Address to Polish Institute of International Affairs

  • Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)


I am absolutely delighted to address the Polish Institute of International Affairs on this, my first visit to Warsaw as Australia's Foreign Minister.

My visit comes at a time of great uncertainty when the events taking place on your doorstep are engaging the attention of the world.

Let me state at the outset the position of the Australian Government regarding Ukraine - Russia's actions are at odds with international law; they pose a direct challenge to the integrity of the rules based international order.

Russia has not only breached the UN Charter, but specifically the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that gave Ukraine security guarantees. Its annexation of Crimea has no legitimate justification. I will reference this in more detail later in my speech, but I think the events of the past weeks are a stark reminder that peace and stability cannot be taken for granted, a reminder of how quickly the world can change, and that the work of diplomats is never-ending.

Indeed, on the train trip between Geneva and Zurich this week, I was contemplating the significance of this issue, how some things change but others never do. And it took me back to my years at university, coming up forty years ago (not quite), but I remember studying international law in my final year and my essay topic for my final exam was 'The Warsaw Pact and its implications for NATO'. As everyone in this room knows, the Warsaw Pact was the Soviet Union's retaliation, if you like, for West Germany entering NATO in 1955 - a defence and security response that existed until 1991 so it made me think perhaps history is repeating itself ?

As Australia's 38th Foreign Minister, and the Shadow Minister for four years prior, I have long pondered the role of diplomacy as the essential and enduring element of statecraft, and at the responsibilities of working in the diplomatic world we inhabit.

Poland and Australia do not, on the face of it, live in the same geo-political universe.

Indeed, as Foreign Minister Sikorski said of Poland when he visited Australia last year:

"In modern times, we Poles have had some geopolitical insecurities."

The Minister clearly shares the Australian habit for understatement.

The very fact that this era is called the "Third Polish Republic" speaks of the extraordinarily long and tumultuous history of your country.

During the years of Australia's early European settlement, Poland was removed from the world map and ceased to exist as a sovereign nation.

Then in just the past half a century alone, Poland has been variously labelled as part of Eastern or Central or Northern Europe.

Australia, by contrast, has enjoyed a very short, but uniquely stable evolution as a sovereign nation.

Our nation was born in a vote at the ballot box, not through a revolution.

And our island status has given a stability to our borders that's barely imaginable in European history.

But nonetheless, for parts of our history we have, like Poland, felt a deep sense of strategic insecurity – fuelled largely by our sense of isolation.

Before the advent of modern communications, the vast ocean borders to both our east and west placed us a very long way from the world's historic centres of power in Europe and North America.

But that isolation, once lamented as a "tyranny of distance", is the very factor that has helped forge modern Australia.

From our earliest days, Australian Governments have recognised the need to find our home in our own neighbourhood.

To be a nation at ease in Asia, despite our European colonial heritage.

That drive towards our own region – the Indian Ocean, the Asia Pacific – has gathered pace through the past half century.

Indeed, sixty years ago, RG Casey, one of Australia's longest serving Ministers, said in a book he entitled "Friends and Neighbours":

"…an appreciable part of our activity in the field of foreign affairs must be devoted to the task of studying and developing closer relations with our Asian neighbours."

We have known for a long time, across the spectrum of Australian politics, as governments have come and gone, that Australia's future lies with the nations of our region – not the Far East as the Europeans used to say – but our Near North.

At no time has that been more true than today.

The rise of China is the most significant strategic realignment of our time, but it isn't the only one.

The truth is, our whole region of the Indo-Pacific is undergoing a series of significant economic, social and political transformations.

The globe's centres of power are now closer to Australia than ever before.

Australia and Asia / Regional strategic challenges

There can be no doubt that in the past thirty years the world's economic centres of gravity have shifted to Asia – driven largely by the astounding economic transformations of first, Japan, then South Korea, now China and, increasingly, the nations of Southeast Asia.

Australia has been an undoubted beneficiary of this phenomenon.

For decades, Japan was our largest trading partner, and remains, to this day, our second largest.

But our prosperity over the past decade has greatly benefited from China's industrialisation and urbanisation.

The Chinese demand for Australian resources -- iron ore, LNG, coal -- and services including financial, higher education has supported an extraordinary period of economic growth and increased prosperity.

Australia is entering its 23rd consecutive year of economic growth.

And it's not confined to Australia.

China's growth has contributed to the growing prosperity of the region.

