Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Director and conference delegates. I’m
absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to be here this morning.
Congratulations to the Centre on its 20th anniversary.
The first Bulletin issued by the Centre in 1994 included an article on
Israel, Syria and Hezbollah by Bob Bowker. Bob was listed as ‘Research Scholar
at the Centre and officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’. Bob
is now an Adjunct Professor with the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, having
been Australia’s Ambassador to both Jordan and Egypt. His career provides a good
example of a phenomenon I strongly believe in – the cross-fertilisation of
ideas, between Government and academia, to bring the finest, most informed and
considered views to bear on our foreign policy and our international relations –
absolutely in Australia’s national interest in a very tangible way.
The Australian Government is determined to adopt a considered approach to
policy development and implementation. We will pursue policies that are focused
on our core interests and are targeted to ensure effective outcomes. On the
domestic front, we are working to secure Australia’s financial future and have
addressed people smuggling activity.
In foreign affairs, I have put the aid budget on a sustainable footing,
announcing last week a new aid paradigm that will ensure our development
assistance achieves results and is directed at where it can be most effective.
The aid policy is indicative of this government’s approach –
championing creative, innovative and results-oriented policies, particularly in
our engagement with the world. An initiative where our foreign policy finds its
expression is the New Colombo Plan, which will increase Australia’s engagement
with countries in our region and make a tangible difference to our understanding
of our part of the world. The New Colombo Plan, building on the vision of the
original Colombo Plan, is I believe, one of the finest examples of innovative
We are providing young Australian undergraduates the opportunity to live,
study and undertake work experience internships with countries in our region.
This policy builds individual capacity, but even more importantly, builds
understanding between societies. The people-to-people links, working toward
common goals, the sharing of ideas, and living and working amongst one another –
this is the path to peace and prosperity. With a deeper and stronger
understanding about each other’s cultures and religions we will break down the
misconceptions and the inequalities from which conflict is so often born.
These are signature policies that will have material impact on Australia’s
security and prosperity. Our goal is to represent and build upon our values – to
promote them to the wider world, to project and advance Australia’s reputation
as an open, export-oriented economy, and a democracy based on freedom of
expression and respect for the rule of law.
These are the values that guide us in our interactions with our neighbours
and our partners abroad, including in the Middle East. Events unfolding and
escalating in the Middle East remind us of the limits on the Australian
Government to solving global problems but this is not to diminish in any way the
importance of such issues, but to ensure our responses contribute to an
improvement in any situation. It’s critical that in reacting to dramatic changes
in world events, our actions are considered, measured, and effective. This is a
guiding principle of the Government’s approach to the Middle East.
We recognise the Middle East is of global strategic significance.
Developments materially impact on international security and economic
prosperity. Australia has had important international political, security and
economic interests in the Middle East since Federation. And this will continue.
What the world has witnessed in recent weeks in Iraq and over some time in
Syria has been deeply concerning, and it has been destabilising. The emergence
of this international terrorist group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant –
ISIL, on this scale in this vital part of the world, threatens the stability and
security of the whole region and by extension, global security. If we ever
needed a reminder of the complexity and challenges of this region, the conflict
in Syria and Iraq is it.
The violence in Iraq requires a political, not a military, solution. We join
others in calling on Iraqi leaders to work closely together to combat the
violence, and ensure safety and security for the Iraqi people. The Australian
Government will support Iraq’s efforts in this regard. We have strongly
condemned the actions of ISIL, as it continues its campaign of violence across
Iraq. The loss of life in recent weeks is deeply distressing, and we have grave
concern at the widespread displacement of Iraqis and damage to property.
We are concerned by the growing humanitarian consequences. I announced last
week that the Australian Government will provide $5 million in immediate
assistance to support the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from the
violence in north and northwest Iraq. Australia’s assistance will help provide
food, medical assistance, tents, access to clean water, hygiene kits and the
like. We are working with the World Food Programme and the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees to deliver our aid and ensure that it reaches those
who need it most.
Of course, the bloody and protracted civil war is also still raging in Syria,
with a devastating impact on refugee flows and the spill over of violence on
neighbouring countries. We have joined the UN Security Council condemnation of
the violence, and played a leading role as co-author of UNSCR 2139 in efforts to
secure greater humanitarian access to the millions of people suffering within
We are now working on a follow-up resolution that will provide for
cross-border access for humanitarian agencies, will require specific actions
from the Syrian regime to support humanitarian relief and will include trigger
provisions for further Council measures in the event of continuing
non-compliance. And we continue to provide assistance for the Syrian crisis –
around $53 million this year, and almost $133 million since the crisis began.
