Speech, Lowy Institute, Sydney

  • Speech

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much as I said, Michael, for your very warm words.

Can I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet in the centre of Sydney's CBD today and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I want to acknowledge Michael, the Executive director of the Lowy Institute, who of course needs no introduction himself – the work he has done here at Lowy is most impressive, and world-renowned and it's a great pleasure to be working with you in the roles I've held in the last few years. He's right about the Australian Republican Movement. I think he used the world 'courageous'. Some might have said 'foolhardy', and it may explain my extremely well developed, professional career as a back-bencher in the Howard government for a long period of time.

To Steven Lowy, thank you so much Steve, for being here today. I very much appreciate it. Acting Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Richard Maude, your Excellencies, members of the Consular Corps, and the very many distinguished guests, and quite a few familiar faces in the room. Thank you for being here this afternoon.

It's a pleasure to be here in my first address to the Lowy Institute as Foreign Minister. It was fabulous to work with Lowy on your Pacific Forum in Canberra not so long ago, which was also a great opportunity to talk about some of the security related work of the government in that capacity though, as Defence Minister.

It's fair to say that this address has been a long time coming, and that Michael and his team have been very patient as we have juggled dates around my parliamentary commitments and travel, and occasionally Michael's travel as well. But we are here now, and that is a very good thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was unable to addend the Lowy Institute annual dinner this year when Sir Frank Lowy spoke on that occasion, but I did write to Sir Frank in advance of that evening and noted the significant contribution that the Institute has made to our regional and global affairs policy debate in Australia.

It doesn't matter whether it's here or at events like the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, I am always certain that Michael and members of his team will be there on the ground listening and asking the tough questions, it's fair to say. The fine reputation of the Lowy Institute precedes them, so they are always welcome and it's a great pleasure to be here today.

I wanted to start by making some observations about the duty of government, because the first duty of any government in Australia is to keep out nation and the Australian people safe.

But in 2018 that task is becoming increasingly complex. There are more dimensions to security than ever before in a period of increasing strategic uncertainty and very rapid technological change.

There is no doubting the fact that we live in complex times; many factors contribute to that complexity, not least amongst them a rising, more assertive China; a United States which is asking its allies and partners to contribute more to global security and chafing at what it believes are failings, for example in the global trading system.

The 2017 White Paper charted the key trends: rising nationalism and geo-political competition, anti-globalisation and trade protectionism, rapid technological change and the shift in power to the Indo-Pacific.

Not only were those assessments accurate at the time, in the year since the trends have become sharper and change has in fact accelerated.

Advances in technology show no signs of slowing, with robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning set to continue to reshape our day-to-day lives every day in the years ahead.

This technological revolution – and it has been and still is a revolution – is having far reaching impacts on national, regional and global security.

The continuation of this period of prosperity and stability in the decades ahead will require the impacts of these new technologies to be addressed and for the international community to set global norms for their use.

Our Government is committed to supporting the rules and norms that have been so important for our security and prosperity. But the world is not standing still and we have to ensure that the international system is fit for purpose and able to address 21st Century challenges.

Today, when we think about global security, we think about it in very broad terms.

Where is the battlefield today? Where are the battlelines drawn?

Are they lines on a map? Are they coordinates on a disputed seabed? Are they claimed jurisdiction over shipping lanes?

Or are they actually invisible? Are they in the gaps between computers in cyberspace or covert control exercised over "the cloud"?

Are they in space? Or are they actually in the contest of ideas, in radicalisation, in militant ideology?

Is it millions of refugees fleeing a crisis, crossing borders on land and at sea?

Is it a terrorist training camp somewhere, far from crowded city streets, in a remote and poorly-governed country?

Or is it a terrorist lone-actor, radicalised somewhere on those crowded streets, in a densely-populated, well-governed part of the world?

The answer to those multiple questions obviously, but sadly, is that in 2018 all of those places are the battlelines.

Broader aspects of security – health security, irregular mass people movements, counter-terrorism, space, cyber, impacts of climate, efforts to fight the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons – are now also a core part of national and international work.

And some of these are relatively new as security concepts, but they are now central to our thinking and our efforts. So, this Government, for example, has an Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, an Ambassador for Cyber Affairs, an Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, and a number of others, who represent us in the key security fora covering those issues.

And security today also is not just an issue for state actors.

Technological change, economies of scale and globalisation have been so profound, and continue to occur with such speed, that global security is now also dependent on and vulnerable to the actions of non-state and corporate actors.

Let me put the proposition that perhaps the most obvious place in which that is true is in the cyber domain.

Every aspect of our global society, now, is touched by technology, much of it developed not by governments or state enterprises, but by the private sector.

