Friends of Malaysia, friends of Australia, I’m delighted to be here this morning.

My day began very early with an appearance on Australian breakfast TV shows, and my older sister who lives in Adelaide saw me, got in contact, “do you remember your first visit to Kuala Lumpur?” Indeed it was almost forty years ago when as young – very young – university students we made our first overseas trip and we came to Kuala Lumpur.

Not content with reminding me of how long I’ve been on this earth, she also sent me a series of photographs from that trip and I have them here on my smartphone.  They are photographs of us at street stalls, at the temples, visiting the tourist sites of Kuala Lumpur, but she also has photographs of a number of Malaysian medical students who hosted us at the time because they had studied at Adelaide University.

So I have photographs of a number of Malaysians who might be a little embarrassed to see the hair, the clothing, but I thought what I could do is start a search on social media ‘Where Are They Now?’

It does bring home the close connections of Australians and Malaysians through education.

I was appointed Foreign Minister in September 2013, and visited Malaysia a few months later in February 2014, and this was a visit marked by constructive and positive discussions on our trade and investment ties and of course an education event to highlight the deep personal connections that have been forged over the years through education.

Just weeks later, our relationship took another turn as we were confronted with the mystery of the disappearance of MH370.  A number of Australians were onboard.

Over the past eighteen months, Malaysia and Australia have had to respond to two shocking tragedies.

Not only did MH370 disappear over the South China Sea with 239 people on board, prompting a multinational search across the vast Indian Ocean, the scale of which we have probably never seen before.

But then, three months later, an appalling tragedy took place over eastern Ukraine – 298 people from nations across the world were killed when MH17 was brought down, this time at human hands.  A cruel twist of fate for Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines.

We have seen in recent days an important new development in the disappearance of MH370.  We hope this is a step towards shedding light on its disappearance and helping to ease the suffering of the families of those on board, who are in our thoughts today.

Australia remains committed to continuing the search in the southern Indian Ocean, as difficult and as complex as it is. 

Many countries have been affected by these two tragedies. Last month also brought us another development in relation to MH17.

Russia vetoed a proposed resolution to set up a United Nations Security Council backed tribunal to investigate the circumstances surrounding this atrocity – and to hold those responsible to account.

Australia lost 39 lives in MH17, leaving families and communities across our nation deep in grief.

With their own grave loss of life, the Dutch are deeply committed to bringing those responsible to justice.

So too is Malaysia not only grappling with immense grief, but also facing the challenge of driving international action in a conflict zone half a world away.

Now a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Malaysia is taking a strong leadership role in implementing the principles of UNSC Resolution 2166 passed unanimously just days after the plane crashed in July of 2014. We continue to work together as members of the joint investigation team determined to establish a mechanism that can prosecute the perpetrators.

Australia and Malaysia’s joint response to these two tragedies exemplifies the close partnership, the friendship, between our two countries, and the way in which we work together to seek to deliver results when crisis strikes or need arises.

Such cooperation is not new.  It is founded on a long history of our two countries working together on security-related issues.

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Australia’s diplomatic presence in Kuala Lumpur – a history that stretches back before the Malaysian Federation itself.

We have long shared the commitment of keeping our region secure.

During the Second World War, we fought together in the Malayan Campaign. Since the late 1940s we have built on our common interest in shared regional security, symbolised today by the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

Our strong bilateral defence cooperation is underpinned by Australia’s continuing defence force presence at RMAF Base Butterworth - Australia’s only ongoing rotational detail of defence staff in Southeast Asia.

Young Malaysian cadets have been studying at the Australian Defence Force Academy with Australian counterparts for decades – forging the relationships that are essential when working together to manage regional crises.

Our defence relationship has evolved into a modern partnership focused on the more complex task of maintaining security in a much more dynamic environment.

Today, our security partnership also encompasses combatting the non-traditional threats of terrorism, transnational crime, people smuggling, cyber crime, natural disasters, pandemics and violent extremism.

