Australian Institute of International Affairs
Thank you very much, Zara, for your very kind introduction.
Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, and by paying my respects to their elders past, present and future.
To my parliamentary colleagues, and I don't know if Penny is here yet, but to my parliamentary colleagues, the extensive members of the Diplomatic Corps who are here this morning, and the very many other distinguished guests. There are certainly a lot of familiar faces in the audience which says something about my 21 years in the Parliament or my long-term focus on this policy area, or indeed perhaps both, and it's a great pleasure to be here today.
I want to start by acknowledging Allan Gyngell as well, the national president of the Institute. Allan is a well-known, long term and great contributor to policy thought and foreign policy thought and development in a long career advising government and now outside of government in think-tanks and in academia, and it's a great pleasure to have accepted your invitation to be here today.
It is a great pleasure to take this opportunity to address the Institute in my new capacity as Australian Foreign Minister and I obviously join with Zara in her very kind remarks about my friend and colleague Julie Bishop, and the extraordinarily important role she has played in Australian foreign policy in over many years now.
From the Institute's perspective, for almost 100 years the AIIA has been at the forefront of foreign policy debate in this country – a national conversation about where we fit in the world.
It's fair to say that in the early half of my career I was very familiar with the Glover Cottages in Kent Street in Sydney, of the NSW branch over the years.
And the AIIA national conference has been a part of this conversation, providing an opportunity for a cross section of the foreign policy community to come together and to share perspectives on the challenges and opportunities that we have faced as a nation over that time.
These are important times in international affairs. We face an uncertain global environment - from Australia's perspective, more so than any time since the end of the Second World War. We are in the midst of a major strategic realignment in the Indo-Pacific.
The challenges we face as the world moves to a new, more multipolar era are fundamental to the region's long-term prosperity and security and hence to Australia's future.
In that context, I am proud to be part of a Government that is making every effort to ensure an even stronger Australia.
The policies we pursue abroad seek to support the objectives set out by Prime Minister Morrison to grow the Australian economy, to keep Australians secure and to keep Australians together.
These three objectives are consistent with the themes of opportunity, security and strength of the Foreign Policy White Paper that we published in 2017.
The opportunities we seek through our international trade and investment agenda stand against protectionism and support economic growth in Australia.
Our global and regional engagement on security issues such as countering terrorism, responding to the nuclear challenge on the Korean Peninsula seeks, ultimately, to keep Australians safe – as, of course, do our consular services and investments in our defence force.
But it is a more uncertain, competitive and contested world, and we will need to be increasingly engaged and active and agile. We will need to defend our interests and be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented, even in a period of strategic uncertainty.
I know that Allan has said on occasion that each generation of foreign policy practitioners tend to think they live in a unique era of strategic change and challenge – but also that this era's group is perhaps more likely to be right than most.
With that in mind, I want to talk a bit more today about our Indo-Pacific region, about our United States Alliance and our work with other partners in the region, and our support for the rules-based aspect of international order.
The global balance of power is undergoing a structural shift – the economic and strategic power of states in our region, particularly China, but others as well, including Japan, India and countries of ASEAN, is growing.
For Australia, these changes present real opportunities – as well as considerable challenges.
Over the past decade, the Indo-Pacific has contributed more than two-thirds of global growth.
The region is on track to account for more than half of the world's GDP by the end of the next decade.
As Prime Minister Morrison said in Indonesia last month, our region – the Indo Pacific – is now right at the fulcrum of the global economy.
This means more opportunity for Australian businesses in a region that is richer and more potential investment to sustain the momentum of our economy.
But there is also challenge.
As the Foreign Policy White Paper identifies, competition for influence in the region is growing – and we have seen that occur rapidly, even in the year since the White Paper was published.
Again the move to a more multipolar region – and an era in which we are seeing both the United States and China exercise substantial influence – will require significant adjustment and cooperation among states, multilaterally and bilaterally.
We will need to respond in new ways.
We will need to be agile.
And while we are very conscious that the major powers are front and centre of current dynamics, Australia and other players still have agency; it is not only the major powers that can affect change.
Australia continues to have significant weight in our region, as we have shown in the roles we have played over recent decades, including in the building and the strengthening of regional architecture.
We should not underestimate our own influence, the effectiveness of our diplomacy, our weight – although all of these will need to be maximised if we are to meet the challenges to which I've referred.
The Foreign Policy White Paper is a good place to start. It sets an ambitious, yet achievable, goal to help shape a region favourable to our interests – a region in which the rights of all states are respected and where adherence to rules delivers lasting peace.
And we have a strategy – a set of interlocking activities to seek to achieve this goal. These activities include our support for the US Alliance and encouraging strong US engagement in the region; strong partnerships with other key democracies such as Japan and India; support for ASEAN and its institutions, particularly the East Asia Summit; support for an open, integrated regional economy; and a strong and productive relationship with China.
