Australia’s foreign policy directions

Reference paper

26 June 2013

The past six years have seen a global transformation unlike anything seen outside periods of war.

In a time of change, the Government is positioning Australia to strengthen our global and regional influence.

Our international advocacy remains focused on our central goal: protecting and promoting Australian interests in the face of change.

Australia’s foreign policy stands out for its clarity, consistency and continuity.

Building Australia’s influence

We have deepened engagement with our six key bilateral partners.

These relationships are set out in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and the National Security Strategy: the United States, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and South Korea.

We have continued to build strategic partnerships with key countries, now including China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany and France.

We have developed annual leaders’ meetings with a range of countries of importance to Australia, including Indonesia, China and New Zealand.

We have significantly intensified our involvement in the key institutions of global and regional architecture.

We were successful in our campaign for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Since January, we have made a strong start as a Council member — a role we will continue to hold until the end of 2014.

We ensured Australia’s membership of a G20 meeting at leaders level — meaning we are part of the decision-making forum of global economic governance that evolved in the wake of the GFC.

In terms of having influence on global economic reform, that is a significant step forward for Australia — we were not a member of the G7.

For the first time in our history, we sit on both the premier institution of global security and the leader-level body driving global economic reform.

And we have been a driving force in building enhanced regional architecture.

In 2010 and 2011, we helped forge agreement to the expansion of the East Asia Summit to include the United States and Russia, setting the EAS up as the vital arm of our regional economic, security and political architecture.

Our national strengths

In advancing our foreign policy agenda, Australia has considerable national strengths on which we can draw.

We are a middle power with a strong alliance with the United States.

As we detailed in last year’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, we are a country of the Indo-Pacific, living in the Asian Century.

We are one of the oldest self-governing democracies. We boast values which respect human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

We are a country with a strong tradition of multilateral activism, confirmed by our history in the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (and before it, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and in other regional and emerging forums, from APEC to the East Asia Summit.

Since its inception, we have been a proud member of the Commonwealth. Now, with the Commonwealth Charter, the Commonwealth has confirmed its evolution as a community of democracies.

We have a strong economy — 22 continuous years of economic growth — and living standards that are rising not just on the back of our natural endowments, but on the back of our economic management and reform.

We have a commitment to education and excellence. Australia is the third most popular destination of any country in the OECD for foreign tertiary students.

We are a multicultural society in which one Australian in four is born overseas. Almost half of our population was either born overseas, or had a parent who migrated here. Around 1.7 million Australians were born in Asia. The Australia in the Asian Century White Paper made clear our intention to continue to build our ties with Asia.

We are one of the most generous aid donors in the world, the 8th largest in the OECD.

We are building on a strong tradition of foreign and security policy as a creative middle power.

One rough and ready measure of our diplomatic standing was the October 18 vote in the General Assembly for a two year non-permanent position on the Security Council.

Australia was honoured to enjoy the support of the fourteen nations of the Caribbean, with whom we had partnered on an Arms Trade Treaty, climate change and the marine environment; according to some accounts, a big majority of African nations, who saw Australia as different from Europe and the US; from Asia, notwithstanding our relatively late entry in the contest; and from Latin America; as well as traditional friends and allies.

It was a support base that reflected a level of comfort with the Australian policy and positioning described above.

We have a long tradition of recognising that far away events can crucially influence our long term well-being and sovereignty.

We have always been prepared to work hard with those who share our values and interests and even harder with those who don't.

When necessary we have been prepared to fight for vital interests, through two world wars and regional conflicts and, most recently, as part of a coalition of 50 nations in our efforts to counter terrorism and promote stability in Afghanistan.

Australia is the only continental power that shares no land border with any other state.

As the Defence White Paper made clear in May, our geographic circumstances make maritime issues a vital part of our security.

In fact, Australia has always identified freedom of navigation and benign security surroundings as key to the defence of our sovereignty and independence of action.

In the maritime sphere, we confront potential challenges born in territorial disputes, and potential challenges to freedom on the high seas, to freedom of navigation.

Increasingly, we are looking at a geostrategic stage framed by both the Indian and the Pacific oceans.

That perspective — the Indo-Pacific — returns India to Asia’s strategic matrix and reflects the importance of our maritime environment.

It captures the heart of our economic and strategic interests.

It encompasses our top nine trading partners, including our top strategic ally, the United States, and our largest trading partner, China.

The breadth of the strategic space is enormous, which is why we put so much energy into working with ASEAN and others to build and support the economic, cultural and strategic institutions of our region: East Asia Summit, APEC, and the ASEAN Regional Forum. In this work we are steadfast in recognising and supporting ASEAN centrality.

