Address to award ceremony for former Prime Minister John Howard

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

Japanese Embassy, Canberra

10 December 2013

The Australia-Japan relationship is one of our strongest and most enduring, due in no small part to the role played by John Howard as Prime Minister of this country from 1996 to 2007. John Howard had an inherent understanding that this relationship between two of the foremost democracies in our region, who shared interests and values, would endure because of its history but that it needed to be revitalised and renewed in the 21st century. A relationship forged in the 1950s but needing that nurturing that is required in such relationships.

There were many initiatives that then-Prime Minister Howard undertook in the Australia-Japan relationship. But I think it culminated in the signing in March of 2007 of the joint declaration on security cooperation. This set a wide-ranging foundation for our future cooperation on all matters relating to security, whether it was counter terrorism or disarmament, maritime and aviation security, peace operations and humanitarian efforts. During Prime Minister Howard's time our personnel worked together side by side in Iraq, in Timor-Leste, in Pakistan and more recently in South Sudan.

I saw it firsthand last weekend as I visited Manila in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan and the Japanese Defence Minister, Mr Onodera, and I met in Tacloban, which as a historical footnote, was precisely the place where General Douglas McArthur came ashore fulfil his pledge, "I will return". Minister Onodera and I both inspected our defence personnel and relief workers side by side in assisting the Philippines recover from the devastation.

Under this dialogue, this declaration of security cooperation, the two plus two framework was established, whereby the foreign minister and defence minister of our respective countries meet on a regular basis. The Defence Minister David Johnston and I are looking forward to our first two plus two meeting in Tokyo in April of next year.

On the trade side, Mr Howard understood how important it was to build on that long history of trade and investment cooperation that had seen Japan become our strongest and largest trading partner during your time as Prime Minister. The negotiations for a free trade agreement with Japan was actually building on that 1957 commerce agreement, and another historical footnote on the Japanese side, it was the Prime Minister Kishi, the grandfather of the current Prime Minister, and we think it would be quite fitting should Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Abe be able to conclude the negotiations that you commenced and conclude them next year.

Likewise you mentioned the Nara Treaty that was entered into by the Fraser government, during your time as Prime Minister in 2006, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of that Nara Treaty and it was a year-long celebration as we focused on the friendship and cooperation between our two countries.

I believe it was your personal commitment, your personal effort, your personal diplomacy that is the hallmark of the relationship during your time as Prime Minister. You visited on seven occasions as Prime Minister and you were the last Prime Minster to host an official bilateral visit by a Japanese Prime Minister – Prime Minister Koizumi – in 2002. That is one element of your record we hope to break as our respective leaders Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Abe are planning a reciprocal visit in 2014.

Mr Howard, we are building on your efforts, this afternoon I will be launching Australia's New Colombo Plan which will see young Australians undertake study and work in our region. The Japanese Government has committed to be one of the first locations for our pilot program in 2014. Again, there will be generations of young Australians forging friendships with generations of young Japanese.

On behalf of Prime Minister Abbott may I say how warmly the Australian Government welcomes the conferral of the Grand Cordon of The Order of the Rising Sun on you and I would ask you all to join me in a toast to John Howard on the conferral of this great honour by the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese Government, for the pivotal role he played in bringing our relationship to a contemporary stage so that it will endure for generations.

Ladies and gentlemen, to John Howard and the role he played in the Australia-Japan relationship.

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