And where prosperity grows, peace and stability follow.

We have witnessed this in our own region for the past 40 years.

But China's rise, for all its benefits, is not without challenges.

How we manage that rise, taking into account the interests of other major regional players – Japan, South Korea and the United States – will be one of most important challenges of this period in Australia's, indeed the region's, history.

Because, despite such a long period of regional stability, there are still unresolved tensions, historic in nature, and territorial claims, for example over the East and South China Seas. These are yet to be resolved.

While we don't take a position on the competing claims, Australia has a legitimate interest – as do our neighbours – in maintaining peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation.

We are acutely aware that 60 per cent of our merchandise trade passes through the South China Sea, as does most of Europe's $860 billion trade with North East Asia.

And we have made clear Australia's desire for our territorial claimants to refrain from actions that could increase tensions and to clarify and pursue claims in accordance with international law and an ASEAN inspired Code of Conduct.

This kind of strategic insecurity you understand all too well in this part of the world.

So I believe there's value in sharing our experiences in our respective regions to build common ground for the resolution of disputes through appropriate, legal channels.

From Australia's perspective, security in our own region, and in the world more broadly, is best secured through a combination of approaches.

Uncertainty underlines the need for strong, resilient bilateral relationships between the region's key players.

Often, these are built upon the foundation of trade, which is why the Australian Government has put "economic diplomacy" at the heart of its foreign policy.

Australia has long enjoyed a strong trading relationship with China long before we normalised diplomatic relations with the People's Republic in 1972.

We signed a commerce agreement with Japan little more than a decade after the end of World War II – when there was still deep resentment in parts of the Australian population towards Japan.

Strong economic relationships can pave the way for more trusting, mutually beneficial and fulfilling diplomatic relations between nations.

That's certainly the experience of our own region.

So just as the goal of traditional diplomacy is peace, the goal of economic diplomacy is peace and prosperity.

Further we believe in strong and effective regional and global multilateral institutions and an adherence to international norms of behaviour.

Australia's interests, and I would argue the interests of other nations in our neighbourhood, are best served by a coherent, transparent collaborative international rules-based order.

I have high hopes for the capacity of the East Asia Summit to serve the region's security interests.

It has the membership and the mandate to become the region's pre-eminent multilateral grouping – and, importantly, it brings together regional leaders for annual talks.

Crucially, it includes the United States among its members.

Because, for 70 years, the United States' presence in the Asia-Pacific has acted as a stabilising force.

Which is why Australia will continue to work together with the United States to support its policy of rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

Our growing ties to our own neighbourhood have never come at the expense of our relationship with our only treaty alliance partner, the United States.

Our partnership with the United States was the cornerstone of our security policy throughout the 20th Century and remains so in the 21st..

As the former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, put it, so well: Australia does not need to choose between its history and its geography.

We are fortunate to be so well placed to reap the benefits of both.


But if ever we needed a reminder of how quickly so-called strategic 'certainties' can change, the experience just across your border, in Ukraine, is a sharp one.

At the end of the Cold War, we could be forgiven for thinking that Europe had moved into a period of enduring strategic certainty.

In the past month we have witnessed how suddenly events can change and after the swift annexation of Crimea we ponder whether this Russian-inspired crisis is at its beginning or its end.

Either way, in pursuing its current course of action, Russia has chosen a path towards isolation.

It is undermining its own standing and credibility, and its relations with other States – and increasingly, it raises the prospect of armed conflict.

This is not just a concern for Ukraine.

It is a serious concern for the people of Europe, and for countries including Australia, who seek to promote a rules-based international order, and global security.

Australia has vigorously supported a strong UN Security Council response to the Russian aggression.

We co-sponsored the UN Security Council resolution that reaffirmed fundamental principles of the UN Charter and commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

While that resolution was vetoed by Russia it is worth noting that no other member voted against it.

It is Australia's view that there is no legitimate basis for Russia's acquisition of part of Ukraine's territory.

A vote, not authorised by Ukraine, carried out while Russian forces were effectively in control of Crimea, cannot form the legitimate basis for any change to Crimea's status.

This is why Australia, along with other allies and friends, has imposed financial sanctions and travel bans against Russian and Ukrainian individuals who we believe have been instrumental in Russia's threat to Ukraine's territorial sovereignty.

We don't take these steps lightly, but do so as a sign of solidarity.

And only after repeatedly urging Russia to de-escalate and engage in dialogue.

