Well, thank you very, very much, Virginia.
Can I start by also adding my acknowledgement of country.
Can I also welcome, very much, my Parliamentary colleagues who have come from overseas to join us today, and some of my Parliamentary colleagues here from Australia; to you, Ambassador Sem Fabrizzi – always a pleasure to be with you and share a stage; ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you very, very much for having me here today.
It is a great pleasure to join you at the inaugural European Union Australia Leadership Forum.
This is a new project – not even a year on from its launch in Brussels last September, but I think that you will all agree that the caliber of those participating is evidence that the Senior Leaders' Forum shows it is already an important part of our bilateral landscape.
I would like to recognise the foresight of my parliamentary colleague, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.
In putting the EU-Australia Leadership Forum together, Minister Bishop and High Representative Mogherini have built a clever, innovative approach to deepening ties between Europe and Australia.
I know many of you have had the opportunity to hear the Foreign Minister's own insights into the Australia-Europe relationship at dinner yesterday evening.
On behalf of the Australian Government, let me welcome you all here, particularly those of you, as I have said, who have flown out from Europe, which as we know is a long and tiring journey.
And can I say, for those of us who go the other way quite frequently, we know what it is like and it is really good to see when people do come and visit us from Europe and do understand the challenges that that brings!
As we meet here today, Europe is unquestionably going through one of its most challenging phases.
Only a couple of months ago, Britain formally triggered the process for beginning to unwind itself from the European Union.
We will also be watching with great interest as Britons go to the polls next Thursday.
Regardless of who wins, the formal part of the Brexit process will be a very long, exhausting two years and the real work of re-building all the legal, the financial, and the bureaucratic links between Britain and the EU will be a project much, much larger than the formal exit.
For decades, Britain and Europe have become very closely entwined and like all divorces, this will be a painful process.
More broadly, Europe – with the European Union at its heart – is in a greater state of flux than it has been for many years.
A few years ago, before the Global Financial Crisis, the direction of the EU seemed assured – slow, thoughtful, incremental progress towards an ever greater union.
What began decades ago as a project to help prevent conflict in Europe had become a unique experiment in social democracy of greater pooling of sovereignty and of working together in the interests of citizens across the continent.
But the Global Financial Crisis put the EU under unprecedented pressures.
The immense strain on Greece in the years after 2008 showed how challenging the whole project really was – how difficult it is to have a monetary union without the centralisation of political and fiscal levers.
Having just been through our own Federal Budget, I can tell you it is hard enough driving reform with a single national government, even with less than two handfuls of state governments!
In the last three years, we have seen other intense pressures brought to bear on the EU.
We have seen the extraordinary, unprecedented challenge of irregular migration and refugee movements.
We daily witness the tragic, international challenge of terrorism – perhaps the most barbaric aspect of our modern life today – and which we saw strike again in the last two weeks with the horrific attacks both in Manchester and again yesterday in London.
And, of course, the complex challenge faced in many democracies around the world in terms of winning and maintaining public support.
The European Union is not alone in facing these challenges – countries all around the world, including the United States, Australia and elsewhere, are struggling with them.
But the EU faces particular difficulties.
As a large, diverse supra-national body, these big, systemic threats strike EU countries in a myriad of ways, both as a whole, and in many domestic, national contexts.
As a result, the direction of the EU in the years ahead is much harder to predict.
Britain's decision is one direction, but another, contradictory one is evident at the same time – the urge to work harder than ever on coming together, on tackling Europe's challenges in that spirit of camaraderie and togetherness.
We have seen that in the election of President Macron, and in the clear desire on the part of the German and French governments to work to make the EU a global force to be reckoned with.
Australia has every confidence in the EU's ability to emerge stronger than ever from these challenging times.
On behalf of the Australian Government, can I say that Australia is a valued partner for Europe in all the big challenges the world faces today.
Matters of EU structure and membership are, of course, utterly questions for Europe to resolve in its own way.
Australia has deep and abiding relationships with each member state of the EU and with the EU itself.
Those relationships will remain, and will get stronger, as the years go by, however Europe works through its internal issues.
For my part, I am the embodiment of perhaps the most important thing that Europe and Australia share – and that is our deep and abiding personal ties.
As the daughter of Italian migrants, I am deeply aware of how migrant communities have truly helped make us what we are today – a uniquely Australian society, even as we draw on the widest range of ethnic, cultural and religious perspectives and traditions.
Today, almost half of us were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas.
Since WWII, we have welcomed about 7.5 million migrants to Australia, including about 825,000 under our humanitarian programme.
Millions of migrants have come from different parts of Europe.
They have shared their culture, their food, their language, their skills and contributed to the rich tapestry that is contemporary Australia.
Today, they and their children and their grandchildren are at the heart of the Australia-EU relationship.
They have family ties, they trade, they communicate daily, they travel, they own assets, and they provide important linkages to and from Europe.
Australia and Europe share a fundamental, unshakeable perspective on the world.
We are countries driven by our values and a shared commitment to democracy and human rights.
We believe in openness, in freedom – whether freedom of thought, to live one's life as one sees fit, but also openness in international trade, commerce and investment.
Open markets are a key part of what we think makes for a safe and peaceful world.
We also believe in close alliances and supporting our neighbours in order to ensure our mutual prosperity, our stability, and our security.
As Minister for International Development and the Pacific, that last point is particularly important to me.
European countries have long been among the global leaders in international development.
Australia has a rich tradition of being a valuable contributor to international development – today we are the 13th largest donor in the OECD.
For our part, we would like to deepen our development engagement even further.
As in security, where Australia and NATO countries have worked closely together for many years, and in trade and commerce, where we are at the early stages of planning a Free Trade Agreement, there is much greater scope for the EU and Australia to work towards greater development ties.
The Pacific is one area in need of greater investment and development, and I have welcomed the discussions that I have had with EU officials in regard to deepening that cooperation.
Can I also say that there are eleven Commonwealth countries in the Pacific – all sharing similar values, rule of law and language.
Unlike the lions of East Asia, many countries in the Pacific face perennial challenges of distance, small economies and a lack of diversity in jobs and industry.
Some of those neighbours are also amongst the most vulnerable in the world to climatic disasters including cyclones and the effects of climate events such as rising sea levels.
Australia would like to work more closely with the EU on development in our part of the world – we think that we can, together, make a real difference.
In conclusion, I would like to wish you all a productive and enjoyable day as the Senior Leaders' Forum gets underway.
I look forward to hearing the outcomes of your thinking and your deliberations.
Can I thank you for your kind attention.
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