The Australia we can all be proud of

Charteris Lecture, Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA)

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery


24 November 2011

Today is the fourth anniversary of the election of the Federal Government.

It's time, therefore, to reflect on what the Government has achieved in the prosecution of Australia's international interests so far.

It's also time to reflect on the range of challenges that Australia now faces for the future.

And all against a background of fundamental geo-political, geo-economic and geo-strategic transformation – both within the region, and beyond.

A Changing Foreign Policy Environment

These are indeed interesting times.

Interesting times which require, therefore, a clear vision to secure our nation's future in an increasingly uncertain world.

We have the most complex set of international challenges of any Australian Government since the war:

  • unprecedented volatility in global financial markets;
  • a sovereign debt crisis that now threatens some of the major economies of Europe;
  • the worst recession since the great depression of three quarters of a century ago, and now a highly uncertain recovery;
  • the strategic competition between the United States, a liberal democracy and the world's remaining superpower, and China, an authoritarian state and the world's second-largest economy, soon to become the largest;
  • the global arms bazaar that we see unfolding in Asia, the central theatre of global politics for the century that lies ahead, and, compounding this, the major unresolved territorial disputes that lie across the Asian hemisphere;
  • the rapid escalation of threats to cyber security – affecting individuals, companies and states;
  • continuing global challenge of terrorism;
  • fundamental political change – sometimes violent – across much of the Arab world;
  • continued grinding poverty for one quarter of the human family – often providing the breeding grounds of political extremism
  • unprecedented unauthorised people movements across the world, taxing the border control systems of all governments everywhere;
  • and the silent, creeping challenge that affects us all – climate change and the resulting challenges of food security and water scarcity.

We have spoken about the theory of globalisation for decades.

Globalisation is now with us as a reality.

And globalisation in every policy domain: political, economic, strategic and environmental.

Australia therefore has no option in the prosecution of its intrinsic national interests but to work with others.

Other nations.

Other international institutions.

Because the challenges we face are now beyond the capability of any single nation state.

Foreign policy, therefore, is no longer an esoteric profession at the margins of mainstream Australia.

Foreign policy now impacts the daily concerns of mainstream Australia.

Jobs, mortgages, the cost of business loans, superannuation fund earnings, the security of individuals, corporations or public infrastructure from cyber attack, travel warnings for the now over seven million departures from our shores each year, the constant threat of terrorism, and always the risk of major strategic conflict undermining the overall economic stability that we have known in our region for decades.

This is why charting a clear course for our foreign policy future is so important – being clear about our objectives and being clear about the bilateral and institutional partnerships we need to progress these objectives in a turbulent world.

A Positive, Outward-looking and Globally Engaged Australia

For this continent, this island, that we call Australia, there is now no alternative but to be comprehensively globally engaged.

The stark reality is this: Australia must now be more outward-looking than at any time in our history, if we are going to be able confidently to secure our nation's future.

The option of pulling up the physical or psychological drawbridge is pure fantasy – although political populists from time to time seek to breathe life into such fantasy.

The possibility of a little Australia, an inward-looking Australia, let alone a xenophobic Australia (along with those who would fuel the fires of such xenophobia), has long passed us by.

Our future is made of different stuff.

An Australia which is intelligently confident of its place in the world, and respectful also of the place of others;

An Australia which embraces diversity, rather than nostalgia for the monoculture;

One that is dynamic, rather than static;

Nimble, creative and given to problem-solving, rather than problem creating or worse, intellectually self-satisfying problem description;

And, above all, an Australia that is positive in what has become the ocean of negativity that now dominates much of the Australian political debate.

If I sense one thing and one thing alone across the nation at present, it is this - that Australians are tired of wall to wall negativity.

They are fed up with it.

They simply seek a positive way forward for our nation's future in an uncertain world.

We are by instinct a positive, optimistic people.

Pessimism has never really been in our DNA.

Nor can we afford it now given the profound foreign policy challenges that lie ahead.

Whatever the perceived utility of the politics of negativity may have on the domestic front today, the politics of negativity are downright damaging on the foreign front.

The truth is the former can no longer be clinically quarantined from the latter – the information revolution has already seen to the destruction of artificial national boundaries, and what we transact domestically is instantly known internationally.