That fact creates immense opportunities for innovation, for efficiencies, for change and for growth – but it also opens every aspect of what we do to new vulnerabilities.

For example, low-cost internet-connected devices – the Internet of Things – are increasingly being targeted by cybercriminals with malware that is increasingly targeting devices with greater capability like home routers. We're relatively good, give or take, at securing our own computers, our iPads, our phones from those vulnerabilities, but much less so at securing our fridges, our smart lights, or even CCTV cameras.

Along with government, industry is now a target for cyber penetration, as rival companies, state and non-state actors seek political, military, commercial and technological advantages.

Last month Australia joined other nations in condemning the Russian government's military cyber operations against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and various Malaysian locations conducting the MH17 investigations.

It should go without saying, using cyber tools to interfere with the global organisation dedicated to verification and compliance of our agreed chemical weapons prohibition must be condemned in the strongest terms because it is a fundamental attack on the integrity of the arms control and disarmament framework we rely on for collective security.

Likewise, it goes without saying – but I will say it – that interfering with the investigation into the shooting down of MH17 in the Ukraine is unacceptable, particularly given the Russian involvement in the disaster itself.

Australia supports a free, secure and open Internet that drives economic growth, protects national security and promotes international stability.

The Government, through my agency, DFAT, and other agencies, is actively engaged in protecting Australia's interests online and offline.

First, we are working hard to build international consensus around prohibited activity in cyberspace. Major nations, including the United States, Russia, China and others, have agreed that international law applies in cyberspace.

They have also agreed a number of "norms" of acceptable behaviour, for instance, that nations should not use cyber tools to damage critical infrastructure during peacetime, as a complement to the existing prohibition of indiscriminate attacks against non-combatants and civilian populations during armed conflict.

Having agreed the rules of the road, we need to ensure countries act in accordance with them.

Secondly, we are always working to deter and respond to cyber incidents. We have a range of economic, legal, political, diplomatic tools that we are prepared to use and have used to hold accountable states and corporations found to have initiated or participated in cyber incidents. Australia's defensive and offensive cyber capabilities also enable us to deter and respond to the threat of malicious cyber actors.

Thirdly, we are working with industry and commerce through the Australian Signals Directorate and the ACSC to build up resilience, rapid response, the hardening of our systems and networks exposed to cyber incidents. This is about building a natural inclination towards cooperation, which builds trust and confidence in what are very cyber dependent contemporary lifestyles.

And finally, we invest in building regional capacity with our neighbours to improve cyber resilience, and we have done that with an almost $40 million program in the Indo-Pacific. In fact, just preceding APEC in Papua New Guinea with their Minister for Communications, Information Technology and Energy, Sam Basil, in APEC week, I opened Papua New Guinea's new National Cyber Security Centre, which we helped to establish. Not only did it play a real and genuine role in protecting APEC, it also helps to build PNG's long-term cyber resilience to harness the opportunities and to mitigate the risks of the increased connectivity, which will be delivered through the Coral Sea Cable project.

And it helps to build the trust in our relationship as well.

After the cyber domain, I want to turn to space, because rapid technological advancement is also bringing access to space into the reach of more nations and more businesses.

Much of our infrastructure absolutely relies on satellites for services. The banking system depends on the atomic clocks embedded in Global Navigation Satellite Systems for timestamping innumerable transactions from simple emails to complex deals on the stock exchange.

Electricity grids depend on these satellites for synchronising increasingly complex systems of energy supply and demand, as do other vital services such as air and sea navigation, emergency services, and of course military operations.

It is not surprising, then, that the UK government designated space as critical national infrastructure in 2015. And in fact, the US and the UK have both recently declared space the fifth warfighting domain alongside the ground, sea, air and cyber domains of conflict.

And in the US, the President has commissioned the establishment of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces, alongside the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard.

In the last year, the question of weaponising space has become a major strategic issue.

In the United Nations, Russia and China proposed the "No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space" resolution. Last month, Australia with a number of other partners, voted against that resolution.

And the key issue for Australia and for the United States was uncertainty about identifying the genuine purpose of any particular space-based asset.

While its declared or public purpose might be identified as civilian in nature, there is a growing risk associated with so-called dual-use technologies, where a satellite might also be used as a weapon, for example, to deliberately collide with a peaceful-use satellite.

The international regulatory regime relating to space is an area of rapid and difficult change.

Our international framework for outer space is not so new – it was essentially put in place by the 1980s. But, to return to whether systems and structures are fit for purpose in the 21st century, there are increasing questions about that given new and emerging technologies.

