Speech to the NFACR dinner commemorating 50th anniversary of Australia-China diplomatic relations

  • Speech, acknowledgments omitted

I’ve just come from the Bowman Hall in Blacktown, where I gave the Whitlam Oration, fifty years today since Gough Whitlam gave his own oration there to launch his 1972 “It’s Time” campaign.

That anniversary is of course linked to the one we mark tonight, because it was Gough Whitlam who began modernising Australia, including turning our outlook toward the region.

Helping deliver independence for Papua New Guinea, improving ties with India and Indonesia, transforming our relationship with Japan, and, most famously, establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

While it was a bold move at the time, Gough’s assessment at the time that “close cooperation between our two peoples is both natural and beneficial” has been proven correct.

And one of the things that has made that possible has been unity of purpose and values across the Australian parliament.

So I particularly welcome Senator Birmingham here this evening, and look forward to cooperation and bipartisanship in the years ahead.

The early 1970s, for those of us too young to remember, was a time of great change and uncertainty.

A time of entrenched geopolitical competition and stark divisions.

It was essential then for nations to work together to ensure competition did not descend into conflict and chaos.

The world found a path through.

And since then, as the Prime Minister has noted, China has grown to become one of the world’s largest economies, and Australia’s largest trading partner.

That trade, and those links, accelerating from fifty years ago, have delivered benefit to both countries.

Hundreds of millions of people today do not live in poverty as a consequence of China’s development – a unique and historic achievement.

Nevertheless, the past fifty years have had their challenges.

It is in the interests of Australia, China and our region for the relationship to continue to be stabilised.

We aim for a relationship of mutual respect and mutual benefit.

Our approach will be calm and consistent.

We want to engage in our national interest.

We are ready to cooperate where we can and we are prepared to disagree where we must.

We will continue to speak out as necessary on the issues that matter to Australians and take decisions in line with Australia’s national interests.

Just as China does.

We will maintain our bipartisan One China policy, deepening engagement with the People’s Republic of China and our unofficial relationship with Taiwan, focused on economic and people-to-people ties.

As an open, trading, nation, Australia has welcomed foreign investment, including from China, while applying a national interest test.

We know foreign investment will continue to contribute to Australia’s growth and Australian jobs.

The people of both of our countries – and our region – have prospered thanks to the certainty, equity, and stability that rules-based trade provides.

We believe the removal of impediments to Australian exports and the full resumption of our bilateral trade would greatly benefit both Australia and China.

Yet there is much to our relationship beyond trade and investment.

The long-standing friendships that have been established between the peoples of our two countries.

Prime Minister Whitlam knew this – after leaving office, he served as Chair of the Australia-China Council from 1986 to 1991. That Council has been succeeded by the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations – our hosts this evening, and I thank you – Peter Cai and Pru Bennett – for putting on this important event.

These friendships are also a feature in the Australia China Stories book the Prime Minister spoke of, and which we are launching tonight.

These contributions, whether they be in science, culture, academia, politics, business, or sport, have enriched Australia as a country, making us a better and stronger nation.

I thank all of you.

These stories also reflect the rich diversity of modern Australia.

A nation whose people share common ground with so many of the world’s peoples, where half our people were born overseas or have a parent born overseas – including me.

Both of our countries have grown immensely in the past fifty years.

As much as today is an opportunity to reflect, it is also an opportunity to look to the future.

Fifty years on, we find ourselves – once again – facing dire threats, including Russia’s illegal, immoral and unjustified invasion of Ukraine, a global food and fuel crisis, supply chain shocks, and climate change.

Australia will continue to work with our partners to build a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, and where sovereignty is respected.

We will look for mutual opportunities to cooperate with China, including in clean energy transition and other areas.

The National Foundation will play a vital role building bilateral links across community, business, education, health and science, climate change, and culture and the arts.

Growing our bilateral relationship need not be in conflict with upholding our national interest, if we both navigate our differences wisely.

To this end, we welcome renewed dialogue between our countries and look forward to it continuing.

Even when we have differences, by working together, and with mutual respect, we can help ensure our people, those of the countries in our region, and the wider world will enjoy the stability, peace, and prosperity we have been privileged to share over the past fifty years.

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