Address to the Australian Institute for International Affairs

  • Transcript, E&OE

Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples.

I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

I extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.

I reiterate the Albanese Government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full: Voice, Treaty and Truth.

Thank you to the Australian Institute for International Affairs Queensland and to your State President Paul Lucas for inviting me here this evening.

I must begin by paying tribute to Allan Gyngell.

Allan was a powerhouse of the Australian foreign affairs scene.

He was also a consummate diplomat whose passion lay in helping Australia navigate the murky shades of grey that so often characterise work in international relations.

One of the last interactions we had with Allan was one of the final Roundtable consultations for our forthcoming new policy for the international development program – a table of some of the brightest minds in this field.

I know my team and DFAT highly valued his insights and support for this important area of foreign policy.

And I know just how much Allan valued his relationship with the Australian Institute of International Affairs, so I am honoured to be here.

I offer my condolences to his family and friends, and to the wide network of colleagues who will be deeply affected by his passing – which, no doubt, will include many in this room and joining us online.


Just before last year’s federal election, I addressed an International Development forum at the Crawford School of Public Policy in Canberra.

At the time, I was Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

In that speech, I laid out Labor’s vision for Australia’s international development program, and our approach to our crucial relationships in the Pacific.

I promised that, if elected, we would restore the international development program as a critical element of Australia’s foreign policy.

I promised that a Labor Government would deliver a host of new initiatives to support the Pacific’s development and foreign affairs goals.

And I said that our development and Pacific policies would be part of a strong and principled approach to national security, and a self-reliant and ambitious foreign policy under an Albanese Government.

For the last 12 months, the Government has been hard at work implementing this vision.

Tonight I want to reflect on what we have done over the last year in these areas – and to foreshadow our future ambitions.

My focus will be on how the Government is deploying all the arms of statecraft to achieve its ambitions for the Pacific and in our international development policy.

And I’d like to start by unpacking that concept of statecraft a bit more.

All the Arms of Statecraft

“Statecraft” is a term that might bring to mind ideas of the interplay between great powers …

… Like Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, carving up the post-war world …

… or the ebb and flow of the Cold War as the US and the USSR played out a potentially-lethal geostrategic chess game.

These are ideas that epitomise a classic idea of statecraft, and its brutal consequences.

But that version of statecraft is due for an update …

… because statecraft in the twenty-first century is becoming more complex.

In 2023, statecraft runs the gamut of twenty-first century challenges, often in the grey zone:

… it is climate catastrophe and financial system collapse …

… it is humanitarian disasters and cyber-attacks …

… it is tackling global kleptocracy and global poverty.

You might have seen Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s speech to the National Press Club last month.

In that speech, Senator Wong said that we are dealing with a complex, varied and interlinked challenges.

I quote:

“Coercive trade measures; unsustainable lending; political interference; disinformation; and reshaping international rules, standards and norms that have benefited smaller countries, from trade to human rights – these all encroach on the ability of countries to exercise their agency, contribute to regional balance and decide their own destinies.

“So countries like ours in this contested region need to sharpen our focus, on what our interests are, and how to uphold them.”

To conduct statecraft in Australia’s name is to maximise Australia’s influence in the pursuit of Australian interests and values …

… particularly as we tackle an increasingly complex array of global and regional problems.

What are Australia’s interests?

To my mind, Australia has two core, perennial interests: security and prosperity.

There are, of course, other interests, but it all comes back to these two.

These interests are not unique to Australia.

Each sovereign nation shares the same two core interests – though they may define them and act on them differently.

Australian foreign policy also seeks to advance our values – values of democracy, human rights, fairness and justice, the rule of law and respect for sovereignty.

And so, modern statecraft, as practised by the Albanese Government, is about using all the elements of state power at our disposal …

… not only to achieve a secure, prosperous future at home …

… but also to ensure that Australia’s existing security and prosperity aren’t threatened by events abroad.

We need to harness all our national assets in pursuit of Australia’s interests in the world – particularly when our security and prosperity are interlinked and influenced by so many external forces.

And one of the best tools of statecraft that can be deployed to advance our interests and values, and those of our partners, is our international development program.

For the last decade, under the former Government, Australia’s development program was under-valued, under-resourced and under-appreciated.