The six key relationships

The alliance with the United States remains a fundamental pillar of our national security.

The United States’ engagement has been the single most important factor in sustaining the security and stability of our region since 1945.

Its role as security guarantor is vital — including through its multi-faceted rebalance to the region.

By its presence, by keeping markets and trading routes open, the United States has given confidence to all countries in the region to concentrate on economic development and not be preoccupied with defence.

Australia’s joint force posture initiatives with the United States — including the rotational deployment of US marines to Darwin — both underline and express our commitment to the continued US presence in and engagement with the Asia Pacific region.

Australia shares — and has always shared — core values with the United States.

Nobody who heard President Obama’s 2012 UN General Assembly speech on the terrorist murders at Benghazi last September could doubt the depth of his commitment to the values of freedom and human rights, or doubt the commitment to these values by the America the President stands for.

It would be a mistake to underestimate that US commitment, either now or in the future.

Support for the US presence in our region is not born of any notions of containment, or fear about threats from a rising China.

Nor does Australia believe we will have to choose between the US and China.

The US presence in our region has been good for China, keeping markets open, supporting China’s role in the region, and in all the key global forums. It has helped underpin stability in Northeast Asia.

Apart from the US, China’s rapid rise has been the most significant development in the region. And China’s importance will only grow.

China’s influence since Deng Xiaoping opened its economy has been overwhelmingly to the region’s benefit.

China now plays an essential role in global and regional issues, from Syria and Iran to North Korea and the South China Sea.

Since the leadership transition only a few months ago, we are seeing encouraging signs from the new leadership.

Both President Xi and Premier Li are familiar with Australia.

We’ve been developing our relationship with this generation of China’s leaders for many years.

All seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo — the apex of power in China — have visited Australia.

President Xi, then the Vice-Mayor of Xiamen in Fujian Province, first visited Australia as a guest of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1988.

He travelled with Huang Ju, then Vice Mayor of Shanghai, and Wei Fuhai, then mayor of Dalian. Both went on to hold senior positions.

Their delegation visited Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, seeing technology demonstrations, local attractions and Australian culture. They even saw a film: Bertolucci’s "The Last Emperor".

Most importantly, they left with a broader perspective of Australia — seeing us as much more than a minerals and agricultural producer.

The new strategic partnership that we have now achieved in our relationship with China as a result of the Prime Minister’s April visit best positions us to advance a complex and challenging relationship — something that is in both our interest and the region’s.

While Australia remains a critical supplier of inputs for China’s economy — in minerals, energy, agriculture and so on — we are broadening our trade relationship, particularly looking at the huge potential growth in services trade.

Australia supports Japan playing a role as a security actor commensurate with its global and regional economic position.

Japan is vital to Australian interests — a peaceful, democratic country for over 60 years. Japan sees us in the same light.

Last February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his landmark "Japan is Back" speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Listing Japan’s priorities for the promotion of international rules of conduct, and protection of what he called "the global commons, like the maritime commons" — that is, the freedom of the oceans — Prime Minister Abe said:

“Japan’s aspirations being such … Japan must work even more closely with the U.S., Korea, Australia and other like-minded democracies throughout the region.”

The new Abe government has the opportunity to address the big issues facing Japan: economic stagnation, security, and 21st Century relations with China.

As a mark of Australia’s importance to Japan, Foreign Minister Kishida came here as part of his first trip overseas after taking office.

India has a growing role and is critically important.

We recognise India’s importance as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific.

The 2009 Strategic Partnership declaration between Australia and India encapsulates all the reasons for our growing closeness: our democratic traditions, a strong trade relationship, rapidly expanding people to people links, and our cultural, sporting and scientific collaboration.

In 2002 total Indian investment in Australia was $105 million — in 2012 it was almost $10 billion.

India is a major economy in the region, with whom we share a wide range of national interests.

For two close neighbours from such different cultural backgrounds, Australia and Indonesia get on extraordinarily well.

Nothing can be more important to Australia than that our two nations have established such a warm and fruitful relationship, from the leadership down.

Part of this is due — no doubt — to the vision of President Yudhoyono, and of successive Australian leaders.

But the closeness between Australia and Indonesia is anchored in interests, not individuals.

This government, with Indonesia, has created an architecture, including leader summits and annual 2+2 foreign and defence ministers' meetings, to sustain habits of dialogue and strategic consultation between our two nations.

Prime Minister Gillard’s visit in July will be the next step in developing our strategic partnership.

That framework will be helpful as we work to forge an equally beneficial relationship with President Yudhoyono’s successor.

