Sir John Downer Oration

  • Speech, check against delivery

I amdelighted to deliver the third Sir John Downer Oration and acknowledge thefirst two Orations by then Prime Minister John Howard in 2012 and then PrimeMinister Tony Abbott in 2014. As Mike indicated Sir John began his storiedcareer as a brilliant scholar - a lawyer who became a barrister in 1868 at age 24and a Queens Counsel in 1878 at the age of 34.

In the sameyear, he was elected to the House of Assembly as the Member for Barossa – aposition he held until 1901.

A highlyregarded Attorney-General in the John Bray Government and Leader of theOpposition for much of the 1890s, Sir John held the high office of the Premierof South Australia twice - from June 1885 until June 1887 and again fromOctober 1892 until June 1893. He was elected a Senator for South Australia in 1901and held that position until resigning from federal political life in 1903 andresuming state political life. However, his legacy has lived on through his sonAlick, his grandson Alexander and hopefully his great-granddaughter!

AltogetherSir John was a member of state and federal parliaments for 37 years of his lifeand remained undefeated through eleven elections at both levels of government.I have to say, those were the days.

Sir John wasone of the earlier supporters for the right of women to vote – and sufferedmuch criticism and indeed heckling during his time in public life for defendingthat position. So it's appropriate that the Oration takes place within theUniversity of Adelaide which was the first Australian tertiary institution toadmit women to undergraduate degree studies.

Sir Johnplayed a leading role at the Conventions in the years prior to the founding of ourFederation in 1901. A champion of preserving the role of the states in anyfuture Commonwealth, he served on the Drafting Committees at the 1897-1898Convention and emerged as a most powerful advocate for entrenching a proper rolefor the High Court in the Constitution.

Sir John's remarksmade during the 1898 Convention on the future judiciary of the Commonwealth arestill quoted by students and academics of jurisprudence to this day:

"With them rests the obligation of finding out principles which are inthe minds of this Convention in framing this Bill and applying them to caseswhich had never occurred before, and which are very little thought of by any ofus."

As hisbiographer John Bannon concluded in examining the work of Sir John, he can:

"…claim a longevity in the cause of the Australian federation which wasunmatched by any other member."

We gather forthis Oration 102 years after his death to remember Sir John as a remarkable leaderwith a powerful vision for our Commonwealth.

Much of SirJohn's distinguished career was spent debating how the Australian national governmentought to be organised, the privileges and limitations placed on state andfederal executive power, and more broadly how Australians ought to be governed.

The task ofbalancing the competing interests of the states must have been formidable.

Forgive me asa Western Australian acutely aware that my state currently receives 34 cents onevery dollar of GST raised, I can't help but wonder how Sir John would havemanaged the equitable distribution of the GST among states and territories.

As an electedMember of Parliament and therefore a custodian of the Australian Constitution, Iam mindful that executive power must be acquired legitimately and wielded as wisely,responsibly and sparingly as possible.

Sir John andhis contemporaries took on the serious responsibility of crafting aConstitution that would serve as the bedrock of a Commonwealth that would workto the benefit of its citizens. The Constitution set out the variousresponsibilities of the Commonwealth Government and the States, and provides aframework within which each level of government was to operate. Importantly, itallocated equal numbers of Senators to each State, regardless of their relativepopulations. This feature reflecting the composition of the US Senate wasdesigned to protect the interests of the less populous States.

In manyrespects, the Constitution and subsequent work of Parliaments and the HighCourt have established a set of rules for Commonwealth-State and State-State interactions.Later this year, I will release the Government's Foreign Policy White Paper – the first since 2003 when Foreign AlexanderDowner released Advancing the NationalInterest. The 2017 Foreign PolicyWhite Paper will seek to establish a framework that will guide Australia'sinternational engagement in a less certain and more contested world over thenext decade. It will give the Government and Australians guidance with respectto how we maximise and exercise power and influence and for what purpose, andhow we seek to protect and enhance the interests and values of Australians throughour engagement abroad.

When it comesto the judicious use of executive power and national resources, a principledforeign policy is not so different from domestic contexts. Sir John had aprofound interest in the proper purpose of executive government and theobjectives of deploying national power and resources. Our upcoming White Paper will explain the rationalefor our international engagement and the utilisation of our nationalcapabilities overseas. The White Paper isan opportunity for the government and for Australians to reflect on thefoundations of our security and our wellbeing in an uncertain region and world.

It's to ourcredit as a nation that Australia has set yet another world record – we areentering our 27th year of continuous economic growth, unmatched byany other advanced economy. We've weathered the Asian financial crisis, we gotthrough the dot com boom and bust of 2000, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008,we survived the vagaries of the international commodities cycle. There's ageneration of Australians who have not known a recession and are focused on thepursuit of even greater prosperity. In the serene surroundings of thisbeautiful campus, it is easy to take for granted the conditions under whichpeace and prosperity become possible.

