‘Ensuring security, enabling prosperity’ - United States Studies Centre

  • Speech, E&OE
United States Studies Centre
29 October 2019

I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Thank you Professor Simon Jackman, CEO of the US Studies Centre. And thanks also to Bloomberg and Managing Editor Ed Johnson for hosting us tonight.

I also have to thank you for you for your forbearance with my schedule. It is fair to say that if there is an honours degree available at the University of Sydney in patience, then Simon is a very good candidate.

I very much appreciate that understanding. Tonight Sydney, tomorrow Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, so it is again one of those weeks. I very much appreciate it.

Let me also acknowledge the two USSC board members here tonight: Stephen Garton, the deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney and John Robinson, managing partner at Ernst & Young.

And I see dotted throughout the room a few friendly faces – that's very nice – and some members of the media. Very good to see you here as well.

I wanted to talk briefly also about the USSC because I do think it plays a vital role in  informing Australians about the United States and about Australia's relationship with the United States. It has a solid track record of producing reports on issues ranging from the Alliance, to Indo-Pacific Security and global trade issues, that raise the level of the public conversation in Australia on foreign policy.

I congratulate Simon and your team on that excellent work.

Ensuring security and enabling prosperity: They are interdependent and they are mutually reinforcing.

Australia has been a secure and prosperous nation for decades – culturally, socially, economically, physically and politically.

We've been secure within a system of alliances, partnerships, collective security arrangements and international institutions that we have helped to shape.
And we have prospered within a system of international rules and norms that have served to protect our interests and support our values. But we have now well and truly entered a period in which we cannot be complacent about these rules, norms and institutions.

We cannot simply hope or expect them to continue to evolve in ways that support our interests.

The various strata of international co-operation won't have the same moorings they've had for the past several generations. We see now, and we can expect to continue seeing, a rising volume of contributions from a wider range of actors. We need therefore to be very clear about the values and the long-term interests that will serve as our guides.

Australia's prosecution of a strong foreign policy that means we are actively out in the world, modernising the international system, is perhaps more important now than it has ever been.

We are energetic in shaping our region and helping improve the international system of rules to keep them fit-for-purpose, and supportive of our national interests. We work collaboratively, creatively and flexibly with others who have similar visions for our region.

It's important that we discuss these challenges and our responses, and I welcome the opportunity to do that tonight. It is clear, as the Prime Minister and I have laid out in successive speeches1 and public comments, that the international system does need to modernise if it is to reflect the principles that we regard as being beneficial to Australia – and also to all nations.

Australians are very interested and alert to the extent to which our circumstances are changing. Our foreign policy is an expression of who we are, and it's a way of shaping our international environment to make it possible for us to continue being who we are.

We are in, as Simon alluded to, a period of renewed major power rivalry, but that is not the only issue that will challenge us. Right across the globe, shifts in economic and strategic weight, overlayed by the impact of fast-moving technology, are producing dramatic changes in political attitudes and fortunes.

This dynamic and complex environment offers opportunities for newly empowered actors. A broader range of actors now wield influence globally – for better or for worse - including nation-states, non-state groups, including terrorist organisations, multi-national corporations, megacities and even individuals.

Sovereign states remain the building blocks of the international system and have unique responsibilities, but non-state actors are assuming greater relevance in this new strategic landscape.

We will also be engaging with a different, post-Brexit Britain and Europe. We continue to grapple with ongoing insecurity and instability in the Middle East, with a revanchist Russia intent on disruption, and with an increasingly assertive and influential China.

Trade tensions are symptomatic of stress within vital international institutions, underscoring the need for reform.

Sources and loci of power are changing, shifting us a long way from the bipolar world of the Cold War.

The US has made it quite clear that it is assessing what proportion of the burden it shoulders for maintaining the international system.

Many of these dynamics are connected.

To continue to be secure and prosperous, we must adapt to these evolving circumstances. And I am strongly of the view that such adaptation requires being true to our values and our principles. This consistency is the only way to ensure Australia remains strong and influential in the changing international environment.

We have to start by ensuring that our values are reflected in the international rules and institutions in which we take part.

We live in a different time to 1945, when the international community, led by the United States, came together amid the ashes of World War II to establish the United Nations and develop the system of rules and norms that have underpinned peace and prosperity for the past 75 years.

