Speech - Launch of the Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper

November 23, 2017

Thursday, 23 November 2017



Yoonggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngoonawal dhowrrra.

Wanggarra lin jin yin marunn bulaan boogarabung.

We are all meeting together today on Ngunawal land, Ngunawal country and we acknowledge and pay our respects to their Elders.

Now thank you Julie and thank you Steve and thank you Frances, thank you for all of DFAT. Ministers Keith Pitt, Connie Fierravanti-Wells, for the enormous effort that has been put into preparing this White Paper. Frances well done, great, fantastic job. Richard Maude, great work in shepherding all of that intellect into this.

It’s wonderful to be joined by our parliamentary colleagues here, but also of course Senator David Fawcett who is the Chairman Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs Defence & Trade and who will no doubt carefully consider the White Paper and give it a grade, one way or the other in due course. I want to acknowledge the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Ambassadors, High Commissioners. Distinguished guests one and all.

Australia’s foreign policy must advance our values and our national interests. It must do so clear eyed and pragmatic, in a time when the pace and scale of change is unprecedented in all of human history.

But in the midst of all of this change the formula for our success - the most successful multicultural society in the world, 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth – that formula is timeless.

It is the values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, mutual respect; timeless values indeed, but never more timely than they are today.

Now you will read a lot in the White Paper about the importance of the international rules-based system of norms, rules and institutions, which requires nations big and small to play by those rules and to respect each other’s sovereignty. This has not just enabled our security and prosperity for the entire post-war period but its extension after the Cold War to almost all corners of the Indo-Pacific, has generated the greatest burst of economic growth, innovation and human advancement the world has ever seen.

However we cannot take any of it for granted.

Now the Chief of the Defence Force is here Mark Binskin and he understands as does the Defence Minister Marise Payne and the Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, as do all our defence leaders; they all understand that we live in times, yes, of uncertainty and indeed times that are more dangerous, then we’ve seen for a very long time. That is why we are investing in the largest revitalisation of our armed forces, in the air, on the land and on the sea, in peacetime history. Security and prosperity, they go hand in hand.

The Foreign Policy White Paper we’re delivering today presents a framework for facing the challenges of an uncertain future with confidence.

Uncertainty is a fact. Rapid change is a fact. They’re realities. The challenge for us is not how to resist them, let alone deny them, but how to prosper with them, how to hedge against the risks and seize of the opportunities the times offer us.

Now, the White Paper is clear-eyed and hard-headed. It sees our world, and our region, as it is, not how we wish they could be, or fondly imagine they once were. Prosperity and security, I repeat, go hand in hand and you can’t have the former without the latter. If the Minister for Finance were here, he would remind us you can’t afford the latter without the former.

The simplicity of the Cold War is long gone. The world is a much more complex environment.

It’s a world in which over the last 30 years we have seen the greatest rise out of poverty in all of human history, but in which the number of civil wars tripled between 2007 and 14. Conflicts and lawless spaces have generated 65 million displaced people, more than at any time since the Second World War.

This, the localised breakdowns in order have spread through terrorism and broken borders. The technology which enables a child to access all of the knowledge of the world from a smartphone, to communicate around the world in nanoseconds, also gives terrorists and criminals a reach and a lethality that in years past was only available to nation states.

So the digital technologies that have brought us together, are also being turned to theft, to sabotage and division.

The economic forces that have delivered prosperity and opportunity, are also generating - because of the rapid rate of change - political uncertainty, military capability and strategic ambition. Political alienation is feeding populism and protectionism and providing opportunities for foreign interference. We are navigating a rapidly changing multi-polar world in which each of the major players are testing their relationships with each other, while undergoing rapid change themselves. In the past we could safely assume that the world worked in a way that suited Australia. Now power is shifting and the rules and institutions are under challenge. We are experiencing unprecedented prosperity and opportunity, but the liberal rules-based order that underpins it all, is under greater stress than at any time since its creation in the 1940s. This is the first time in our history that our dominant trading partner is not also our dominant security partner. We must see this as an opportunity, not as a risk.

Now there was a view that we should not lock down this Foreign Policy White Paper - only the third in our history - at this moment of unprecedented change. But Julie Bishop and Steve Ciobo and I took a different view. Change presents us with new opportunities and this is the time not to be deflected by the risks, but to focus on prudent hedging, focus on that security but also seize the opportunities as unprecedented as the change which is the tenor of the times in which we live.

Now the genius of Australia is that we define our national identity not by race or religion or ethnicity, but rather by a commitment to shared political values and institutions which are accessible to all. Rarer than you might think, if you reflect on that.

The success of our multicultural society is the envy of the world and our people - magnificent in their diversity, harmonious because of our values and the mutual respect which they entail - are our greatest asset.

With over a quarter of us born somewhere else and more than half of us with a foreign-born parent, we demonstrate that an open, diverse and integrated society is not only compatible with security, but indeed a prerequisite. This is a strength that we take to the world as we show our credentials as a regional power with global interests and global influence.