That’s changing under the Albanese Government.

Our approach is bringing all the arms of national influence to bear in pursuit of Australian interests:

  1. Our diplomatic, strategic and economic assets.
  2. Our defence and security institutions.
  3. Our social, cultural and educational strengths.
  4. Our people-to-people links, from sporting codes to religious communities; from migrant communities to business and trade connections.
  5. And our international development program.

And the region where the development program has the greatest impact is in the Pacific, where Australia is by far the largest provider of development assistance.

Why the Pacific matters to us; why we matter to the Pacific

The Pacific is Australia’s region; it is our home.

Nothing is more consequential for Australia than the relationships between us and our closest neighbours.

And from what I have heard from people and leaders across the region, Australia matters deeply to the Pacific, too.

Australia is a founding member of the Pacific Islands Forum. We are a valued and respected member of the Pacific family.

The region wants us engaged.

They want us working with them on issues that matter to us all.

Since becoming Minister, I have visited Fiji (twice), Papua New Guinea (three times), Vanuatu (three times), the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

In these Ministerial visits I have heard these messages about Australia engagement again and again.

It’s difficult to describe how incredible – and incredibly complex – the Pacific is.

I am sure there is a great deal of Pacific knowledge and experience in this audience.

You will know that there is really no substitute to understanding a people and a country like going there …

… Talking to people – governments, communities, businesses and individuals …

… Listening to what they have to tell us.

So, if you’ll indulge me, I want to take this audience on a kind of rhetorical tour of the Pacific …

… to show you, as best I can with words, how diverse Pacific countries can be, demographically, geographically, politically and economically …

… but how the challenges the region faces are common, interconnected and impossible to solve in isolation.

And I want to start this tour from where we’re meeting, here, in Brisbane.

So, let’s begin.

Melanesia: Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila is just a two and a half hour flight from Brisbane.

Vanuatu is still recovering after being hit by tropical cyclones Judy and Kevin in March.

While the country is no stranger to natural hazards like cyclones, earthquakes and flash floods, many people said they’d never seen anything like this before – two category 4 cyclones, back-to-back, in just 48 hours.

I was in Vanuatu a few weeks ago and saw the devastation wrought by this freakish weather event.

Homes reduced to ruins.

Thousands of people displaced to evacuation centres.

Crops blown away by the gale force winds or destroyed in water-logged soils.

In the days after the disaster, the Government of Vanuatu asked for Australia’s help to support its humanitarian response.

Within days, we deployed a rapid assessment team.

Within a week, our largest naval vessel, HMAS Canberra, arrived in Port Vila with humanitarian supplies, engineering and medical personnel, and three Chinook helicopters to help shuttle assistance across the islands.

And Australia has provided a humanitarian response package valued at around $13million to support the Government of Vanuatu’s response and recovery efforts …

… which included delivery of humanitarian supplies through Australia’s humanitarian partnership program; recovery support to Vanuatu’s education and health systems; and logistical and assessment support to the Government of Vanuatu.

We know this type of support can have a lasting impact.

Teams sent out to assess the damage in towns and villages said they could see that houses rebuilt with Australian assistance following Cyclone Pam in 2015 were still standing, due to the use of reinforced cyclone-proof screws.

But this isn’t just a story about Australian assistance to Vanuatu.

It’s a story about what is now a reality for our region.

Cyclones Judy and Kevin demonstrate that the Pacific is on the front lines of the planet’s gravest environmental threat: climate change.

As extreme weather events grow in frequency and intensity, the Pacific is reaping the consequences of something they never sowed.

Australia is now far more aligned with our Pacific partners on climate change than it was under the former government.

The Albanese Government has committed to reducing Australia’s carbon emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030; and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Our development program, and several of our international financing mechanisms support climate adaptation and clean energy infrastructure projects.

We have been proud to join the Pacific family in co-sponsoring the Vanuatu-led UN General Assembly resolution to request an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on climate change.

We are supporting Weather Ready Pacific, a Pacific-led initiative to enhance the region’s early warning systems in the face of extreme weather events.

And we are bidding to host the COP31 climate summit in partnership with the Pacific in 2026.