Today we face an increasingly contested international order with a crowded field of players vying to declare what is fair and what is right. Finding consensus is increasingly difficult.

That is why countries such as Australia will continue to step up and help marshal international support to evolve rules that will keep necessary economic competition from tipping into dangerous conflict, and preserve many of our cherished principles.

In gathering international support, Australia engages energetically and persuasively to help build coalitions of states – incorporating regional countries and like-minded nations globally – that share our interests in a stronger and more effective international order.

At a time of rapid change, we do need an international system that preserves the unique characteristics of individual states while supporting their agency in addressing global issues.

Member states are the elements that comprise the international system, and therefore we can, and should, shape it to serve our interests. We intend to shape it positively to ensure it reflects our own character and interests, is contemporary, and enables focused and practical action to address common challenges.

That means modernising some of the institutions that make up the global order, and some of the rules, to keep pace with changes in technology, trade and in the global strategic balance.

It can be done. The reforms recently of the Universal Postal Union are a timely example. Australia worked with a number of other countries to modernise the organisation and make delivery costs, including for our own Australia Post, more equitable.

Instead of seeing this essential international system fall apart after 145 years with key members just walking away, it was preserved and strengthened.

It is important for us to prioritise our efforts. We must pursue reform of the institutions that are most relevant to Australia's interests.

We will continue working positively with existing international and regional architecture such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit to ensure we can together address regional security challenges more effectively; and we will work with the Indian Ocean Rim Association as its importance grows as well.

Importantly, we will continue to participate actively in the development and codification of the rules and norms for the game-changing domains of space and cyberspace, and position ourselves to optimise the benefits and mitigate the risks arising from an explosion of new technologies.

Hyperconnectivity already has a profound effect on almost everything we do. Increasingly, the distinction between our online and offline lives is disappearing.

Here and now, tonight, I'm sure we are livestreaming, we are tweeting, we are texting, we are whatsapping. We may be signalling. That hyperconnectivity is inescapable.

Critical technologies are changing the foreign and security policy landscape. Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, 5G, cyber capabilities, Blockchain and quantum computing are emerging as key strategic resources, and the focus of intensified geopolitical competition.

There is a new politics of technology, around the differences between allowing new technology to liberate and enable human creativity and individualism, and the use of it to surveil and reduce the space of individuals to express themselves and share their views.

And that's even before I get to the malevolent use of technology on and against individuals, cohorts of communities and so on.

With radically different approaches emerging across the globe on the use of these technologies and the possible implications for surveillance, censorship, privacy and economic benefit, governments need to carefully, but frankly without delay, evolve their strategic thinking about these issues.

Many countries are starting to grapple with how these new transformational tools are governed and regulated, what principles and ethics they should follow, and ultimately what role they will play in the geopolitical and economic landscape.

Western liberal democracies cannot be silent or absent from this debate. We will be impacted by the rapid pace of change – we are affected by the rapid pace of change -  whether we like it or not. And so we must continue to act in the interests of our public and the sovereignty of our nations.

Australia has worked hard to ensure that the rules-based international order applies equally online as it does offline. We are well-positioned, seen by many as a world thought-leader on international cyber engagement, led by our inaugural Ambassador for Cyber Affairs, Dr Toby Feakin.

Last month, I co-launched a joint statement on advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace with my US and Dutch colleagues at the UN General Assembly leaders week.  This is a clear recognition that the international rules-based order should guide state behaviour in cyberspace.

The interest and engagement in such an initiative is only growing.

If we don't, we risk encouraging those who seek to misuse cyberspace as a means of repression, control and instability.

As a member of the community of responsible cyber operators, it is now time to build on that base and broaden our engagement to ensure that the rapidly maturing technology environment doesn't undermine the rules-based international order.

The era of 'Cyber and Tech Diplomacy' is well and truly upon us. Australia will continue to work with likeminded partners to ensure our technological destiny reflects the values of our society, protects our most vulnerable and ensures a prosperous economic future.

There are indeed genuine risks to human rights if we don't create better rules and norms for the digital world.

And while critical technologies are no doubt changing our way of life, and exacerbating threats and opportunities, we have to continue to deal with them while maintaining our fundamental principles of individual freedoms and rights, and while we are focused on security and prosperity, whether online or off.

It is the case that countries that respect and promote their citizens' rights at home tend also to be better international citizens.

