Ladies and gentlemen, friends of the European Union, friends of Australia, I’m absolutely delighted to be back in Brussels with my dear friend and counterpart, Foreign Minister Mogherini, for this very important initiative.

Helga, congratulations on your appointment. I should share with the audience here that I have just appointed Australia’s first female Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the 100 year history of that department. So there is a gender imbalance problem in foreign policy obviously!

I am particularly pleased to be here today, because as Federica says it’s timely that we recommit and commit anew to the relationship between Australia and the European Union.

Earlier today, Australia’s Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Steve Ciobo and I addressed the Foreign Affairs and Trade Committees of the European Parliament for the purpose of underscoring the value and importance and significance that we place on enhancing our already close relationship with the European Union.

We are like-minded. We share common values, a liberal democratic heritage, a commitment to freedoms, a commitment to the rule of law. We also deeply appreciate the economic power of open markets and liberalised free trade and the prosperity that it can bring.

Given the challenges that Europe has faced in recent times – the terrible terrorist attacks that have occurred here in Brussels as well as in other great European cities, the massive migration flows across this continent, Brexit – it would be fair to say that the European Union is at a critical juncture.

But I would say, this is precisely the time that the European Union should reflect upon, and note the benefits that European unity has brought. There has been an absence of major conflict on this continent, in fact 70 years of unbroken peace.  That’s an extraordinary achievement in these volatile times.

The support that European development and integration has brought to international frameworks, international law and the prosperity that European economic integration has most certainly brought.

In Australia, we place great significance on the peace that the European Union has brought to this continent for indeed, Australia suffered terrible losses in two major wars that occurred here in the twentieth century. We were here to defend our common values and in defiance of tyranny.

About an hour and a half from here, within a 15km radius of Ypres, there are the bodies of 13,000 Australians, who died during three brutal months in 1917, amongst the 60,000 Australians who died fighting for freedom in the First World War and of course many more in the Second World War.

So today, we see Europe and the European Union as the heart of the evolution of western liberal democracies. We look to the EU as champions of economic and social progress, of environmental awareness, as upholders of the rules-based international order.

Australia sees the EU as a natural partner. Already we have a Framework Agreement that we hope will be ready – and this is pressure on our officials – that we hope we will be ready very soon. Days, weeks, then it will be ready.

We have begun laying the formal groundwork for a Free Trade Agreement. I believe that will be of enormous benefit to the citizens of the EU and the citizens of Australia. It will provide jobs, economic growth and greater prosperity for our citizens.

It is so important for us to have these treaty-level instruments because it reflects and is the expression of our already close ties - our common values, but also our economic ties. 

The European Union is the single largest source of foreign investment for Australia and it is our second largest trading partner. So there is an enormous foundation for us to build upon.

The Leadership Forum that Federica and I are launching today will become, I truly believe, an indispensable part of a deeper, broader, more diverse relationship between Australia and the EU.

What is exciting about our Leadership Forum is that not only will it be an opportunity for leaders across our societies to gather together, but we also have a component for emerging leaders. That will ensure that this close relationship will endure. 

So ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be part of the launch for the Leadership Forum between Australia and the EU. I am particularly excited at the prospect of welcoming Federica and a delegation from the EU to Australia next year as we host the inaugural EU-Australia Leadership Forum and emerging leaders’ forum.

In launching this Forum, we are making a commitment to an enduring friendship with the EU, long may it last.

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