Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Doug Ferguson, Chairman of the Asia Society Australia, and to the CEO Philipp Ivanov for the invitation to be here today.
I also want to acknowledge your event partner Bloomberg for this very timely Asia briefing in advance of Summit Season. And, of course, my friend and colleague, the Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
Since its foundation more than 20 years ago, the Asia Society Australia has provided a unique forum for bringing together those with a keen interest in Australia’s engagement with Asia.
Today, as I head into my first annual Summit season as Prime Minister, I would like to share with you some perspectives on my approach to Australia’s engagement with our region and more broadly.
Our foreign policy defines what we believe about the world and our place in it.
It must speak of our character, our values. What we stand for. What we believe in and, if need be, what we’ll defend. This is what guides our national interest.
I fear foreign policy these days is too often being assessed through a narrow transactional lens.
Taking an overly transactional approach to foreign policy and how we define our national interests sells us short.
If we allow such an approach to compromise our beliefs, we let ourselves down, and we stop speaking with an Australian voice.
We are more than the sum of our deals. We are better than that.
So what are the beliefs that guide our interests?
We believe that the path to peace and liberty demands the pursuit of prosperity through private capital, rights to own property, entrepreneurialism and free and open markets. That is what lifts people out of poverty.
We believe that acceptance should not be determined by race or religion. Rather, we accept people by their words and judge them by their actions.
We believe in freedom of speech, thought, association and religion.
We believe in peaceful liberal democracy; the rule of law; separation of powers; racial and gender equality where every citizen has choice and opportunity to follow their own paths and dreams.
A fair go for those who have a go - that is what fairness means in Australia.
We believe in the limits of government – because free peoples are the best foundation to show mutual respect to all.
We believe in standing by our mates, side by side with nations that believe the same things we do.
From the United Kingdom and the democracies of Europe to the United States and Canada. From the state of Israel to the city state of Singapore. From Japan and South Korea in North Asia to New Zealand, across the ditch.
We believe in being good neighbours – regardless of whether there are differences in how we see the world and run our respective societies.
We also believe this should be a two way street. We respect their sovereignty and their right to run their own show.
We simply ask for no more than the same in return. That our views and beliefs -- the decisions we make, the questions we ask and how we go about answering those questions and making those decisions -- is also respected.
When we do this, we can come together and engage on our common interests for the mutual benefit of our peoples, regardless of any other differences.
What we advocate for our region and the world are the same things that drive us at home.
I’ve been very clear about my domestic priorities— keeping our economy strong, keeping Australians safe, and keeping us together.
Prosperity, security and unity.
Our international agenda is built on these strong domestic foundations and were reflected in the key themes of the Foreign Policy White Paper released last year.
The tide of history is moving to our doorstep.
But we can’t pretend this tide of change happens seamlessly or smoothly.
As economic power shifts, it’s unsurprising that nations will seek to play a bigger strategic role in our region.
China, in particular, is exercising unprecedented influence in the Indo-Pacific.
At the same time, many of our partners globally -- from our most important partner and ally the United States, to others in Europe and elsewhere -- are debating the value of free trade and worry about the costs and risks of their global commitments.
We cannot wish away these debates and challenges.
Their political impacts are profound.
Australia is committed to ensuring the peaceful evolution of our own region in these times. It will take the right combination of both pragmatism and principle, always playing to our strengths.
Australia’s economy is growing, our country is confident, our budget position is getting stronger and stronger.
Our continued success depends on being open to trade and investment. We don’t get rich selling things to ourselves.
Just as we need capital and other inputs to build our economy, we need open markets and transparent rules.
Trade accounts for 1 in 5 Australian jobs, and employs over 2.2 million people.
We have skills and resources in abundance that the rest of the world wants. And we are a reliable partner.
Open markets for services give Australian consumers increased choice and provides businesses with access to a wider range of skills and expertise.
It’s estimated that annual incomes for the average Australian family are now $8,500 higher thanks to thirty years of trade liberalisation.
Also, Asia’s unprecedented growth over the past three decades has, as the Asia Society knows, transformed not just Asia, but the world at large.
There are now one billion fewer people living in extreme poverty than there were in 1990 and much of that is due to growth in our region.
That prosperity has been built on a web of institutions and rules that has supported economic openness and curbed beggar-thy-neighbour trade barriers.
The World Trade Organization has long been at the heart of this system. Its rules limit arbitrary trade restrictions and the use of unilateral trade measures so we can trade with confidence.
Now no system is perfect and we acknowledge that frustrations have been growing with the WTO’s rule-making, transparency and disputes functions.
Many members have legitimate concerns about the impact of policies such as industrial subsidies, which lead to overproduction.
Australia has been calling out similar practices for decades in relation to agriculture.
Equally, there are valid concerns about the protection of intellectual property and the rules governing the involvement of government entities in markets.
