Keynote Address: The future of Australia-UK Relations

  • Speech, check against delivery

JULIE BISHOP: I am delighted to be here at Chatham House and may Ipay tribute to the role that this famous institution hasplayed in supporting the principle of free speech, which we must continue touphold and defend. I am in London for the inaugural Australia-UK LeadershipForum and also the annual Australia-UK Ministerial Dialogue. This will be myfirst opportunity to meet new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and there are manyissues for us to discuss.

Iam then on my way to San Francisco for the annual Australia-US Ministerial Forums,so the juxtaposition of these Ministerial Forums will be very interesting anduseful in informing our foreign policy.

TheAustralia-UK relationship is strong and enduring. Yet last month, our nations openeda significant new chapter in our long history of military cooperation with theawarding of a $35-billion dollar shipbuilding contract, between BAE Systems andthe Australian Government, for nine Hunter class frigates for the AustralianNavy. This contract establishes a relationship that will last many years,perhaps decades, as we build a stronger Navy - a regionally capable Navy forour vast island continent.

Militarycooperation between our countries is of course not new, as that relationshipgoes back to British settlement of Australia - part naval base, part penalcolony. But the strength of our shared military tradition is our commitment todemocratic civilian rule and here in Chatham House we're very conscious of thatpolitical tradition that our two countries share.

Oneof the three Prime Ministers who lived here in Chatham House, William Pitt theElder, famously described the importance of English liberties in a speech tothe House of Commons in 1763, when he was opposing the imposition of a landtax, and he said: "The poorest man, may in his cottage, bid defiance to all theforces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind blow throughit, the storm may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannotenter".

Soindividual rights under the State, including property rights are key pillars ofstable societies - one of Britain's great gifts to the world.

Thenations of the world have come a long way in developing rules and norms forinternational affairs, not least to protect and advance ideals of individualfreedom. It's the nations which had borrowed from the tradition of EnglishCommon Law, the United States and Australia and others, who played an importantrole in developing the contemporary world order. This international rules-basedorder instigated by the United States and its allies, developed after thehorrors of two world wars where there was a collective will to create a worldout of chaos, to ensure we never again experienced the ordeals and horrificloss of life and that there would never be a third global conflict.

TheUnited Nations came to being to save succeeding generations from the scourge ofwar and also to reaffirm the faith in fundamental human rights. The internationalrules-based order remains a work in progress, of course, like all bodies oflaw, and there have been times when it has faced great strain including throughthe decades of the Cold War. However, is arguably facing its greatest test asit's challenged and strained on multiple fronts. I believe there are threeprimary challenges currently to the order.

First,some States are openly defying international rules and norms. Russia, Iran,North Korea for example, had adopted hybrid tactics, undertaking disruptiveactivities in cyber space, arming proxies and threatening conduct that is oftenbelow the threshold of warfare but still greatly destabilizing. Take Russia andits annexation of Crimea. The first time since World War II that a nation hasused force to redraw national boundaries in continental Europe. Its support ofso-called separatists in some of its bordering states including Eastern Ukraine,has challenged state sovereignty and has resulted in significant loss of life.Just on four years ago on the 17th of July 2014, the deployment of a powerful BUKmissile system from Russia's 53rd Brigade into Eastern Ukraine resulted in theshooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 with 298 civilians on board, allkilled, including 38 Australian citizens and residents and 10 British citizens.Australia and the Netherlands are holding Russia to account for its role in thedowning of MH17.

Russiahas played a spoiling role through its membership of the UN Security Council toshield the Assad regime from accountability for chemical weapons used againstthe Syrian people.

Thenerve agent attack in Salisbury brings into questions Russia's involvement inthe use of military grade Novichok, and this is just another example of conductthat constitutes a growing threat to international security and the rights of othersovereign nations.

Thechilling incident in Wiltshire raises more questions for Russia to answerregarding is management of its stockpile of military grade nerve agents.

Iran, while it may have paused itsnuclear programme under the JCPOA, continues to deploy armed groups across theMiddle East with proxies in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon and Yemen. The scale ofhumanitarian suffering in Yemen is being prolonged by Iranian support for armedgroups, with more advanced missiles being fired at targets in Saudi Arabia inrecent months.

North Korea has long threatened itsneighbours and has launched attacks against targets in South Korea, across theSea of Japan, while continuing to develop a nuclear weapons, a ballisticmissile program, in direct defiance of numerous binding UN Security Council Resolutions.There is a familiar pattern adopted by states seeking to defy the internationalrules-based order. Unable to meet the economic and political expectations oftheir citizens, these states seek to harness nationalism, to create a narrativereflecting a siege mentality where they are beset by external enemies and muststand against them.

The second challenge to the internationalrules-based order is the increasing tendency for nations to take a one sidedunilateral approach to some of their international interests, includingeconomic interests. The United States is now favouring a more disruptive, oftenunilateral, foreign and trade policy that has heightened anxieties about itscommitment to the rules-based order that it established, protected andguaranteed. The US has withdrawn from the JPCOA. It was a treaty levelagreement that it struck with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia,China, and Iran. It was endorsed by the UN Security Council. The United Stateshas withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement and from the Human RightsCouncil. The Administration's admonishment of NATO members to share more of thedefence burden was a point worth making, as long as it leads to a stronger andmore robust alliance. The Administration's decision to unilaterally raisetariffs and quotas against some of its trading partners has raised concernsabout the United States' commitment to champion the international tradingsystem, a role which it has played for the last three quarters of a century.Now while the US trade grievances are justly held in many instances, the answermust lie in in peaceful negotiations and resort if necessary to the World TradeOrganisation.