More broadly, democratic Indonesia’s re-emergence as a regional leader — indeed as a global leader — is good for Australia, and for the region.

It is a G20 member, and will host APEC later this year.

A comprehensive economic partnership agreement will seal the strategic nature of relations between our two countries into the future.

Indonesia’s importance to Australia cannot be over stated — it is the largest single aid partner — and our largest overseas mission anywhere in the world is the one we have in Jakarta.

And we cooperate with Indonesia on the widest range of issues, including police and counter-terrorism matters, law enforcement, health and education, and so on.

Our central asset with Indonesia in 2013 is the highly developed habit of consultation between our two countries — an unprecedented level of cooperation.

South Korea is a proud democracy, an economic success.

Our security interaction is growing, and includes a commitment to developing a 2+2 foreign and defence ministerial meeting.

And we have a strategic economic relationship under which our exports have fuelled Korea’s industrial engine.

South Korea’s success has been won despite the continuing threat across the border from a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Pyongyang needs to abandon its nuclear and missile programs and devote itself to reform and economic development.

Key regions

We have not lost focus on other regions.

We remain confident that notwithstanding the Eurozone’s current challenges, deep as they are, in time, Europe will recover its economic competitiveness and emerge from its crisis of confidence.

For us it is a key source of values — human rights, the rule of law, environmental practice, and so on.

Over the past 18 months, we have forged strategic partnerships with France and Germany.

We have identified opportunities to work with emerging EU powers like Poland, including through NATO in Afghanistan, and in development cooperation in countries like Myanmar.

And we have confirmed the strength of our relationship with the United Kingdom, our defence and foreign ministers' meeting now becoming an annual event.

The EU remains a major focus of trade and investment.

In Africa, a continent of over a billion people with four of the top ten fastest growth rates in the world, Australian companies have been at the leading edge of an economic boom — over 300 ASX listed companies have nearly 1,000 projects underway. 

Australia’s mining sector is — by any measure — world class, and our miners now are a vital part of our engagement with Africa and many other parts of the world, from Mongolia to Myanmar.

Africa also makes up around two-thirds of the agenda of the Security Council and our election to that body has given us a once in a generation opportunity to shape outcomes on issues affecting the lives of millions and the destiny of states.

Like Asia, Latin America is also a fast emerging region — which is why we have established a strategic partnership with Brazil and expanded our diplomatic presence in São Paulo, Bogotá and Lima.

We have become a supportive observer of the Asia-oriented Pacific Alliance free trade initiative — which currently encompasses Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru — and which we hope will succeed and grow its membership in the future.

The Pacific

We are keenly focussed on our immediate neighbourhood.

The Pacific matters to Australia, just as Australia matters to the Pacific.

We are the Pacific’s major economic and security partner, and its largest aid donor.

That will remain the case.

Our interests are served by stability and economic growth in the Pacific.

The region faces big challenges, many of which are not just up to the Pacific to solve.

They can only be tackled through regional and global cooperation.

Think of climate change as emblematic of the unique challenges facing the Pacific.

The threat of rising sea levels is as stark to the Pacific as any other people in the world.

My visits to Pacific countries — like Kiribati, Fiji, Papua New Guinea — and my video address to the Arria meeting of the United Nations Security Council on climate and security reflect the importance we place on the Pacific.

We have made strong contributions to our Pacific neighbours.

Last year we provided significant assistance to help ensure PNG held democratic elections on time.

In the Solomon Islands, over more than a decade, we have worked with our Pacific partners through RAMSI to ensure an orderly security environment, rebuilding basic institutions of government and stabilising the economy.

In Papua New Guinea, we work closely with the Government to ensure that revenue derived from resource extraction is translated into real development outcomes for all PNG people, and to build on law and order and governance gains.

And in Fiji — we continue to press the regime on returning one of the Pacific’s leading nations to democracy and the rule of law.

We look forward to a full resumption of relations with Fiji, including defence cooperation, once credible elections have taken place.

The regime needs to support an independent election office, real participation by political parties and civil society, freedom of expression and assembly, and independent observers.

In other words — it needs to meet the expectations of its people, and the international community.

We are committed to each and every one of our Pacific partners for a simple reason.

This is where we live.

This is our neighbourhood.

The challenges of multilateralism in a shifting world

But beyond each individual relationship, we, like every country in the world today, face real challenges in driving reform and global progress.

In the fluid, interconnected world in which we live, multilateral approaches matter more and more.

But increasingly, it is harder for our multilateral institutions to deliver.

Particularly in large or universal forums, particularly when consensus decisions have been the norm, progress can be difficult.