Australia recognises and commends the leadership of Poland, and of Foreign Minister Sikorski, on this issue.

We will continue to use our membership of the UN Security Council to ensure the Council remains focused on the situation in Ukraine.

We also worked to build support for this week's important UN General Assembly resolution supporting Ukraine's territorial integrity that was adopted on 27 March with 100 votes in favour.

We are at a critical point–for Ukraine, the region and the integrity of a rules-based international order.

We all – Poland, Australia indeed all the nations of the world – have a direct interest for the preservation of that order.

President Putin must be dissuaded from further incursions deeper into Ukraine.

It is not too late for Russia to turn back from its provocative path and we again urge it to do so.

For the stability, peace and prosperity of Russia itself, of Europe and of the wider world.

Energy security

Another challenge facing the EU as it moves to censure Russia's behaviour is the size of its dependence on Russian energy exports.

Indeed, in the 21st century, energy security is one of the critical issues underlying geo-strategic stability.

Energy underlies both the economic competitiveness and the social cohesion of many nations.

Energy importers including Poland are seeking to increase domestic production.

But in addition, securing diverse and reliable energy supplies is a foreign policy priority.

For energy exporters, like Australia, our priority is to maintain regional stability, to ensure the reliability of our energy exports to the world.

Our nations are either side of the same coin.

It means we can work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to achieve both our goals.

Australia is well-placed to work much more closely with Poland, and Europe, to meet your energy needs.

Energy is a business we know well, and one in which we have long experience.

Australia is the world's second biggest exporter of coal and we're home to almost a third of the globe's discovered uranium. We're the third largest exporter of uranium and we're also the world's third biggest LNG exporter.

By 2018, we expect to be the biggest.

One of the world's largest natural gas projects valued in excess of $55 b is being developed by Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell off the coast of my home state of Western Australia.

Chevron is also investing heavily in shale gas exploration and it's a fortunate position for Australia.

It means we have great capacity to share our knowledge and to contribute to the world's energy needs.

The construction of Poland's first LNG terminal in the north west of your country is, in my view, a far-sighted decision.

LNG is a growth industry.

It makes sense for us to share our experiences and expertise, particularly in burgeoning new areas like shale gas, which Poland is also beginning to explore.

It's an energy source of the future, and one that has the capacity to even out some of Europe's energy imbalances.

As your Prime Minister Tusk has said "secure gas deliveries are now a key condition of sovereignty".

This week I met Foreign Minister Sikorski and other leaders and ministers at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. This is another area where we can collaborate for Australia is ranked first in the world for the security of its nuclear materials and Poland plans to repatriate highly-enriched uranium from its research reactor by 2016.

Indeed, today Foreign Minister Sikorski and I had a wide ranging discussion covering the global and regional agenda in the areas of security, we discussed bilateral trade and investment opportunities and we discussed and announced the working holiday visa for our young people, aged between 18 and 30, seeking an adventure on the other side of the world, and deepening their understanding of our respective countries.


Although we live in different parts of the globe, Poland and Australia are so often like-minded and share many common interests.

We understand each other's security and strategic challenges – those of rising powers and changing regional dynamics.

And Australia particularly recognises the very serious strategic uncertainty currently facing Ukraine, and Poland and its neighbours.

We're committed to building closer ties in the future.

Our friendship of course goes back a long way.

In 1941, Polish soldiers fought alongside Australians in one of the most celebrated battles of my country's military history – the siege of Tobruk. Radio Berlin described our troops as trapped like rats – and they, with dry Australian humour, took it as a badge of honour. The 14,000 soldiers besieged by General Rommel called themselves the Rats of Tobruk.

The Polish brigade, however, broke through to end the siege and so they were bestowed a real token of mateship when our troops called them "Tobruk Rats". After the war a group of stateless Tobruk Rats were sponsored to Australia by the troops that they had helped save: many of them helped build one our most iconic and important pieces of infrastructure – the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.

But it's slightly less well known that in 1943 and 44, in the midst of the Second World War, Australia became responsible for representing the interests of Poles who found themselves living in the then Soviet Union.

It was complex and difficult undertaking which other allied nations had eschewed, but Australia stepped in, and we have been repaid many times over by our migrant Polish community in Australia.

The sons and daughters of Poland have contributed to Australian life and society in untold ways.

Our nations have stood together in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

And as Foreign Minister, I look forward to continuing this strong friendship and partnership. Long may it endure.

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