The era since the Second World War has come tobe known as the "Long Peace", and that is largely due to the international rules-basedorder, the laws and the rules and the norms established over that time, championedand promoted and defended by the United States and its allies to a largeextent. It is not possible to have one guiding document, such as ourConstitution, to set out these rules given the issue of nation-statesovereignty. However there is a rich tapestry of international law to guide thebehaviour of nations, particularly towards each other, to help resolve disputespeacefully. The international rules-based order is currently under stress andis being challenged by states and non-state actors. So the importance ofpreserving and maintaining the international rules based order is one of the fundamentalprinciples that will shape the content of the White Paper. The rules based order is built on many of the liberal-democraticprecepts that have underpin our domestic political life and economicsuccess. Its basic principle is the ruleof law where governments, firms and individuals enjoy rights and obligationsregardless of wealth or power. So largerand smaller economies, stronger and weaker states, can co-exist constructivelyand peacefully if all nations abide by the laws and the rules and the norms. Acountry of over a billion people – such as China or India – is deemed to have thesame rights and privileges as Tuvalu a population of just over 11,000 people orAustralia with under 25 million.

Now I'm notnaïve when it comes to the reality of the strategic or economic competition thatexists, especially in our region. Competition is an accepted feature ofinternational relations. However it must conducted fairly so as not to descendinto conflict. Australia has been a key supporter of this order, from our earlyengagement with the United Nations, including as the first nation to hold thepresidency of the Security Council.

A fortnightago in New York, I delivered a statement to the United Nations General AssemblyAnnual Leaders Week where I championed reform of the United Nations to ensureit is still relevant, that it becomes more accountable, and responsive andefficient to undertake the important work for which it was created. If theUnited Nations did not exist today we would have to establish it.

Australia hassupported many of the legal frameworks, including the United Nations Conventionon the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the International Criminal Court and more. So take the South China Sea. When the Tribunalof the Permanent Court of Arbitration, under UNCLOS, released its decision favouringthe Philippines in the contested South China Sea in July of 2016, Australiacalled on both China and the Philippines to treat this as final and binding onboth parties. We were probably the most insistent and robust of any country inthe world in upholding the authority of the Tribunal, and I'm well aware of howthat was received in certain capitals to our North.

Even though Australiadoesn't take sides in the territorial dispute between China and the Philippinesand others, we believe the Tribunal's decision is authoritative. It articulatesinternational law and the Law of the Sea in particular. As an island continent and a trading nation,freedom of navigation and overflight is utterly fundamental to our security.

We'll workwith likeminded countries to defend the rules based order and dissuade others seekingto undermine it. The most egregiousundermining of international law and order at the present time is North Korea'sflagrant disregard of eight United Nations Security Council resolutionsdemanding that it abandon its illegal weapons and ballistic missile programs. We'vebeen vocal in our support of the actions of the United States in persuading theSecurity Council to adopt even harsher sanctions against North Korea in orderto compel Pyongyang back to the negotiating table with the intention ofensuring it abandons its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Wehave been amongst the most vocal in the world in urging the internationalcommunity, and the Permanent Five members of the Security Council in particularwhich includes China and Russia, to fully impose tough sanctions and sanctionsthat will affect the elites as much as possible. If North Korea's illegalprograms are left unchecked, if North Korea achieves its aspirations, therewill be significant implications. The authority of the UN Security Council willbe diminished as well as the standing of the Permanent Five members. It willincrease the prospects of international disorder. The United States will haveno option but to increase its military presence in the region. South Korea andJapan will feel more threatened and vulnerable and will need to take deterrentaction. And what of other aspiring nuclear states Iran, and how would SaudiArabia respond?

Australiacannot stand apart from this regional threat to our security. We must play anactive role in defending the authority of the United Nations Security Counciland compelling Pyongyang back to negotiate a peaceful outcome.

We've imposedour own autonomous sanctions to complement the UN Security Council measures. Australiahas done so out of principle and respect for international law and order aswell as our own security. Similarly, Australia has called out Russia's actionsin eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of the Crimea. Standing on principleand speaking truth to great powers can be challenging. We do so because thedefence of international law and the rules based order provide the conditionsfor all countries to benefit and thrive.

Over the past70 years this rules based order has allowed developing nations to grow. China'seconomic rise has been one of the miracles of our times, with hundreds ofmillions lifted out of poverty. That occurred only after China gradually openeditself to the world and became a participant in the global order rather than opposingit or standing apart from it as occurred prior to its reforms in 1979. Theeconomic success of Japan, South Korea, Singapore and others has been achievedduring this era.

Other nationsin our region are experiencing rapid growth; India and Myanmar are currentlythe fastest growing economies. Our relationship with our region is warmer and morecomprehensive than ever. Meanwhile we maintain our close partnership with the UnitedStates, the nation that has done more than any other in terms of safeguardinginternational peace and security.

