Thank you very much Ambassador McLean and Ambassador Kusaka for your remarks and your very warm welcome, and the way in which you have described, you’ve painted the full picture of the extraordinarily rich and deep relationship between our two countries and the role of the Australia-Japan Foundation in driving that relationship over all these years.
This relationship of course has thoroughly bipartisan support and the Leader of the Opposition is very ably represented here tonight by the Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann and we’re delighted to be here to help you mark this anniversary.
I want to acknowledge the many distinguished visitors here and representatives both of Australian and Japan from business, like John Gandel one of our leading investors and leading businessmen over many years, together with his counterparts, a number of his counterparts from Japan. So many of you have committed to building this strong relationship. It is, as the previous speaker described, one that has been founded on people-to-people links over all these years.
Let me first go back a little bit into the history, forty years in fact.
The Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Australia and Japan was very much ahead of its time. It was the first Treaty of Friendship of its kind signed between Australia and any other country and it showed particular political foresight. It involved lengthy negotiations both between our two countries and indeed within our respective domestic constituencies.
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s visit to Japan in June 1976 to sign the agreement with Prime Minister Takeo Miki was a remarkable gesture of trust in each other, and it reflected the post-war emergence of a momentous trade relationship between our two countries. Australia provided between forty and fifty per cent of Japan’s essential raw materials; while the growth of Japan’s heavy industry saw it become a vital supplier of manufactured products to Australia. It was a unique and exciting time.
It’s no exaggeration to say that neither Australia nor Japan would be what we are today without the rich and enduring relationship that we have enjoyed and so many of you have built, over the last forty years.
For several decades now, Japan has been one of Australia’s largest export markets — iron ore from the Pilbara and coal from Queensland helped build modern, industrial Japan. In turn, the Japanese cars, computers and consumer goods that we bought in return were signs of Australians’ rising incomes and prosperity. The strong people-to-people and cultural links with Japan show no signs of weakening at all.
Japanese remains the most widely studied language in Australian schools and universities. That is enhanced by over 650 sister-school relationships.
As the global economy’s centre of gravity continues to shift towards our region, our ties with Japan will only grow stronger.
Now with this proud shared history, we need to look, nonetheless, as we celebrate those past forty years, we need to look at our relationship with fresh eyes. Our vision should not be bound by our historic trade ties. Opportunities are not predestined; they won’t just fall into our laps.
It’s worth repeating that Japan and Australia need to do all we can to position ourselves to take advantage of the extraordinary times in which we live. In which the pace and scale of economic change, of technological change, so much of it driven by Japanese technology and innovation.
The pace and scale of this change is utterly without precedent in human history. These are the most exciting times to an Australian or indeed to be Japanese, the most exciting times in human history, filled with challenges but enormous opportunities.
Just last month, I met with Prime Minister Abe in Vientiane in Laos, in the margins of the East Asia Summit. We reaffirmed our commitment to a special strategic partnership, and emphasised its importance in ensuring regional peace and stability.
Both our countries have a deep commitments to the continued maintenance of the rule of law and the international order, the stability of which has delivered the foundation of the prosperity our region has enjoyed over the last forty years.
That forty years of extraordinary progress, which billions of people have been lifted out of poverty would not have been possible without the maintenance of stability, relative peace, relative harmony and the rule of law.
So we are committed to that and we will continue to be partners in the strongest possible advocacy for the rule of the law and the maintenance of that international order in our region.
The Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, or JAEPA, is one of the reasons I say our connection with Japan is as promising as its past has been prosperous.
The JAEPA is the most liberal bilateral trade agreement Japan has ever signed.
It is a commitment to the rule of law which I’ve just spoken, and more open markets that have been the catalyst for this extraordinary economic growth in our region and around the world.
We see at the moment, populist arguments for protectionism. Throwing up walls, economic and real, for blocking trade, for trying to stand in the way of the technological change that is all around us.
Prime Minister Abe understands and I understand and I believe our two peoples understand that our vested interest is in more openness, in more trade. That we recognise that the siren song of protectionism is not going to lead us to better outcomes but it will lead us back to impoverishment. We know that, we’ve seen that film before and we do not want to play it again.
That’s why Prime Minister Abe and I have reiterated our commitment to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and continued negotiations on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
As far as the TPP is concerned, both of us have made the strongest representations to our friends in Washington that the Congress should ratify the TPP. The most emphatic statement the United States can make of its continued commitment to our region is to ratify the TPP as indeed the President of course his legislators to do.
When he cited these agreements in our Parliament two years ago, Prime Minister Abe called for Australia and Japan to look up and look ahead with great optimism. He spoke of the warmth and trust between us. He said: "Let us walk forward together, Australia and Japan, with no limits."
Our two nations have walked together for a long time. But I believe as I’m sure many in this room do too that our best days lie on the road before us.
I honour the foresight and wisdom of our past leaders who carved out a path of deeper friendship through the Basic Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation.
I look forward as you do to seeing and building the exciting new directions our shared path will take in the years ahead.
I hope you all enjoy this evening as we will be later treated to a virtuoso performance by the great pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii.
Thank you all very much and congratulations.