Those whose governments are accountable to their people, are less likely to cause their own people unnecessary suffering through reckless actions abroad. They are less prone to corruption and better placed to foster innovation and business confidence, and consequently therefore are economically more productive.

They do produce wealthier societies with higher standards of living. And ultimately when you generate your own wealth, you don't need to take it from others.

Democracy, individual rights and freedoms therefore flow through to international principles that produce stronger relations between countries: principles like respect for international law, peaceful settlement of disputes, collective solutions to shared problems, a commitment to working co-operatively according to a set of rules.

There will be exceptions, but overwhelmingly, free and self-governed people behave better towards each other and the rest of the world.

Australia recognises the sovereignty of nations. We do not interfere in other countries' political systems.

The best way for Australia to lead, therefore, is to be an example to others. That means trading freely and fairly, pulling our weight to maintain a stable and prosperous region, not standing idly by when other countries are coerced, and speaking honestly and consistently about human rights.

Speaking our minds does not constitute interference in another country.

That's why we have used our current membership of the Human Rights Council to raise concern about human rights violations in, for example, Saudi Arabia including the murder in Turkey of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It's why we've made the plight of Rohingya people forced to flee their homes in Rakhine state, Myanmar, a human rights priority in our region. 

And it's why we've released a national strategy for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

We have also addressed the treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang in China.

And I will continue to advocate strongly for fair and transparent treatment for Australians overseas, for example for Dr Yang Jun in China, who should receive the protections afforded by international human rights law. Similarly, we have spoken clearly and publicly on the need for Jock Palfreeman to receive due process under the rule of law in Bulgaria, and for that not to be influenced by external factors outside the operation of the rule of law.

We will not surprise any country by advocating consistently for human rights. We do do that. It will remain part of our conversations, including with China, as our relationship with our Comprehensive Strategic Partner continues to evolve. We will remain constructive and respectful.

As both the Prime Minister, including I suspect in this room if I remember correctly, and I have made clear, we welcome the economic rise of China. We recognise this great and historic achievement. We acknowledge that as a major power, China will seek influence regionally and globally.

At the same time, we are able to be clear about our differences with China. We are an open democracy. China is a Communist Party state.

We have different political, economic and cultural systems, and values. And as the Prime Minister has said, we will always make our decisions in our national interest and China will make their decisions in their national interest, as you would expect.

But we open up scope for cooperation on common interests, making progress in the areas that benefit both of us.

That there are different values between us is a fact. That we can work together in mutually beneficial ways is, similarly, a fact.

As well as our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, we enjoy an economic relationship that is growing. We hold regular, productive meetings at high levels. We will manage our differences and take every opportunity to co-operate where we can and where it is in our national interest.

Our national interest requires advocacy through private diplomacy and appropriate public mechanisms.

We must respect each other's sovereignty, but we will consistently continue to raise issues such as human rights, including, as I have said, with China.

We will do so not just because we believe individual rights should apply to all people, but because we believe that nations that uphold such principles domestically are more likely to cooperate in ways that promote the common good globally.

Turning a blind eye to all human rights violations means an acceptance of behaviour that undermines the foundations of international peace and stability. Where there is no challenge, there is no progress. 

Our long-term interests depend on our taking a firm stand, even if it displeases some of our counterparts, some other countries, in the short term. 

To help maintain an international system that is in accordance with our values and our long-term interests, we are deepening our engagement with regional and like-minded powers. We also recognise that in this era of strategic change, the US alliance is more important to us than ever.

Our relationship with the United States is firmly fixed in our history and our values – across successive governments and leaders on both sides of the Pacific. It is the case that some Australians will query the approaches taken at times by the current administration.

Let me simply say this though: the United States has a record unmatched in modern times of leading an international system aimed at benefitting all people, not just its own.

Precisely because it has built a reputation over many decades as a country that looks to express its power internationally for the broader good, we reflexively look to the US to take responsibility when there is a problem.

That is still the case. The world has high expectations of the superpower.

And we still need their focused, deliberate and strategic engagement in our region. At times that will mean we must speak frankly with our powerful friend about how we work together to reassure others in the region and to build support for shared objectives.

At the most recent Australia-United States Ministerial meeting in Sydney in August, we outlined the shared goal of an increasingly networked structure of alliances and partnerships to maintain an Indo-Pacific that is secure, that is open and that is rules-based.

