The G20 2014 Agenda - Address to Commonwealth Foreign Ministers. Colombo, Sri Lanka

Address to Commonwealth Foreign Ministers

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

14 November 2013

Thank you (Professor Peiris) for the introduction and for hosting lunch and also the Foreign Ministers' segment of CHOGM. I do want to pay tribute to Sri Lanka for hosting CHOGM this year.

We all know, in this room, the tragic consequences of the civil war over three decades and I think it is a testament to you and your Government that four years from the end of the civil war you are able to host an international event of the status of CHOGM.

We know that things are not perfect here. We know that there is work to do, but I am grateful for having the opportunity earlier this year - before I was the Minister for Foreign Affairs, when I was in Opposition - I am very grateful for having the opportunity to travel through Sri Lanka, to go to the North, to observe for myself and to draw my own conclusions about what I saw and I hope that others will continue to engage with Sri Lanka.

I see no point in isolating one of our member countries and I do, as I say, pay credit to you for what has been achieved. There is a long way ahead, and I think that you have done extremely well.

Now we are all members of so many organisations and fora – and in the two months since I have been Foreign Minister I suspect I have been home on about one or two occasions because this seems to be the summit end of the calendar year – and as we are members of so many of these organisations, I think it's timely that we should remind ourselves of why we are members of the Commonwealth and treasure our membership of this extraordinary organisation.

It makes such a contribution to what the Secretary-General has called "the great global good" and I call it an extraordinary organisation because, let's face it we are more than just a group of friends - although I feel very much amongst friends - and it's more than just our economic interests at heart.

It's through our commitment to values that we are all members of the Commonwealth and our commitment to democracy and to diversity and to collaboration and understanding is a very powerful thread. Sir Robert Menzies, who was Australia's longest serving Prime Minister, said shortly after the London Declaration 64 years ago, that there was an "inner feeling" about being a member of the Commonwealth. I hope that we all still maintain that "inner feeling" throughout the next couple of days and beyond.

When you think about it - 54 countries, small islands, large countries, Australia an island continent, spanning five continents, we touch on three oceans - we are an extraordinary organisation. And I think it's always worth reminding ourselves of the words of Nelson Mandela, when he became President after a most disturbing period in South Africa's history, when he said that the Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity and it certainly does have an influence and its achievements can have a profound impact around the world.

Next year Australia is hosting the G20 meeting in Brisbane in 2014 and we take over the Presidency of the G20 on the first of December this year and I hope that through our presidency we will be able to ensure that the views of our Commonwealth members can be made known to the G20.

Economic reform is obviously a foundation of the G20 agenda, born as it was out of a finance ministers meeting, and economic reform is an essential element to the prosperity of all of the nations represented in this room and globally.

Global growth is still in low gear, the IMF has now downgraded the global forecast for the seventh time in two years, so we have challenges ahead of us. The G20 as an organisation combines some of the largest economies and some of the emerging economies, but I think it is important to note that five of the G20 are in fact members of the Commonwealth – Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

At the meeting in St Petersburg, the G20 leaders resolved that the focus should be on lifting economic growth, in the face of sluggish global growth, and creating jobs. They were the overarching priorities and Australia has certainly adopted those priorities for the G20 in 2014.

Around the world we can see that monetary and fiscal policy has limitations, and in some areas has reached its limits. What nations need to do now is get their private sectors activated to drive growth and employment and I believe that the G20 has responsibility to come up with practical ways to, for example, generate investment - global investment - particularly in productive infrastructure, and I'm hoping that the G20 agenda will be able to address some of the obstacles to investment, the unnecessary regulation and red tape.

In Australia the new government has resolved to take out of the economy a billion dollars' worth of red tape each and every year. We have set aside several days in the year in the Parliament to just be repeal days when we do nothing other than repeal legislation. I think that we will be able to sell tickets to the business community, they are so excited by that prospect.

We also hope that the G20 can find ways to better leverage funds in international institutions to activate additional capital from the private sector for global investment.

Given the self-evident and very strong link between trade and economic growth, we hope that trade reform will be also an important part of the agenda. And also noting that in the absence of global multilateral trade liberalisation, many parts of the world are building networks of bilateral and mutual free trade agreements. We hope that with that kind of momentum we will effectively end up with a multilateral outcome and hopefully the WTO can find its way to get the global trade liberalisation agenda back on track and I think the G20 has a role to play there.

We also want to focus on strengthening the international financial sector - reforming the IMF and reforming the Financial Stability Board have been matters that have been addressed or have been considered in the past but I think that we really need to ensure that these institutions reflect the realities of the 21st century.

Another area of focus we suggest will be infrastructure. The unlocking of growth in developing countries in many instances comes down to infrastructure. The OECD has estimated that something like two trillion dollars a year is required to meet global infrastructure needs and so we are looking at ways where public and private funding can flow into international investments.

Another area that we hope to focus upon is in taxation, reforming taxation systems. It's a fact that some developing countries lose more revenue in tax evasion than they receive in foreign aid and we certainly want to support stronger tax administration and tax reform where necessary and appropriate.

And a third priority - I'm not making everything a priority because if everything is a priority nothing is a priority - access to financial services is also something that we believe is very important. It's fundamental to developing countries, it's fundamental to small and medium enterprises and indeed in women's economic empowerment access to financial services is so important.

One thing that we are very keen to ensure occurs is consultation with as many countries as we are able to reach, so that in our outreach program in the lead up to Brisbane in 2014 we hope to be extensive and we are certainly looking to work with the Commonwealth and individual members of the Commonwealth to get your feedback.

We have a dedicated G20 representative, Daniel Sloper, and he is more than happy to meet with you, meet with your officials and receive your feedback and ideas. We also obviously have our Sherpa but Daniel is our representative to take feedback from you.

So by the time we get to November of 2014, we hope that our agenda is clear, that it is not too crowded, that we are able to achieve outcomes that are of global benefit. We also want to ensure that the leaders of the G20 have sufficient opportunity to talk amongst themselves, at retreat, as a group of 19 leaders and the EU, so that they can broaden the agenda without it becoming unwieldy.

I think the challenge for organisations like the G20 is to continually be relevant and in order for them to be continually relevant we need the leaders of the countries to be continually committed to attending and being there. So Australia is determined to make sure that the agenda is vibrant enough to attract the energy of the leaders of the G20 that will be required to ensure that it continues to be a force for good in the world.

We would welcome your feedback and look forward to interacting with you over the days ahead. My Prime Minister will be here tomorrow evening and I certainly extend to you the invitation to your leaders to ensure that they engage with Prime Minister Abbott should there be any specific issues that your countries feel should be raised.

So we are honoured to have the role as President of the G20, or chair of the G20, in 2014 and we hope that through our chairmanship the G20 can continue to be focused, relevant and achieve positive outcomes in the areas of economic growth, infrastructure, employment, financial and tax reforms.

So thank you very much for your attention and I am happy to answer any questions.

Media enquiries