JULIE BISHOP:           Good morning and thank you for the introduction. Chancellor, Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, panellists, friends of La Trobe University. 

It is always inspiring to be at one of Australia's leading centres for higher education, and I’m delighted to be at this La Trobe University event today and I thank Aunty Joy for her welcome to country.

One thing that has often crossed my mind is how future generations will look back and judge our generation and our time, in the same way that we study past events and judge what will be the historical events of our time.

Since World War II, we have been fortunate to live through a time of relative peace, one that has not been disrupted by the global conflict.

This prolonged period of relative peace has supported the greatest expansion in prosperity in human history, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.

It’s also been a time of rapid change, more recently driven by the unprecedented scale and pace of the technology revolution, which has disrupted the way we live and work and connect.

As every generation faces challenges and opportunities, future generations will strive to find insights into the decision-making processes of the time.

For example, the Industrial Revolution ushered in an era of enormous change, as largely agrarian societies and economies were challenged by mechanisation and mass production.

It also led to greater urbanisation as employment grew in cities where many of the factories were located, while demand also grew for energy, mostly provided by coal and oil.

These shifts created well-documented tensions between capital and labour, and gave rise to unions, for example.

Policy makers responded to concerns about labour exploitation resulting in governments legislating employment standards including for remuneration and safety, among many others.

There has also been much written over the years about the events, suspicion and misjudgements that led to the outbreak of conflict that spiralled out of control into WWI.

History is not kind to those who started that war and less kind to the conduct of it.

Policy makers have also been judged harshly for the decisions that gave rise to the Great Depression, including responses that worsened its effects.

Similarly, political leaders who embraced the so-called appeasement policy towards the Nazi Government of Adolf Hitler have been criticised for failing to identify the threat he posed to the world.

After World War II, the United States political leadership was praised for its visionary decision to implement the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe and reinvigoration of the economy, including former combatants Germany and Italy.

Such were the horrors of the Second World War, in its aftermath there was a collective will to put in place structures that would prevent a recurrence of global conflict.

The United Nations came into existence, with a powerful Security Council as the custodian of international peace and stability.

There are valid criticisms about the veto power held by the permanent five members, however the Security Council has played an important role, not least through the coordination of sanctions against nations failing to uphold norms and standards of behaviour.

The United Nations is a key part of the international rules-based order that has evolved in the decades since 1945.

Other key institutions and organisations include the World Trade Organisation, International Criminal Court, the European Union, APEC, East Asia Summit, ASEAN, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and many, many more.

The rules-based order is that network of alliances, treaties, conventions and institutions underpinned by international law, that has been developed to protect the interests of all nations and to create a level playing field so that all boats have the same opportunity to be lifted on the rising economic tide.

The rules based order was designed primarily to prevent larger nations using economic or military power to impose unfair or coercive agreements on less powerful nations.

An environment where “might is right” and where the rules are set by powerful nations to their advantage is obviously more susceptible to conflict. I believe the test for our generation will be whether given the opportunity we defended and strengthened that rules-based order that has brought unparalleled prosperity and opportunity to humanity.

Australia has been a clear beneficiary of the rules based order.

Economically, Australia is entering our 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted growth – that is a world record for any economy in modern history.

Australia is exquisitely positioned in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific region – for the Indo-Pacific is the most economically dynamic in the world.

The most rapid expansion of the middle class in economic history is occurring at our doorstep.

In the mid-1980s, 150 years after the Industrial Revolution, the world reached a middle class of some one billion people.

Current estimates are that the global middle class has reached about three-billion people, with half in our region.

By 2030, when the global middle class is estimated to reach five-billion people, it is forecast that two-thirds will be living in Asia.

The opportunities available to Australia will be immense, as this growing consumer class demands high-quality and clean food for example, and high standards of services for themselves and their families, including healthcare, aged care and education.

The Australian Government’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper I launched last November with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and our Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, is a fundamentally optimistic document.

It commits Australia to championing the benefits of economic openness and further trade liberalisation and warns against the pitfalls of protectionism.

In this context, we are concerned about recent moves in the United States to unilaterally raise tariffs and quotas against some of its trading partners.

This is not consistent with the United States as a champion for the past 70 years of more open markets.

The more open trading environment has, along with prolonged peace, underwritten prosperity in the United States and around the world.

It is not in Australia's interests, nor that of the world economy, for any escalation of current tensions into a full scale trade war.

Our concerns have been raised with the Trump administration at the highest levels, where we have urged the United States to remain within the framework of the World Trade Organisation and to use its dispute settlement processes.

