Welcome to Perth. This is my home town, on the edge of my electorate of Curtin which extends all the way to Cottesloe beach and the West Australian coast which of course anchors the eastern edge of the vast Indian Ocean.

Perth is Australia’s Indian Ocean capital. It is worth reflecting though that in this globalised, high-technology world it wasn’t until 1939, only 76 years ago that a young Australian aviator, Patrick ‘Bill’ Taylor, became the first person ever to fly across the Indian Ocean - the last of the great oceans to be crossed by flight. It took Bill 70 hours for the return trip in a tiny plane, from Perth to Kenya and back again. So while connectivity between some of IORA’s 20 member countries is still rather challenging, the speed and frequency of travel is far more accommodating these days.

Before Bill Taylor’s historic flight, maritime travel was the only way trade, migration and cultural exchange could take place between Indian Ocean Rim countries. In recent times, technology, economic growth and development have enabled us to greatly magnify the pace and scale of our engagement. The Indian Ocean remains of crucial strategic and important economic region to all of us. It provides major sea routes, connecting the Middle East, Africa and East Asia with Europe and the Americas and it is home to around 30 per cent of the world’s population. 

Some 100,000 vessels pass through the Indian Ocean region each year as do two thirds of the world’s oil tankers, one third of its container traffic, and one third of bulk traffic. Forty per cent of the world’s offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean. The East Indian Ocean alone is home to almost half of the world’s fisheries and yields around 8 per cent of global fish production. It is also home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies, driven by large, young populations and huge reserves of natural resources.  Over the past five years intra-IORA regional trade has grown at almost 10 per cent per year.

It is clear that region’s ‘blue economy’ as we call it, will be critical for economic growth and sustainable development. With these figures in mind, I was pleased to introduce last year the blue economy as the topic of the IORA ministerial retreat at the Council of Ministers’ Meeting. I am delighted that the blue economy was included in the IORA Economic Declaration. This cemented the blue economy, our ocean economy, as fundamental to our shared strategy for growth in our region.

Last week (2-3 September), IORA member states agreed to a Declaration on Oceans at the First IORA Blue Economy Ministerial Meeting in Mauritius. Australia, as a world leader in scientific research and innovation, is committed to helping ensure that future exploitation of the ocean is done sustainably.

But in reality, this is a task for us all: to harness the opportunity of the oceans as a key source of economic growth and job creation. The task for us, as Indian Ocean nations, is to continue our region’s history of trade, exploration and shipping and to work together to build on that history – for our mutual benefit.

Of course, opportunities do not come without challenges. For Australia, and for our fellow Indian Ocean countries, maritime security and economic growth are intrinsically linked. Without maritime security, the possibilities for economic development will remain unrealised – but maritime security doesn’t exist by good fortune.  It’s built, supported and maintained.

One of Australia’s key priorities as the Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association over the past 12 months has been the promotion of maritime security and safety as a means to encourage – and protect – trade and economic growth. In recent years we have seen successes in our region, born out of enhanced security cooperation.

Piracy off the Horn of Africa is now almost non-existent, a feat that was achieved through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and other forums.

As part of the Combined Maritime Forces, to which many IORA member states also contribute, we’ve made major inroads into fighting the drug trade. We know that the money made from selling drugs transported on the Indian Ocean finances terrorism, it contributes to the worrying insecurity in our region, and further afield.

We also know that the Indian Ocean routes used to smuggle drugs are also used to smuggle people and weapons illegally. Australian navy vessels alone have seized and destroyed over 13 tonnes of narcotics worth approximately AUD3.3 billion since March last year.

Australia also supports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime, another key regional body through which we combat crime on the high seas, including piracy and the burgeoning drug trade through the Indian Ocean.

We must remain vigilant. Transnational maritime crimes have the potential to destabilise the region and that will affect us all. IORA can do more to throw its weight behind efforts to combat transnational crime, including through an association with the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime.

Acknowledging these security threats, the Australian Government has established a new maritime enforcement agency – the Australian Border Force. Our Border Force, some 15,000 people working in more than 50 countries, is responsible for responding to civil maritime security threats in Australia’s offshore maritime domain, including a sizeable chunk in the Indian Ocean. Australia’s Border Force will work together with regional partners including IORA countries to combat piracy, robbery or violence at sea, illegal fishing and transnational maritime crime.

