Global Heads of Mission Meeting

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good morning Heads of Mission, welcome home.

We live in a very uncertain world that is constantly changing.

The global economic, political and strategic environment is less predictable, more unstable than we have seen in many years.

There is significant economic volatility, rising nationalism and protectionism driven by populist campaigns, terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation.

There are significant conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, there are humanitarian crises that are unprecedented in their scope and scale, there's mass movement of people around the world, displaced, seeking refuge.

And technological disruption is affecting the way we live, the way we work, the way we interact, the way countries connect.

Australia is an open, liberal democracy – we are committed to freedoms, the rule of law, the international rules-based system.

Australia is an open, export oriented market economy – our economic growth, our standard of living depends upon our ability to trade our goods and services around the world.

International engagement is utterly fundamental to our success as a nation and in these uncertain times, the work of our diplomats overseas has never been more important or more vital to our national interests.

In broad terms, there are a couple of ways to maximise our influence in the world.

We can develop policies and engage internationally to directly advance our interests, and we can work with other nations including the great powers to influence their thinking and their actions.

Australia can have more influence internationally than many appreciate, and I encourage you all to think big and to think creatively as to how we can use our influence to shape a world that serves Australia's national interest.

Historically, supported by United States leadership, global economic integration has been a constant of the post-war world.

China's opening up drove further economic integration, by expanding the reach of global supply chains and reducing costs.

Australia has undoubtedly benefited from this international economic liberalisation, with our need for capital and our rich resource base.

In the last year, a counter-trend has gathered steam.

The United States has a new President, driving an economic nationalist agenda.

Britain's exit from Europe is a reversal of the greatest post-war integrationist project.

More broadly, in democracies across the world, we see threats to that confident international perspective that has, over many years, tempered nationalism.

Meanwhile, North Asia continues to grow in economic and strategic weight.

Our position at the cross-currents of the Indo Pacific, as India's Prime Minister Modi put it in this place in 2014, makes Australian diplomacy ever more relevant in the world.

The rise of China is a development unparalleled in history that has far-reaching implications for Australia.

China's economic growth has lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty and has been a major factor in Australia's record run of growth – we are entering our 26th consecutive year of economic growth.

Increasing economic strength has been accompanied by increasing strategic influence on the part of China, which is entirely to be expected.

Relative and rapid change in economic and strategic weight in any region at any time results in challenges and opportunities.

And that makes Australia's nimble and creative diplomacy vital, as we work with partners who will inevitably have competing interests from time to time – it's how we balance our relationships that would determine our success.

In response to the flux in the international system, the Government has decided to develop a Foreign Policy White Paper for the first time in 13 years.

Through this process we are reassessing our priorities and our interests and our ability to influence events.

The extensive White Paper consultations – and I thank Secretary Frances Adamson for the work of the Department in this regard – these extensive White Paper consultations have confirmed for me that in this more competitive and uncertain international environment, we must work differently, we must be bolder and we must be adaptable while true to our values.

I initiated the Ideas Challenge 3.0 to reinforce Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's moves to build a more robust contest of foreign policy ideas within the organisation, and I understand that you have been actively developing proposals, and I'm looking forward to hearing about the specific ideas to maximise our international influence.

In considering your post's purposes and priorities, our guiding principle must be the benefit we deliver to Australia and Australians.

All arms of government are accountable to the Australian people and to our taxpayers.

Governments over many decades have valued the investment of taxpayer funds in our network of overseas missions, and in the training of our diplomats.

Now consular and passport services are core and for many Australians that's the most tangible way that they interact with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

However, many Australian businesses have benefited from your advocacy through the framework of Economic Diplomacy, underpinned by the very good business plans that the Heads of Mission have been developing since requested to do so by the government in 2014.

These plans are a framework for identifying business and investment opportunities for Australian small, medium and large businesses in your host country, wherever you may be situated.

Importantly, the plans include measurable goals against which each post can benchmark its performance, and I assume knowing you all that there is some healthy competition among our Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls-General!

So Economic Diplomacy is at the core of our international engagement.

The government has also reformed our approach to development partnerships, and a key focus is to support economic growth in developing nations, particularly in our region, in our part of the world where we have the most influence.

So our neighbourhood is our focus, but of course we do have global interests.

Stronger regional economies through more private sector investment will do more to lift people out of poverty than almost any amount of foreign aid.

Australia invests in overseas development assistance because it is in our national interest to do so.

The Australian Government believes strongly that peace and prosperity and stability and security in our region is in our interests.

Australia's interests are also served by our support for building stronger interpersonal relations with other nations.

The New Colombo Plan – a signature initiative of the Coalition Government – and the Australia Awards have made extraordinary contributions to building understanding and cooperation between Australia and countries in our region.

For those Heads of Mission who are involved in the New Colombo Plan, by the end of this year, in just four years almost 18,000 young Australians will have lived and studied and worked in one of 40 nations in our region under the New Colombo Plan and I pay tribute to the Department and to the diplomats who have underpinned our enormous success in that regard.

Much as we continue to reap the rewards of the original Colombo Plan, the work that we are doing today on these people-to-people relationships and the exchanges between our young people will last for many decades.