Now my government’s foreign policy settings are true to our values not because of unconditional altruism, but because they align with our interests. We are pragmatists, not ideologues. Being true to ourselves is a hard-headed investment in a fairer, more stable and prosperous world.

Now Australia’s vision for our Indo Pacific region is optimistic and born of ambition. It is for a neighbourhood that is defined by open markets and the free flow of goods, services, capital and ideas. Where freedom of navigation goes unchallenged and the rights of small states are untrammelled. Where our shared natural bounty, our land and water and air, is cherished and protected and disagreements are resolved by dialogue in accordance with agreed rules and established institutions.

Our objective is an Indo-Pacific that is secure, that is open and prosperous.

Now the rules, norms and institutions that enable freedom and opportunity have been painfully difficult to build.  Australians know this, because we have contributed to the building of so many of them. But they are easy to break.  There is no better example than the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which took 150 countries, including all the major powers, nine years to negotiate after several previous failed attempts. UNCLOS has brought stability and security and these have in turn delivered enterprise, trade and sustainable development. With the world’s third largest maritime Exclusive Economic Zone, Australia has more at stake than most. That’s why we have been unwavering in our support for the dispute settlement processes of UNCLOS - regardless of the outcome. The resolution of our boundary dispute with Timor Leste is a very good example.  That is why we unapologetically advocate for all countries to respect the umpire’s decision, as this goes to the integrity of the whole international legal system.

Now our White Paper argues that today’s challenges require Australia to take more responsibility for our own prosperity and security.

We must secure our own future.

Now this does not mean being less vigorous in upholding international law, let alone degrading our Alliance with the United States.   It means pursuing our interests just as much in San Francisco as in Shanghai and always on our own terms. Our Alliance with the United States reflects a deep alignment of interests and values, while never being a straitjacket for Australian policymaking. Our friendship and partnership with China enriches our economy and society, while not preventing us from vigorously advancing our own interests.

I have always enjoyed a frank and warm relationship with the leaders of the United States and indeed with the leaders of China, with whom I have now spent many hours in conversation, mostly about economic and security issues but in the case of Premier Li stretching more recently to Australian Rules Football and its’ growing following in China. You could not imagine in fact, modern Australia without our over one million strong Chinese community, any more than you could imagine it without our more than half a million strong and rapidly growing Indian community. We admired, and envied a little, we politicians, the enthusiastic welcomes received by Prime Minister Modi and President Xi and Premier Li during their recent visits.

Now there is no more important bilateral relationship in the world than that of China and the United States.

I have seen firsthand that Presidents Trump and Xi respect and understand each other, both on the issues on which they agree and those on which they differ.

Those who like to focus only on difference or disagreement, should reflect how China has gone much further than many imagined, or indeed predicted, in the application of tighter and tighter economic sanctions on North Korea. Indeed the unanimity of leaders at the East Asia Summit recently in Manila, in condemning North Korea was genuine and determined.

Equally, China, the United States and Australia have, in different ways, provided vital support to the armed forces of the Philippines in their courageous battle to suppress the ISIL-backed insurgency in the Southern Philippines. Indeed, when I was at a Camp Aguinaldo in Manila recently, the Chief of the Philippines Defence Force General Guerrero described our surveillance and other assistance as a “game-changer,” his words, not mine, a game-changer, that enabled them to retake Marawi as swiftly as they did. I want to again honour the 165 armed force Philippines servicemen who were killed and the 1,700 wounded in that operation. They were defending all of us in that struggle and today our soldiers are in the Philippines. In fact, I met with them at Camp Aguinaldo, training young soldiers in the Philippines in urban warfare and counter-insurgency.

Personally I remain very confident about America's long-term commitment to the rules-based system in this region and the extended visit and presence of President Trump in his North Asian and South-East Asian tour, attending both APEC, ASEAN and the East Asia Summits, underlines the commitment, the enduring commitment. But it is also - leaving aside one administration or one president - it is also manifestly in America's long-term national interest today, tomorrow and as it has always been. If I could paraphrase John Howard; “Those who celebrate the possibility of American retrenchment, should be very careful what they wish for”.

In the global ocean, there is always a risk, as Lee Kuan Yew observed: “The big fish will eat the little fish, and the little fish will eat the shrimps”. Or as the Athean ambassador said to the Melians: “In the real world, there is justice only between equals. As for the rest, the strong do as they will, and the weak suffer as they must”.

So whether it's in Lee Kuan Yew’s words or Thucydides’, we will never agree that might is right.

The rules-based order protects us all and it protects us, in particular.

It is manifestly in our national interest to advance it and defend it.

Now, this Foreign Policy White Paper provides a framework for securing our own future, while sharing the burden of collective leadership with trusted partners and friends. It shows how we are taking a far more active role in shaping the future of our region in five important ways.

First, we are pursuing economic opportunity with our Indo-Pacific partners as Steve Ciobo described. We're preparing the way for our businesses to connect with markets and consumers in those dynamic regional economies. We pursue market integration wherever we can do so, on the basis of strong, transparent rules, fair and open competition, predictable and non-discriminatory regulation. You will have seen that together with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, we have worked tirelessly to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite the withdrawal of the United States. We're pursuing negotiation for a high-quality, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP, a partnership centered in ASEAN that draws in India, China, Japan and Korea, and several other agreements which we hope can build towards a larger free trading system.

