Keynote Address to the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference for German Business

  • Speech, check against delivery
05 November 2017

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Dr Gorawantschy and good afternoon. Welcome to my home town of Perth, and I certainly welcome the largest ever German delegation and conference in Australia, which included my very good friend President Steinmeier. In fact, Frank-Walter graciously hosted me in Berlin in September 2016 at our inaugural Australia-German 2 + 2 Defence and Foreign Ministers meeting when he was Foreign Minister, and we are the only nation with whom Germany has such a format.

State Secretary Beckmeyer and Senior Government Parliamentary Business representatives from Germany, I acknowledge my Cabinet colleague Senator Mathias Cormann, my counterpart Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and other ministers from our region.

I've had a number of meetings with other ministers and I have given them all this koala, and I take this opportunity to put in a plug for Australia – we are standing for election to the World Heritage Committee in Paris later this month, and this koala is wearing a little hoodie that says, 'Australia World Heritage Committee 2017 to 2021'. These will be available to anyone who has any influence over anyone who is voting.

Your children and grandchildren will adore them.

I want to congratulate the Business Council of Australia and the German-Australia Chamber of Industry and Commerce for bringing together such an extraordinary group of leaders from Australia, Germany and the Asia-Pacific. While this is called the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference, I more often refer to Australia's place as being in the Indo-Pacific region. It's a concept that brings more contemporary perspectives to the profound geostrategic shifts that we are witnessing. It also brings Perth directly into the frame, Australia's Indo-Pacific capital, a city that looks west to the Indian Ocean, home to over 200 nationalities, and we share the same time zone with 60 per cent of the world's population.

At a time when a number of the countries of the Indo-Pacific are emerging onto the global stage, I believe our next panel discussion will provide the basis for a fascinating dialogue and hopefully cover many global and regional issues. In the meantime allow me to make some observations to set the scene for our discussion.

Celebrated Australian author and historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey published a seminal of work in 1967 titled, 'The Tyranny of Distance' in which he argued that Australia's geographical isolation was integral to shaping our national character. There's little doubt that such isolation has been fundamental to our sense of self- reliance, resilience in the face of adversity, resourcefulness and enterprise.

Today globalisation, the internet and faster transport links have done much to overcome that geographic isolation. For example our national airline Qantas first flew passengers from Sydney to Europe in 1947 and the journey took several days with stops first at Darwin and then in Singapore, in India, Pakistan, Egypt and Libya.

I recently attended the launch of the new Qantas Dreamliner which will be flying Perth-London non-stop from April next year. Just think of it, with on-board wireless internet these flights won't represent any disruption at all to your work, or your decision making. Some might say it is not a technological advance we should embrace!

Nevertheless globalisation in the form of the internet, for example, facilitates the instantaneous exchange of information globally and has supported the development of global supply chains where manufactures all over the world can and do contribute parts that are assembled into a wide array of products.

Globalisation and open markets have brought greater prosperity to almost every corner of the globe, particularly in this region of the Indo-Pacific.

While economic power is shifting from West to East, Europe remains a global leader in a wide array of fields from energy to space and science and innovation, and Australia is a major beneficiary through our bilateral relationships.

For example, Australian Universities have entered into more than 500 partnerships and agreements with German counterparts, while German research institutes work closely with Australia's scientific body, the CSIRO.

We are major trade and investment partners. German companies are significant employers in this country including a number represented here today. Australian companies also have significant employees in Germany.

In geostrategic terms, Europe has played a major international role since the devastation of World War II and continues to support the rules based order it helped to establish. This international order – primarily implemented, upheld and defended by the United States – is a web of treaties, alliances and institutions underpinned by international law. This order has been critical to the relative peace in Europe, the rise of many developing nations, and has seen the largest expansion of wealth and prosperity in human history.

However, the international rules based order is currently under strain, and likeminded nations must work even harder to support it. Some state and non-state actors are seeking to destabilise, undermine or ignore the rules based order. The most egregious example at present is North Korea, which is in flagrant violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit its development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

There are also anti-free trade and protectionist sentiments emerging in nations around the world. Australia is an open, export-oriented, market economy. We are reliant on access to markets and the free movement of goods and services around the world. Strengthening that order will be a key focus of the Australian Government's upcoming Foreign Policy White Paper which will be launched shortly.

Our Paper will seek to establish a framework that will guide and support foreign policy makers over the next decade in what will undoubtedly be a more contested and uncertain international environment, how the rise of China will affect our region, the role of the United States as the world's superpower, how technological advances will affect the way we live, work and engage.

We will of course be seeking to build stronger linkages with like-minded nations and Germany will be among the forefront of that engagement. For example, we're very keen to finalise a free trade agreement with the EU and we'll be grateful for Germany's influential voice in the EU on that issue.

Australia is exquisitely located for the establishment of regional hubs from which companies can reach out to the fast growing consumer middle class of the Indo-Pacific.

The Australian Government has prioritised more open markets, and has successfully secured free trade agreements in the last three years with the big three in North Asia: China, Japan and South Korea. We continue to support the Trans Pacific Partnership as the TPP 11 because we know that lower trade barriers and greater economic reform will deliver jobs, growth and prosperity.

Our ongoing economic reforms have delivered us a world record this year. We are entering our 27th year of unbroken, uninterrupted economic growth.

We're an energy and minerals global power exporting the resources needed to drive economic growth in the region. We're actually a proven superpower – a lifestyle superpower – the vibrant city of Melbourne for example, has now been ranked by the Economist as the world's most liveable city for seven years running – and I have to say Perth has made the top 10.

Our White Paper will also reflect the significant investment Australia is making and will continue to make in our relations with the nations of the Indo-Pacific.

One of our most significant Asia engagements in soft diplomacy is the New Colombo Plan. This is a government funded student program that supports Australian undergraduates to take part of their university course at a university in our region while also having the opportunity to undertake work experience, or an internship in a public or private sector entity in the host country.

This program began in 2014. By the end of 2018 our New Colombo Plan will have supported more than 30,000 Australian undergraduate students from 40 Australian universities to live, study and undertake internships in 40 locations across the Indo-Pacific.

Thousands and thousands of young Australian undergraduates are returning to Australia with new perspectives, new insights, new skills, contacts and networks and friendships from their experiences in the region so that our next generation of leaders are more Asia-literate. It is a long term investment to ensure that our relationships in the region endure.

Around 240 private sector organisations have signed up to support the program, offering internships and mentorships in the region to our scholars.

Together with public sector entities and civil society our students are receiving transformational opportunities to gain real life experience in our region. This will ensure that our future leaders and more aware of Australia's place in the world which will add value to Australia as a partner for the rest of the world.

There is vast mutual benefit to Europe and to the Indo-Pacific from greater economic engagement and integration underpinned by a robust and respected rules-based international order. Germany is a welcome partner in that endeavour and I look forward to working ever more closely in the years ahead.

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