboration, Argentina has taken up Australia Awards Fellowship Grants, enabling, this year, 15 Argentine fellows and colleagues to visit Australia in February.

Major Argentine institutions were represented, including the Congress, the Senate, provincial governments and municipal governments.

Fourth and finally, we saw that modern Australia has the capacity to shape our international environment.

Year by year we became more closely linked to a wider range of partners, especially in Asia, the Indo-Pacific and also globally.

Their prosperity and security directly influenced ours.

We benefitted increasingly from the global institutions and rules that underpinned international trade and security.

This is now embedded in our thinking.

A recently released national poll on Australian opinions about the world, produced by Australia's Lowy Institute, found more than three quarters of Australians felt globalisation was mostly good for the country.

More Australian businesses have adopted an internationally ambitious mindset, and have become less defensive in the face of international competition.

This has added extra energy to our foreign and trade policy.

Alongside our close Latin American allies in the Cairns Group, we played a leading role in the Uruguay Round of multilateral negotiations, and made an heroic effort to conclude the Doha Round – unfortunately without the success it deserved.

We have an ambitious trade agenda, having concluded ten high quality free trade agreements – United States, Singapore, ASEAN countries, China, Japan, and Korea.

We are negotiating with, or about to launch negotiations with the European Union, eventually the UK, the Pacific Alliance, Peru and others.

While the United States has withdrawn from the TPP the remaining 11 members are determined to finalise the agreement.

In embracing the rigours of international competitiveness, Australia has become increasingly seized of the need for international cooperation.

Australia very much welcomes Argentina's return to the international stage as a major regional player and a like-minded partner.

At the very moment that some are looking inwardly, Argentina has joined the forces engaged in the stand against protectionism and economic nationalism.

Argentina is to be applauded for its commitment and we look forward to working with Argentina as it hosts the meeting of WTO Trade Ministers in December this year and as it chairs the G20 in 2018.

These will be critical opportunities to send a clear message about our joint commitment to a multilateral rules-based trading system.

May I also state unequivocally Australia strongly supports Argentina's accession to the OECD.

Given its commitment to openness and the transformation of its economy, Argentina should rightly take its place in this forum dedicated to the market economy and democracy.

As a fellow member of the G20, and an important regional player with significant growth potential, Argentina would undoubtedly bring new insights and perspectives to the OECD.

It is essential that all like-minded countries including in Latin America support for the norms and rules that underpin international peace and prosperity.

I am delighted that Australia and Latin America through the Council on Australia Latin American Relations – or COALAR as it is called – is promoting the open trade and investment between Australia and Latin America. I acknowledge the presence of my good friend from Perth, Western Australia, Chris Gale, who is present as the Chair of COALAR.

Ladies and gentlemen, these times call for leadership from us all.

For more than 60 years, we benefitted from an international order in which the United States and Europe set the agenda, and the United States was the protector and guarantor of that order.

Today, China has entered the top league.

When these three cooperate, they can produce important public goods, as we saw in Paris in December 2015.

Yet it is fair to say that the trajectory of relations between the US and China is uncertain.

This is arguably the most significant bilateral relationship in the world today.

While the United States will continue to be the world's preeminent power, its friends and allies and partners have a major role to play.

In our part of the world, the ten nations that make up ASEAN have an important role in promoting stability and economic prosperity in South East Asia.

Often, one country, driving an issue in coalition with others, can make an enormous difference.

The United States following the Second World War is the preeminent example.

But consider also: the part France played in sealing the Paris climate accord in 2015; Canada and the Ottawa Treaty of 1997 on anti-personnel landmines; and Australia's part in resolving conflict in Cambodia in the 1990s, in East Timor in 1998 and Solomon Islands, together with other Pacific Island countries, in 2002.

More countries around the world, ours included, should consider how we can do more to promote the international rules-based order.

I am preparing a Foreign Policy White Paper at present to guide our thinking and responses over the next decade.

It will look at how we can protect and strengthen international rules to guide the behaviour of states.

In a more contested and competitive world, we need to work more closely with countries with shared perspectives and interests.

The White Paper will also look at how we can promote open economies and facilitate the movement of goods, services, capital and skilled workers.

Free people and free markets.

Keeping the global economy open is in all our interests.

Australia has found that our hard-won open economy has given us both the means and the motivation to increase our international influence.

We look for opportunity and partners globally, and see significant potential in Argentina and more broadly in Latin America.

During my meetings today – facilitated by our Ambassador Noel Campbell – with ministerial counterparts we will explore opportunities for us to engage more deeply across a diverse range of issues of mutual importance.

Let us ensure that the Argentine/Australia relationship flourishes and endures.

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