Both our own people and our partners around the world expect that a significant nation such as Australia will have a positive plan for the country's future, both in the region and the world.

And that is the mission on which this Australian Government has embarked.

Australia's Foreign Policy Vision

The Government's vision for Australia's foreign policy future is animated by both Australia's values and by Australia's interests.

Values of freedom;

Values of fairness;

Values of compassion;

Values that shape not only our view of Australian politics, economics and society, but values that also shape our view of the world.

As former Prime Minister Chifley said:

"We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand".

Our foreign policy is shaped by both our values and our interests.

The preservation of our national security;

The advancement of our national economic prosperity;

The building of a rules-based order which protects the interests of small and middle powers as much as it does the great powers.

Based on these enduring interests and values, the Government's vision for our place in the region and the world is clear.

  1. To entrench our standing as a middle power with global interests and regional interests - committed to the principles of creative middle-power diplomacy as we seek to enhance the global and regional rules based order;
  2. To preserve the peace, stability and security of the Asia-Pacific region by building the principles of common security through the institutions of our region;
  3. To build new cooperative institutions to support the peace and stability of the Indian Ocean region, recognising that we are a nation of two oceans, not one, and that the Indian Ocean will become as significant as the Pacific in the century ahead;
  4. To build global economic stability, prosperity and employment through our contribution in all global and regional economic forums and our continued global advocacy of the cause of open markets and open economies;
  5. To expand our formal engagement with Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East as significant areas of political and economic interest to Australia as part of a broader strategy of global engagement;
  6. To act as a good international citizen and to be seen as such around the globe, working in particular through the agency of the United Nations as the only credible global institution charged with underpinning a global rules-based order, given that the alternative is a return to anarchy;
  7. To be an effective voice of the universality of human rights, consistent with the Universal Declaration of 1948 and two subsequent UN covenants;
  8. To be a leader in interfaith dialogue globally, taking the principles of tolerance, respect and inclusion that we celebrate domestically to a wider international stage;
  9. To be a global leader in promoting the cause of development for the 1.4 billion members of the human family who still live in poverty, mindful that 22 of Australia's 24 nearest neighbours are developing countries;
  10. To be a global leader in global action on climate change, food and water security and sustainable development. As our human family confronts the full range of planetary boundaries created by nature;

And finally, for Australia to be seen around the world as a good country and Australians as a good people.

A nation that is robust, principled, compassionate, committed to fairness, respectful of difference and respectful towards indigenous peoples;

A nation that is seen as a centre of intellectual freedom, creativity, innovation and connectivity, a clever country of entrepreneurial people capable of generating global branding and global brands beyond the minerals and resources sector;

And also a nation that, at the dawn of this Asian Century, is the most Asia-literate country in the collective West for whom the language and civilisations of Asia are no longer foreign but familiar.

In other words, an Australia we can all be proud of, the title I have selected for this Charteris Lecture this evening.

The Government's vision for Australia's place in the region and the world therefore ranges from the immediate (for example global financial market stability) to the long term (for example global poverty reduction).

It does, however, guide the day-to-day work we undertake through the business of Australian foreign policy.

And it does paint a picture of the type of Australia we want to be, and be seen to be, in the decade ahead.

Foreign policy achievements

So, against this vision, four years on, what has the Government achieved so far in actual foreign policy action on the ground?

Australian foreign policy has been busier than at any time in recent history.

Furthermore we have achieved real results.

When the global financial crisis was upon us, we understood that the old boys club of the G8 wasn't going to be able to solve this challenge, that the emerging powers and others needed to be at the cockpit of the global economy if we were to pull out from a tailspin.

So we, Australia, advocated for the G20 to be elevated to Leaders' level and to become the premier policy-making body for global economic challenges.

We built a coalition in favour of this new architecture, on the basis of our argument that the G20 provided the best balance between the legitimacy that a large international organisation like the UN brings, and the efficiency of a smaller one like the G20.

There were others who resisted us, but at the Pittsburgh Summit in 2009 we prevailed.

And the G20 at Leaders level – the premier body for international economic governance – was born.

Australia for the first time in its history had a seat at the top table of global economic decision making.

We have been active, too, in reshaping the long term political and security architecture of our region.

