Address to the US Studies Centre

  • Speech, E&OE
Subjects: Resilience, Relationships, Rules: Australia foreign policy in an uncertain world.

Thank you very much to Dr Mike Green for your very warm introduction and, of course, my congratulations on your appointment as CEO of this very prestigious institution. It was great to see you in Canberra at the Alliance 70th anniversary dinner, and we certainly look forward to welcoming you to Sydney in due course.

To the Chair of the US Studies Centre, Mark Baillie, and members of the centre's board as well as Edward Palmisano, the whole team at the US Studies Centre, thank you very much for hosting me here today.

I also acknowledge the other distinguished guests both here and online, and including our new US Consul General in Sydney, Christine Elder, and Kirsten Andrews from the University of Sydney.

Let me acknowledge the traditional owners of the country on which we are all meeting and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Ladies and gentlemen, as Mark Baillie said, tomorrow, the 29th of April, marks exactly 70 years since the ANZUS Treaty came into force. The text of the treaty affirmed our shared desire to strengthen the fabric of peace in the Pacific. It also declared that no potential aggressor could be under the illusion that any of us as signatories stood alone in the Pacific.

For 70 years Australia has known that we are far more secure because we do not stand alone. This knowledge has given us confidence and assisted in enabling us to flourish and prosper. There's nothing quite like having good friends and trusted partners.

Over these same seven decades the world has seen extraordinary economic growth and stability, nowhere more than in the Indo-Pacific. These two things are not coincidental. The values and principles that bind Australia and the United States and which we share with many other partners, both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, promote stability and prosperity not just for ourselves but for all.

The Australian people, the American people, share much in our cherishing of national and individual freedom and fairness, of openness and optimism. We believe in democracy. We believe in free speech, human rights and equality. We believe in the rule of law and a set of rules that creates a level playing field enabling healthy competition between open economies.

Our alliance spans diplomacy, trade, intelligence, shared facilities, security and defence, space and cyber and ties between our people, our cultures and our outlook. It's an essential element in keeping Australians safe, which is the first priority of any Australian government.

Importantly, our alliance has and will continue to evolve as our strategic circumstances change, and they are changing. We've entered a period that is becoming more dangerous, less stable and less prosperous.

Australia has been at the forefront of addressing this geostrategic reality in our region. The Morrison government's approach is founded in a firm belief that we have agency and influence to shape our strategic environment for the better. We've done so with a strong voice, with sound principles and policies at home and abroad, and through practical measures with our partners to invigorate the relationships that provide stability and confidence.

Australia has a track record as one of the countries that has been clearest and most consistent in response to the changing circumstances, particularly China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. We have led on this. There is now strong agreement from amongst the Australian people that standing firm on our values and principles even in the face of pressure is the right approach for our long-term future. Building our strength and working with others to put that strength to good use is our safest course to ensuring that in the coming decades we are free to be ourselves and to exercise our choices.

As the Prime Minister said just earlier this week on Anzac Day, the world is changing before our eyes. War stalks Europe again. Coercion troubles our own region once more, and an arc of autocracy from Beijing to Moscow is challenging the rules-based world order.

We are seeing authoritarian regimes clearly take this as the time to increase oppression internally and coerce others internationally. We see some large countries preying upon smaller countries. We see coercion, disinformation, cyber attacks. Covid-19 has also exacerbated many of the challenges we face. We see increased economic uncertainty and deepened risks of recession and of protectionism. The pandemic has fuelled dangerous disinformation. Climate change presents additional challenges for our region, along with transnational crime and, of course, the persistent threat of terrorism.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a salutary reminder of the consequences of lawlessness and major power aggression unconstrained by rules. It's an important lesson for the Indo-Pacific, including the fact that international stability can easily be disrupted.

The response must be to ensure that we compete effectively to advance the kind of region in which we want to live. That's a region in which international laws are observed, trade is free and open, security is assured, and each country's sovereignty is respected and the same rules apply to all regardless of size.

We have agency to engage and to shape the region to secure these interests and uphold our values. And it's clear to us if we don't shape our environment, it will shape us, and not for the better. We lose agency. We lose options.