This is how our relationships will endure – we invest in the next generation of the young Australians who will be the leaders of the future.

To further guide your deliberations, there are a number of core tenets that guide Australia's foreign policy.

Our relationship with the United States is fundamental to our economic and strategic security.

Let's face it, it is largely the US investment funds that have underpinned many of the major resource developments, and of course our military alliance enables access to advanced defence systems and our intelligence cooperation is vital to our national security interests.

Of course we work closely with the United States, but we always pursue a foreign policy that is in our national interests.

We are an Indo-Pacific nation; our interests are firmly in our region.

We have a special responsibility to work with our Pacific neighbours to support their economic growth and governance.

Australian diplomacy has an important role in developing deep links into Asia: high-quality and enduring relations through education, through research, through investment.

The quality of our links into Japan and China and India and Indonesia and the ASEAN countries more generally, will do much to shape our future.

For all its recent challenges, Europe remains a cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the world, and our shared values and economic links make Europe and the United Kingdom important factors in the foreseeable future.

We must work hard and pragmatically to secure our interests in the Middle East, in Africa and South America where many of our companies are engaged in the minerals and resources sectors, in the services sectors and this is vital for our national prosperity.

We are a regional power, we have global interests.

A key concern is the protection of international peace and security, so we strongly support collective efforts by the United Nations to safeguard peace and security.

But we are also active in other areas such as the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, which met last week in Washington.

You are all acutely aware of the contribution of our defence forces and our security agencies in supporting the effort to deprive this terrorist organisations of their power, their self-proclaimed Caliphate from which the threaten not only the Middle East but our region and globally.

Similarly, Australia is actively engaged with the international community in seeking a resolution of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

In particular, there is serious debate underway as to how to convince the North Korean regime to abandon its development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Australia.

Australia's candidacy for the Human Rights Council is a priority for the Government, and I will say more about that during our working lunch today.

But I make the observation that we are not in this contest for the experience, we are in it to take a place on the Human Rights Council and bring our focus on the empowerment of women, on Indigenous rights, on freedoms particularly freedom of speech and expression, on better governance, and on stronger domestic human rights institutions.

That is our campaign and we believe that a voice from our part of the world, from the Pacific, should be on the Human Rights Council, and you must leave no stone unturned in support of our efforts to obtain votes for our campaign for the Human Rights Council.

Another issue of great importance to the Australian Government is to ensure that we promote our nation as one of the most successful multicultural societies on earth.

We have welcomed migrants from all corners of the globe, who have greatly enriched our cultural heritage and embraced Australian values and the freedom that our nation offers.

Australians are recognised internationally for our resourcefulness, our imagination, our creativity, our innovation.

We are leaders in many fields of thought.

And, as I've often said, Australia is superpower – a lifestyle superpower with a standard of living the envy of almost every other country.

Within government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is a leader in innovation, an exemplar in innovation, and I encourage all of you to visit the innovationXchange and use our innovationXchange to test your ideas, to seek support for new ways of doing the business of diplomacy.

Innovation in policy will need to be increasingly embraced across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and across government, particularly as budgets remain under pressure and we have got to be creative in pursuing better outcomes for the investments we make.

Despite the budgetary constraints, we have opened five posts since December 2015, and another three are on track to open in the next twelve months, and together with Austrade posts – and I welcome Stephanie Fahey here today – this is the largest expansion of our diplomatic footprint in almost 40 years and I have ambitions for us to extend our presence internationally.

So we are working hard on ensuring that there will be more missions, more Heads of Mission in the future to ensure that our global interests are embraced by the government.

I am relying on you to deliver innovative and cost-effective solutions which will allow Australia to further expand our diplomatic network and influence.

Australia is a Top 20 power, that's manifest by the fact we are in the G20.

But we are the third most prosperous nation in terms of wealth per adult.

We are the 13th largest economy in the world, although we're about 56th when it comes to population.

The Australian dollar is the fifth most traded currency.

We have three of the world's top ten most liveable cities.

Interestingly, we are ranked sixth globally on soft power diplomacy and we have been ranked number one in terms of creativity – the most creative people on earth.

So we need to harness our strengths.

We are a significant exporter, we're an energy exporter, we're among the largest exporters of agricultural produce and coal and iron ore and energy and educational services.

Increasingly we're a desirable tourist destination.

A place for investment.

There are so many examples which underpin my belief that Australia has a significant place in the world.

Yes, we are geographically remote, but technology is overcoming the tyranny of distance that shaped the thinking of the earlier times.

So in a world connected by rapid transport, instant telecommunications, we must never consider ourselves marginal to the course of international events.

On this strong foundation, it is time to raise the level of our foreign policy ambition.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a fine tradition of judgment and perspective, and we need to ensure words are translated into action.

We need Australian diplomacy to have even greater impact.

We must lift its level of ambition and respond robustly to the challenges of our time and embrace the opportunities.

You are here to have productive and, I hope, provocative discussions in the days ahead because you are grappling with the issues of importance to our communities here.

What you do, the work you do in your posts overseas, influences what happens to our people, our communities, but also the nation and the world.

I wish you all the best in your deliberations and I am delighted to see you all home.

Please, this is an opportunity, an unprecedented opportunity for us to influence Australia's future.

Media enquiries