Speech to the ANU National Security College “Securing our Future”

  • Speech (check against delivery)

Thank you, Vice Chancellor Bell, for hosting us this evening, and to Chelsea our MC. Rory, thank you for your introduction.

I too acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples of the Canberra region, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I would like to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, including the Treasurer Jim Chalmers, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie.

I would also like to acknowledge the senior public servants and members of the defence force here this evening. I thank you for your service.

And the members of the diplomatic corps - thank you all for being here.

We are coming to the end of our second year in government.

Tonight I want to take account of these first two years – where we started and where we are now. But mostly I want to give you my perspectives on the challenges we face and what it will take to secure our future.

My starting point has always been who we are – because that is what we are seeking to secure. It’s what our foreign policy projects and protects.

We are one of the world’s great and enduring democracies.

Our people have an abiding tradition of respect for the dignity, rights and freedoms of every individual, founded upon the rule of law.

A pluralist nation, we welcome different races, religions and views, united by respect for each other’s humanity and for each other’s right to live in peace.

Australia has been connected to the world for thousands of years: First Nations people were this land’s first diplomats and traders.

Today Australia’s connections continue in who we are and what we do.

Connected by our curiosity and boldness, through travel, study, business, sport and the arts. 

Connected by our rich heritage: drawn from the oldest continuing civilisation and from more than 300 ancestries.

Half of us born overseas, or with at least one parent born overseas.

This heritage from all reaches of the Earth is a national asset. It gives us perspective, wisdom and experience that we now apply in securing our future in the Indo-Pacific.

We know our choices can make a difference in the world and what happens in the world makes a difference to us.

We know the costs of war, and the value of peace.

We want to maintain peace.

And we want a peace that enables Australia and other countries to have the freedom to decide our own futures, free of interference.

To have the space to agree and to disagree.

We want each country – large or small – to operate by the same rules. Rules that we have all had a say in shaping.

And when disputes inevitably arise, we want them managed according to the rules, and by talking and cooperation, not by force or raw power.

This doesn’t happen on its own. We help make it happen.

We do this by being active, by exercising agency, and by contributing our efforts to the balance of power in our region – so no country dominates, and no country is dominated.

We do this by responding, when we, or our neighbours, are coerced or have sovereignty threatened.

We do this by combining reassurance and deterrence – by working with our friends and partners, openly and transparently, so no potential aggressor thinks the pursuit of conflict is worth the risk.

We do this by engaging with others, even when we disagree.

We do this by making our case everywhere our interests are on the line, so what we want is heard and respected.

And we do all this to keep Australia prosperous and secure at home, and confident in the world.

When we came to office, there were already major challenges that threatened Australia’s interests.

And the international trends are not going in the right direction.

Climate change is leading to more disasters. Extreme weather threatens food and water security, with grave implications for global stability.

More people are displaced. More conflict risks and costs lives.

Longstanding rules are being bent, twisted or broken.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine demonstrates what is at stake in standing up to aggressors.

And just last week we saw Russia end the mandate of the Security Council’s Panel of Experts on the DPRK after fourteen years of unanimous support.

The DPRK continues its unlawful activities with impunity, conducting illegal arms transfers to Russia and threatening our region, including our friends in the Republic of Korea and Japan.

The political, humanitarian and security situation in Myanmar continues to worsen, with far-reaching implications for our region and its people, including the Rohingya.

China’s vessels are using water cannons and unsafe manoeuvres against Philippines vessels and crew in the South China Sea.

Our regional partners are clear about what is at risk.

In December, ASEAN Foreign Ministers spoke about developments that threaten regional peace and security in the maritime sphere.

We share their concern over claims and actions that are inconsistent with international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Australia knows we are not alone in having faced destabilising, provocative and coercive actions, including unsafe conduct at sea and in the air.

Add to this the threat of cyber attacks, interference, economic coercion and disinformation.

The existing system of rules and norms is under strain. And as we face evolving threats, the system has not evolved in turn.

The inability to reach agreement in so many fora means that a collective approach to counter grey zone threats remains frustratingly out of reach.

And all together, these factors give rise to the most confronting circumstances in our region in decades – with a higher degree of risk that miscalculation could lead to catastrophic conflict.

The costs of conflict are front of mind for all of us today.

I’ve mentioned Ukraine, whose people continue to heroically fight for their homeland against Russia’s flagrant breach of the UN Charter.