As economic weight shifts to the Asia-Pacific region, we identified the need for this growing, diverse and complex region to have an institution that brings all key leaders together to focus on the big challenges we confront, whether political, security, economic or environmental.

Many in this country questioned whether this was truly needed or whether it could be achieved.

But the key players of our region – Yudhoyono, Lee, Singh and Obama – thought otherwise.

This past week, for the first time in our region's history, all of the key leaders met in a format that allowed them to discuss the totality of our region's future agenda.

That East Asia Summit, described by President Obama as the principal institution for dealing with the security challenges of the region, brings to fruition the concept of an Asia Pacific community that we, as a Government, have envisioned, sought and championed.

The expanded EAS is in significant part of the product of more than three years of Australian diplomacy at the highest levels – all designed to build on the institutions and culture of common security in Asia as this century unfolds.

We have worked to re-establish our nation's standing and influence with those countries closest to us, and most in need of our engagement, including the Pacific Islands.

We have built new partnerships based on respect and collaboration, rather than condescension.

We have agreed new Partnerships for Development with 11 Pacific Island countries which for the first time have put our aid relationships on a measurable outcomes basis.

Reflecting PNG's growing economic confidence and opportunity, we have re-imagined the PNG relationship as one focussed on cooperation between equals, including through formal negotiations on an economic treaty.

We have concluded the Cairns Compact with the Forum countries of the Pacific and their donor partners, which commits donors to transparency in their development assistance and to focusing their assistance on the agreed development needs of the region.

The Government has also reinvigorated our principal engagement in Asia.

With our closest large neighbour, Indonesia, we've significantly upgraded our relationship.

For the first time, over the past weekend, we had the Indonesia-Australia Annual Leaders' meeting – a regular format agreed with President Yudhoyono in 2010.

We established the Indonesia-Australia dialogue to help build people-to-people links that President Yudhoyono identified as a critical gap.

And we've agreed for the first time to an annual 2+2 meeting of Foreign and Defence ministers.

To add to this, we are shortly to begin negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Indonesia.

In 2009 in New Delhi we upgraded to a strategic partnership with India at the same level as India's partnership with the United States.

We've had an extensive number of two-way ministerial visits since 2009 – 17 from India, 24 from Australia.

We have substantially expanded our diplomatic presence in India, opening two Consulates in Mumbai and Chennai.

In 2011 we also launched negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement that will come to benefit the growing trade we have with this engine of future growth.

We have further developed our relations with China, pursuing a clear-minded strategy for the future.

We have elevated Australia's defence relations with China through the highest level military exchanges, practical cooperation, and reciprocal naval ship visits.

Since October 2009, three top Chinese defence leaders, General Guo Boxiong, General Chen Bingde and Lt General Ma Xiaotian (Deputy Chief of General Staff) visited Australia.

Let us make no mistake.

The People's Liberation Army is a powerful institution and it serves our strategic interests to engage more deeply with the Chinese military.

We have also strongly supported Australia's business interests in this rapidly growing economy, including by identifying China's new growth model and the way in which Australian business can benefit from it – what we have called China-Australia 2.0.

And this year leading a trade delegation of Australian service industry exporters to five of China's new mega cities.

With Japan, Australia sent one of the first search-and-rescue teams to Japan to one of the areas hardest hit by the March earthquake and tsunami, and deployed our entire fleet of C17 heavy-lift aircraft to assist in relief operations and deliver pumping equipment to help stabilise the Fukushima nuclear reactor – a contribution second only to that of the United States.

We have worked closely together to strengthen regional architecture of the Asia Pacific through the EAS.

Australia and Japan have agreed on annual 2 + 2 foreign and defence ministers meetings and are due to conclude a framework for the sharing of classified information.

We partnered for a world free of nuclear weapons by co-chairing the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament which drove much of the agenda at the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

And together we have since established the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative in order to drive the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference recommendations.

We have also recommenced our FTA negotiations with Japan and actively worked with Japan on their expression of interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

With Korea, we have worked closely on the development of the G20, developing a new level of partnership and trust.

