Foreign Policy White Paper public consultations launch

  • Speech, check against delivery

Thank you Ray for the introduction. And ladies and gentlemen, the other lectern was to be occupied by the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment but he's still in the Cabinet meeting, with his item actually being discussed at this moment. So I do stand here representing both Steve Ciobo and me at this launch.

Thank you so much to the many distinguished visitors we have here, and thank you for taking such a deep interest in the Foreign Policy White Paper, and welcome to Parliament House. Much has changed in geostrategic and economic terms since the publication of the last foreign policy white paper in 2003.

Since that time, the global economy experienced a big shock in 2008-2009, and in some areas it still has not fully recovered. Back in 2003, China was the sixth largest economy in the world. Today, its GDP is second only to that of the United States. Five years ago the Arab Spring rose in the Middle East and North Africa, and it was widely believed at the time that this would lead to an expansion of freedom and democracy across the Middle East and North Africa. Well, those hopes and dreams and aspirations were ill-founded, it would seem in the short-term, and now we see power plays in Syria, where we've also witnessed one of the worst humanitarian crises in many, many years in Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere.

We're seeing age-old tensions and the fault-lines sharpened, whether it be Sunni, Shia, Persian, Arab tensions. We've seen the emergence of non-state actors that claim caliphates over land owned by sovereign nations, and Australia has been involved in one of the most wide-ranging counter-terrorism efforts that one could've imagined.

Beyond Brexit, the new Trump administration, there are a whole range of trends that are emerging, and there's a momentum towards anti-globalisation and anti-free trade. Now, Australia is an open liberal democracy dedicated to the rule of law and democratic institutions. Importantly, we're also an open export-oriented market economy, and our standard of living and our prosperity depends on our ability to engage with the world. I suggest that Australia is better positioned today to deal with many of the challenges that exist, not only in our region and globally, for while we might not be a global power we certainly have global interests.

We are an active member of the East Asia Summit and the G20. These are significant influential bodies, yet neither existed 13 years ago. There has been a virtual end to multilateral trade negotiations, yet Australia has forged ahead, and in that time we have negotiated 10 free trade agreements to our undoubted benefit. And under this Government we have dramatically expanded our diplomatic footprint – in other words, our presence overseas – through posts and missions: the largest expansion of our overseas presence in more than 40 years.

I believe that Australia is well-regarded internationally. We have powerful friends and allies and our voice is heard even by those with whom we may disagree, or they may disagree with us. So there are innumerable challenges ahead, but also many opportunities.

So where to from here? We believe that it's time for us to assess our ability to shape events, to influence outcomes, and to determine what is in our national interest at this time and over the next 10 years. We made a commitment in the last election to produce a foreign policy white paper, and in meeting that commitment I'm delighted to confirm that the Turnbull Government will produce a foreign policy white paper for release in 2017.

This is not about predicting the future – nobody can do that – it's about looking at the kind of framework that needs to be in place so that we're not reacting to events, we're strategically positioned to manage, maybe even shape, events. And I think it will be timely for us to restate and advocate our values, to look at our priorities and our interests, and to ensure that what we do in our international engagement does advance the national interest.

I'm very pleased that we have such a detailed public consultation process underway, for this is not a white paper of the Government: this is a white paper for all Australia, and we want to hear from all Australians as to their ideas, their perspectives. It will be a white paper that is produced from consultation across government. In the last 13 years there's been an even greater level of international engagement by, I would suggest, each and every federal department, and we need a coordinated holistic approach to our international engagement across government.

We also want to hear from those who have a deep interest in foreign policy – the academics, the universities, think tanks. We want to hear from business, from the private sector, from those who are engaged overseas to drive economic growth. We want to hear from communities, NGOs, individuals. Steve Ciobo and I will be personally involved in the consultation process. We intend travelling to each state and territory, and there will be opportunities for people to have their say, give their perspectives and their insights.

We want this to be considered a joint enterprise: Government and the Australian people looking at how we will engage with the world over the next decade. And it wouldn't be a bad benchmark to adopt that every 10 years we consider Australia's place in the world.

I urge you to take one of these documents, the call for public submissions for the foreign policy white paper, and I hope that many people will be involved in the production of this paper. I'm delighted that the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson is here, for she will be an integral part of the production of this paper.

And I believe that even though timeframes are tight it's likely that we'll be able to conclude our consultations, have analysis within Government and Cabinet, and be in a position to release this white paper probably when Parliament returns after the winter break in 2017, so sometime in August-September. To do it any earlier might put undue pressure on those who also have their day jobs to consider.

But I am very excited at the prospect of hearing from Australians and beyond. I've already had a number of overseas missions present here in Canberra offer to assist with their perspectives and insights on Australia's international engagement.

So it is with great pleasure that I launch today our public consultation process, our call for public submissions for Australia's Foreign Policy White Paper 2017.

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