Australia is resolute in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

And we are all horrified by the conflict in the Middle East.

On October 7, Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas.

The greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust.

Hamas killed 1,200 people, including Australian grandmother Galit Carbone - and continues to hold 134 hostages.

Australia remains steadfast in our call for the immediate and unconditional release of remaining hostages – families of whom I have met both in Israel and Australia.

Any country under attack by Hamas would defend itself.

And in defending itself, every country is bound by the same fundamental rules.

Israel must comply with international humanitarian law.

It must make major and immediate changes to the conduct of its military campaign, to protect civilians, journalists and aid workers.

It must comply with the binding orders of the International Court of Justice, including to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance at scale.

Six months on from October 7, well over one million Palestinians in Gaza are at risk of starvation.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, including many thousands of women and children.

196 aid workers have been killed, including Australian Zomi Frankcom.

Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It is proscribed as such in Australia. It has no respect for international law.

Democracies seek and accept higher standards.

This is why Australia and so many countries have called on the Netanyahu Government to change course, including in respect of a major ground offensive in Rafah. Again we say, do not go down this path.

When President Biden cautions that Mr Netanyahu “is hurting Israel more than helping”…

And when Senator Schumer expresses concern that “Israel cannot hope to succeed as a pariah opposed by the rest of the world”…

It is in Israel’s own interest that the Netanyahu Government responds to the demands of the international community.

Anyone who considers themselves a friend of Israel should be making that point.

In addition to our demand on all parties for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, enabling the release of hostages, the protection of civilians, and safe and unimpeded humanitarian access…

We need to build the pathway out of the endless cycle of violence.

We need to build the pathway to a peace that is enduring, and just.

Because the simple truth is that a secure and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians will only come with a two-state solution. Recognition of each other’s right to exist. A Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.

We are now thirty years on from the Oslo Accords that put Palestinian statehood at the end of a process.

The failures of this approach by all parties over decades - as well as the Netanyahu Government’s refusal to even engage on the question of a Palestinian state - have caused widespread frustration.

So the international community is now considering the question of Palestinian statehood as a way of building momentum towards a two-state solution.

As British Foreign Secretary Cameron has said the UK “will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations”. He said this could make the two-state solution “irreversible”.

There are always those who claim recognition is rewarding an enemy.

This is wrong.

First, because Israel’s own security depends on a two-state solution.

There is no long-term security for Israel unless it is recognised by the countries of its region.

But the normalisation agenda that was being pursued before October 7 cannot proceed without progress on Palestinian statehood.

Saudi Arabia has made clear “there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized”.

Second, because there is no role for Hamas in a future Palestinian state. Hamas is a terrorist organisation which has the explicit intent of the destruction of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

And it should be acknowledged that Hamas also rains terror on the Palestinian people in Gaza.

It has long been understood that any future Palestinian state cannot be in a position to threaten Israel’s security and will need a reformed Palestinian Authority.

Recognising a Palestinian state – one that can only exist side by side with a secure Israel – doesn’t just offer the Palestinian people an opportunity to realise their aspirations.

It also strengthens the forces for peace and undermines extremism. It undermines Hamas, Iran and Iran’s other destructive proxies in the region.

A two-state solution is the only hope of breaking the endless cycle of violence.

This is why we are urging all parties to return to the table, and why we are engaging to support all efforts to advance a political process, including discussions between regional leaders.

Australia’s diplomacy and decisions are focused on helping advance this lasting peace – which is what we have always said we would do.

There is a need to acknowledge the real trauma on all sides, to acknowledge each other’s humanity, and to come together - as peacemakers throughout history have done.

That is also the approach I urge community and political leaders in Australia to embrace.

It is disheartening to witness the number of Australians that increasingly struggle to discuss this conflict without condemning their fellow citizens.

This imperils our democracy. We have to keep listening to each other; respecting each other.

But I have heard language demonstrating that people are losing respect for each other’s humanity.

Blatant antisemitism and Islamophobia.

I’ve heard people who claim to represent one perspective, diminishing the legitimacy of the other. Seeking to intimidate and blame.

It’s not ok to blame anyone in Australia for the actions of Hamas.

It’s not ok to blame anyone in Australia for the actions of the Netanyahu Government.

And it’s not ok to excuse egregious acts, just because they’re done by people whose views you share.