This includes $20 million in assistance that I announced for the “No Lost
Generation” schooling and education initiative during my visit to Jordan and
Lebanon in April where I saw firsthand the scale of the crisis and the impact on
neighbouring countries. I visited a refugee registration centre in Amman run by
the UNHCR. I heard the heart-rending stories from mothers and their children in
particular. Our support for the Syrian crisis demonstrates Australia’s
commitment to help the people and countries affected by this enormous challenge.
Developments in Syria and now Iraq also present Australia with a domestic
security challenge. The influx of foreign fighters, with at least one hundred
Australians fighting in the region today, raises the prospect of radicalised
Australians returning home with terrorist skills and an extremist orientation.
The Australian Government is taking steps to prevent people becoming involved in
these conflicts, and will detain and prosecute any Australian found to be
engaged in terrorist activity in the Middle East or elsewhere. We will also
continue to engage regional countries and our other partners on the foreign
fighter challenge – our individual and collective security interests require
Turning to other seemingly intractable issues, the Australian Government is
disappointed by the lack of progress on the Middle East Peace Process. I commend
the efforts of United States Secretary of State John Kerry, but it is incumbent
upon leaders on both sides to seize the opportunity before them. We have
persistently urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations towards
a just and lasting two-state solution, existing side-by-side in peace and
security, within internationally recognised borders.
Australia’s longstanding commitment to contribute to the peace process in a
practical way is reflected in the ongoing development assistance we provide to
the Palestinian Territories. Since 2010 Australia has provided over $200 million
in Palestinian aid. This year Australia will provide the highest ever level of
annual funding for Palestinian aid – over $56 million – a three per cent
increase compared with last year.
In the past week I’ve pleased to have the opportunity to engage with
diplomatic representatives from Arab and Islamic countries and I note that many
of them are here today. First in a meeting in Parliament House where we
discussed developments in Iraq and prospects for the Middle East Peace Process,
and I also hosted a morning tea yesterday for Ambassadors from the Middle East
at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I think this regular engagement
highlights the Australian Government’s willingness to discuss important issues
and maintain an open and frank dialogue with countries of the Middle East.
Iran’s nuclear program poses a serious threat to regional and international
We support the P5+1 efforts to negotiate a comprehensive agreement to resolve
international concerns. The importance of Iran is demonstrated by its policies
being a focus of this conference. We hope that Iran will adopt a more
constructive approach in its regional and international policies. I am concerned
that Iran will remain a major issue on the international agenda for some time to
We are living through a tumultuous period in Egypt, which has seen its fourth
president in as many years, a sharp rise in political violence and terrorist
activity, and an economy in need of major reforms to satisfy the aspirations of
its youthful population.
I cannot speak about Egypt without commenting on the case of Australian
journalist, Peter Greste. I am deeply disappointed that Mr Greste
was convicted earlier this week and given a severe custodial sentence of seven
years. Peter Greste is a highly respected journalist who we believe was simply
reporting on the political developments in Egypt. On the basis of the
evidence that was presented, we simply do not understand the verdict.
The Australian Government respects the outcome of the recent elections in
Egypt. But we are concerned that the verdict from Mr Greste’s trial sends
absolutely the wrong message about Egypt’s commitment to a transition to
democracy. For democracy must embrace freedoms including a free press.
This cannot be how the new Egypt wishes to present to the world. We will
continue to press the Egyptian Government at every opportunity to resolve this
case so that Mr Greste can come home and be reunited with his parents and
family. We welcome the statements in support of the Australian Government’s
position from leaders across the world.
A deteriorating security and volatile political situation in Libya is also
having an impact on the wider region, given porous borders and the proliferation
of arms. Despite the initial optimism of the Arab Spring, the overall trajectory
has been uneven to say the least. We understand the inherent attractiveness of
open, free market economies and democratic societies – like our own – where
people can chose their own governments.
Weak institutions, struggling economies, high unemployment and rising
extremism are direct challenges to political progress and stability. However we
remain hopeful the countries in the region and their people will have a much
While this region is complex, and often volatile, it is also an area of great
economic dynamism and potential. The Australian Government is not focused only
on the challenges and the negatives. We are also focusing on the vast
opportunities presented by the Middle East. Economic diplomacy is a key pillar
of the Government’s international engagement, and the Middle East region offers
significant potential - just as traditional diplomacy sought peace, so economic
diplomacy seeks prosperity. Since becoming Foreign Minister I’ve repeatedly
drawn the link between economic prosperity and greater political stability.