In responding our best tool is the negotiating table – not increased tariffs.
We will support efforts to improve and strengthen the WTO, recognising some of the legitimate frustrations of the United States and other countries.
We will also persist with a pragmatic trade agenda pursuing trade liberalisation wherever possible.
Nothing demonstrates that more clearly than the TPP 11 which Australia ratified just yesterday.
With six countries now on board, the Agreement will kick-in this year and Australia will get immediate tariff cuts from 30 December.
This agreement will give our businesses and farmers greater access to half a billion more customers.
Across the board, we are pursuing trade opportunities wherever we can.
Looking forward, we have a significant FTA agenda, including our Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Indonesia, and advancing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with ASEAN and other key regional economies, with the EU and, post-Brexit, with the UK.
This agenda is built on a record of achievement, including the three free trade agreements our government signed with China, Japan and Korea that continue to deliver huge gains for our companies.
We are also looking to the long term. In particular, we want to enhance our partnership with India.
The foundations are already strong – we share values, a commitment to democratic institutions, enormous goodwill and strong relationships between our people. And we share a common strategic outlook.
The time is right to step up our efforts.
We welcome the India Economic Strategy to 2035 authored by the former High Commissioner to India and head of DFAT, Peter Varghese.
It’s the first step towards a long-term investment that cements India in the front rank of Australia’s partnerships. I will have more to say about this when the President of India visits Australia in a few weeks’ time.
Economic security alone is not enough. Prosperity requires security.
Security is a common endeavour with a common dividend.
At forthcoming meetings, I will be advancing our work with others to tackle terrorism and violent extremism, cyber-crime, people smuggling and nuclear proliferation.
I will discuss how, even as the prospect of peace on the Korean peninsula appears to be improving, we need to maintain maximum pressure on the DPRK to ensure the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
I will reiterate Australia’s enduring interest in ensuring that freedom of navigation and overflight are respected by all states, large and small.
In all of these matters, the United States remains vital to the sort of region we want to see.
The alliance with the United States is a choice we make about how best to pursue our security interests.
And US economic engagement is as essential to regional stability and prosperity as its security capabilities and network of alliances.
Australia also has a vitally important relationship with China.
Trade, tourism and educational exchanges are at record highs.
Australia values and honours these tens of thousands of daily interactions between our peoples.
We are committed to deepening our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China, and I look forward to discussing how we do that with China’s leaders later this month.
Of course, China is not alone in being a force of change in our world.
But China is the country that is most changing the balance of power, sometimes in ways that challenge important US interests.
Inevitably, in the period ahead, we will be navigating a higher degree of US-China strategic competition.
A strong America — centrally engaged in the affairs of our region — is critical to Australia’s national interests.
Australia does not seek a free ride when it comes to regional security and prosperity.
We support the strongest possible US political, security and economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific in tangible ways, including by lifting our defence spending.
At the same time, it is important that US-China relations do not become defined by confrontation.
There must remain room for dialogue and cooperation.
The period ahead will, at times, be testing but I am confident of our ability to navigate it. And once again our values and beliefs will guide us.
Australia has always sought to be a citizen that plays its part in the world.
This has been particularly true in the Middle East.
From the Great War a century ago to Iraq and Afghanistan more recently. We have turned up, we have played our part, we have done our share and we have paid the price through great sacrifices.
We have done this because we believe it is right. Being true to our values and principles is always be in our interest.
Our support for Israel and our passionate desire for the success of a two state solution in the Middle East is based on these same beliefs and our desire for a lasting peace, and will continue to drive policy in this area.
Closer to home, Australia will continue to deepen cooperation with Japan, Indonesia, India and the Republic of Korea to help forge a balance in our region that supports openness and ensures the rights of all states are protected.
I look forward to warmly welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Abe to Australia soon.
The strength of our relationships with these democracies will advance our interests however the regional order evolves in the future.
It was no accident that my first international visit as Prime Minister was to Jakarta. It has become an Australian Prime Ministerial tradition.
Australia has a vital partnership with Indonesia. Indonesia is one of democracy’s greatest success stories in recent times, in my own lifetime.
It is a relationship compelled by geography, but nurtured by mutual respect, both in understanding of our differences and appreciating common goals, interests and values.
I look forward to meeting President Widodo again soon to extend our achievements in the relationship to date.
ASEAN has played a critical role in supporting regional stability and prosperity, and is at the centre of regional architecture.
Australia’s vision of the Indo-Pacific has ASEAN at its heart.
ASEAN’s success is fundamental to the interests of all the main players in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia.
Australia’s commitment to ASEAN was made clear at the Special Summit in March this year and through the Sydney Declaration which set out an ambitious agenda to deepen our cooperation.
I will be advancing that agenda at an informal summit with ASEAN leaders soon, in areas such as counter-terrorism, infrastructure and maritime cooperation.