In an example of our readiness to cooperate and at short notice, in June Australia’s defence assets helped Malaysia find the hijacked Malaysian tanker the MT Orkim Harmony – a successful joint search conducted by the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Malaysian coast guard and RAAF assets operating from Butterworth.

Likewise, Malaysian defence assets operated out of Pearce Air Force base in Perth during the initial aerial search for MH370 in the Indian Ocean.  That our defence forces worked so well together in these operations is testament to decades of cooperation and trust.

Beyond defence, we have a trade and investment relationship that has dramatically broadened over the past 60 years.

From the first decades of the 20th Century, Malaya was an important tin and rubber supplier for Australia, helping our young economy as it began to industrialise.

Malaya was one of the seven places visited by Australia’s first diplomatic trade mission to Asia in 1934, and later, one of the first Asian countries with which we formalised trade arrangements after the second world war.

Bilateral trade really began to intensify in the years after Malaysia’s independence. From the start of the 1970s on, Malaysia’s New Economic Policy began to develop the country as an export-oriented economy.

Likewise, from the 1980s, Australia began to remove old protectionist policies – a move that started the long, but extremely valuable, process of integrating our economy with a globalising world.

By the early 1990s, Malaysia was Australia’s eleventh-largest export market – and several hundred Australian companies had established a foothold in Malaysia. Today, we are among each other’s top ten trading partners.

Through my personal experience as a student, then as Education Minister and now as Foreign Minister, I know that education has long been a key pillar of our relationship.

As partners in the original Colombo Plan back in the 1950s, Malaysia provided the largest group of Colombo Plan scholars to study in our universities of any of the participating nations.  About 4,000 Malaysians studied in Australia under the original Colombo Plan.

Annual enrolments in Australian educational institutions have increased by thousands in the decades since. This year, more than 22,000 Malaysian students were enrolled in Australian institutions, and thousands more are studying at the Monash, Curtin, and Swinburne University campuses here in Malaysia. 

Since the days of the original Colombo Plan thousands more Malaysians – some 90 000 since 2002 alone – have studied in Australian educational institutions. 

This year, the latest exciting chapter in our education and people-to-people relationship is taking off. 

Last night I launched the New Colombo Plan here in Kuala Lumpur – a scheme initiated by the Australian Government when we came into office in 2013 designed to build the skills and understanding of Australians about our key partners in our region.

The New Colombo Plan will provide opportunities for bright young Australian undergraduate students to spend time in countries in the region, including Malaysia as part of their studies – to deepen their connections to the region, to learn about the public and private sectors operating in our region, and to forge personal links that will hopefully bring benefits to both nations.

I’m truly excited and exceedingly passionate about its prospects for deeper engagement between our two countries, as more Australians gain a deeper appreciation of Malaysia and its people and of the importance of our relationship with Malaysia.

Notwithstanding present and past cooperation between our two countries, I believe that our best days lie ahead of us. 

We are at an exciting and pivotal point in our history, one in which the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific has become a focal point for the global economy and for global security.

The changes that we have seen in the Indo-Pacific over the past sixty years have been welcome.

First and foremost, the emergence of Asian countries from the legacies of the 20th Century through greater and more sustainable development, lifting millions and millions of people out of poverty. Malaysia is an exemplar of this.

Secondly, just as important – the greater political and democratic transformation of so much of our region has brought greater freedom and choice.

These two developments together, against the background of a long period of relative peace and stability, have strengthened the capacity of millions of citizens of our region to embrace economic and social opportunity, and to engage more fully in the critical task of nation building.

Our strong economies and stable societies owe much to the robust public institutions and legal frameworks that our parliamentary democracies share. 

It is our experience that strong institutions backed by the rule of law deliver transparent and accountable governance.

Australia and Malaysia both benefit immensely from living in a dynamic region of rising prosperity. We will inevitably face challenges from time to time in maintaining and building regional security and economic prosperity.

ASEAN has played a critical role in our joint efforts to keep Southeast Asia peaceful and stable, but as we look ahead, the great transformations taking place in so many Indo-Pacific countries are bringing new stresses and challenges to our security.