Our neighbours recognise and value our commitment to shaping our region.
And in this context, I want to mention first of all the Pacific Island countries.
Australia has a unique role to play in the Pacific, something I have seen first-hand as Defence Minister – and as Foreign Minister.
We have played that role in creative, constructive and cooperative ways through our development assistance programs, which help to build prosperity and build resilience to natural disasters and climate change, as well as in supporting security, as we have done in recent years in the region through our Defence Cooperation Program, and perhaps more historically through the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.
And we will continue to play that role in partnership with Pacific Island countries in this time of geopolitical change.
In fact we won't just continue, we will grow it, we will build on it. We will build on those partnerships and those engagements.
In my first full week as Foreign Minister, in the first full week of these last two months, I attended the 49th Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru .
The 49th PIF continued a long tradition of consultation, of partnership and policy development on a broad range of issues from security and health to labour mobility – with Australia at the table, along with our important partners in the Pacific.
I particularly welcome the adoption of the Boe Declaration, recognising a range of security challenges, including new and emerging threats.
And last Thursday and Friday in Port Moresby, as Zara referred to, I met with Prime Minister O'Neil and many of his Ministers, and reviewed preparations for the hosting of another important regional mechanism - the APEC meetings in November this year.
I am very pleased that our closet neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is hosting APEC this year – an opportunity to both build upon the growing interdependence of APEC's 21 member countries and to promote the importance of security, stability, resilience and development amongst Pacific Island countries.
We commend Papua New Guinea on the work it has done to host APEC 2018, and look forward to a very successful Leaders' Week in Port Moresby.
Further afield, in Southeast Asia and more broadly, ASEAN remains central to the continued stability and prosperity in our region.
ASEAN is the collective voice of Southeast Asia. Through its convening power, it brings together the countries of the Indo Pacific to discuss collectively our most important challenges – security, economic, and more broadly.
Australia remains deeply committed to the institutions of ASEAN, including the East Asia Summit.
In fact, in the current period of geo-political flux, we have even stronger interests in working with ASEAN – and within its institutions – to ensure the freedom of manoeuvre of all states.
Through economic crises to regional disruptions, ASEAN has supported peace in one of the most dynamic parts of the world for more than 50 years.
So in a time of change in the broader regional power balance, we share a crucial interest with ASEAN in addressing the security challenges emerging in our region, inside a rules-based framework.
This includes our approach to regional disputes, and to the regional implications of global terrorism. We will, for example, work with ASEAN – and others in the international community – towards a long-term solution to the crisis in Myanmar while continuing to call for accountability.
Australia has supported strongly the UN's Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. We have been deeply disturbed by its findings that war crimes, crimes against humanity and potentially genocide have occurred in Rakhine State.
We are working with Myanmar, with ASEAN and regional partners to identify long-term solutions to this crisis, including with Indonesia as co-chairs of the Bali Process and through joint humanitarian efforts in Cox's Bazar.
We of course also share the ASEAN commitment to supporting continued regional economic growth.
And we have committed ourselves to ASEAN centrality.
The ASEAN-Australia special summit in March this year reaffirmed our shared commitments by the Sydney Declaration – which sets out ASEAN's and Australia's shared commitment to work together towards a more secure and prosperous region.
Across history, the big dynamics are shaped by the major powers. At this moment of history – characterised by growing competition between the United States and China – we expect major-power dynamics to be more not less prominent.
And borrowing from the theme of this conference, to make the world work, the power of the major players works in combination with rules and norms that can serve to guide cooperation on global challenges and help ensure the ability of all countries to pursue their interests securely. A global order that is to be sustainable in an era of globalisation needs a rules-based element.
Cooperation – multilateral and bilateral – will be more important than ever, even as this is clearly under stress.
Many of the rules, the norms and the institutions we have relied upon since the Second World War are facing challenges.
Dean Acheson, Secretary of State in Harry Truman's post war administration very famously – if not so humbly - claimed to be "present at the creation" of these rules.
Standing in the ruins of the Second World War, the victors came together, with United States leadership, to build a new global order – based on a body of international law, rules, institutions and norms that have shaped the conduct of states.
"Rules-based order" has played a role in stability ever since – setting the conditions for an extraordinary period of growth in global living standards.
While I note, as Michael Fullilove suggested in his 2015 Boyer Lecture, that Acheson's creation might be said to be "beset on all sides", I do not believe that we are destined necessarily to be "present at the destruction" – as thought-provoking as that title of Michael's lecture was.