For the United Kingdom and Australia,the current picture is complex. Our closest ally and the world's most powerfulnation is being seen as less predictable and less committed to theinternational order that it pioneered.

The third challenge facing theinternational order is that it must accommodate a changing balance of power inthe Indo-Pacific. The 1979 normalization of relations between the United Statesand the People's Republic of China marked a new phase in mission of the peoplein China, one fifth of humanity, to reclaim their place in world affairs. Thisprocess accelerated as China opened up its economy, as did China's accession tothe World Trade Organisation in 2001. In turn, China's economic integrationboosted economies across Asia, and it has been a steady driver of globaleconomic growth. China is Australia's largest trading partner, and that of probablyover 120 other nations around the world. Sustained growth has to be managed, butit has also under written it military modernisation and through that it'sincreased strategic weight in the Indo-Pacific. So China is contesting theUnited States' role in the region through tactics that fall short of directconfrontation. Across the Indo-Pacific nations are adjusting to newtrajectories of power and influence, and this regional contest has globalimplications.

The United States-China trade disputeis one manifestation of a larger struggle between the world's existingsuperpower and a growing economic and strategic power. The global economy andglobal stability will feel the impact of this for some time to come.

So what must we do?

Individually these challenges wouldbe difficult enough, however in combination they require urgent and coordinatedengagement, by countries committed to an international order that providesopportunities for all nations to rise. Australia and the United Kingdom mustwork together, and with other partners, to defend, promote, and strengthen therules-based order as we have a key stake in the role it plays in regulating theconduct between nations. We will continue to hold Russia to account for it rolein the downing of MH17, over Ukraine and the Salisbury nerve agent attack.We've called out cyber-crime by Russia and by North Korea.

Equally, we must engage more deeplywith those who do seek to circumvent or destabilise the order in pursuit ofshort term gain. We must demonstrate that international cooperation can beeffective and there are penalties and consequences for attempting to subvertinternational law and norms of behaviour. We must work to preserve and developtransparent and predictable rules for trade and investment in our region andthe WTO and with the EU and with the UK. In some cases we must take forwardinternational cooperation in non-traditional ways. Australia and Japan, forexample, overcame the sceptics to rally others who saw the logic and thebenefit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement of 11 countries, after theUnited States had decided to withdraw. The Paris Climate Accord remains a majorinternational achievement. It creates a workable and important platform forfurther commitments to sustain our environment.

On the third challenge - the powershifts in the Indo-Pacific - no long-term foreign policy objective is moreimportant to Australia than ensuring that the Indo-Pacific region evolvespeacefully as it undergoes a period of profound strategic change. So we allneed to work harder for the security of the Indo-Pacific. That's why we welcomeGlobal Britain as a partner in our region. Australia and the United Kingdom canstrengthen our influence by coordinating closely and aligning our advocacy ofthe United States on key alliance issues. Acting together we can better supportthe United States to lead in ways that advance all of our mutual interests, inways that support the rules-based order.

We are taking greater responsibilityfor our own security and prosperity through the framework that's been detailedin our Foreign Policy White Paper released last year and the Defence WhitePaper in 2016. For Australia our regional neighbours have become strongeconomic partners with bilateral and regional trade agreements deliveringsubstantial mutual benefits over many years.

The relations between governments andpeople have matured in tandem. In partnership with the Pacific Island countrieswe will continue to grow resilience across the region and amplify islandstates' voices on the international stage. And we look forward to a stronger UKvoice in the Pacific and welcome the commitment to a greater diplomaticpresence as well as increased levels of development assistance as we worktogether to support the stability and economic progress of the Indo-Pacificregion more broadly.

Australia will continue to deepenengagement with South-East Asian countries, including by building countries capacityto protect their maritime domains. We will work more closely with democraciesin our region, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, as well asthe United States, to promote our ideals and values.

My message isn't new, although Ithink it's always important to be reminded that we are stronger when we buildcoalitions of like-minded nations to support the structures that have broughtso much benefit to the world. The rules-based order was developed after theSecond World War and it has seen the greatest expansion of prosperity in humanhistory. That framework was designed as a level playing field so that allnations had the opportunity to rise economically. However some nations thathave gained significant benefit from the order are now challenging it and weneed to remind them and our populations at home of its importance. We also needto continue to advocate for the principles of liberal democracy, freedom ofspeech, individual liberty and human dignity.

Struggles which many predicted wereover with the collapse of the Iron Curtain have returned as populist leaderspromote ideas that have in fact failed so many past societies. History has apainful lesson on the consequences of nations seeking narrow gains at theexpense of others, of seeking to dominate others, through military or economicpower of an environment where might is right. The rules-based order is notperfect, by any means. It requires constant attention and development, toensure that we take the path to a more enlightened future for our people in theworld. Australia looks forward to joining forces with Global Britain inupholding and defending the ideals and values that have underpinned ourrespective security and prosperity. Long may our joint endeavour in that regardendure.

Media enquiries