Believe me; protectionism is not a ladder to get out of the low-growth trap. It is a big shovel to dig it deeper.

Free trade means jobs.

Steven mentioned a number of the statistics which we've talked about. It is manifest that our national interest is advanced, the jobs and the opportunities of Australians are advanced, by making sure that markets are free, trade is free and that we have the biggest playing field possible for Australian exporters of goods, of services, to run on to and compete. Because when we do, we are the best in the world.

More opportunities, more trade, means more jobs.

Now, the second way we're shaping our region, is by seeking every opportunity to link with partners who share our interests and commitment to rules-based institutions. A good example is when officials of Japan, India, the US and Australia met in the margins of the East Asia Summit in Manila earlier this month. I discussed the importance of this initiative with Prime Minister Modi in Manila at our meeting. Another was my meeting with the Prime Minister Phúc in Vietnam earlier this month, where we agreed to work towards signing a strategic partnership. Of course, our trilateral leaders' meeting with Prime Minister Abe and President Trump.

Now, third, we are elevating South-East Asia into a top priority for Australia. Now, that's why we did not hesitate to deploy ADF assets and personnel to the Southern Philippines, as I have described. But we will need to do more in our region to assist our neighbours in the battle against global Islamist terrorism. Believe me, we do not want to have another Raqqa or Mosul in our region. The front line in the battle against terrorism in this interconnected world, is everywhere. Everything is connected. A terrorist in Syria can provide instructions to an agent in Sydney or Melbourne. We've seen plenty of evidence of that. We need to be constantly alert, constantly working with our neighbours in the region. Marawi is a place most Australians would not have heard of. If it was pointed out, they would say: “It's a long way away”. Nowhere is far away.

We have a very clear national interest in doing more to protect our security, our collective security, in this region and we do.

We're seeing strong voices for the cause of moderation. President Joko Widodo is the democratically elected leader of the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world. Within 20 years, some forecast that our close neighbour to become the fourth-largest national economy.

President Jokowi’s message that Indonesia demonstrates that Islam, democracy and moderation are compatible, is a compelling one. It resonates across the region and the world. His charisma, his authenticity and commitment are powerful voices for peace and stability. Early next year I'm looking forward to hosting the leaders of South-East Asia for summit-level discussions on our relationship with ASEAN and hosting dual-track talks on terrorism and business opportunity.

Now fourth, our greater commitment to South-East Asia will be matched in the Pacific. If we're honest, we'll acknowledge we've not always lived up to our aspirations here, with our immediate neighbours. This White Paper will come to be seen as an irreversible and permanent step-up in our commitment. Earlier this month, we announced a significant investment in a new under-sea telecommunications cable, which will bring new opportunities for our neighbours in PNG and I hope, the Solomon Islands too. It's part of a broader program to enable our Pacific neighbours to take advantage of the productive power of greater connectivity and to integrate into the Australian and New Zealand economies insofar as they choose to do so. We'll step up our assistance in monitoring and protecting their vast maritime domains.

These are defining commitments. They're essential to the long-term resilience and economic prospects of the Pacific. They are commitments of a regional power with global interests.

Now, fifth, resilience and autonomy are new themes that run strongly through this White Paper and wider program of Government. To ensure we always remain open to ideas, capital and people, we must restore integrity and trust where it is broken and ensure our security and regulatory systems are up to the task. We are committed to protecting the autonomy and integrity of decision-making in the face of foreign interference and coercion. This is particularly important in cyberspace. We will guard against all attempts to use cyber to interfere in Australian domestic affairs and democratic processes. There is nothing that we will guard more jealously than our autonomy, than our sovereignty. Australian sovereignty is our commitment.

Now, the Foreign Policy White Paper is premised on the belief that we cannot afford to turn in on ourselves and close our doors to the flow of people, capital, imports or ideas. If we're to maintain the openness, dynamism and prosperity of our region, we must preserve those strong, transparent rules, fair and open competition, non-discriminatory regulation. In shaping the region in this way, leveraging our significant national assets, our economy, our people, our institutions, we ensure our strategic security and economic interests converge. Security and prosperity depend on each other. You can't have one without the other.

These all converge around the universal values and institutions which sit at the heart of our Australian sovereignty. The Foreign Policy White Paper shows how we're lifting our ambition, sharpening our strategic focus, redoubling our commitment to ensure we continue to benefit from an Indo-Pacific that is open, prosperous and free.

We should all be ambitious; as individuals, in business, and as a nation. We'll achieve our objectives of security and opportunity by living up to our status as a regional power with global influence.

Now, I should just note - my final observation - that while we are committed as a regional power, with global influence, we are not entirely without ambitions of global dominance.


Good luck, Steve Smith. Go, Australia! Reclaim the Ashes, beat the Poms!

Thank you.


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