European Australian Business Council AGM

  • Speech, check against delivery

Nick Greiner, Carla Zampatti, Ambassadors, board members, the Honourable Bruce Baird who always deserves a special singular mention, and friends of Australia, friends of Europe.

I'm absolutely delighted to be here this evening at the Annual General Meeting of the European Australian Business Council and I agree with Jason that next year must be black tie – David and I assumed that an event put on by those partnering with Europe would be sophisticated, elegant and stylish, and of course it is, but we can just go that little step further for 2018!

I want to pay tribute to the Council and its members for the role you play in enhancing trade and investment between Europe and Australia, and we value deeply the connections with our European partners that are forged through the work of Council.

As Jason indicated, tomorrow the Prime Minister, our Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steve Ciobo and I will be launching the Australian Government's Foreign Policy White Paper. This will be the first comprehensive review of our foreign policy in over 14 years and it will, for the first time, define our region in geographic, strategic and economic terms as the "Indo-Pacific".

So there will be a significant emphasis on our region, but it also recognises that Australia's interests are global in nature and that one of our most vital partners is the European Union and our friends in Europe.

The White Paper has been the result of extensive, in fact unprecedented consultation in capital cities, in regions across Australia, with partners, allies and friends. We've also taken time to consult deeply and broadly with the business community, for a significant aspect of it will be how to enhance our economic prosperity.

The Paper identifies the threats and risks, the trends and opportunities that we will face over the next decade or so and it sets out a framework of our national interest, our values and our priorities, and provides guiding principles that we can draw upon whatever threats, opportunities, challenges we face over the next decade or more.

We will be promoting our interests in a much more congested, contested, competitive world.

If you just look at recent events Brexit – the exit of Britain from the European Union – the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the rise of anti-globalisation and protectionist sentiment in countries around the world, the challenges that arise from the technological advances disrupting the way we live and work and engage and travel, population growth, the mass movement of people, some of the challenges that come from non-state actors – terrorism, transnational crime – you'll see at the basis of our Paper a concern that the international rules-based order which has underpinned the world's relative prosperity and stability since the Second World War is under strain. In fact it is under challenge by some nations seeking short-term gain, others seeking to subvert or undermine the rules-based system or bending it to their selective advantage.

This is across the board, whether it's security, whether it's in our economic approach, the international rules-based order is under challenge.

Now by that I mean the web of treaties and alliances and institutions and the international law that was established, instigated, defended, promoted by the United States in the post-war world, creating a "world out of chaos" as the United States said at the time, but supported by its friends and allies and likeminded countries including those in Europe and in Australia.

We have seen a number of egregious examples – from Russia and its annexation of Crimea, seeking to redraw the boundaries of Europe for the first time since Hitler sought to do so in 1939.

The most appalling example in our region is North Korea, openly flouting numerous UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting its illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

So our White Paper focuses very heavily on the support we must continue to give this international rules-based order, and this is where I think we can enter into a new era of relations with our partners in Europe.

We have a vested joint collective interest in upholding and defending the international rules-based order. After all we have all lived in relative peace and security and prosperity as a result of it. We have all benefited from the rules-based order.

China has been able to grow and prosper and rise in an unprecedented way, lifting hundreds and millions of people out of poverty as a result of that umbrella of the international rules-based order.

As I travel around the world I'm struck by the high regard in which Australia is held.

We are seen as an open export-oriented market economy, committed to free and open markets and the globalised trading system. We are seen as an open liberal democracy committed to freedom, the rule of law and democratic institutions, and we are seen as a champion of the international rules-based order, but we can't take any of this for granted.

Yes, Australia is entering its 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth – that, ladies and gentlemen, is a world record. No other country at any time has ever beaten that record.

We are the 13th largest economy in the world but only say, 53rd when it comes to population but we really are an economic powerhouse for our size. Again, this can't be taken for granted and we have to continue to open our markets to the world and find new markets and harness existing markets so we can sell our goods and services around the world.

You do not get rich by selling to yourself and a big focus of our White Paper will be how we can enhance existing Free Trade Agreements, how we can conclude a Free Trade Agreement with the EU that will be of enormous benefit to both sides. We will provide job opportunities, economic growth and maintain, enhance that standard of living that we see in Europe and in Australia.

The Free Trade Agreements are just part of the challenge ahead of us. We have to promote globalised free trade and the multilateral trading system against some pretty fierce competition and sometimes from unexpected quarters.

Australia obviously will play to our strengths. We are an energy and resources global superpower. We're the number one exporter of iron ore, coal, aluminium ore, lead, soon to be the number one exporter of LNG. We're the number one exporter of beef, wheat and wool.

These are our known strengths, but not many appreciate that only 17 per cent of our exports are in services, yet 75 per cent of our domestic economy is made up of services and I can see Stephanie Fahey nodding because as head of Austrade she knows exactly where I'm going with this.

The huge opportunities will not only be in our traditional areas of mining resources, agriculture but in the services sector where Australia has so much to offer. Australian made, produced in Australia, from Australia is now synonymous with high quality, so we have enormous opportunities in a potential Free Trade Agreement.

We also need to ensure that we can embrace the opportunities that are arising in our region.

China of course is challenging the United States. We unequivocally put our support behind the United States as the world's only, in the foreseeable future, global superpower but we recognise that we need a very positive and strong relationship with China and also with other ASEAN countries.

I've described our region as the Indo-Pacific, recognising the geographic strategic and economic reality. India is going to be a major player. In fact, it's a little known fact that while the United States is the global superpower for the foreseeable future, never before in history have China, India and Japan been strong nations at the same time. So it's a very different world in which we live.

Australia is also open for foreign direct investment. In fact, we could not have the standard of living, we could not have the economic growth in this country were it not for the foreign investment and we particularly appreciate the interest and the commitment of our European partners and investing in Australia and the importance of it.

We are forging new relationships in a whole range of areas with European partners.

The submarine project with the French conglomerate is going to be a milestone for us not only in terms of our domestic ship building industry but also our relationships with France.

We have a number of tenders in the in the defence industry space, our Future Frigates program and our fighting vehicles for the army, and I know that European partners are very interested in those tenders.

Australia is still a very attractive place for people to invest but also to visit, whether you're a tourist or whether you're a student. The work and holiday visas that we have with a number of European countries are immensely popular where Australian young professions can spend time in Europe working and young Europeans can spend time in Australia.

We certainly attract people from all over the world. In fact, Australia is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, multicultural nations on earth. At least half of the Australian population was either born overseas or has one parent born overseas (and we currently have politicians who've learned this in recent days).

We see the future for Australia as bright. Our Foreign Policy White Paper is very ambitious. We specifically look for deeper cooperation with like-minded countries and in Europe we find a significant number of countries with whom we must have deeper connections and engagement and be part of a collaborative, collective effort to uphold that international rules-based order, uphold the open global economy, and ensure that we continue to work together for not only economic security but also the national security, regional and global security that our citizens deserve.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you find time to read our White Paper – yes it's long but it's also very accessible, there will be plenty of vignettes on our website and it will be a very readable document that we believe will set the tone and the principles that will underpin our international engagement for the next decade. Most certainly Europe and the EU play a key role in that regional stability and security that we are aspiring for.

I look forward to working closely with you in the years ahead. I hope that our Foreign Policy White Paper does spark a new era of cooperation and I look forward to continuing to work with the members of the EABC as we pursue those objectives.

Media enquiries