…You might think that if you’ve been in the cold and shovelling snow that might be an odd thing to say, but trust me, I left a part of Australia that on Australia Day last Saturday this past weekend it was 47 degrees Celsius where I live in Penrith, in Western Sydney — so I’m quite happy for a cool change.


There are a lot of people in this room, very many familiar faces and very many friends who are important to the US-Australia relationship. And in addition to my friend and colleague Joe, the Ambassador, I wanted to acknowledge two other individuals.

Firstly, let me acknowledge Stephen Smith, a distinguished predecessor of mine in both portfolios — that’s a record I’m sure we’ll both hold proud for a long time and he’s indeed a distinguished predecessor. It is becoming a habit — we were in New Delhi together two weeks ago and have made the transition now to Washington. Stephen thank you for the continued work you do in national security and international relations, and I look forward to continuing to work with you into the future.

And secondly, a new friend of Australia, Arthur B. Culvahouse, here this afternoon, likewise has a long and distinguished history of public service supporting no less than three Presidents and Presidential Nominees, and will soon add to his impressive resume the title of US Ambassador to Australia. I very much look forward to welcoming you to our nation’s capital when you arrive, I hope, in March.

There are also, as I said, very many friendly faces. There are particularly some faces here today with whom I’ve made friends while they were working with my good mate, Jim Mattis. And I want to thank them for their contributions to the Australia-US relationship during that time. You know who you are and you know how important it was and I very much appreciate you being here this afternoon.

Can I also thank the Press Club for hosting me today, the United States Studies Centre and the Perth US-Asia Centre for their work in putting together this very valuable US-Australia Dialogue on Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

That work has been a significant new addition to this year’s G’Day USA program, which shows that this annual event is not only highly valued, it is growing in scope and relevance.

It is as you know, our annual public diplomacy program in the United States, and it’s in its 16th year — I think that’s very telling. It’s a really strong message about how it promotes the best of Australia’s ideas, invention, innovation, and talent to audiences right across the United States.

I know that my good friend and colleague the Minister for Trade and Tourism Senator Simon Birmingham has just spent a couple of days in Los Angeles promoting some of our cultural and entertainment exports — he has passed the torch to me here in Washington to shine a light on Australia’s focus on ensuring a prosperous, stable and secure Indo-Pacific region.

As Joe will tell you, I always welcome any opportunity to visit the United States. It’s a special relationship, we do have a unique affinity.

First forged on the battlefields of the Western Front in World War I, forged in mud and blood and values, where Australians and Americans fought side by side at the Battle of Le Hamel. We have fought side-by-side in every major conflict since. And I want to acknowledge those members of the ADF who are here this afternoon and any members of the United States military who are with us as well, for what you do in a very difficult job that we ask of you every day of your lives.

Led by Ambassador Hockey, we marked that centenary milestone last year as “100 years of mateship”. We continued those efforts around the world, and today in places like in Afghanistan and Iraq, in work of countering ISIS on other counter-terrorism operations at the moment.

Through our strong, modern strategic alliance we continue to collaborate as closely as any two nations on the planet, including through civilian and military intelligence collection, in defence science and technology, and the operation of classified civilian joint facilities.

And we cooperate closely across government and industry on trade and investment, innovation, energy, environment, science and technology, and education.

We also share a unique space collaboration program with NASA, which stretches back to before the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969 — the 50th anniversary of which we will celebrate in July this year.  As a very young child, an infant really, I recall those first images of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon, and I note with pride that those images beamed from the Moon were received first in Australia, in the town of Parkes in my home State of NSW, before being relayed to the United States and the world.

Today, satellite ground stations in Canberra and Parkes, and AB I promise we are going to Parkes, are the only ones in the world still able to track NASA’s Voyager 2, which is now more than 18 billion kilometres from earth.

So the Australia-US partnerships now extends into interstellar space.

Our two economies are the two fastest growing in the developed world, underpinned by pro-growth policies, including lower taxes, freedom of choice, and trade and investment as engines of growth.

The Australia-US Free Trade Agreement is a leading example of this. Since its introduction in 2005, two way investment has more than doubled to $1.6 trillion Australian dollars.

The resolve that we have to support each other in the toughest of times and in times of peace and prosperity, is founded in our shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect and steadfast dependability.

We also know and we must regularly remind ourselves that strong alliances need to be worked, need to be worked on. They need to be nurtured to ensure that the inevitable vicissitudes of life in vibrant democracies are managed and addressed as they occur.

