We have no closer friend and ally than Britain

  • Op-ed
19 January 2022

Australia and Britain are two of the most diverse nations on earth. We both share a belief in open, democratic, pluralistic societies where citizens can thrive, be free and pursue their own paths to fulfilment.

For these reasons and more, Australia and Britain are natural and necessary contemporary partners in the modern era, with shared values and perspectives on global affairs that have driven us to enter timely new undertakings such as the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement and AUKUS.

The longevity of Australian and British sovereignty – building on the efforts of so many of our fellow countrywomen and men over our long histories – depends on our collective actions now and in the future. It is in large part our shared character that will define how we respond together to the threats and opportunities of a world defined by intense strategic competition, exacerbated by a global pandemic.

This week, the 11th Australia-UK Ministerial Consultations will take place in Sydney, where Australia’s Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, and I meet with our British counterparts, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. We are resolutely focused on working together to reinforce the resilience, sovereignty and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.

Countries around the world are rightly focused on the Indo-Pacific because ours is the region where a strategic contest will shape the global environment more than any other in the 2020s and decades ahead. Britain is an excellent example of this sharper focus on the Indo-Pacific, even as nations on both sides of the Atlantic focus on the challenge of an increasingly disruptive Russia.

Our longstanding relationship is, in fact, modern and dynamic. The AUKMIN meeting will ensure we are both meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of this era of change.

Throughout the pandemic, democratic governments have understandably been scrutinised on their responses. Countries such as Britain and Australia are able not just to withstand but to welcome that scrutiny because we make the difficult decisions in the glare of the public spotlight: we have grown up with an instinct for freedom, for personal rights and responsibilities – so much so that it lies deep within our DNA.

Contrary to authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia and Iran, liberal democracies have among their most fundamental qualities those of transparency and accountability. Citizens can see, and participate in, the governance of their nations.

Authoritarian regimes have attempted to take advantage of our open societies through the spread of disinformation, the erosion of global freedoms and economic coercion and aggression.

So, in addition to fighting the pandemic, partners like Australia and Britain must work together to identify and counter such malicious activity designed to silence dissent, sow discord and uproot the global rules-based order.

We must simultaneously tackle the dangers of the silent virus and the dangers of covert interference by authoritarian regimes.

Whether in relation to the democratic backsliding in Hong Kong, North Korean missile tests or the Myanmar military regime inflicting horrific violence on its own people, our strength is in speaking and acting with a common voice, committed to human rights and democratic freedoms.

Democratic solidarity is not just about words and common history. It is about practical action to stand up for each other, defend our values and principles, and work with other partners across ASEAN, the Pacific and Europe who share our interests – including those that might have different political modalities – to shape the kind of region and world we want. We both see and seek to address the great global challenges of our time: increased geostrategic instability, practical steps to address climate change, and a febrile global economy yet to recover from Covid-19.

Both our nations understand the critical importance of the Indo-Pacific to global peace, security and stability – even as Russia continues to threaten – and the need to build resilience against coercion and disinformation. We continue to stand with British and European partners in the face of one of the most tense situations in their own region since the Cold War.

We understand that in the 21st century, a fit-for-purpose, well-supported, functional international system is vital to the health of our national economies and international stability.

Australia has sought, and welcomed, an increased focus from London on the Indo-Pacific in light of the most significant strategic realignment since World War II. This has been reflected in Australia’s deep engagement with Britain’s agenda as G7 chair – including my two visits to Britain for G7-plus meetings in 2021, and the Prime Minister’s visit to Cornwall.

This week, the AUKMIN consultations will be the latest example of the close and growing collaboration between our two countries. The AUKMIN talks will build on the landmark strategic announcements we made in September on AUKUS – a partnership that will enhance our sovereignty and make us stronger.The development of an Australian nuclear-powered submarine fleet under AUKUS is the highest profile example of our closer strategic collaboration, but it is the first, not the last, example

In December, our two countries signed the Australia-UK FTA, the first trade agreement Britain has finalised from a clean page since Brexit. This represents a once-in-a-generation outcome for our producers and consumers.

Last year, Britain was one of those countries that stepped up to support our Covid response with a crucial and timely vaccine swap.

I am particularly proud that Secretary Truss and I also share a strong focus on gender equality, and we will continue to be at the forefront of ensuring that rights and opportunities for women and girls are central to the world’s Covid-19 response.

In 2022 and beyond, it is clear that the Australia-UK relationship will be defined by meeting the challenges of our future as the strongest of partners.

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