And while Australia and our allies are open to new legally binding treaties, we are also working hard on processes that can deliver better trust and transparency faster than complex treaty processes usually allow.

Through DFAT, Australia supports transparency and confidence building measures as a means of rapidly improving space security.

By getting better at sharing information, at building mutual understanding and reducing tensions, in this fairly new area of engagement, we believe championing and in certain cases mandating these transparency and confidence building measures, are a useful way of shaping long-term state behaviour.


Thirdly, likewise, whether in space or on Earth, Australia works hard to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

If you wanted to list the big security issues that have troubled the global community this year, certainly concerns about the nuclear aspirations of North Korea and Iran must come at or near the top. I certainly spent a significant proportion of last year and the beginning of this year as Australia's Minister for Defence very focused on the DPRK.

But the reprehensible re-emergence of the use of chemical weapons – used in violation of international prohibitions – in Syria and Iraq, the use of chemicals for assassinations and attempted assassinations in Malaysia and the United Kingdom have been a stark reminder that this debate isn't only about the nuclear threat.

Australia is active in our support for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and major strategic export control regimes like the Australia Group.

Much of that work, of course, happens outside the public eye, and it relies on a cooperative international effort. But we do have significant and important wins, and I think it is important to mark those.

Meeting at the Hague in June of this year, Australia and other like-minded partners were successful in our global lobbying efforts to have the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons take on a mandate to be able to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in ways that no country can veto.

It was an important outcome – potentially transformative as a deterrent for future potential perpetrators and a demonstration that the rules-based system that we fight so hard for can adapt to modern challenges.


While cyber, space and weapons of mass destruction all require the use of increasingly sophisticated technology, unfortunately and too regularly, there are urban and semi-urban attacks across the world, most recently in Bourke St in Melbourne, which are tragic reminders of the threat of low or no technology attacks.

Terrorist groups have proven to be agile and innovative.

A significant part of the work of my portfolio in this area is promoting strong regional and international counter-terrorism frameworks to ensure that would-be terrorists can't plan, communicate or operate with impunity.

We've made significant gains in recent years to counter Da'esh, to counter Da'esh affiliated groups.

It is a fact that Da'esh has lost 98 per cent of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq on the ground. But there activities online and elsewhere continue. So they continue to spread their toxic ideology and the risk of battle-hardened fighters returning to this region remains real.

We have seen that too recently, as you would be aware, with the AFP and ASIO believing that the attacker in Bourke St was inspired – a perverse use of the word 'inspired' in my view – by the extremist group.

In our region, in the southern Philippines, a significant effort by the Armed Forces of the Philippines liberated the city of Marawi after it was captured by militant extremist Islamic fighters. It was an important victory which came at a great cost. The Australian Defence Force assisted at the time with air surveillance assets during the conflict, and since then, with our regional partner in the Philippines, has conducted exchanges of information and tactics with more than 6,000 Philippines troops to better prepare partners in the region to deter and respond to future attacks.

A number of terrorist groups in the Philippines have pledged explicit allegiance to Da'esh – that is a matter of deep concern for Australia.

Of course, military forces can't, on their own, defeat terrorists or terrorism.

This is one area where we fundamentally need a multi-partner approach, and our alliance with the United States and other regional partners and friends is critical.

In March, Australia signed an MOU on countering terrorism with the nations of ASEAN at the Australia-ASEAN special summit – a document underpinned and supported by a range of programs, including technical assistance on developing anti-terror legislation. Those frameworks are important for accountability, for responsibility, and for enforcement.

We are working closely with partners in Southeast Asia, and particularly with Indonesia, a vital partner for us in countering evolving threats.

And we continue to work with partner countries on the difficult issue of foreign terrorist fighters – a security risk, as I said, faced by many in our region.

Regional security

Across all security domains, we have a particular and clear focus on our immediate region.

As Defence Minister, I spent a lot of time in the Pacific, and I have continued that focus as Foreign Minister.

I briefly added that up. In the last 12 months, as either Defence or Foreign Minister, I have engaged my counterparts and visited Fiji,Tonga, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, and of course Nauru most recently forthe Pacific Islands Forum.

Security of the Pacific is one of our highest foreign policypriorities.

I don't need to remind you that it's where we live and it is in our national interest to keep our region stable and secure.

We work closely with Pacific Island countries on a broad range of regional challenges, including climate change, maritime and border security, transnational crime, illegal fishing, migration, drugs, and a whole range of things.

And our support is executed in close partnership with our Pacific neighbours, in support of their priorities.

In September we signed, with those partners, the Boe Declaration at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, as a foundation for future regional responses on those security challenges.

And we are backing up those words with action.