With around 70 per cent of Australia’s merchandise trade passing through its waters, a safe and secure Southeast Asian region is of utmost importance not only to our security but also to our prosperity. 

Australia’s interest in a peaceful and stable South China Sea is clear.

Land reclamation and construction by China and other claimants raises tensions. Australia has consistently called for a moratorium on land reclamation by all claimant states.  We publicly raise our concerns regarding construction work and the prospect of militarisation of any artificial islands or structures in the South China Sea.

Australia does not take a position on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. We do believe that disputes should be settled peacefully, in accordance with international law, and that freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight must be upheld. I was pleased to hear unanimous support for freedom of shipping and aircraft, at yesterday’s EAS meeting.

We are committed to working with partners, including Malaysia, to promote a stable and peaceful South China Sea, including through encouraging claimants to take steps to reduce tensions. We urge ASEAN member states and China to conclude a meaningful and respected Code of Conduct for the South China Sea as soon as possible.

There is also, in our region, the growing risk of rising economic nationalism and protectionist policies.

The critical imperative is that we continue to work together to build regional stability and security – and that we continue the fight for inclusive economic liberalisation.

Economic reform – and a greater sense of regional integration with ASEAN at its core the Association of South East Asian Nations at its core – has been responsible for building so much of the prosperity of our region in recent decades that it is imperative that we keep up the pace of reform, and do not succumb to the false appeal of protectionism.

For these reasons, we welcome Malaysia’s leadership role as ASEAN Chair in strengthening key regional institutions.

Australia is committed to being a strong partner of ASEAN, and to working with countries including Malaysia towards this common purpose.

This week I have participated in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum ministerial meetings, and held consultations with ASEAN and with bilateral members. And I congratulate my good friend and counterpart Dato’ Sri Anifah for his outstanding chairmanship of all these meetings.

ASEAN-led stability is the vital foundation of a free and open trading environment in Southeast Asia.

Just as the EAS was established in 2005 with the Kuala Lumpur declaration, we fully support Malaysia’s leadership on strengthening the EAS in this, its tenth year.

We welcome the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of 2015. Australia is pleased to support the ASEAN integration project through our aid program and through our continued commitment to trade agreements.  And I should mention that we are particularly supportive of the Australia-Malaysia Free Trade Agreement signed a few years ago.

Last year we elevated the ASEAN-Australia relationship to a Strategic Partnership and are looking to increase trade, political and security cooperation, including through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations – the RCEP.

Australia particularly sees the importance, in a world that faces the terrible challenge of violent extremism and terrorism, in working together on these grave security threats.

While the focus of the threat posed by Da’esh lies in Syria and Iraq, we know that these are global threats, as the tentacles of these extremist groups reach back into our region into our societies.

Thousands of people have been recruited to join their brutal campaign, with hundreds from Southeast Asia, and Australia.

I am particularly keen to focus on how we can cooperate to address the threat that violent extremist ideology presents to communities in our region, particularly drawing on Malaysia’s experience as a moderate Muslim nation.

I applaud Prime Minister Najib’s leadership in promoting the moderation agenda. I applaud Malaysia’s commitment to starving terrorist organisations of funds that finance their activities.

Australia is working with the South East Asia Regional Centre for Counter Terrorism to conduct a workshop on this topic in Kuala Lumpur in December.

Australia participated in Malaysia’s ASEAN Regional Forum workshop on counter radicalisation and we are working with Malaysia on countering violent extremism through the EAS.

The phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters means that Australia and Malaysia must work together again in conjunction with civil society and our communities to build resilience to the lure of violent extremism.

Ladies and gentlemen, Australia and Malaysia have been close partners – close friends – for the past sixty years.

In the last year and a half, tragedy has brought us even closer together.

Opportunity can forge even stronger bonds.  We are natural partners.

As we look towards the challenges in coming decades, I am convinced that a closer more strategic relationship between our two countries will not only benefit both Malaysia and Australia, but it will also benefit our region. 

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