Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms


Speech to the 45th ALP National Conference

Sydney, 1 August 2009

Thank you very much Mr Chairman. I formally move Chapter Ten, which contains Foreign Policy and National Security platform items, and reflects Australia's international engagement.

Mr Chairman, the draft platform as circulated, and with the amendments which will be supported, and the various Conference resolutions which will be presented, reflect the finest traditions of Labor's foreign policy and international engagement.

They are in the tradition of Curtin, Chifley and Evatt, in the tradition of the Whitlam Government, and in the tradition of the Hawke, Keating and Evans period of foreign policy.

When the Rudd Labor Government came to office we said that we had three fundamental pillars to our foreign policy engagement: our ongoing alliance with the United States; our engagement with the Asia-Pacific; and our engagement with the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. Of these fundamental pillars, which in various ways were neglected by the previous conservative government, have been adhered to and enhanced so far as the Government is concerned.

So far as our alliance with the United States is concerned, we've very quickly moved to a personal and professional engagement and relationship with the new Obama Administration.

So far as our engagement with the Asia-Pacific is concerned, we have enhanced, at every level, our engagement - with the ASEAN countries, the ASEAN-related regional architecture, with APEC, with North Asia, and with China.

In the Pacific, we have transformed Australia's standing and relationships with and in the Pacific, with the development of our Pacific Partnerships for Development. Next week in Cairns we host the Pacific Islands Leaders' Forum. We've also enhanced our engagement with South Asia, particularly with India, and the countries of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

This engagement in the Asia-Pacific, in our own region, is perhaps best reflected by the Prime Minister's initiative for an Asia-Pacific Community, which makes the very important point that in this Century, Labor sees economic, political, strategic, and military influence moving to our region, to the Asia-Pacific region. It's not just the rise of China.

It's the rise of China, the rise of India, which until recently has been under-appreciated, and the rise of the ASEAN economies combined.

As the world moves to our region, it maximises the reason for us not just to continue our engagement with the Asia-Pacific, but to enhance it, and to look at the structures through which that regional engagement occurs.

So far as multilateralism is concerned, our engagement with the United Nations and other international institutions has been restored to a premier feature of Australian foreign policy. In this area we were, quite correctly, highly critical of our opponents for their neglect and indeed their attacks upon the United Nations and international institutions. It is not just a traditional adherence to the United Nations or to our international institutions. Every difficult international problem that we see, whether it is global economic difficulties, whether it is climate change, whether it is international terrorism or transnational crime, whether it is responding to pandemics, or disaster relief, whether it is progressing disarmament, and the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons, all of these things can only be effected by working with other countries, through the international institutions, whether it's the United Nations, whether it's the World Trade Organisation, or through the regional institutions.

So far as the difficulties confronted by Australia's domestic economy as a result of the Global Financial Crisis, we have been working very strongly within the G20, which has enhanced, in our view, our standing in the international community for the good work that we have done through that institution.

Mr Chairman, the Government has also sought to enhance our engagement throughout the world generally. When we came to office, we were very critical of the previous government's neglect of our engagement with Africa, our engagement in India, and the need to enhance our engagement with South and Latin America, and the Caribbean.

On all of these fronts, our engagement has been substantially enhanced.

Africa is a continent of over 50 countries and a continent of nearly a billion people. Australia is a country of over 21 million people. We've survived as a prosperous and well-developed country by being an attractive place for capital investment, but also being a great trading nation. Both on the economic front and on the strategic front, a country like Australia cannot ignore a continent like Africa and the countries of Africa. So the Government has substantially enhanced our engagement with Africa.

In recent times everyone has seen the rise of China. Too few, until recently, have seen the rise of India. In our view Australia has neglected its relationship with India over the recent period, and so we've moved to substantially enhance our engagement with India.

The same is true of Latin or South America. The people-to-people contacts, the economic and trade contacts have got substantially ahead of the government-to-government contacts. That is another area in which we're moving to rectify the deficiencies of the past.

Mr Chairman, often you hear the phrase that in a range of areas, Australia punches above its weight, and in the case of our activity in the G20 that is, of course, certainly true. More generally it's a description, when it comes to Australian foreign policy, that I don't believe is an accurate description of what Australia could or should be doing.

It is true that we are a country of only 21 million people. On the population score, we come in at about country number 50. But on the size of our economy, we are in the top 15 economies. On prosperity, income per capita, we're in the top 15. In defence and peacekeeping expenditure, we are in the top dozen countries.

We are a significant and considerable nation. We have unique characteristics, values and virtues. We are a robust parliamentary democracy. We respect the rule of law. We respect human rights. We bring to the world stage unique attributes and a unique view from our part of the world.

As a consequence we should conduct ourselves as a significant and considerable nation, and that is reflected by the foreign policy approach that the Government takes.

As well when it is appropriate and when there is a need to, we are highly critical of other countries - whether it's Zimbabwe,whether it is Burma, whether it is the DPRK, whether it is Iran -as and when appropriate.

All these sentiments, Mr Chairman, are reflected both by the draft platform, by the various resolutions which will come forward, and by the amendments, all of which have been agreed. Can I thank delegates for that process and can I thank delegates for their support.

I finish on this note, Mr Chairman.

This morning we heard from former Prime Minister Hawke, some of the foreign policy and international achievements of the Hawke Labor Government. We reflect on that and we're proud of those achievements.

Equally, this Government is not just seeking to do the day-to-day foreign policy or international engagement. We are seeking to improve and enhance Australia's place on the world stage in our national and long-term interest.

These include our enhanced engagement in our own region the Asia-Pacific, our enhanced engagement through regional international institutions, like the G20, and our recommitment to traditional Labor values and virtues reflected by longstanding foreign policy, whether that is disarmament, whether that is being a good international citizen through our adherence to a substantial development assistance program, and our desire to help implement the Millennium Development Goals.

All of these themes are reflected by the draft Platform. I formally move the Platform, and commend it to delegates.