Each of us here today knows well that the alliance between Australia-United States is unique and enduring. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, and previously as Australia’s Defence Minister, I have been privileged to help steward that relationship for a number of years now.

The nature and the fields of collaboration in the Alliance are as you would expect, constantly evolving. The challenges we face today are different to those of even a decade ago.

One of our key tasks is to ensure that our alliance is contemporary and relevant.

At the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations in Palo Alto last year, we made a commitment to work together, and with regional partners, to shape an Indo-Pacific that is open, inclusive, prosperous and rules-based.

We were in Palo Alto facing the region to reinforce that message.

We committed to a joint work plan, with diplomatic, security and economic dimensions, to advance our shared strategic interests in the region.

For Australia, geography grounds our interests to the Indo-Pacific region — which is the most dynamic and diverse part of the world, stretching from global economic powerhouses in North Asia to literally microstates in the South Pacific and to the disparate and fast-growing states of the Indian Ocean.

For decades, Australian Governments have devoted considerable attention to shaping our region, and we have built enduring bilateral partnerships within it.

Our approach has been consistent and clear — we want a region in which the rights of all states are respected on equal terms, and where adherence to agreed rules and norms of behaviour delivers lasting peace and nurtures growing prosperity.

Our neighbours value this consistency and commitment, and they recognise the value that we bring, as an independent and clear voice seeking to shape our region for the better.

Ours is a policy framework of interlocking approaches:

  • strong partnerships with key democracies such as Japan and India
  • support for ASEAN, ASEAN centrality and its institutions, particularly the East Asia Summit
  • support for an open integrated regional economy
  • a strong, productive relationship with China
  • and crucially, the Australia-US Alliance and our support for the strongest possible engagement in the region.

We continue to build this integrated strategy as a matter of the very highest foreign policy priority. Working with our partners, we seek to shape a balance in the region that is favourable to those interests.

I have relatively recently visited both China, in November last year, and India earlier this month, two of the region’s most significant poles.

In between those two visits, I’ve also conducted talks and visits in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. Next week I will be in to the Solomon Islands, in Tuvalu, and in New Zealand.

Those visits build on the strong regional engagement I chose to take as Minister for Defence.

These visits, and the important opportunities to engage with those counterparts and leaders in the region, emphasise Australia’s commitment to our bilateral relationships in the Indo-Pacific and the continued focus and commitment we have to our regional neighbours.

We are working, as all of you know, in a region that is increasingly complex and contested.

By 2030, the Indo-Pacific is expected to be home to the world’s five largest economies: China, the United States, India, Indonesia and Japan.[1]

Economic dynamism brings new opportunities, and increased capacity to solve problems and to improve lives.

The strategic transition underway in the Indo-Pacific is as profound as the economic transformation that drives it.

Significant shifts in relative power are taking place that challenge the way our alliance has traditionally approached collective security and strategic challenges.

Increased major power competition is now part of our Indo-Pacific landscape.

So we need to be innovative in the way we think about and respond to the new dynamic forces at play in the region.

It is in our interests that these shifts and the attendant challenges do not jeopardise the long period of stability and growth that the Indo-Pacific has experienced, which has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty to the benefit of us all.

Australia’s aim in the Indo-Pacific is straight forward: to ensure that as the region evolves, it evolves peacefully, so that countries like Australia can prosecute their interests free from coercive power, and so that economic momentum is sustained.

That is why we are committed to working with our partners across the region to strengthen political, security and economic architecture and to help build regional norms.

That is why we are such strong supporters of ASEAN’s leadership — as I said particularly in its role as convenor of the region’s most important forums, including the East Asia Summit.

That is why we engage with other important regional institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Indian Ocean Rim Association; as well as ‘mini-lateral’ groupings such as the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue between Australia, the United States and Japan, and the Quadrilateral Group.

Respecting, supporting and enabling these important institutions is the fuel that empowers the regional rules-based order, which in turn underpins the stability and prosperity of our region. 

That support, I contend, is consistent with US objectives.

To demonstrate that, today I want to canvas four of the key shared initiatives we discussed during AUSMIN 2018.

Firstly, the strengthening of infrastructure investment in the region.

One week after AUSMIN 2018, Australia, the United States and Japan stated their intention to pursue a trilateral partnership supporting infrastructure investment in the Indo-Pacific.