Other security challenges faced by our region are geostrategic in nature.
The rise of India and China, and the shift of global economic gravity towards East Asia, underscores the importance of maintaining a secure environment for trade and investment throughout our maritime region.

We are fortunate that, to date, the Indian Ocean waters we share remain largely free of the kinds of territorial disputes that we’ve seen on the other side of the Malacca Straits.

There remains however, real potential in the Indian Ocean for disputes over resources and territory, for greater power rivalry, and for conflict. We must build a region that is resilient in the face of such challenges.

The best way to do this is through entrenching habits of regional cooperation and consultation. This is not always high profile work. Often, it lies beneath the surface of political announcements and summit outcomes. Closer and more consistent collaboration happens quietly and over time. The key actors include business people, academics and officials.

As the only ministerial-level forum that spans the Indian Ocean, we must continue to bolster IORA’s profile and capacity to enhance regional cooperation and consultation. IORA offers us the unique capacity to address key political, security and economic issues in a constructive dialogue. As a significant part of the Indo-Pacific regional architecture, IORA’s role in building regional connectivity is absolutely vital. 

The inaugural Indian Ocean Dialogue, hosted by India’s leading think tank the Observer Research Foundation in Kochi last year, was a landmark moment for IORA. We are proud to be hosting the second Indian Ocean Dialogue in Perth today.

Building mechanisms for closer cooperation through fora such as the Indian Ocean Dialogue can, and should, act as a safeguard against such disputes arising, and, help better manage differences where they do arise. That’s why our engagement and cooperation through organisations such as IORA really does matter.

The loss of the Malaysian Airline MH370 in March last year is a poignant example of how we can – when we see a clear need – work together effectively. For 18 months, the search of the Indian Ocean for MH370 and the 239 people on board has continued. It has been a joint effort between no fewer than 26 states, many of them represented here today, with the coordination centre based here, in Perth.

Over a year after MH370’s fateful flight, it was confirmed that part of its wing had been found on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, but we still haven’t found the plane. The vastness of the Indian Ocean means families and friends continue to remain in doubt as to the final resting place of their loved ones.The tragedy of MH370 has demonstrated how vast our Indian Ocean is, how little we still know about it, and how the best possible way to take on these hurdles is to work together. That is why I was pleased to introduce the IORA Memorandum of Understanding on Search and Rescue Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.

I’d like to touch on one other topic before I conclude. In my time as Australia’s Foreign Minister I have repeatedly and consistently made clear my firm commitment to the empowerment of women. Breaking down gender equality isn’t just a moral issue, it’s an economic one. More women in the workforce lead to stronger economic growth and greater poverty reduction. That’s why Australia has made women’s empowerment a priority during our term as chair of IORA.

Women must stand to benefit from the economic potential of our oceans.
To that end, we co-hosted a successful event with the Seychelles just two weeks ago, which focused on mobilising markets to empower women, and achieving gender equality in the Indian Ocean region.

In August, IORA member states adopted the Mahé Consensus embedding in IORA’s agenda strategies championed by Australia to advance the economic empowerment of women across the region.

I am pleased to announce today that Australia will back implementation of this consensus with $1.5 million in an initiative to help export ready women-owned small businesses to build their export competitiveness in selected IORA States.  This initiative will be delivered over three years in association with the International Trade Centre.

I look forward to IORA leaders joining with me in committing to further advance women’s empowerment, particularly their economic empowerment, at the upcoming IORA Council of Minister’s Meeting in Padang, where Australia will hand over the IORA Chair to our friend and neighbour Indonesia.

Ladies and gentlemen, Australia has been committed to strengthening this Association, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and to building its profile during our term as Chair. As incoming Chair Indonesia can count on our full support to take forward our region’s mutual maritime interests.

As a country with our Indo-Pacific lens firmly in place, Australia looks forward to working with IORA members and Indian Ocean Rim states to maximise the potential that our common resource can provide.

Our discussions here today will inform deliberations at the upcoming Council of Ministers Meeting in Padang later this year. I urge you to continue to seek out new ways of working together in areas of mutual interest and benefit. I’m delighted to declare this Dialogue open and wish you the very best in your deliberations over the following two days.

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