While the international system is under considerable strain – from some states seeking reform, from within some traditionally strong supporters themselves and from non-state actors such as terrorist groups - nevertheless it remains fundamental to tackling many global challenges and provides a voice for all states - large and small - through agreed rules rather than by the exercise of sheer power alone.
We will be safer and more prosperous in a world where global differences are managed, and global challenges met, by agreed rules rather than the exercise of power alone.
And many, if not most, of our international partners remain proponents of an international system that includes strong multilateral institutions and a strong rules-based component to global order.
However ladies and gentlemen, there is no room for complacency. The challenges to the status quo are of a different order of magnitude to any in the post-war period.
And the system itself is not without faults.
I agreed with the observations UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made in his address to the UN General Assembly last month, that some "21st-century challenges [are] outpacing 20th-century institutions".
Australia recognises the need for reform and far from abandoning the international system we are speaking loudly in its defence – by staying engaged in multilateral processes, by encouraging meaningful reforms and by driving a broad range of positive agendas, across a range of subject areas - the eradication of tuberculosis, abolition of the death penalty and working towards the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Our work with major economies such as the European Union, for instance, is strengthening international institutions for economic cooperation, and we are including in that reform efforts to ensure the WTO's continued effectiveness.
Our international cooperation has been integral in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, situations of concern in Iran and North Korea remain, and Australia continues to advocate for and to actively support and be engaged in efforts towards real and verifiable progress for denuclearisation.
And we will continue to speak up as a nation and as individuals in defence of human rights.
Let me come to the key players.
The future of our region will be in large part, shaped by the actions of the major parties, so let me focus next on China and on the United States.
China is a major and growing power of our region – more prosperous, more influential, more ambitious.
It has made it very clear that it will pursue its own political and economic direction, with authority concentrated in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
China continues to demonstrate its determination, and its capacity to cement power.
The emerging role that it forges for itself will be pivotal to the future of the region.
As we outline in our Foreign Policy White Paper – Australia is committed to constructive collaboration and engagement with China and others in our region. This was reinforced during my recent productive and constructive meeting with my Chinese counterpart State Councillor Wang Yi in New York.
Since the Second World War, the security and the peace of our region has been underwritten by the United States.
The US remains deeply engaged in the political, economic and security affairs of the Indo-Pacific. At the same time, other nations are undeniably exercising more influence. The United States also wants its allies and partners to do more to share the burden of global leadership.
These are developments which also change the security dynamic. They are a significant element of the current realignment of global affairs.
The situation is more complex even than that. The United States is seeking to change the nature of its engagement with China, while chafing at the weaknesses it sees in the international system.
At the same time, in important ways, the United States remains a force for stability in our region and in the world. The US National Security Statement of just last year reiterates that the United States' own economic and security interests are best served by ongoing engagement across the region.
Its very significant defence engagement throughout the region supports global norms. And the US is beginning to set out the economic dimension of its Indo Pacific strategy.
This includes a substantial new focus on infrastructure investment, an interest that Australia shares. That is why, in February of this year, Australia and the United States signed an MOU that facilitates infrastructure investment and we have joined in trilateral partnership with Japan to the same end.
So we have no doubt that the US will remain an enduring presence in our region. Other powers will rise. Rivalries may intensify. But the United States will be here.
We are engaging deeply with the US as it shapes the nature of that presence.
That was the key objective of this year's AUSMIN held in Palo Alto, facing the Indo Pacific, and on my visit to the United States earlier this month.
On both occasions, I found ready listeners to Australia's perspective on US' regional engagement.
Both countries remain steadfast in our commitment to the Alliance. It is foundational to Australia's national security and is at the core of our strategic planning.
We will continue though to be clear when we have disagreements over the direction of US policy, recognising that even the closest allies can have productive disagreements.
Clearly, for example, we have taken a different position to the US Administration on the issue of tariffs. The United States is prepared to use tariffs where it believes others are using unfair trade practices; we support the lowering of barriers to trade, and we stayed engaged in the Trans Pacific Partnership and indeed have achieved the TPP-11.
We have much to build on in an Alliance that has worked for Australians and Americans for many decades and a history which includes 100 years of admiration and of partnership forged from shared sacrifice.
While our history together is to be celebrated, I would venture to say that the challenges in the Indo Pacific render our Alliance as vital as it has ever been.
Australia has played and will play an increasingly active part in strengthening the region, taking and backing initiatives to support rules-based security and prosperity.
In a more contested world, the future of the global order and its rules-based component will be determined in large part by how the major powers manage strategic competition.
However, it will be determined also by how others – including Australia – work constructively, bilaterally and multilaterally, to sustain an international system that supports prosperity and peace.
Australia will remain focussed on the objectives I highlighted in my opening: advancing Australia's prosperity, security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
That is what the Australian people expect us to do and that is the ambition that we share.
Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.