We were able to announce that in November of this year at APEC, the finalisation of the signing of the MoU and practically as well, the three of us also announced our support for the Papua New Guinea electrification partnership with New Zealand — a high quality partnership with sustainable financing to support Papa New Guinea’s goal of distributing electricity and power supply — reliable power supply — to 70 percent of the Papua New Guinea people by 2030.

The broader partnership itself will mobilise investment in projects that build infrastructure, address development challenges, increase connectivity, and drive economic growth — complementing a number of existing efforts in the region.

We know that the infrastructure needs in the Indo-Pacific are massive — estimated by the Asian Development Bank at $26 trillion [US dollars] over the period 2016-30.

Australia, the US and Japan are committed to sustainable, principles-based infrastructure investment that is transparent, promotes open competition, that upholds robust standards, avoids unsustainable debt burdens, targets the needs of nations of the region that need — as identified by them — and unlocks the potential of private sector investment in the region.

I addition, Australia has recently announced the creation of an Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.

This is a $2 billion initiative to further support important infrastructure projects across the Pacific Islands and Timor Leste — both grants and loans delivered in lock step with partner countries, international organisations and the private sector.

And in December last year, we were also pleased to welcome the United States to its first meeting of the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility, which helps to coordinate the delivery of development assistance to the region.

Together with the United States, we are also taking forward the Australia-US Strategic Partnership on Energy in the Indo-Pacific.

Last October just after my first visit here as Foreign Minister, we marked the holding of the inaugural Energy Security Dialogue, and we are now coordinating support for the ASEAN Power Grid Initiative, which is expected to enhance electricity trade across borders.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is cooperation based on shared objectives — promoting sustainable and secure energy markets across the region, and cementing international norms such as market-based competition and transparency.

In the second of our four initiatives from AUSMIN, we focused on stability and prosperity in the Pacific islands.

We undertook during AUSMIN to step up our joint engagement with Pacific islands, with a view to advancing the stability, security, and prosperity of all states in the Pacific region.

A more prosperous and secure Pacific increases mutual opportunities for trade and investment. It deters potential risks from challenges such as transnational crime; biosecurity problems; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and threats to borders and maritime exclusive zones.

All of those challenges, plus the security challenge presented by climate, were considered at the Pacific Island Forum Meeting in Nauru in 2018 and consolidated in the Boe declaration of that meeting.

We are strongly committed to maintaining our status as a partner of choice on regional security matters, including law enforcement and the protection of rights under international law, as well as crisis response.

In November, Papua New Guinea agreed to partner with Australia to develop the Lombrum Naval Base in Manus Province. It has a long history, familiar to students of World War Two in particular.

This initiative will enhance Papua New Guinea’s ability to protect its sovereign territory and manage its borders through a broad program of mentoring, tailored training, infrastructure development and shared facilities. It fits well within the priorities of Australian Pacific and Maritime Security program. We will see Australian and Papua New Guinean defence personnel living and working side by side at the Lombrum base, as they do elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, like they do in Port Moresby.

We welcomed Vice President Pence’s announcement during APEC in Port Moresby that the United States wishes to partner with us to support this important and sustainable PNG security initiative.

At third, and a very important priority at AUSMIN 2018 was health security.

We committed to advancing implementation of the Global Health Security Agenda, as championed by the United States, and also Australia’s Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific.

We have worked together before to good effect, including to co-fund vital animal health programs in South East Asia, programs which help reduce the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as avian influenza.

Now, Australia and the United States are working together to help build health security workforces in regional nations that will work to prevent, detect and provide capacity, to respond to emerging infectious disease outbreaks.

In 2019, we are currently dealing with the re-emergence of polio in Papua New Guinea, that reinforces for me the absolute imperative of ensuring that we pursue health security as a key initiative in our region.

We will be well served by working together to minimise those risks and be ready to respond.

And finally, in terms of those initiatives, our joint military efforts to promote security across the region.

We very much welcomed the US commitment given at AUSMIN 2018, to raise the number of US Marines in Marine Rotation Force — Darwin to its full complement.

The Force Posture Initiatives enhance the ability of Australia and the United States to uphold regional peace, stability and security; and position both of our nations to respond to contingencies and natural disasters in the Indo-Pacific.

They are also a very valuable means to engage in joint exercises and expand training engagement with regional military partners. Last year for example, personnel from Japan, New Caledonia, and the Philippines also trained alongside US and Australian personnel during the rotation. I well remember welcoming Lt. Gen. David Berger to Darwin for a visit to the Marine rotation last year, and both of us seeing together how effective, how well it was working.