It’s also in that context that I welcome reports overnight President Xi Jinping’s commitment to trade and investment openness, with greater access to significant sectors to the Chinese economy and the lowering of tariffs on vehicle imports.

Our White Paper is also a clear-eyed and frank assessment of the regional challenges we face over the next decade and beyond.

To a large degree, the prospects for continued peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific depend on our capacity to manage the consequences of rising prosperity and wealth – which is overwhelmingly a blessing.

Rising national wealth enables nations to invest more in their military. Defence outlays in the region expanded over 5.5% in the last financial year, which easily outpaced the 1% overall increase in global military spending.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, over half of the top 10 countries with the largest military budgets are in the Indo-Pacific: the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan and South Korea.

All, with the exception of Russia, are among the top 10 trading partners for Australia.

Six of the world’s nine nuclear weapons states are in our region.

Even though the United States is likely to remain the world’s only superpower in the decade ahead, we have never been in an era where China, Japan and India have also been powerful at the same time.

By 2020, the combined military budgets of regional countries will likely match or exceed military spending by the United States for the first time in at least a century.

Many of the major or rising powers in the Indo-Pacific have maritime or land-based disputes with one another – some go back decades, even centuries.

These disputes reinforce the need for the rules-based order to facilitate negotiated and peaceful resolutions.

A case in point is Australia and Timor-Leste’s successful reconciliation pursuant to the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, to settle our maritime boundary claims in the Timor Sea and I was pleased to be able to sign the treaty with Timor Leste in the United Nations in the presence of the UN Secretary General last month.

More generally, there is greater uncertainty than was the case when optimism was at a peak in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Ideologically, illiberalism is on the rise – both in our immediate region and throughout the world. 

At this point I must make mention, for those who read The Australian and saw it this morning, I point out that my reference is to our “immediate region”, which refers to the Indo-Pacific, not any one country. I’m sure The Australian will correct their error. They haven’t yet. It’s rather disturbing when journalists make assumptions that are wrong without checking their source, wouldn’t you say Mr Walker?

According to Freedom House, democracy has suffered global decline since 2006 with the lowering of democratic standards occurring in 113 countries compared to an improvement of such standards in only 62 countries.

This year marks the 12th consecutive year of decline in measures of global freedom such as free and fair elections, freedom of the press and political and civil liberties.

The attack against, or winding back of liberal institutions is resulting from the rise of authoritarian governments in some instances and from the spread of extreme religious ideologies in other instances.

In some other cases, it is a product of state and institutional fragility.

It is in Australia’s interest to peacefully promote the spread of liberal principles and institutions such as the rule of law, transparency, and appropriate degrees of separation between the strategic and political objectives of states on the one hand with commercial activity of businesses on the other.   

So our White Paper, as it is underpinning, has a defence and strengthening of the international rules based order.

These are issues I have discussed with world leaders and counterparts, for example, Iraq's Prime Minister Abadi, that in the aftermath of the ISIS defeat, to ensure all citizens, including minorities, are equal before the law.

All citizens of any State must feel confident their interests are protected, otherwise there is a risk they will turn to militias and insurgents as an alternative.

Dr Henry Kissinger wrote in his 2014 book World Order that we are at a moment in history when: “Chaos threatens side by side with unprecedented interdependence”.

Interdependence and economic integration would normally be expected to reduce the risk of chaos and conflict, however it also does not of itself guarantee stability.

Our White Paper commits Australia to an ambitious and proactive strategic and diplomatic agenda. It contains a specific policy focus on the Pacific, our neighbourhood, where we have committed to a significant step up in our engagement in the Pacific.

Overall, it articulates our values as a liberal democracy, our interests which serve as the framework for proactively acting to promote our interests, and responding to unforeseen events.

I believe it is a timely and well researched policy platform - our White Paper team participated in 24 roundtable discussions across Australia, met with more than 60 prominent Australians and subject-matter experts, and received over 9,200 written submissions, including, and I thank you, from La Trobe University – so we consulted widely.

To be clear, the rules-based order is not facing the same direct assault as during periods of the Cold War – even if the policies of pariah countries such as North Korea are in direct defiance of it.

However, we must ensure that nations do not fall for the temptation of ignoring international law and rules for narrow advantage and short-term gain.

The rules-based order will quickly fray if it is perceived that advantage can be gained by flouting it or working around it.

We are also particularly focused on the Indo-Pacific as we seek to defend and strengthen the existing order to enable the continued economic rise of individual countries and the region.

