Remarks at ASEAN-Australia summit

September 7, 2016



Thank you Prime Minister Thongloun for your warm and generous welcome.

I’ve just come from the G20 Summit in Hangzhou to join you in Vientiane to discuss a range of economic and security issues of common interest.

It is fitting that leaders from 11 individual yet inter-connected countries meet here today.

The traditional Laos story of the great gourd from heaven says that all people came from the same place. The Lao people have handed this story down from generation to generation, and it shows how every tribe is as worthy of honour and as significant as all the others, because we're all brothers and sisters and come from the same place.

This reflects both the diversity of ASEAN that is its key strength and the proudly multicultural nature of modern Australia.

South-East Asia and its people are part of the fabric that shapes and defines the Australian community and our national identity. Over 1.3 million people who call Australia home were either born in an ASEAN country or claim ASEAN ancestry. They have helped build our nation and are a valued and respected part of the Australian family. 

And so it is therefore only natural that as ASEAN’s longest-standing dialogue partner, with our relationship now in its 42nd year, Australia is deeply invested in ASEAN’s success.

Today’s summit – the first since we declared our Strategic Partnership – is an opportunity to pave the way for our future cooperation. 

Australia and ASEAN are close partners by geography and by choice.

Australia is committed to remain a steadfast partner.  A partner for all seasons and far into the future.  This commitment has been enduring and it has been bipartisan.

Governments and leaders tend to measure the value of relationships between countries in economic terms. But the benefits of close personal links between ASEAN and Australian communities can’t be measured by economic growth figures alone.

Australia’s New Colombo Plan was expanded to all ASEAN countries last year to make sure the next generation of Australian and ASEAN scholars, leaders and entrepreneurs understand one another.

By the end of 2016, 10,000 young Australians will have studied, lived and worked in the Indo-Pacific region under this plan, with half of those in ASEAN countries.

Australia welcomed for its part 92,000 students from ASEAN countries last year, each of whom will develop life-long connections to Australia.

Australia and ASEAN’s future security and prosperity will depend heavily on the region remaining peaceful, secure and stable.

And I note that where territorial disputes exist, such as in the South China Sea, differences should be settled peacefully in accordance with international law and until they are we urge all sides to act with restraint and avoid any steps which will create or add to tensions.

That is why today, I will focus on two themes at the heart of our common interests. The first is an opportunity, our economic partnership. The second is a common challenge that demands a united response, terrorism.   

Both are central to our Strategic Partnership. Both go to the heart of our national and collective well-being, security and prosperity. 

Prime Minister, the global economy isn’t the predictable creature it was or at least we thought it was a decade ago.  The Global Financial Crisis drove this point home loud and clear.

If we are to sustain prosperity and continue to lift our people’s living standards, we must open new markets and further reduce the restrictions that hinder the flow of our people, goods and knowledge.   We must be innovative in the way we do business.

Our private sectors – already tightly enmeshed – have much to gain from each other and more engagement. We have to resist the call of protectionism as we discussed in Hangzhou. Protectionism is not a ladder to escape the slow-growth trap but rather a shovel to dig it deeper and make the problems more retractable.

Turning to the challenge of terrorism. We are committed to working in partnership to strengthen regional cooperation, in particular through the East Asia Summit, but also through the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus.

And we recognise that the threat of terrorism is a thoroughly transnational and global one.

That is why I welcome the adoption of the renewed ASEAN-Australia Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism today. 

Since our first declaration in 2004, the nature of terrorism in our region and globally has shifted dramatically - not least in terms of online propaganda and encryption of over the top messaging. Most of the commonly used online platforms and applications did not exist at all twelve years ago.

We know that ISIL wants to expand its presence in South-East Asia, and this is of concern to us all.

The latest ISIL propaganda is further evidence that as it faces increased pressure in Syria and Iraq they will attempt to seed fear and division in our communities.

Our updated joint declaration is a significant signal of collective political will to share our expertise and stay ahead of this evolving threat.

I look forward to discussing with you my proposal for a special ASEAN-Australia Leaders’ Summit in 2018 – bringing leaders of all South-East Asian nations to Australia together for the first time.

In keeping with the two themes of today’s ASEAN-Australia Summit, a special summit in Australia would deepen our economic partnership through closer links between ASEAN and Australian businesses and the private sector, and bolster our strategic partnership.

We are proud to be ASEAN’s Strategic Partner; a substantial economic partner; an advocate of a peaceful, rules-based neighbourhood; and a highly engaged participant in ASEAN-led regional architecture.  

I thank you for your invitation to meet with you all today and I look forward to our targeted and practical discussions of mutual interest to our countries.

Thank you.


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