The Australian government has a clear and focused plan based around three principles:

resilience, relationship and rules. That means resilience over reliance; relationships over vulnerable isolation; and rules over anarchy.

Australia must be strong and sovereign with a growing and resilient economy. That's what we're working to protect and advance. First, at home, we've made tough decisions to protect our democracy, to protect our systems and, importantly, to defend our values. The government over the past several years has taken important steps to protect ourselves and our people and to enable us to compete more effectively. These include: our laws to counter foreign interference and espionage; a world-leading decision to exclude vendors from our 5G network who posed national security risks; a strengthened foreign investment regime; laws I introduced to ensure consistency in our foreign policy; Magnitsky sanctions reforms to target those who perpetrate serious human rights abuses, corruption and malicious cyber activity; laws to make our critical infrastructure more secure, including from cyber threats.

Secondly, we are amongst the strongest proponents of free and open trade based on international rules to ensure fairness, because trade is vital to Australia's economy. We have seen authoritarian countries use economic leverage to coerce, to enforce silence or to undermine the sovereignty and interests of others.

We are, therefore, strengthening our resilience against such measures by supporting robust international rules, encouraging the diversification of Australia's trade and securing supply chains. We're a founding member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. We signed an historic Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement with India earlier this month and the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement in December last year. We're working with partners on supply chain resilience, including through the Quad, the G20, APEC and the G7 Plus and we have established the $107 million supply chain resilience initiative to establish or scale manufacturing capabilities or address supply chain vulnerabilities in critical areas like semiconductors, agricultural chemicals, telecommunications equipment and personal protective equipment.

Thirdly, we're building the resilience of our region because a stable neighbourhood benefits our own economy, and a safe neighbourhood is a good place to live. From vaccines to infrastructure, from cyber to low-emission technology and investments in economic resilience, we're working with partners to deliver practical and positive benefits, particularly as countries continue to face the economic impacts of Covid-19.

On vaccines, for example, Australia has so far delivered over 30 million doses to partners in the Indo-Pacific of the 60 million we have committed. Further deliveries continue into the region literally this week. We deliver on our promises transparently.

Fourthly, over the past eight years Australia has been undertaking the most comprehensive expansion of our defence capability in our lifetimes. We've increased the defence budget to over 2 per cent of GDP this year. The United States is a critical partner for us in this endeavour, sharing technologies and expertise to develop the most advanced capabilities to defend our nation, including through the AUKUS partnership.

This range of initiatives strengthens our sovereignty and makes us a more capable partner in maintaining a region in which all nations can pursue their interests and values free from coercion, intimidation or pressure.

Australia is amongst a group of nations championing democratic values. However, we clearly also have aligned interests with countries that have different political systems. Amongst those aligned interests is a balanced region in which no one country dominates and in which all states rights and sovereignty are respected. Australia stands for a freer, more open, more inclusive world. A region in which authoritarian power is dominant doesn't get us closer to that goal, and that's why the resilience of all states is essential.

The strategic challenges that Australia and our immediate neighbours face are by no means unique. In my discussions with global counterparts from the Pacific to South East Asia to Europe, it's clear that as authoritarian powers assert themselves smaller and vulnerable states are facing comparable stresses and dangers wherever they are.

We respond to these challenges more effectively with partners. No one nation alone can manage the array of challenges that we face. We are most certainly stronger together.

As Australia's Foreign Minister I've regularly engaged close counterparts on these sensitive and complex challenges in our immediate region, including in recent weeks those from Europe around the table at NATO, from India, Indonesia, Japan, the UK, the US, the Republic of Korea, Canada, across the Pacific the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Samoa, Tuvalu, Tonga, Nauru and the Cook Islands.

By working with partners across the globe, not just in the Indo-Pacific, we're continuing our deliberate development of a strong network of complementary partnerships. We were the first country to secure a comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN last year, reflecting the importance of ASEAN which sits at the heart of our approach to the Indo-Pacific.

We agreed comprehensive strategic partnerships with India, with Malaysia, with the Republic of Korea in the last two years, and our comprehensive strategic and economic partnership with Papua New Guinea and our Vuvale partnership with family and friends in Fiji. We are strengthening further our critical partnership with Indonesia, including with President Widodo's visit to Australia and the entry into force of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in 2020.