The economic gains in our region and its emergence as a vast and integrated economic zone, producing the lion-share of goods and services to the world and each other would have been impossible without the rules we have in place.

There are other important aspects to note about the international rules-based order.

It is an open and dynamic system which does not entrench past gains, protect existing privileges, or constrain any country’s rise within the order.

Since the end of the Cold War, China has become the greatest beneficiary of the existing order when it opened itself up to the world, and especially after it joined the WTO in December 2001.

According to the IMF, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh are expected to emerge as the fastest growing economies in the region. 

All countries have as great an incentive and duty to play their part in supporting the rules-based order.

We are today in a far more complex and diverse geo-strategic and geo-economic region.

For example, Japan and South Korea are significant economic and strategic powers, India is already a great regional power with a young population, Indonesia and Vietnam are Southeast Asian rising powers.

To be sure, China has emerged as a critical economic partner to every economy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, and is the largest trading partner for many countries including Australia.

The Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN was formed 51 years ago and the five nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand recognised the need to promote collective economic growth, social progress, cultural development, and peace and stability.

At that time, the then-Foreign Minister of Australia, the Minister for External Affairs, Paul Hasluck, who in fact is a predecessor in my seat of Curtin in Western Australia, was the first world leader to welcome the establishment of ASEAN.

Seven years later, in 1974, Australia became the first Dialogue Partner of ASEAN.

We recognised that the sea lanes of Southeast Asia were vital for us, that the security challenges facing the region demanded a collective regional response and we knew that the economic prosperity of these five important economies was of vital importance to Australia, the region and, as it turns out, globally.

These reasons remain at least as pertinent today as they did then.

This was why Prime Minister Turnbull hosted the ten ASEAN nations here in Australia last month at the first ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

This Special Summit has marked a new era in our relationship and partnership.

Australia and ASEAN committed to cooperate further with respect to our response to regional and global challenges and build on our deep legacy of economic cooperation.

ASEAN is the geographical and diplomatic heart of the Indo-Pacific.

Our White Paper stands as a clear articulation of our enduring values and interests and will guide our external engagement and deployment of national resources over the next decade and beyond.

And of course our greatest national resource is our people, and one of the most important aspects of our international engagement to date, is our New Colombo Plan.

My inspiration for this policy was the original Colombo Plan of the 1950’s and 60’s that brought many thousands of young people from our region to study in Australia, and gain qualifications in Australia, with significant numbers of those scholars now in senior roles in government and business throughout our region.

In 2014 we commenced a pilot to send our students overseas for a New Colombo Plan and 40 New Colombo Plan undergraduates were supported to study for 12 months overseas and live and work. The four pilot locations were Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Another 1000 students took up the short-term mobility projects in our pilot.

It was such a success, the feedback from the four locations, was such that we rolled it out across the Indo-Pacific and today there are 40 locations that host our New Colombo Plan undergraduates from our universities.

For example, this year the New Colombo Plan will support 120 of the scholars in 20 locations and for the first time, our scholars, will undertake programs in Tonga, Micronesia and New Caledonia, now among the 40 host locations that welcome Australian undergraduates under the New Colombo Plan.

There will be 13,000 students undertaking the 2018 New Colombo Plan mobility projects.

By the way, La Trobe has been particularly successful, with seven of its students receiving prestigious scholarships and about 609 students receiving funding for the shorter courses in our region.

By the end of this year, from a standing start in 2014, our New Colombo Plan program will have supported 30,000 young Australian undergraduates living, studying and working in our region, thus deepening Australia’s relationship and engagement.

At the recent ASEAN Summit, each leader specifically mentioned the New Colombo Plan as an example of Australia’s genuine commitment to our region, and I believe that this is one of the proven investments that the Australian Government can make in our long term national interests.

It will help build our national prosperity and our place in the region for decades to come, with our young Australians as an army of unofficial diplomats, making connections, building networks and friendships that will last a lifetime, I feel confident that the very best days for Australia within the Indo-Pacific region lie ahead of us.

Overall I believe this is one of the most prudent investments that the Australian Government can make in our long-term national interest and will help build our national prosperity and our place in the region, for decades to come.

With our young Australians as an army of unofficial diplomats I feel confident that the best days for Australia and the Indo-Pacific region are ahead of us.

Overall, I believe Australians should be optimistic about our future as an open liberal democracy and an open export-oriented market economy, but we must be vigilant and continue to promote and advocate for these values and interests.

And if we remain committed to our values and are clear-eyed about our priorities, I believe our future will be bright.

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