We've committed for the first time to a 2+2 meeting of Defence and Foreign Ministers, adding to those we've established with Japan, Indonesia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Korea's rise as a great trading nation has been one of the signal developments in Asia over the past four decades – they're our fourth-largest trading partner and third-largest export market – a relationship we want to build on, which is why the government secured agreement with Korea in 2009 to launch a Korea/Australia FTA, negotiations which are now nearing conclusion.

With Burma, we chose a strategic moment to re-engage with the new government that showed signs of preparedness to reform.

To encourage that vital reform process and to show solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi and the democracy movement, I visited Burma this year – the first Western foreign minister to do so since the formation of the new government.

We are pursuing an activist diplomacy with Burma to encourage global engagement in order to further their political and economic reform process.

We've put our relations with Malaysia on a stronger and more stable footing after years of difficulty.

And we have built a new forward-looking relationship with Vietnam, underpinned by our Comprehensive Partnership signed in September 2009.

Our relations with our immediate region are necessarily the core of our foreign policy.

But the Government has also deliberately set out to strengthen our relations with regions where our engagement in the past has been thin and where our contemporary interests require a greater engagement in the future.

With the Middle East – which boasts merchandise trade worth over $12 billion, a source of over 20,000 international students enrolments and a vibrant two-way tourism sector, with over 100,000 tourists both ways annually.

With Africa, where our mining sector has actual and prospective investments worth more than US$20 billion.

And with Latin America and the Caribbean countries – which represent growing economic opportunities. Brazil is projected to be the fifth-largest economy in the world by 2025, and Mexico to be in the top ten global economies by 2050.

In each of these regions, we have built new levels of engagement, in areas of strategic interest to Australia.

In the Middle East, we have established the Australia-Arab Dialogue with the Secretary-General of the Arab League.

We have held the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-Australia Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue.

In Africa we have established an Embassy in Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union.

We are supporting Africa's sunrise industry – mining - through the Mining for Development Initiative that brings benefit both to Africa and to Australia's vibrant offshore mining sector, not least through scholarships to study mining in Australia.

We host the annual Africa Down Under Conference in Perth to deepen the engagement between the Australian and African mining industries.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, we have expanded our diplomatic presence by re-opening our Embassy in Peru, appointing seven new Honorary Consuls across the region and next year will host the Annual Latin America Down Under conference to boost the business relationship with this dynamic market of the future.

We have completed a Free Trade Agreement and Double Taxation Agreement with Chile, and have set up regular political consultations with Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Cuba.

We have also set our relationship with Europe on a decisive new footing, agreeing with the EU to negotiate a treaty-level Framework Agreement that will broaden the scope of our cooperation from foreign policy to climate change, from development assistance to scientific research.

Australia's engagement with Europe is undergoing a renaissance.

Australia regards Europe as overwhelmingly a force for good in the world.

In this 60th year of the ANZUS Treaty, we can point to significant developments in making our alliance with the US more responsive to current and emerging strategic challenges.

During President Obama's recent visit to Australia, the Prime Minister announced proposals for expanding bilateral defence cooperation – proposals that will enhance our ability to help maintain stability in the region, as well as to respond more quickly to natural disasters.

For his part, President Obama outlined welcome plans for deeper US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, while successive ministerial-level consultations have rendered practical enhancements in our relationship.

These include an undertaking to expand our efforts to address cyber threats.

In Afghanistan, we are firmly committed to the evolution of a functioning state that is able to assume responsibility for preventing the country from ever again being a safe haven for terrorists.

This commitment is broadly based as part of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force, to train and mentor the Afghan National Army's 4th Brigade to help improve governance in Uruzgan province and to improve the provision of basic services to the people.

Our progress has, by any measure, been remarkable.

We have made clear security gains – gains which nonetheless remain at risk – and are on track for transition to an Afghan security lead in Uruzgan Province.

Australian aid is also having an impact in Uruzgan, including:

  • supporting basic health and hygiene education, which has been provided to 7,950 primary school students, 34 per cent of whom are girls
  • enabling community demining and mine risk education, with over 100 Afghans having now been trained and over 244,000 square metres of contaminated land cleared
  • between 2008 and 2012, AusAID will support local employment in building over 30 kilometres of road, two bridges and municipal works in district centres.