We gain nothing by reproducing the conflict here, by talking past each other, by shouting each other down and by insisting on respective absolutes.

As I said, we are a pluralist country, welcoming different races, religions and views.

What unites us is respect for each other and our right to live in peace.

Yet there are too many politicians in Australia who are manipulating legitimate and heartfelt community concern for their own ends.

The Greens political party is willing to purposely amplify disinformation, exploiting distress in a blatant and cynical play for votes. With no regard for the social disharmony they are fuelling.

This is not some game. There are consequences.

At the same time, Mr Dutton reflexively dismisses concern for Palestinians as “Hamas sympathising.”

On this, and in his approach to the world, Mr Dutton needs to decide if he wants to be a leader in difficult times - or if he wants to continue being a wrecking ball, making those times even more difficult.

Australians know our country needs mature leadership for serious times.

The Albanese Government is meeting the challenges Australia faces in our region and the world, with unprecedented coordination and ambition in our statecraft.

Because this is the only way to advance Australia’s interests in shaping a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous.

A region free of hegemony.

A region in balance.

Where countries, large and small, have the freedom to decide our own futures.

Where we operate by the same rules, and we have space to agree and to disagree.

Securing our region today requires modernising the legacies of Curtin, Whitlam and Evatt, prioritising alliance, region and rules.

Starting with the alliance, which has only grown in strength and depth in the past two years.

The United States is our closest ally, our principal strategic partner and our largest source of foreign investment.

We share values and ideals, and our alliance is underpinned by mutual respect for each others’ sovereignty and national interests.

The Indo-Pacific would not have enjoyed long periods of stability and prosperity without the United States and its security guarantee to the region.

As I have said before, American leadership remains indispensable – it is the great builder of alliances and networks, essential for balance in a multipolar region.

I know that will be the case in the future, as it has been for many decades past. We will continue to work closely with whoever is elected by the American people as US President.

But US leadership does not abrogate our own responsibility. We know we cannot expect the US to secure our future for us.

Which brings me to my next priority – the region we live in.

We take forward the Labor tradition of a defence and foreign policy anchored Asia and the Pacific.

Since day one of this government, we have been investing in our region and our relationships, to build our collective resilience and sovereignty.

This year alone we have hosted the Indian Ocean Conference in February and the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in March.

Through the Melbourne Declaration, ASEAN and Australia’s leaders reaffirmed ASEAN’s centrality in fostering peace and enhancing mutual trust among countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

We are building shared prosperity with Southeast Asia, including through Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040.

Our Quad partnership with India, Japan and the United States is listening and responding to the priorities of regional partners, while respecting the enduring leadership of ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Pacific Islands Forum.

And Australia is investing more than ever in the Pacific.

Guided by the needs of our Pacific partners and the Pacific Islands Forum, Australia is boosting our support for sport, climate finance, policing and maritime cooperation.

The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union embodies our approach to partnership.

It is the biggest step Australia has taken with a Pacific country since the independence of Papua New Guinea nearly 50 years ago.

We have released Australia’s first international development policy in almost a decade and are rebuilding our development and humanitarian programs.

Through these and other investments, we are working to help our partners become more economically resilient, develop critical infrastructure and provide their own security, so they have less need to call on others.

We recognise we live in a more contested region, and we have to work harder to be a trusted partner of choice. The opportunity to be the only partner of choice in the Pacific was lost to us over the previous decade.

Being a partner of choice relies on being mature and credible.

Stabilising our relationship with China has not only helped rebuild our credibility with our regional partners, but it has also enabled Australia to speak directly to China’s leadership.

Our efforts so far have seen impediments lifted on over $19 billion of Australian exports, and we continue to press for outstanding impediments on around $1 billion of exports to be resolved.

We are taking forward regular leader-level and ministerial engagement with China.

Some imply that there is something to be gained in limiting contact with China.

The reality is that China is the world’s second largest economy, representing 17% of the world’s GDP. China’s growth story has been a crucial driver of prosperity in Australia, in our region and in the world.

China’s size and weight makes it central to global challenges, from climate change to health. As a great power, China will continue to assert itself in reshaping the region and the world.

Advancing our interests requires engagement, and contrary to what some suggest, engagement does not imply concession.

It is worrying that large-scale Chinese military operations in the Taiwan Strait have become a routine event. The risk of an accident, and potential escalation, is growing.