And I will be discussing opportunities to work more closely together on transnational crime, to scale up oc-operation on cyber issues and to strengthen our defence engagement.
Just as important as the stability, prosperity and openness of Southeast Asia, is our engagement with our neighbours and family in the Pacific.
As family, we deal with each other openly and honestly, and above all with respect.
But like all families we sometimes take each other for granted.
The Government I lead is committed to the Pacific as one of my highest foreign policy priorities, because this is where we live.
This is a relationship that I want to see rise to a new level of respect, partnership, familiarity and appreciation.
I want us to do better. I want to set right how we engage with our Pacific family - our Vuvale, our Whanau. I will not be taking our Pacific family for granted.
My first meetings with foreign leaders in Australia were with the Prime Ministers of Solomon Islands and Fiji and this afternoon I’ll meet Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister O’Neill.
I’m also looking forward to meeting my Pacific counterparts after APEC in Port Moresby. APEC will be a great opportunity for our closest neighbour to tell its story to the world.
We’ll work more closely than ever with the Pacific islands on those issues of greatest concern to them - including climate solutions and disaster resilience, and we will keep the international commitments we have made in these areas.
We are building labour mobility opportunities for Pacific countries to Australia, and ensuring Pacific countries will always take precedence.
We’re providing Australia Award scholarships to the Pacific - 1,474 last year alone.
We’re majority funding undersea cables to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, including a domestic network in the Solomons - which will deliver faster, cheaper and more reliable communications.
And we want to continue working with others - traditional partners like New Zealand and the United States, as well as newer ones such as China - to ensure our engagement strengthens the common goal of enhancing sustainable economic development and the wellbeing of our Pacific friends.
I want to strengthen our engagement with the Pacific for the Pacific’s sake. Because this is our home.
We will build on the ‘Boe” Pacific Regional Security Declaration to drive greater security co-operation, build greater economic linkages and strengthen the integration of our economies.
We are also working together to increase safety and security -- delivering bigger and more capable patrol boats and aerial surveillance, and sharing more information, to help the Pacific stop drug trafficking, people smuggling and illegal fishing.
And the new Australia Pacific Security College will train the next generation of security officials.
We have negotiated a Bilateral Security Agreement with Solomon Islands and we are working with Fiji to develop the Blackrock regional peacekeeping and disaster training hub.
As well, we will take take steps with Vanuatu to further strengthen our partnership, including on security.
And later this afternoon, my friend and partner, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea and I will formally commit to a joint initiative to develop the Lombrum base on Manus.
We will also confirm a new long-term police partnership.
And commit to new annual leaders meetings, recognising the importance of each country to the other.
Like all families we are strongest when we listen to each other, stand with each other and show respect.
At a time of change, uncertainty and strategic competition, Australia will need to act with even greater purpose and conviction.
We also need to think about how our national power can be applied to protect and advance our interests.
This begins with our substantial investments in building a more capable, agile and potent Australian Defence Force.
Over the past five years, our government has been strengthening the Australian Defence Force.
Our Defence White Paper is fully funded and outlines how we will invest $200 billion in Australia’s Defence capability over the next 10 years.
Since our election in 2013 our Government committed to and has set about restoring our defence spending to 2% of GDP. We will achieve this three years ahead of time, in 2020-21.
It hasn’t been easy.
While reluctant to strike a partisan note in this presentation it must be observed that while the Labor Opposition now say they support these goals, when they had the responsibility, defence spending as a share of our economy fell to the lowest level since prior to the Second World War, with not one naval ship commissioned during their term of administration
We are now undertaking the largest regeneration of the Royal Australian Navy since the Second World War, including the doubling of our future submarine fleet, a new fleet of nine frigates and a new fleet of 12 offshore patrol vessels to ensure our borders remain secure.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will give the Air Force unprecedented air capability to combat future threats.
And the Army is being backed in with new Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicles and new weapons as well as new body armour and night fighting equipment.
All of this is being done because the best way to keep Australians safe is to give the best capability to the men and women of our ADF.
Our influence internationally is built on our strength at home.
On our democracy and open society that binds us together.
On our belief in freedom and the fair go.
And it’s built on a strong economy that enables us to fulfil our promise to the Australian people.
I go to “summit season” - to the East Asia Summit in Singapore, to APEC in Papua New Guinea and to the G20 in Argentina - clear-eyed about what we believe, what we stand for and ready to advance Australia’s case.
While we live on an island — the best one on earth — we can’t afford to have an island mentality.
We embrace free trade, global engagement, and an international system where we agree to rules, stick to them and honour our commitments.
We embrace an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.
Because shrinking into ourselves will never work.
If we want to keep our economy strong, if we want to keep Australians safe and if we want to stay united as a community we must engage with the world.
And seize the opportunities presented with both hands based on the beliefs and values that have always underpinned our success.