Climate change is a policy area where our domestic and international objectives align …

… where our expertise, technology and innovation are supporting our efforts on the ground to deliver development outcomes to the Pacific…

… and where our investments in climate adaptation and our elevation of Pacific voices ensure that Australia is now part of the solution in the world.

Let’s continue our tour of the Pacific and head east – we’re going to leave Melanesia and enter Polynesia.

Polynesia: Samoa

As the crow flies, Apia is about the same distance from Brisbane as Perth.

Samoa’s two islands Upolu and Savai’i make up 99 per cent of its total land area, just a bit over 2,800square kilometres – roughly twice the size of the City of Brisbane.

Samoa is another example of a small Pacific island country which is playing a global leadership role.

Samoa is the chair of the 39-member Alliance of Small Island States and will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2024.

With its population of around 200,000, Samoa is always willing to stand up and deliver – to ensure a strong Pacific voice is heard on the world stage.

In March, I had the pleasure of meeting Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa for the third time …

… and introducing her as the keynote speaker at the inaugural Foundation for Development Cooperation Pacific Lecture hosted by the Lowy Institute.

I listened to her remarks carefully and I was impressed by how honest she was – like all great leaders, she wasn’t afraid to speak the truth.

And some of her words bear repeating here.

She said:

“I need to be very frank … in the Pacific, we feel our partners have fallen short of acknowledging the integrity of Pacific leadership … Such acknowledgements can simply be in the form of information sharing, and open consultation if we consider ourselves a Pacific family, and looking to find solutions the Pacific way.”

Prime Minister Fiame’s observation highlights why the Albanese Government is taking a new approach to Pacific relationships – an approach which is as much about how we do things as it is about what we do.

We listen. We show respect. We keep promises.

We will work together to address common challenges …

… and we understand that the process of finding solutions together is as important as the outcome itself.

That is the Pacific way.

Australia’s approach to the Pacific is guided by the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, as endorsed last year by Pacific Island Forum leaders.

The 2050 Strategy is a roadmap to realising the Pacific’s collective vision for our economic, environmental, and strategic future …

… written by Pacific nations and their people, for Pacific nations and their people.

The 2050 Strategy demonstrates the importance of the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific regionalism.

The PIF is a critical regional institution – it brings the nations of the Pacific together, amplifies their voices, and tackles shared challenges.

That’s why respecting and working through the PIF is a central element of the Albanese Government’s Pacific strategies – and should be for other countries seeking to engage with the Pacific.

Micronesia: Kiribati

Finally, I want to take us to the last leg of this tour – to Micronesia and Kiribati.

This is a country that in many ways exemplifies the need for regional solutions to regional challenges – challenges like climate change, fisheries management and security.

Tarawa is 3,800 kilometres from Brisbane.

Kiribati has the largest exclusive economic zone of any Pacific island country.

In fact, its EEZ is the 12th largest in the world, just larger than Mexico’s and just smaller than Brazil’s.

That’s an enormous body of water to manage, let alone protect.

One of the biggest challenges for Kiribati, as it is for any Pacific nation, is the threat of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is estimated to cost the Pacific tens of millions in lost revenue every year.

In February this year, President Maamau and Foreign Minister Wong signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to formalise and expand our cooperation in maritime security, economic infrastructure, border control and policing.

Australia has also committed to invest in some of Kiribati’s infrastructure priorities, including:

  1. A new Kiribati Police Service recruit barracks, headquarters, training facilities, and armoury.
  2. Upgrades to Betio Port and its Fisheries Jetty.
  3. Upgrades to Kanton Wharf.
  4. And coastal protection and other climate security and adaptation initiatives.

As part of our commitment to expand border and policing cooperation, Australia will deliver a second patrol boat to Kiribati, to assist the government in policing its extensive waters.

We will expand our police and training support to Kiribati to include cybersecurity and UN peacekeeping training.

And we will assist in extended maritime surveillance support, to prevent and counter IUU fishing.

These initiatives in Kiribati show how the Government is enhancing Australia’s defence and security relationships in the Pacific more broadly.

In the 2018 Boe Declaration, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders adopted an “expanded concept” of security to address a range of challenges including:

  1. Human security and humanitarian assistance.
  2. Environmental and resource security.
  3. Regional cooperation on climate change and disaster relief.
  4. And transnational crime and cybersecurity.