Australia’s longstanding and bipartisan position is to oppose unilateral changes to the status quo. We call for the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues through dialogue without the threat or use of force or coercion.

Some may say this is insufficient in the circumstances that we face. But I would invite reflection on the alternative.

Australia is always working for peace. And for us, our third priority, is upholding and strengthening the rules that work to prevent conflict.

Since I became Foreign Minister, I have consistently called for open lines of communication between the great powers.

We welcome the resumption of leader-level and military-level dialogue between the United States and China as important steps on the path towards stability that the region has called for.

This is also a reminder of the role militaries must play in reassurance, as well as deterrence.

The circumstances we face only reinforce the need for militaries to be in contact.

And that the need for new preventive architecture and conflict prevention measures has only grown, to increase resilience and promote transparency and reassurance.

As military capabilities grow, we know that a level of transparency is expected from our region and our partners – just as we expect transparency of others.

This is how our government has sought to engage our partners at every step of the AUKUS agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Today we announced that AUKUS partners are considering cooperation with Japan on AUKUS Pillar II advanced capability projects.

We are committed to AUKUS meeting the highest nuclear non-proliferation standards.

The IAEA DG Grossi has welcomed our continued openness and transparency. We look forward to our co-presidency of the IAEA's International Conference on Nuclear Security in Vienna next month.

The Albanese Government is progressing the proud Labor commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.

Just as we carry forward the Labor commitment to international organisations, seeking to reform them for today’s challenges and recognising that many developing countries are inadequately served by too much of the international system.

We want everyone to have a voice.

Because Australia knows that international rules and norms deter conflict and underpin our security and prosperity.

All of our efforts – through the alliance, region and rules – are for the ultimate goal: to avert conflict, build prosperity and sustain the kind of peace we want.

Our efforts provide reassurance to persuade all countries that their interests are best served by peace, and deterrence, to ensure that the costs of aggression continue to outweigh the benefits.

Often, security discourses have artificially divided actions to reassure and to deter.

The implication being that the role of diplomacy is exclusively soft persuasion, while the hard edge of the military is our only deterrent.

But that thinking limits our potency when we have to maximise all the tools of national power.

As recognised in the Defence Strategic Review, credible deterrence requires using all levers of statecraft to create an unacceptably high cost for any potential adversary.

The logic of the post-war economic order was to enable development and growth through openness.

And today, as then, economic integration provides a critical incentive for peace as regional economies share the benefits of prosperity.

Economic interdependence can, as we know, also be misused for strategic and political ends.

And this is one-way rules play an important role in deterrence – in this case international trade rules, which also create a level playing field.

That’s why multilateral engagement in international organisations like the UN is a core national interest, too often dismissed by some.

These organisations are where nations come together to decide the rules and defend the peace. As the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

I want to make this point about diplomacy – which in these forums and elsewhere, builds coalitions, reduces tensions, negotiates agreements and resolves disputes.

Diplomacy frames the calculus that each country faces.

Diplomacy signals intent, credibility and even red lines.

The new concept of National Defence, underpinning the inaugural National Defence Strategy, comprehends that as we seek to maintain peace in our region, our nation’s front line is diplomacy.

And our diplomacy is underwritten by our military capability.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles made this point last week: that deterring conflict in today’s environment requires a new approach – one that harnesses all elements of our national power.

Here at home, our domestic resilience, our economic strength, our multicultural democracy - they also raise the costs for those who would seek to coerce us.

Indeed, in all of these cases, the levers to deter and reassure are mutually reinforcing.

Without credible military capability, the efficacy of diplomacy and economic integration are invariably diminished.

And without ever more investment into diplomacy and engagement, the risk of military capabilities being called upon for conflict increases.

As international trends continue to go in the wrong direction, Australia’s coordination of our military, diplomatic, strategic and economic power…

Our ability to reassure partners and to deter threats…

Becomes ever more important.

Our region is being reshaped.

And Australians know our choices and actions matter.

So, we work with partners and friends to shape the region in our interests – contributing to the region’s balance of power, so no country dominates, and no country is dominated.

We seek to be the credible and mature partner we expect other countries to be.

And I end where I began. Australians have always been connected to the world.

Through this connection we know what it is about Australia we need to project and what we need to protect.

A pluralist nation, welcoming, respectful, celebrating each other’s rights and freedoms.

This is the nation whose future we seek to secure.

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