In Libya, Australia was active in supporting UNSC action including a no fly zone against Qaddafi's forces – and, as a non combatant state, in being the 3rd largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to Libya during the Civil War.

Australia has doubled its foreign aid over the last five years and is on track to doubling it again by 2015.

This will make us the 7th largest aid donor in the world.

Our 2011 Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness has also been designed to ensure these tax payer dollars are used efficiently and effectively.

So far we have delivered remarkable achievements.

For example, our support to immunising children through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

Under the Coalition Government, Australia's support for GAVI in 2006 and 2007 paid for approximately 500,000 children to have vaccinations against diseases such as Hepatitis B, yellow fever, meningitis and pneumonia.

Building on this, the Labor Government supported the immunisation of another 1.1 million children by the end of 2010.

Between 2011 and 2015 Australia will support the full immunisation of 7.7 million more children.

Or through, for example, Australia's recent commitment to the Global Partnership for Education, which will result in over two million more children enrolled and completing primary school;

Or our new bilateral scholarship program, the Australia Awards targetted across the Pacific, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East - some four and a half thousand a year;

Or such work as helping improve employment and social protection programs, so that the poorest and most vulnerable receive the support they need, benefiting 107.5 million people in Indonesia and the Philippines by 2015;

Or for example, by providing counselling and support services to 3,734 women in Fiji subjected to violence over 2009 – 2010 through the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre;

Or indeed preparing for and responding to disasters and humanitarian crises such as our recent response to the humanitarian crisis and the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa, where Australia, as one of the largest bilateral donors, is working with others to provide food to nearly 8 million people affected by the drought.

And on a multilateral level, we continue to push for strong institutions and rules-based approach to the international order.

In the UN, we've been strongly supportive of efforts to strengthen global non-proliferation.

On climate change, we ratified Kyoto, and have been an active player at Copenhagen, Cancun and now in Durban.

We've been strongly supportive of efforts through the UN to lift the status of women with the establishment of UN Women – and the appointment of Australia's first Ambassador for Women and Girls.

We remain active in all UN committees and have been an active participant in inter-faith initiatives like the Alliance of Civilisations.

We've hosted the Parliament of World Religions, and we've been working closely with bilateral partners like Indonesia on Christian-Muslim dialogue, within our region and beyond.

Our continued belief in multilateralism is underlined by our commitment to serving on the UN Security Council in 2013-14.

We've run a strong and competitive campaign, consistent with our strong belief in being internationally engaged – although there is absolutely no guarantee of success.

We're in this race to win it, because 2013-14 will be important years for some of our key national interests: Afghanistan, East Timor, North Korea and the Middle East.

We've helped reactivate the Commonwealth, including through hosting CHOGM in Perth, our support for a new Charter of Values and a new mandate for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to deal with potential breaches of democratic rule.

On human rights, Australia has now signed optional protocols on international conventions on women, torture, disabilities, as well as our support for the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Finally, I've made no secret that re-building the budget of DFAT is a work in progress, but let's not forget what has been achieved in the past four years:

As at Budget 2011-12, DFAT has received a net increase of $89 million operating funding since Labor came to power.

The number of staff has grown by 315 and the number overseas staff has grown by 36.

I would note that contrasts with the record of our predecessors. In 11 years of prosperous domestic growth from 1996 to 2007, the total DFAT shrank by 356.

We have also put a focus on lifting the language skills of our diplomats.

When we came to office, we didn't have for example any Chinese or Japanese-speaking ambassadors.

Today, our new heads of mission in Athens, Beijing, Berlin, Dili, Honiara, Jakarta, Lima, Nicosia, Rome, Tokyo and Vientiane all have the necessary language proficiency – none of those posts had heads of mission who were proficient in the local language in 2007.

And we've added new diplomatic assets through posts in Addis, Mumbai, Chennai, Lima and more staff in India.

Of course more needs to be done.


Foreign policy needs to be informed by interests and values.

Grounded in realities but equally grounded in a vision for the future.

Expressed also in a practical record of achievement.

This is the way this government makes foreign policy.

Confident of our outward orientation, confident of our place in this dynamic region, and confident also of the new directions of our global engagement.

This is what guides us.

This is our light on the hill.

This is the Australia which we can all be proud of.


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