US Marines also embarked on HMAS Adelaide, a helicopter landing dock, and travelled with Australian troops through the Pacific before heading to last year’s RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii. Not just US Marines though, HMAS Adelaide took into Nukuʻalofa, in Tonga. Sri Lankan armed forces also embarked. Picked up His Majesty’s Armed Forces from Tonga, all embarked on HMAS Adelaide, plus one random Canadian where we were never sure where he came from — and more concerningly, where he went [laughter]. But to RIMPAC together in a really powerful display of cross-regional engagement and a powerful message to the other countries engaged in RIMPAC about the value of that exercise.

So the Force Posture Initiatives are a concrete demonstration that Australia’s alliance with the United States enables us to work more closely with our regional partners, further deepening our network of relationships across the region, building that familiarity, trust, transparency and confidence.

The initiatives that we are taking forward from AUSMIN are aimed, in different ways, to help to address the strategic challenges we see ahead.

They are, of course, only a snapshot of a much broader and deeper story of partnership — but these four avenues of cooperation are crucial mechanisms to strengthen our efforts in helping to shape the character of the region during this period of rapid change.

It is only natural that we should work together to pursue what is clearly a shared goal — reinforcing rules and norms that we fundamentally believe are essential to the region’s future.

The US Administration’s National Security Strategy of late 2017 makes clear that this is a key priority for the Trump Administration.

I want to say clearly, for the record, that the Australian Government strongly supports the sustained level of US engagement and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

And we welcome the bipartisan and bicameral support within Congress for a strong and enduring US role in the Indo-Pacific, most recently enunciated by the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, the ARIA.

In Secretary Pompeo’s words of last year, “open a map of the Indo-Pacific today, and it is dotted with US public and private efforts to foster self-reliance, build institutions, and promote private sector growth.”

We see that the United States and the Indo-Pacific are — and will continue to be — integral to each other’s fortunes: US direct investment in the Indo-Pacific is valued at US$940 billion [in 2017][2] and supports over 5 million jobs in the region; conversely, direct investment from Indo-Pacific economies into the US is valued at US$640 billion [in 2017] and supports 1.4 million American jobs.[3]

That’s true for Australia as well.

We’ve built networks of free trade through formal agreements with ASEAN as a whole, with Malaysia separately, Singapore, Thailand and more recently China, Japan and the Republic of Korea — promoting economic integration, open markets, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

And just this month the Trans Pacific Partnership, a moment of disagreement between the two members of the alliance, came into effect lowering tariffs and improving market access for 11 nations across the region, including Australia.

I would note that the ARIA does reinforce support for multilateral trade agreements, so perhaps there’s hope yet.

We’d welcome discussions with the United States, if there was ever to be a change in position on the agreement. It remains our strong view that the TPP offers the region long-term strategic benefits by increasing trade and investment among member states.

Trade, of course, has been caught up in the increased strategic competition between the US and China.

We have both publically and privately acknowledged both the US and the concerns of others about some trade and investment practices, including concerns about the protection of intellectual property and the rules governing the involvement of government entities in markets.

These need to be resolved, but it is our view that no one wins from a trade war.

We welcome recent progress towards a negotiated solution with China, and this week’s talks are an important step.

But trade cannot flourish, and we cannot ensure our economic prosperity, without stability. Business will not invest and create jobs without it.

Prosperity and security go hand in hand.

That is why as a country we are doing more than ever in the region — leveraging our regional connections in pursuit of a stronger, freer, more prosperous region — a region whose success and stability is unquestionably in our interests.

And as power continues to shift in the Indo-Pacific, the United States has a vital role to help to sustain a lasting peace.

Which brings me back to the Alliance.

The United States’ unique strength has come about in large part because America has been successful in helping its partners to be strong, whether that’s measured in economic, diplomatic or military terms. Australia and the United States have shared the benefits of our unique partnership.

The Indo-Pacific, as I said earlier, is the most diverse and dynamic region in the world. It has the potential to drive global growth for decades, if we work with our partners and allies to ensure it remains free, inclusive, and rules-based.

So now more than ever it is important for the United States and smaller nations, for Australia and others to work together to ensure that we are upholding the values that we share, and that the norms that have helped secure peace and stability in the region for so long, are sustained by those relationships.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few words this afternoon and I look forward, Simon, to the panel.

[1] Source: PWC report “The World in 2050”

[2] Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis

[3] Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis

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