Look at the slow progress of the Doha trade round in the World Trade Organization.

And the difficulties of achieving a global agreement in climate change negotiations.

We need to build greater trust between the developed countries on one side, and developing countries who are seeking higher levels of development, and a greater say in global and regional affairs.

Australia can play a role.

We’ve had to learn how to build bridges and coalitions on specific issues because — with our unique combination of history and geography — we’ve never been a natural member of any grouping.

We did it in the Cluster Munitions and Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, for example.

And on climate change Australia continues to bring together countries across the full spectrum of development to achieve concrete building blocks for an effective global agreement.

Australia works cooperatively with other countries — from a wide range of different perspectives and in diverse forums — on meeting the common international challenges that can only be tackled together.

We are a committed actor when it comes to working for a world without nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction — with Japan, we established the 10-nation Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative.

And an active member of the key global and regional groups — like the United Nations Security Council, the G20, and the East Asia Summit.

Working for global and regional security

As a member of the UN Security Council for the next two years, Australia will have a direct hand in shaping solutions to pressing global security challenges.

We will deepen our dialogue with the major powers.

We will reinforce our alliance and key partner relationships.

We will consult widely with small and medium states, particularly in our region.

But also globally — particularly in Africa, which makes up a substantial part of the Council’s agenda.

And in doing so, we will enhance our international influence long after our term is over.

Australia’s concrete objectives for the UNSC term align with our core national security interests.

We are committed to fighting international terrorism.

We are active in our support for ongoing counter-proliferation efforts.

We are committed to strengthening the Security Council’s role and credibility in maintaining international peace and security.

Given our stake in the successful military and political transition in Afghanistan, we are working with our partners to ensure no dilution of the ISAF mission and UNAMA through to the end of 2014.

To shape and secure Security Council backing for international military and civilian engagement post-2014.

To use our role as chair of the Taliban sanctions committee to support Taliban and Afghan government dialogue and reconciliation.

Because we believe it is critical to long-term stability.

On Iran, where we also chair the sanctions committee, we will seek to ensure pressure on Tehran is sufficient for it to comply with UNSC resolutions on its nuclear program.

And to counter Iran’s destabilising influence in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

On North Korea, we will press the Security Council to use all levers to maintain pressure to cease further missile and nuclear testing, and to return to the Six Party talks.

We will continue to apply pressure on Pyongyang through the Human Rights Council.

On Syria, we will continue to press for Council action to support political dialogue and the end of all violence and violations of human rights.

In the meantime, we will work with the international community to relieve the tragic humanitarian situation occurring in Syria and neighbouring countries.

And we will seek further endorsement and support for our plan for medical action and protection of aid workers in Syria.

And we will work to help support the cause of peace in the Middle East.

We will also focus on broader counter-terrorism including as chair of the Al Qaida committee.

A key priority for Australia on the Council — particularly during our Presidency in September — will be to highlight the important leadership role women can play in ensuring long-lasting peace in fragile post‑conflict societies.

And promote respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, the prevention of conflict and greater transparency in the Council’s work.

On conventional weapons, a huge advance has been the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty — something that will make a difference for hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are threatened by the unchecked spread of small weapons.

We didn't do that on our own — it has been a negotiation seven years in the making and ultimately, 154 nations voted to adopt the treaty, which, when implemented, will establish the highest possible regulatory, transparency and humanitarian standards for the international trade in conventional arms.

But we were one of the seven original co-authors who sponsored the first UN General Assembly proposal on the treaty in 2006.

To the end, we played a pivotal role — with Ambassador Peter Woolcott chairing the final critical negotiations.

The Treaty opened for signature on June 3 — and Australia was one of the first countries to sign.

We will be working actively to secure its early entry into force.

Australia has also advocated passionately for the control and reduction in the use of land mines and cluster munitions.

We played a key role in negotiating the Cluster Munitions Convention to ensure it delivered a strong humanitarian outcome by banning cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

Importantly, we also preserved our ability to operate in UN operations and coalitions with non-parties to the conventions, notably the United States.

The Convention is now in force for Australia.

We’ve made a strong contribution towards global security in fighting terrorism, and worked to fight the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

We’ve worked with key partners like Japan on non-proliferation efforts, including the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, co-chaired by Gareth Evans and former Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

In the run-up to the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2015, we are working with a range of countries in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative to implement the outcomes of the 2010 review conference.

The G20

As a member of the G20 troika from 2013 to 2015 — and as chair ourselves in 2014 — Australia will have a direct hand in shaping solutions to our most pressing global economic challenges.

