ASEAN – Australia Dialogue: closing dinner

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and thank you Professor Michael Wesley for that introduction, and I acknowledge the many Ambassadors and Excellencies here this evening. Professor Gareth Evans, my former ministerial colleagues, Andrew Robb and Stephen Smith, and Dr Natalegawa and Dr Pangetsu, our dear friends from Indonesia, and all of the distinguished guests here this evening.

I particularly thank PWC. Luke, thank you and the Organising Committee for this ASEAN-Australia Dialogue. It is as welcome as it is unprecedented in bringing together nine institutions and we will greatly benefit from the collective wisdom of these institutions who will be looking to find ways to deepen our engagement with ASEAN, and, so, I most certainly welcome that initiative.

The story of ASEAN is as compelling as it is exciting.

Fifty one years ago, on 8 August 1967, five nations of Southeast Asia came together - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – and they recognised the need to promote economic, growth social progress, cultural development, and peace and stability in Southeast Asia, and what a vision it was.

At that time, the then-Foreign Minister of Australia, the Minister for External Affairs, was Sir Paul Hasluck, who, in fact, is the predecessor plus one in my seat of Curtin in Western Australia and Sir Paul was the first to welcome the establishment of ASEAN back in 1967.

Then seven years later, in 1974, Australia became the first Dialogue Partner of ASEAN.

And, again, we were very clear-eyed about this. We recognised that the sea lanes of Southeast Asia were vital for us, that the security challenges facing the region demanded, required, a collective regional response and we knew that the economic prosperity of these five important economies was of vital importance to Australia, the region and, as it turns out, globally.

Of course, the relationship advanced from 1974. It culminated, in the economic sense, with a free trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN in 2010.

In 2013, we established our first ASEAN diplomatic post with a dedicated ASEAN Ambassador located in Jakarta.

In 2014, we elevated the ASEAN-Australia relationship to a Strategic Partnership.

In 2015, we announced the biennial ASEAN-Australia Summit.

And now, of course, in 2018, this weekend, Prime Minister Turnbull will host the Australian-ASEAN Leaders Summit in Sydney.

Bringing together the leaders of virtually all of the ASEAN nations, nine leaders will be present, plus Prime Minister Turnbull, and the delegations are at a very high level.

If one were to assess ASEAN against its own standards, that is, peace and prosperity and progress, then it has been an overwhelmingly success and the raw statistics tell the story.

Back in 1967, the GDP per capita of the five nations was $156. If you look at the GDP per capita today of the ten, it is over $5150.

In 1967 the trading activities of the five ASEAN nations amounted to something like $13 billion. Today the trading activities of the 10 ASEANs are in the trillions, about $3 trillion.

In other areas, like life expectancy: back in 1967, it was 56 years of age; today it is 71 years of age.

This growth that we've seen in the ASEAN countries has been alongside the significant dynamism and growth that we have seen in other countries in the region – particularly Northeast Asia – countries like Japan from the 1960s, South Korea from the 1970s and China from the 1980s.

We are also seeing – and this brings me to the point about the Indo-Pacific – we are seeing significant growth, economically-speaking, in India, Bangladesh and other countries.

So, in order to continue the economic growth that we have seen in our region, that includes North Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and beyond, we have to continue to promote open, free, liberalised trade and investment. It is more important than ever for us to continue the economic growth that we have seen exemplified by the ASEANs through open, free, liberalised trade and investment, and embrace it. I believe that ASEAN is uniquely positioned to be a champion for the liberalised trade and investment that our region, our globe, so desperately needs.

Last year the Prime Minister, the Trade Minister and I released the Foreign Policy White Paper, the first comprehensive Foreign Policy White Paper in 14 years. It is a comprehensive paper, a blue print for our international engagement, our international activities over the next decade and beyond.

We identify in the White Paper the Indo-Pacific as being our area of major interest and priority. It is not just a geographic area. It is the concept between the nations of the Indian Ocean, the nations of Asia and the nations of the Pacific. It is not a term that I invented, but it is most certainly one I adopted. And I recall having a conversation with Marty Natalegawa when I was Shadow Foreign Minister about the Indo-Pacific because it reflected the fact that Australia was bound by two great oceans – the Indian, the Pacific – with Asia to our north.

We believe that ASEAN is an exemplar when it comes to free trade and the example of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement is one.

More recently, notwithstanding the fact that the United States had pulled out of the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership 12, we went ahead, in the face of a great deal of scepticism I might say, and negotiated and finalised the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 member nations which was signed in Santiago on Friday. Among those 11 nations, there are four ASEAN nations – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, joining Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Chile, Peru. The TPP-11 is a significant free trade agreement and it sets a very high standard. It's comprehensive, it's high quality, it's currently the gold standard in free trade agreements. So, at its core are a number of significant ASEAN economies and the TPP-11 has open architecture. In other words, other nations, if they are prepared to abide by the guidelines and the standards and the benchmarks set in TPP-11, are free to apply to join and we certainly encourage other ASEANs and other nations around the world to do so.

On the peace, stability and security front, while the economic dynamism of the region is assured, the peace and stability cannot be taken for granted. It was interesting to read a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report that pointed out that six of the ten fastest and largest growing military budgets in the world are in the Indo-Pacific: US, China, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea – and all except Russia are amongst Australia's top ten trading partners. It's worth noting that six of the nine nuclear weapons nations are in our region.

There are unsettled territorial disputes, there are tensions over maritime boundaries, there are pre-existing rivalries, some going back decades, some centuries. That's why it is so important for us to embrace the international rules based order, that network of alliances and treaties and conventions and norms, underpinned by international law that has evolved since the Second World War.

We set this out in the Foreign Policy White Paper, the importance of strengthening, promoting and, if necessary, defending, that international rules based order.