As I travelthrough the region and around the world I'm constantly reminded of the highregard in which Australia is held particularly in our region. In the capitalsand with institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN,Australia has never been more influential. That we are, is due in no small partto the clarity and consistency of how we pursue our interests and promote ourvalues. Our reputation that I seek to promote and protect is as an open liberaldemocracy committed to freedoms, the rule of law and democratic institutions.As an open export-oriented market economy committed to trade and investmentaround the world – that's why we're the 13th largest economy in theworld.

Additionally,the government is placing paramount importance on ensuring our government andour domestic institutions remain free from undue foreign influences orcoercion. This is to ensure those responsible for making decisions or carryingout duties on behalf of Australians can make decisions solely based on the bestinterests of our country.

Our White Paper will reflect Australia'sgrowing influence and will be ambitious in its outlook and its goals. We willdevelop our national strengths and capabilities, leverage our relationshipswith the great powers and key regional states, and take advantage of our expandingdiplomatic presence to champion the rules based order and policies that willcontinue to underpin Australian, regional,and global security and prosperity. In addition, the White Paper will seek out practical ways to make a tangible contributionto expanding Australian capabilities in the national interest. But we can't becomplacent, nor can our allies and partners and friends.

In 1988, PaulKennedy from Yale University released his magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In a grand sweep of economic and militaryhistory from 1500 – 2000 Professor Kennedy examined the material causes of therise and fall of great ruling families, nations and empires.

He began fromthe truism that wealth is generally needed to underpin military power andstrategic influence and analysed the way nations and governments over-reach,for example territorial acquisition or participation in wars.

His analysiswas masterful and thorough. The rise and fall of the Habsburg Empire, OttomanEmpire, Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany and the British Empire – to nameseveral – are examined in impressive detail. He convincingly argues thatstrategically and politically reaching beyond one's economic grasp is theharbinger of decline. Yet, the qualifications contained in his analysis are asimportant as the main thesis itself.

The relativeand absolute rise and decline of nations and national economies depend on theeffectiveness of leaders and the flexibility and resilience of politicalorganisations and national institutions. The professionalism and efficiency ofone's military is significant as is national morale.

As during theindustrial revolution, adapting to technological change and shifting markets willdetermine the fate of economies and therefore nations. It's obviously not anexact science because Professor Kennedy – along with almost every expert - failedto predict the collapse of the Soviet Union only three years after the releaseof his study; the economic revival of the United States economy and its globalleadership in the technology revolution under way; and he didn't quite pick theremarkable rise of China following land reforms in the 1980s and the opening upof its economy to the world when it joined the World Trade Organisation in2001. But my point is that the economic and strategic destiny of every nationis dependent on decisions made by its leaders and its people.

For our part,there's no sign that Australia is in danger of strategic overreach or imminent economicturmoil – quite the contrary. However, warnings about relative decline can applyto all nations. We cannot take growth in capability and strength for granted.

Just considerthe disruption from the scale and pace of technological advances. We'reentering a fourth industrial revolution, or what many experts call the SecondMachine Age. In this age the disruptive effects of advanced manufacturingtechnologies, robotics, automation, 3D printing and exponential improvements inartificial intelligence will make many traditional jobs and industriesobsolete. Some predictions are that within a decade one third of jobs inexistence now are at risk of being replaced by software, robots and smartmachines. We're told about 60 per cent of school children around the world willbe working in jobs and industries that have not yet been created.

Disruptive change will impact almostevery sector and every economy over time. During every identified Industrial Revolution, thenational strengths and capabilities of countries shifted dramatically inrelative terms depending on the ability of their government and their economiesto respond – or not.

We are anation of 25 million people in a region of growing military and economic weight.Australia's interests lie in continuing to champion an open global economic andtrading system, to adapt quickly to technological changes, to embraceinnovation and take advantage of the opportunities unfolding in the region suchas the massive rise of a middle class – a consumer class – in Asia that iseager to purchase quality goods and services. We must advocate – all of us - forthe continually opening of our economy to fair competition to find new andenhance existing markets for our goods and services. We have to attract skilledworkers from all over the world to enhance our productivity and build ourcapacity. We must maintain public confidence in the steady flow of foreigncapital that enables us to build our economy. And we must work tirelessly toachieve regional stability.

If we dothese things well, we will continue to advance national prosperity and accumulatethe means and influence to advance our interests. This will allow us to becomean even more effective champion of the rules based order.

Ladies andgentlemen.

Sir JohnDowner made it his life's work to promote a principled constitutionalism forour Commonwealth. He advocated for a proper and pragmatic relationship betweenexecutive authority, law, institutions and public ethics and accountability.

Evenallowing for the differences between the domestic and international environs, thisstrikes me as an apt description of the principled foreign policy I am advancing.I hope Sir John would approve.

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