The G20 is a unique forum in bringing together both the great powers and the major emerging economies.

That’s why our hard-won role in the G20 is so important.

We’ve won our place, but the G20 agenda is far from entrenched.

The G20 agenda has to remain relevant.

It needs to focus on its core financial and economic competencies.

It plays a critical role in stabilising the world economy, in implementing global financial reform, in putting in place the international basis for strong, sustainable and more equitable economic growth.

It is vital that we continue to contribute to G20 activities.

That we conduct extensive outreach to non-members, particularly in our region.

We don't just represent ourselves, but also those in our region whose economies are smaller, but whose interests in global economic and financial reform are no less urgent than ours.

In our work, we will continue to forge coalitions to drive specific elements of the G20 agenda.

From our perspective, delivering on the broader G20 development agenda is crucial for the poorest countries on Earth.

And will be a vital test for its credibility as a global institution.

On a regional level, we are also committed to building effective regional architecture to help sustain the long-term stability of the Indo-Pacific.

This is a vital national interest.

Like the G20, the East Asia Summit can make an important contribution to long-term stability, in part by encouraging rules-based approaches and helping to support and develop regional norms of behaviour.

The EAS brings all the key leaders in our region together into a single political security and economic forum.

That includes the United States, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Indonesia and India.

Importantly, it also includes all the countries of ASEAN, whose unity, purpose and goals Australia has always supported, and with whose members we maintain substantial and positive bilateral relationships.

It is important to embed a robust security agenda in EAS discussions, and to ensure it remains a forum in which all security, economic and political issues can be raised.

That is particularly true for the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea.

Australia sees the East Asia Summit as the regional institution on which we should place the highest priority.

That shouldn't be surprising.

Its members encompass 54 per cent of global GDP.

Just over half the globe’s population.

Eight of its members are in the G20.

Three of its members are P5 countries on the Security Council — the United States, Russia and China.

As it evolves, it should further help us build regional financial and economic integration.

It can help build confidence and nurture the culture of dialogue and cooperation so crucial to facing security issues.

And it complements the trade facilitation role of APEC.

Human rights and values

As Australians, our values lie at the heart of our foreign policy.

The rule of law, human rights, open and accountable government.

A sense of fairness, equity, and responsibility.

Legally, our responsibility to act in a way that respects human rights flows from the UN Charter and the various instruments and treaties that have evolved over time to give it force and meaning, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But putting legality to one side, taking an honest and respectful approach to human dignity in the conduct of our foreign policy is the right thing to do and the sensible thing to do as well.

Human rights, good governance and the rule of law are critical to democracy, and indelibly linked to peace, stability and development.

They can deliver real economic gains.

Consider the greater opportunities for women, in our modern world, for their economic benefits — as a major driver of development and growth.

These are Australian values, but they aren't only our values, of course.

We remain indebted to many countries, particularly in Europe, who through their own history have developed and extended a respect for human rights and human dignity.

We will continue to make an important contribution.

Look at our aid program, with its technical assistance and good governance programs.

Making a contribution to human lives through the rule of law, women’s health and education, in countries like Afghanistan and Vietnam.

Australia is proud of the part we have played — and of our reasons for doing it.

It is a part we will continue to play in the future.


In our region, ensuring stable, productive US-China relations will be key to regional security.

It must be according to established international law and custom. With a commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes, economic integration, and the evolution of the rules-based global order we’ve come to accept since the Second World War.

Australia is optimistic that both sides recognise they have more to lose through an adversarial approach than through cooperation.

It is in our national interest to do all we can to continue to support strong, positive Sino-US relations.

Continuing growth is not a foregone conclusion.

Can Japan overcome its economic slump?

Will Korean and Chinese growth slow?

Progress will not be straightforward.

But we are informed optimists — we think the track record of 70 years of growing regional prosperity speaks for itself.

The welcome rise of India will see its strategic interests expand, as we are already seeing.

We have cause for optimism for the positive role it can play in the region as a long-established democracy in which the rule of law plays a natural part.

Global trade liberalisation faces many challenges. We will need to find new approaches.

Pluri-lateralism may be one way to go on trade and economic issues, with countries willing to liberalise moving forward faster than others.

These next few years will be formative ones for Australia.

They will require dynamic and effective prosecution of Australia’s foreign and trade policy interests, building on the strong work of the past six years.

There is much uncertainty, so we will need to be creative in our policy responses.

The coincidence of our chairing of the G20 with our Security Council membership provides a unique opportunity to exercise greater influence in international decision-making on global economic and security issues.

If we do this well — and I have every reason to think we will — we will continue to advance Australia’s standing and influence.

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