Since I took on this role, we've announced the establishment of a Pacific Fusion Centre in response to calls from Pacific leaders for greater information sharing in the region. The need for awareness and information is very, very prevalent. Very, very front of mind for them.

Based in the Pacific, it will bring together information sources and officials from across the region, to analyse and respond to security threats, including some of those I've identified.

We are working in partnership with Vanuatu to build their security capability, including infrastructure upgrades and enhanced training and leadership opportunities for the Vanuatu Police Force.

In Fiji, we have agreed to support the redevelopment of the Blackrock Camp into a regional hub for police and peacekeeping training and pre-deployment preparation.

And we are partnering with PNG on a major joint initiative to develop the Lombrum Naval Base in Manus Province. PNG has also invited the United States to be part of the redevelopment.

Our Government has continued to deliver the step-up of our efforts in the Pacific, across the full breadth of our engagement.

And I would like to give you a comprehensive list of all of our recent initiatives, but we would be here for quite some time, so let me do that in brief.

We are providing strong economic opportunities through the expanded Pacific Labour Scheme and the existing seasonal worker program.

We are stepping up our support for regional infrastructure development with the establishment of an Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, to help address major infrastructure financing gaps facing our regional partners.

We are expanding our diplomatic presence to every Pacific Islands Forum country, and we will be the only country with a presence in every Pacific Islands Forum country with new posts in the Cook Islands, Niue, French Polynesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands.

And we are strengthening our longstanding people-to-people links, which are so powerful between Australia and the Pacific, across a range of activities, for example in sports–rugby league, rugby union, netball, football and basketball–and at a community level, working to build much stronger church partnerships.

It is all part of our effort to ensure we live in a region that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that the Pacific needs more than $3.1 billion US dollars in infrastructure investment each year to 2030. That's a significant challenge and it's not one that can be met by any one country.

As we have consistently said, Australia welcomes all investment that is transparent, that upholds robust standards, that meets genuine needs, and avoids unsustainable debt burdens.

Reinforcing that, Australia has signed a trilateral MOU with the United States and Japan, to mobilise private capital to help address the region's significant infrastructure needs.

And there is, of course, a range of other issues affecting the stability of the region. I would cite one in particular, very close to us, and a member of ASEAN in terms of Myanmar.

The crisis in Myanmar is a significant and very, very complex challenge. It has the potential to continue to deteriorate and it has the potential to open the door to the radicalisation of disaffected individuals and groups.

Australia is committed to working with Myanmar and with our regional partners, and it is a matter on which I have spent a great deal of time with interlocutors from this region and further afield, to find a long-term solution. I intend to travel to Myanmar as soon as I can to engage there, to further my conversations with colleagues in Bangladesh, and to work closely with colleagues in trying to identify steps towards a solution, which I believe is still some time away, but an absolute imperative.

Ladies and gentlemen, any country's ability to do the sorts of things that I've been talking about in terms of security depends on a strong economy. And a strong economy is what enables us to provide additional capital to Efic, our export financing agency, to support investments in the region, to fund an activity like the Pacific Maritime Security Program. And a strong economy adds weight to our diplomatic efforts.

That is why we also place great importance on our economic diplomacy that continues to promote Australia as an attractive place to visit, to study and to invest. This week the Government launched our new Economic and Commercial Diplomacy Agenda, designed to prioritise ongoing, effective engagement with Australian business at the forefront of our international engagement. Using our full suite of diplomatic resources, we will continue to advocate for an open global economy, to support Australian businesses seeking commercial opportunities in major emerging markets, and to strengthen our international competitiveness. We are an active member of APEC, the G20 and the WTO, and we will continue in that role to be a strong advocate for global economic growth and cooperation.

We have commissioned and released the India Economic Strategy, executed by Peter Varghese, well known to many of you in this room. It sets out a roadmap for the Australia-India economic relationship to 2035.

We have endorsed the Strategy, its 10 short-term and 10 long-term priority recommendations, and we have agreed to an initial implementation plan across government.

And I look forward to building on that momentum which I felt physically, literally, in the presence of the President of India, last week, when he was here in Sydney and Melbourne, not to a cricket result he was after I might say, but nevertheless – I look forward to building on that momentum when I visit India early in the New Year to participate in the Raisina Dialogue. It's going to be a very busy 2019, as the government works to ensure the continued long-term security and stability of our region.

But the foundations that I've spoken to you about today, the foundations that underpin that work will give us the platform, on which to move into 2019.

Thank you again very much for having me here at Lowy today. The duty of government of keeping Australia and Australians safe in 2018 is truly a multi-dimensional task that requires multi-dimensional responses.

But I can assure you it has the absolute focus of your Government.

Thank you.

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