Two thousand and fifteen has been a challenging year in Australia's foreign relations on the global stage. Tragically, the year ended as it began—with attacks in Paris by terrorists in January and then again in November. These attacks have left us shocked and remind us, again, that no nation is immune to the scourge of terrorism. This morning, in fact, I opened an exhibition of the best political cartoons of 2015. David Pope's cartoon, He drew first, brought it all back to me—the January assault on the French satirists Charlie Hebdo, and then last month's attacks in Paris horrified us all. Australia stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of all nations who are dealing with violent extremism and terrorism.
Two thousand and fifteen will be remembered as a year in which the world struggled to deal with the range of threats spreading out from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. The flight of so many Syrians—the largest group of displaced refugees in Europe since the Second World War—is a profound policy challenge that the international community will take into 2016 and beyond. Australia is committed to playing its part in helping address this refugee crisis, the humanitarian crisis, counter-terrorism and Islamic extremism and extremist violence. We announced we would permanently settle 12,000 refugees to Australia from Syria. The first of those arrived in Australia a week ago. We announced we would provide an additional $44 million in humanitarian assistance for those displaced by the conflict. Australia's humanitarian assistance to Syria and Iraq since 2011 is over $200 million, which has supported hundreds of thousands of people. Australia is a leading military contributor to the US-led coalition to counter ISIL, or Daesh—this violent, medieval terrorist organisation. We are contributing to air strikes against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and we are helping build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces so that Iraq can take back control of the territory claimed by the terrorists and keep their people safe. We are also seeking to address terrorism by working with partners in Europe, the Middle East and in our region. Terrorism is a global threat that demands a global response.
In 2015, our economic diplomacy initiatives made some unprecedented gains. We secured some very significant wins on the economic front: our Minister for Trade and Investment finalised a free trade agreement with our biggest trading partner, China, and we began to see the benefits flow from our free trade agreements with Korea and Japan. Australia was one of 12 countries that concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement—a historic free trade agreement that will set the platform for an Asia-Pacific free trade zone. These are 21st-century agreements that will help build prosperity and stability in our nation for decades to come. We also continued our strong push for more and greater global growth through the G20, through APEC and through other global and regional forums.
In 2015, Australia joined all other nations in making the most substantial advance in the international development agenda since the turn of the century. Agreements were reached on development finance in July and new sustainable development goals in September. The past 12 months have been particularly significant for Australia's international development agenda. In addition to helping reach a global consensus on the sustainable development goals, the Australian government continued to involve the private sector in our $4 billion aid program, with an increasing emphasis on the economic empowerment of women and empowering girls. We are on track against our performance targets. We are bringing new ideas and creativity into our aid program, with the unveiling of an exciting InnovationXchange within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The InnovationXchange is transforming our development assistance program with new strategies, the use of technologies, and private sector and NGO partnerships that will better enable us to help solve the development challenges of the future in our region. That is our focus—the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific—and this is where we can make the biggest difference.
In 2015, we continued our focus on specifically helping the countries in our immediate neighbourhood, the Pacific, grow their economies and deal with the consequences of natural disasters—for the Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. We led international efforts to assist communities in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam and we were a supporter to Nepal following its devastating earthquake.
Our commitment to multilateral engagement was reinforced when we announced Australia would seek a term on the Human Rights Council for 2018-2020 . Of course, the year is not over—I will be leaving Perth late Saturday night to attend the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, following the Prime Minister's visit earlier this week and the current visit by the Minister for the Environment. Australia will play an appropriate role in helping secure a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
I want to place on record my thanks to the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese, for his leadership of our diplomatic service. And I thank the staff of the department, who have been tireless in their efforts, with absolutely outstanding performances during the course of this year. I also thank all of our staff in our overseas network of posts—far away from home but all of whom are doing an exceptional job, often in exceedingly trying circumstances. This year, Australians have made more than 9½ million trips overseas. In that context, I want to commend our consular services team, who have managed nearly 16,000 consular cases. They certainly deserve praise for their efforts in assisting Australians who get into some form of trouble or need assistance when they are overseas.
On the political front, I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and leader of our Liberal Party. I acknowledge the efforts of the Leader of the Nationals and the whole coalition team, including our members and senators, whose judgement, tenacity and desire for good policy and a strong, effective government are what brings us all together to serve the Australian people and ensure that we are uphold the values that underpin our nation. I acknowledge the enormous contribution that the member for Warringah made as Prime Minister. With the change of leadership, inevitably there are changes to the ministry, and I acknowledge the efforts of those who have held ministerial positions over the past 12 months.
I put on record my thanks to my Western Australian parliamentary colleagues, who share the challenge of commuting from our west coast. I pay tribute to my dear friend and colleague the late Don Randall. We are reminded of him every day with the white rose at his seat, and we certainly continue to miss Don.
I thank my staff in my ministerial and my electorate offices, who serve with loyalty, professionalism and dedication, and for that I am truly thankful. I thank my family, and David and my friends for continuing to be there for me, as my duties as foreign minister, deputy leader of our party and the member for Curtin regularly take me away from home for long periods of time.
I join my colleagues in recognising and thanking all who contribute to the running of Parliament House, the national parliament: the chamber attendants, the Hansard staff, the International and Parliamentary Relations Office, the switchboard operators, the Comcar drivers, the service providers, and all those in the chamber as I speak. You make this building and the business of the parliament operate in the most efficient and professional way.
I make special mention of the security guards and the Australian Federal Police. As we were reminded when Canada's parliament house was attacked, no-one anywhere is immune from terrorism. Those who serve us every day to protect this building, those who work here, those who visit here and the values that this building espouses deserve our recognition.
I acknowledge the role of the Speaker—he has been marvellous in maintaining a level of decorum in this House—and all those on the Speaker's panel. I wish the leader and members of the opposition well. I hope they have a very happy Christmas—and long may they stay in their current roles! I acknowledge the members of the press gallery and thank them for their continued work.
I wish everyone a happy and safe Christmas and festive season, and I hope that we return in 2016 with renewed enthusiasm for creating good policies as part of a great democracy with fine traditions. Our nation has an enviable reputation as an open, export-oriented market economy in its 24th consecutive year of economic growth. We are an open, liberal democracy committed to freedom, the rule of law, democratic institutions and an international rules based community. Let us hope that 2016 is a year of continued economic growth, greater prosperity, safety and security. I wish you all a happy Christmas.
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