At that AUSMIN meeting, we agreed to create the Indo-Pacific Coordination Mechanism, a series of exchanges to improve our cooperation in the region.

That proposal was then quickly formally taken up by Prime Minister Morrison and President Trump at the White House on 20 September, leading to the first engagement between senior officials from our two countries under the mechanism last week.

The mechanism covers areas such as enhancing our security and defence cooperation; working together to meet the region's vast infrastructure and development needs; and coordinating on issues such as critical minerals. Critical infrastructure; critical technologies; critical minerals – these aren't emerging or future issues to be concerned with some time down the track. These are key strategic issues that are right upon us and must be prioritised now.

Australia is enthusiastic about such discussions because we recognise that deep US strategic and economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific is vital to the region's security and prosperity.

It is in our interests to deepen Alliance cooperation to achieve the many political and strategic objectives that we share. 

Countries have traditionally looked to the United States not just because it has the mightiest military but because they admire its democratic history and what that stands for. The real power of the US has always been the attractiveness of its ideas and the desire to share the way of life that those ideas enabled.

The US's global network of political and military alliances, deep within its system and within the systems of the allies including Australia, is central to its national strength. It is unmatched by any country and it remains a global public good.

But with the unipolar moment over, we can no longer expect the United States to bear the costs of global leadership on its own.

We do therefore encourage all states that are committed to an open, inclusive, prosperous and secure region to do more to deliver on those goals, as we are and as we will.

We will strive for a region that respects international law, where sovereignty prevails, and where states are not subject to coercion.  

A region of open markets, where trade and investment relationships flourish and are based on rules.

A region where disputes are settled peacefully, without the threat or the use of force.

And a region where strong and resilient architecture helps all states, large and small, to protect their interests. In short, a region in which rules and cooperation, not might and power, are the dominant shapers.

ASEAN, the East Asia Summit – they provide the foundations of our regional architecture. The Pacific Islands Forum meanwhile convenes our Pacific family.

Australia's stepped-up engagement in the Pacific is taking place in close consultation with our Pacific partners, and has the region's long-term development challenges – including climate change – central to our partnership.

I met today with the newly elected President of Nauru and reaffirmed Australia's commitment to regional security as it is set out under the Boe Declaration from last year's Pacific Island Forum.

These existing groupings are joined by the "Quad", which brings together four major democracies - Australia, the United States, Japan and India - to support rules, norms and regional resilience.

I recently met with counterparts from the "Quad" in New York, the first time this grouping has met at ministerial level. It confirmed  our determination to deepen engagement, to set an example and give confidence to others in the region.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association, bringing together the key littoral and island states, completes the Indo-Pacific regional jigsaw.  

Australia is an active player and a strong supporter of each of these institutions, because they all help to frame a region where dialogue and rules, not power, predominate.

Our overarching concern is the preservation of freedom and sovereignty in the Indo-Pacific.

We continue to build a narrative from which others can draw reassurance: a narrative of prosperity and security in the region, not making binary choices in a great power competition. The story is one of shared partnership in the pursuit of common goals. Each country must ask itself: What can we contribute?

Ladies and gentlemen, while there is no doubt recent years have brought increased global tensions from an increasing range of threats, both online and off, and from states looking to disrupt and coerce, to extremists seeking to terrorise, I do want to leave you with some positivity. I am glass half-full, not half-empty.

The crises that have occurred – the challenges on Western liberal democracies – have highlighted both the benefits of free, open, democratic societies as well as the fact that they are not inevitable. They take effort. They require vigilance.

The protection of individual rights allows people to pursue their own economic opportunities. Enabling security allows countries and their citizens to make their own decisions, free from coercion and intimidation. That's the pathway to prosperity.

This is a pivotal moment in history, in which we see the uncertainty of strategic rivalry compounded by technological change. The decisions we make now will affect generations to come, so we require the strength to prioritise long-term sovereignty, security and prosperity over short-term interests – not just for ourselves, not just for our regional partners, but indeed for the service of the values that Australia has enunciated for many decades now and continues to promulgate in the international community. 


1. Prime Minister's speeches to AsiaLink Bloomberg, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and The Lowy Institute. Foreign Minister's speech to the CEDA State of the Nation Conference.

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