Undoubtedly, Australia has been a beneficiary. Our region has been a beneficiary, and we argue that the globe has seen the greatest level of the reduction of poverty and the greatest increase in standards of living over the last 70 years due to that international rules based order.

But it is under strain, it is under challenge. There are states who cherry-pick what parts of the rules based order they are prepared to adhere to and the parts they are not. They see some short term interest in challenging that rules based order. But we believe that this must be protected because it dictates the behaviour of states, what is acceptable and what is not within states, between states. It regulates the competition between nation states and it protects the rights of states, large and small, how they behave towards each other.

We believe that ASEAN is uniquely placed to continue to promote the international rules based order within our region, the Indo-Pacific. It is at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, the ASEAN nations, and ASEAN has promoted many multilateral forums that are underpinned by that rules based order. For example, the East Asia Summit brings together the most powerful nations in our region in a forum that includes strategic and economic discussions. The ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus, is another example of ASEAN bringing together the relevant nations to discuss defence engagement.

So we see ASEAN as the guardian of the regional norms. We see ASEAN as being an example of nations that have benefited from the embrace of the international rules based order, and long may that continue.

A unified ASEAN is an extremely powerful voice. And when ASEAN speaks with one voice, its influence should never be underestimated.

And, of course, we are all in Sydney this week because Australia will be host for the first time the ASEAN-Australia Leaders' Forum.

Prime Minister Turnbull is looking forward to a very busy agenda, particularly over the weekend.

We face so many challenges and risks but also opportunities. Some obvious area of discussion and cooperation and engagement will be some of the transnational threats, particularly terrorism. We had the example of the connection between the terrorist organisation ISIS and militants and insurgents in the southern Philippines with the siege of Marawi City where, had it not been for the collaboration between a number of nations including the United States, Australia, Indonesia and others, ISIS could well have taken hold in the Southern Philippines. So the level of engagement on counter-terrorism will, of course, be a matter of great discussion.

Likewise, other transnational crimes, whether it be drug trafficking, whether it be human trafficking, modern slavery, shining a light on the supply chain throughout our region to make sure these human rights abuses are stamped out.

There are always maritime challenges that we can discuss and I'm certain they will be high on the agenda.

Importantly, though, the economic relationship between the ASEAN nations and Australia will be one of our highest priorities.

As a bloc, ASEAN represents the fifth largest economy in the world and, from our point of view, if it were an individual nation, it would be in our top three trading partners. Our two-way trade is valued at over $100 billion.

So the trading side is positive. There is more we could do in trade in services, I believe, but the potential is there for Australia and ASEAN nations to even more deeply engage on trade.

The investment side of things remains underdone and I am pleased that we have so many business CEOs and businesspeople from Australia and from ASEAN coming together to discuss ways that we can increase our two-way investment.

We have a CEOs' forum, we have a women-in-business forum that will be hosted by Lucy Turnbull, and a number of initiatives to underpin that greater trade and investment relationship.

As Michael Wesley pointed out, we have always believed in the power of student exchange. From its origins back with the original Colombo Plan in 1951 when Australia played host to thousands and thousands of students from around our region to undertake study in Australian universities and gain qualifications from Australia and then go back home and be some of the finest Ambassadors that our country could possibly have wanted in nations to our west and north in particular.

The New Colombo Plan reverses that process but in a most powerful way. The Australian government is investing in Australia undergraduates from all of our universities to undertake study in one of 40 nations in the Indo-Pacific, including, of course, in every ASEAN country. I do pay tribute to my friend Marty. He will recall the days when I first became Foreign Minister and I discussed with him this idea of a New Colombo Plan whereby we sent our students to live and study and I wanted them to have a work experience in nations in our region so they would become Asia-literate. They would understand more about our place in the world and truly engage with nations in our region. I asked Marty if Indonesia would be part of a pilot. We just wanted four destinations and both Indonesia and Singapore came on board immediately.

Well, I can tell you that from a standing start in 2014 to the end of this year we have supported 30,000 Australian undergraduates under the New Colombo Plan. Indonesia is one of the most popular destinations, but we have students going to China, Mongolia, Malaysia, you name it, throughout, including to the Pacific Marshall Islands, across the board. It really has been the most extraordinary response. But we couldn't have done it without the cooperation between the universities – the universities of the region and the Australian universities; between the business communities who agreed to take on young Australians for internships and practicums and work experience; and, of the ASEAN countries. By the end of this year, 13,500 young Australians will have studied in ASEAN countries.

Likewise, the number of students from ASEAN countries studying in Australia has been immense. Since 2002, something like 1.4 million students from ASEAN countries have studied in Australia. What an extraordinary network of alumni we have – Australians studying in ASEAN countries, ASEAN students studying in Australia.

We will be hosting an alumni event this week – the New Colombo Plan and the Australia Awards - to recognise the importance of those connections and networks and the fact that it is an investment for decades, generations, to come.

I am also very keen to build ties between our young people at other levels and this week I'll be attending a social innovators meeting of young entrepreneurs from Australia, from ASEAN countries, who are involved in start-ups and innovation, technological disruption, the future. We need to tap into the skills and knowledge and understanding of young people throughout our region to ensure that we can continue to drive economic growth, sustainable economic growth.

I will also be attending the ASEAN-Australia Youth Forum, where the young people will have an opportunity to debate the big issues. It will be dry run for the Leaders' Summit on Sunday. I hope I can compare the two!

So this level of connection between ASEAN countries and Australia is becoming deeper and broader and more profound. I am delighted that this Dialogue has taken place and already I have heard of some of the deliberations and some of the discussions. Australia's message is this - a strong and confident and unified ASEAN is a powerful force for good in our region and globally and long may the Australian-ASEAN relationship endure.

Media enquiries