We have taken the Quad from an idea that was effectively shelved by previous governments to a leading grouping of democracies who are now meeting at least once a year at leader level and at foreign minister level, most recently as foreign minister level in our Quad Foreign Ministers meeting held in Australia in Melbourne in February.

We're taking practical action to meet challenges like Covid vaccination, cyber attacks, disinformation and infrastructure development. In fact, the progress made by Australia, India, Japan and the United States in the Quad in aligning our efforts to multiply impact will continue to yield benefits to the region for decades to come.

And there is our landmark agreement – AUKUS – which will enhance our national security for decades. In addition to nuclear-powered submarines AUKUS enables us to share advanced technology, including on cyber, on quantum technology, on artificial intelligence, on undersea capabilities, on hypersonics and electronic warfare.

As we advance the AUKUS partnership Australia is strongly committed to upholding our non-proliferation obligations and commitments and strengthening the non-proliferation regime. Our non-proliferation credentials are world leading, and we will maintain the highest standards.

We're also partnering with our Pacific family in a wide variety of ways to help them preserve and strengthen their sovereignty and improve the lives of people across our region. We've been expanding and deepening our partnerships through the Pacific Step-up, through our expanded diplomatic footprint, our targeted and effective development program, and our whole-of-government efforts delivered through the Office of the Pacific. We have made record investments in the Pacific -- $1.85 billion in development assistance in this coming year and $2.7 billion in total support for the Pacific for the current year, including not just our development assistance but our security, health and financial support.

We have responded to our Pacific family in times of need, whether through the economic and health shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, whether it's responding to natural disasters such as Tonga's volcanic eruption and tsunami, or responding to the Solomon Islands’ call for assistance to civil unrest in late last year. We have invested in Pacific economies. We've increased our Pacific climate finance commitment to at least $700 million. We've doubled the lending capacity of the Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility from one and a half billion dollars $3 billion in this last budget to provide further options for Pacific countries on infrastructure, options that are climate-adapted and climate-resilient focused on their priorities and their plans. And also creating Pacific labour mobility programs that have enabled more than 19,400 workers to arrive in Australia since our borders reopened.

We've strengthened our security partnerships, delivered 14 so far out of the 21 pledged Guardian Class patrol boats and upgraded whatever infrastructure in Papua New Guinea, in Tuvalu, in Tonga, in Samoa, the Solomon Islands, in Fiji, in Palau, in Kiribati, in Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia.

We are delivering regional security institutions, including the recently opened Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp in Fiji. I was present for the sod turning of the Blackrock camp. To see it completed and operational is a landmark achievement between Australia and Fiji not just for Fiji but for our region.

We're working to deliver Lombrum Naval Base in Papua New Guinea and a border and patrol boat outpost in the Solomon Islands. We have established the Pacific Fusion Centre in Vanuatu and delivering training and analysis on security issues with our Pacific partners in their – with their analysts in Port Vila.

And, most importantly, we've invested heavily in our people-to-people links, despite the challenges of Covid-19 travel restrictions. We have been significant since 2018 Australia has opened six new diplomatic posts. We are now the only country with a diplomatic mission in every Pacific Island Forum member country.

Today in Honiara our High Commissioner will attend an event for the handover of 150,930 doses of Pfizer vaccine through an agreement with UNICEF. This brings to more than half a million the number of doses we have delivered to the Solomon Islands, and we have seen great support through AUSMAT teams and through the support of the ADF for the delivery of that Covid-19 support and health security across the wide and dispersed Solomon Islands.

We will continue talking with the Solomon Islands government in Honiara. But I have noted and I reiterate that we are deeply concerned by the Solomon Islands' signing of the security agreement last week with China. Of course I have consistently acknowledged that this is a clear sovereign decision of a sovereign government. However, we know other members of the Pacific family share our concerns. As I said, we'll continue talking with the Solomon Islands government about how the Pacific family is best placed to provide security assistance in our region.

We have done that successfully. We will continue to do that, and no document signed and kept away from public view is going to change that. We have a bilateral security treaty that is available for anyone to read. That's the way we operate in our partnership with the Solomon Islands and across the Pacific. That's the kind of partner we are, and that is why we're the partner of choice for so many.