The Middle East is in many respects incredibly wealthy, economically powerful
and strategically placed on the crossroads of the world - a region that
represents for Australia great future opportunities, especially for increased
trade and investment.
The IMF estimates a regional GDP growth rate in 2013 of 3 per cent, while for
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) it’s over 4 per cent. There are already
significant trade and investment links: in 2013, Australia’s two-way trade was
worth over $16 billion, up over 15 per cent. Trade with our largest partner, the
United Arab Emirates, grew by 24.7 per cent to $6.4 billion and the UAE is now
our 15th largest trading partner and 13th largest export market.
Investment into Australia was estimated to be worth over $21 billion in 2013,
and this almost certainly understates the actual amount.
There are enormous opportunities for us to build a prosperous and a stable
future together. The growth of the middle class in the region will drive demand
for higher end goods and services. A middle class predicted by the Brookings
Institute to rise to over 234 million by 2030. Increasing numbers of young
consumers wanting high quality foods, education, tourism, and health services –
the services and products that Australia is well positioned to provide. The
increasing number of international events being held in the region, including
the UAE hosting Expo 2020, offer opportunities for Australian expertise in
construction, management and hospitality services.
The Gulf Cooperation Council is a key focus of our efforts and last year
two-way trade with the six GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia and the UAE – was worth $12.3 billion. The combined wealth of the GCC
countries was over US$1.6 trillion in 2013. These countries alone are home to
four of the world's top 10 sovereign wealth funds, managing assets of over US$2
trillion - making the Gulf countries a centre for global capital.
Individual Gulf countries are realising their unique economic potential by
building on their energy strength, diversifying their economies, broadening
their skill bases and engaging more deeply with other regions, including
Australia and Asia. The region is an aviation hub and there are now 140 flights,
I think I’ve been on every one of them, between the Gulf and Australia each
week. These aviation links will have a transformative impact on our commercial
and people-to-people links.
Gulf countries are investing in rapid infrastructure development - with plans
to invest around $3 trillion in the infrastructure, leisure and tourism sectors
by 2020 thus diversifying their economies. Gulf countries have opened up their
trade and labour markets to emerge as important regional markets for food,
consumer goods, weapons, and technologies associated with power generation and
water and waste management. Food and agriculture, energy, and chemical and
mineral processing are all areas of growth. The region has a strong services
industry, with strengths in education, law, engineering, financial advice and
The Australian Government will work to assist business to take advantage of
the strong synergies between our economies. That’s why I am working with my
colleague, Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb, to seek the resumption
of our Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The Australian Government has recently finalised strong Free Trade Agreements
with South Korea and Japan, and we are confident that a Free Trade Agreement
with the Gulf Cooperation Council would similarly bring enormous mutual benefit,
cementing strong economic ties with the region. The signing of the Australia-UAE
Agreement on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy offers
Australian suppliers the opportunity to bid to supply uranium for the civil
Australia already has a large contingent of people working in the Gulf States
- over 35,000 Australians and 360 Australian companies - across a diverse range
of industries, including aviation, finance, education, energy, health,
engineering, construction and telecommunications.
So ladies and gentlemen, there are significant opportunities for Australia
and the Middle East to work together, to build sustained economic growth and to
benefit all our populations. With creativity and innovation, with a focus on
results – I believe we can achieve a great deal.
This conference provides an important opportunity to focus on the bigger
picture - to discuss political issues confronting the region, but to also
consider its possibilities. Australia and the Middle East share many ties. Our
communities are enriched by those with Middle Eastern heritage who have made
Australia their home. The Middle East will remain important to Australia, with
growth in commercial links a priority for the Government. We have many economic
ties that we can use to build a very prosperous partnership well into the
The Middle East is a rich and wonderfully diverse part of the world –
birthplace of three of the world’s great religions, the crossroads of trade
routes for many centuries. And now a rapidly growing and youthful population –
ready to fulfil the promise of a brighter future, wanting to be educated, to
participate in the world’s economy in meaningful and prosperous ways. These
people will face the future with an acute awareness of the conflict many of them
have seen and experienced. And they will be looking for change, and for hope.
Australia wants to be part of that.
Promoting our position as an open democracy, committed to freedom and the
rule of law, Australia has a role to play, and I believe in the future we can
build in partnership a future together - that defies present troubles, and
continues long into the future, as long as the culture of the Middle East is old
- to build on the traditions of trade, of prosperity, of scholarship, to weather
the storms of the current period, to build a bright and peaceful world.
I wish you all the very best for your deliberations today.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
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