The Albanese Government is working with Pacific governments and regional institutions to address these security challenges.

As part of our response to the Defence Strategic Review, the Government will deepen its diplomatic and defence partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia recognises that the security of each Pacific country is inextricably linked.

And our longstanding security ties with the Pacific – with countries like Kiribati – is yet another example of our comprehensive approach to statecraft in the region.

Pacific Islands Forum Leaders last year reaffirmed the importance of a “family first” approach to regional security.

As a member of the Pacific family, Australian policy is giving effect to this approach.

We have made significant progress, concluded a bilateral security agreement with Vanuatu, signing a Status of Forces Agreement with Fiji and negotiating a Bilateral Security Treaty with Papua New Guinea.

But to return, for a moment, to illegal fishing.

Some of you here may recall the landmark Fisheries Agreement reached in the World Trade Organization last June.

After more than 20 years of negotiations, the agreement almost did not happen – but was saved through the quick, effective and pragmatic work of Pacific WTO members.

This is just one example of what the Pacific can achieve when it works together to deliver on shared interests.

Friends, I am proud to say that as part of its election platform the Albanese Government made it a priority to deepen Australia’s engagement with the Pacific.

And we have made great strides in the first 12 months of Government.

This financial year our Government will deliver a record total of $1.9billion in Official Development Assistance to the Pacific – Australia’s highest contribution yet.

This shows the substantial impact of the historic $900million increase in ODA to the Pacific over four years we delivered in the October Budget last year.

The additional development assistance will support shared priorities we have identified with our Pacific partners:

  1. Strengthening support for Pacific climate resilience and mitigation.
  2. Reducing fiscal distress and supporting post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
  3. Investing in health, water, education and social protection.
  4. Empowering women and girls, and people with a disability.
  5. Expanding the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.
  6. And doubling our Official Development Assistance support of the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.

We have listened, and we are responding.

We are bringing new energy and new resources, to help build a more secure region, and a stronger and more united Pacific family.

And it means restoring our international development program to its proper place, as critical national asset of statecraft.

Rebuilding Australia’s development program

And that brings me to the second half of my speech.

I began this evening by noting that good statecraft means using all of our national assets wisely.

Along with the crucial work of improving outcomes for our development partners, our development program can be a powerful way to solve problems, make friends and increase Australia’s influence.

It is not a “nice to have” luxury.

It is a core strategic capability for Australia.

Yet, for the last decade, it has been devalued.

Twenty-two of Australia’s nearest 26 neighbours are developing countries.

Being so close and bound together economically, when they grow, we grow; when they falter, we feel the effects.

Every ODA dollar we spend is an investment in a stronger, more stable region in which Australians are safer, and can cooperate and trade.

Right now, we are all being tested – by climate change, by global economic uncertainty, by profound demographic and technological shifts.

We face the most challenging strategic circumstances in the post-war period. Our region is being reshaped.

For these reasons, the Albanese Government is restoring ODA’s role as a central part of our approach to the world.

The Government will soon launch Australia’s new development policy.

It is Australia’s first long-term development framework in almost ten years.

Our new policy will define the development program’s role in contributing to the region’s peace, stability and prosperity, and to improving human development.

We kicked off this process in September last year when the Foreign Minister announced at the UN General Assembly we were working toward a new policy.

We undertook extensive consultations – engaging with hundreds of stakeholders in Australia and with partners across our region.

We listened carefully and learnt about our existing practices – our strengths and our limitations.

We will continue that approach going forward.

A commitment to genuine partnership is a “golden thread” running through our new policy.

We have spoken about it extensively in every engagement we have had in the region – and the new policy will codify those words and help turn them into action.

Australia has also heard the many voices calling for increased assistance to combat climate change.

It is our region’s foremost concern and the single greatest threat to Pacific communities.

Accordingly, responding to climate change will be a central feature of our new development policy.

Whether on climate, infrastructure, food security or economic development, we will engage with respect and in equal partnership.

Our partners have told us they want more opportunities to participate in Australia’s development program.

We welcome this desire for more ownership.