We have again proven that in response to the Solomon Islands unrest late last year the response to the Tonga volcanic eruption and tsunami in January. We have proven it over 14 years of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.

But we do need to be clear: the Solomon Islands' sovereign decision reflects the geostrategic reality of the time we are now in as China continues to seek a security presence in the Pacific. These are matters we have been dealing with for some time. It's an issue we as a region and a family are facing, as other parts of the Indo-Pacific are facing it.

We'll continue talking with our Pacific Island Forum partner members on a Pacific Island Forum response. But Australia will always take the necessary, appropriate actions to maintain the peace, security and resilience of our region.

International laws, rules and norms guide healthy competition, and ensure that competition doesn't lead to conflict or instability. However, intense strategic competition, the global pandemic and resulting economic shocks have exposed weaknesses and stress points in major multilateral institutions and, indeed, the systems of rules that they administer.

Authoritarian states want the current international system to be disrupted, dismantled, reshaped even to serve their own interests. Australia's involvement is, therefore, vital. We've been at the forefront of articulating this challenge and responding with our own investments to ensure our influence works to build transparency and accountability.

Through recent UN votes, the world has sent a signal to authoritarian nations by emphatically repudiating Russia's wholesale breach of the UN Charter and international law through its illegal invasion of Ukraine. Australia joined partners in referring the situation to the International Criminal Court in early March because President Putin and his regime must face consequences for their and his unprovoked war.

We've all seen the disturbing evidence of war crimes and the potential evidence of genocide. We have offered from Australia two officers to the International Criminal Court, and we are looking to provide further Australian Federal Police investigative support, particularly given our experience as part of the joint investigative team on the downing of MH17.

Today I can also announce a further $1 million in voluntary contributions to assist the International Criminal Court's investigations. This is in addition to our annual contributions. The appalling crimes committed over the past two months demonstrate why these international institutions and processes matter more than ever. Australia will promote rules-based economic integration and advocate against protectionism. We're working with like-minded partners to strengthen institutions like the World Trade Organisation to defend the rights of all economies to trade free from coercion.

International institutions are not perfect. They've never been so. But they are indispensable as the fora through which we can generate collective action against countries that unilaterally undermine the stability or coerce others.

Ladies and gentlemen, these three principles of strengthening resilience, relationships and rules will continue to be vital as we act to shape our region. The pace at which China has sought to exercise influence and raw power in the Indo-Pacific has been rapid, more so than many were predicting only a decade ago. Australia has been at the forefront of global efforts to respond to the implications of this shift in power.

We have been candid and forthright with partners. We have spoken with conviction and consistency in defence of our national interests. We have been acting to make Australia and our region more secure, delivering vaccines and reinforcing health security, forging trade rules, seeking leadership in multilateral institutions, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, defending international law and calling for transparency in relation to China's security agenda.

We are focused on shaping a stable future for our region in the face of negative and concerning trends. None can be in doubt as to what Australia stands for. Strategic competition and supply chain issues exacerbated by the pandemic have demonstrated beyond question that any separation between strategic and economic interests does not serve Australia's interests.

When I addressed the US Studies Centre in October 2019 just months before the Covid-19 pandemic inflicted such damage to our region I said then that Australians are very interested and alert to the extent to which our circumstances are changing. Now, two and a half years later, these words continue to ring true.

We are in the midst of the most significant and consequential realignment of our region since the Second World War, and Australians rightly take a strong interest in these issues. The pandemic and events such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine have reinforced beyond all doubt that the security and prosperity of Australians is tied to our capacity as a nation to navigate these turbulent times.

Our foreign policy is firmly rooted in maintaining the long-term prosperity and security of the Australian people. For that we have a clear plan. It's a plan that we have been consistently prosecuting, building on our track record of deterring actions contrary to our interests, of mitigating problems when they inevitably arise, and of securing opportunities to advance our prosperity and security.

We approach this era of strategic competition with confidence – confidence in our plan, confidence built on our record, confidence in Australia. From a position of strength we are competing for the future we want for Australians now and for the generations to come. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.


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