We also want our aid investments in the region to drive local employment and procurement opportunities.

This will help deliver a double dividend of improved development outcomes as well as employment opportunities in communities where we are working.

And we’re committed to ensuring all voices in society are heard.

So, Australia will work harder to provide local people and businesses with the funding, training and other forms of support they need to exercise leadership.

That’s why Australia will continue to ensure at least 80 per cent of our investments advance gender equality, and it’s why we are designing a new disability equity and rights strategy in the development program.

Australia is brimming with world-leading expertise in a range of fields.

Every day, our development program supports Australians and their regional peers to share ideas and collaborate – across science, education, business, culture, religion and sport.

Our deep connection to the region reaches back to Australia’s First Nations people, our first traders and diplomats.

We want to strengthen these connections – particularly across the Blue Pacific.

And we will ensure the expertise and perspectives of First Nations Australians are embedded across our foreign policy, including in the development program.

Rather than seeking to replicate Australian policies and programs, we will tailor our development investments to the specific needs and circumstances of each country.

When we can’t offer the right support, we will help our development partners to secure resources and expertise from other international partners and friends, while preserving their agency and sovereignty.

In this way, our close relationships with the United States, Japan, New Zealand, France and the multilateral development agencies can amplify our impact.

The Indo-Pacific will remain our focus.

This is the region we know best, where we can make the most difference and where our interests are most directly affected.

It is a region where the leadership of regional institutions, such as ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum, remain essential. 

But securing the world we want also means acting beyond the Indo-Pacific.

So, we will continue to play our part in responding to development and humanitarian needs in other regions.

As we do, we will be guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a shared vision for global development.

And we will champion an international system where rules and norms are clear, mutually agreed and consistently followed.

This is a journey that the Government embarked on last year with our bilateral partners, our delivery partners, the development sector and the broader community.

But we haven’t reached the final destination; this is only the first leg.

And I invite you all to be a part of this journey, as we work to rebuild Australia’s development program.


I want to finish my remarks by asking a simple question: “Why have a development program at all?”

In the course of my speech tonight, I’ve laid out a few of the possible answers.

The economic case – supporting economic prosperity abroad supports economic prosperity at home.

The strategic case – that stable countries make for stable regions.

The rational, self-interested case – that ultimately every aid dollar spent serves Australian interests.

But there’s another answer, one that we do not often hear articulated in foreign policy debates.

And that’s the ethical case, the moral case for international development.

The Australian philosopher Peter Singer posed it most eloquently as a hypothetical in his book, The life you can save.

I’m going to paraphrase Singer:

Imagine that, on your way to work, you pass a small pond.

You see a child splashing around.

As you get closer, you see it is a young child, flailing about, unable to keep his head above the water.

If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown.

Wading in is easy and safe, but you will ruin your new shoes, and get your suit wet and muddy.

What should you do?

Singer says that every year, all of his new philosophy students answer this thought experiment the same way – save the child.

It seems so obvious it’s almost not worth saying.

Yet Singer points out that every day thousands of children around the world die from the impacts of extreme poverty – impacts that could be addressed at relatively low costs.

Because they live in extreme poverty; because they have no safe drinking water; because when they fall ill, they can’t access proper medical treatment.

Singer’s point is, essentially, if you would save a life right in front of you, at the cost of ruining your new shoes, or the drycleaning on your suit—then why wouldn’t you save a child’s life overseas?

Singer was writing about personal ethics – the moral responsibility of the individual – but I think his conclusions apply to governments as well.

When I am asked “Why have a development program?”, I have all the other answers ready.

But it’s the moral case that leaps out at me.

Because moral arguments are like that …

… you don’t need to say them aloud, you feel them in your gut.

Who among us wouldn’t jump into that pond?

Who among us wouldn’t save a life?

Ordinary Australians donate around $1 billion each year to aid organisations carrying out development and humanitarian work.

But individuals and NGOs can’t do it all.

We need a strong government development program to tackle global poverty.

That’s why the Albanese Government has boosted Official Development Assistance by $1.4 billion over four years.

Our reasons for rebuilding Australia’s aid program include the strategic, economic and security benefits from supporting developing countries.

But they also include the simple fact that it’s the right thing to do.

Thank you.

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