Indian Ocean Conference

  • Speech, check against delivery

I am pleased to return to Dhaka for the second time in six months.

I acknowledge our hosts, Prime Minister Hasina and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar.

This is an important forum and conference for our region in 2023, and I’m grateful to be able to be here to represent Australia.

I’d like to also extend my gratitude to the India Foundation and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies for their part in hosting this conference.

Like so many nations represented here today – Australia’s prosperity and security is intimately tied to the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean shipping lanes are crucial to the energy security and economies of many countries around the world, including our own...

...and global trade depends on stability and security here, in particular, the security of crucial chokepoints that are so fundamental to an open, stable and prosperous region.

And looking beyond trade, the Indian Ocean is also one of the key points of confluence for global strategic competition today...

...and in an age in which we rightly obsess about the health of our global environment, the Indian Ocean is an area where the impacts of global warming and other environmental challenges will be felt most.

Hence the salience of the theme of this Conference – Peace, Prosperity and Partnership for a Resilient Future.

As the home of unique First Nations cultures, Australia is intensely proud to be the inheritor of the oldest continuous cultures on Earth.

And we have also benefited immensely from migrant communities from all around the world, that have made and continue to make invaluable contributions to our nation...

...not least the diaspora communities of South Asia and the Indian Ocean rim.

We are part of this region – part of its economy, part of its environment, part of its culture, part of its people.

So, we believe strongly in building the institutions of and engagement with our region, particularly in the northeast Indian Ocean.

Right now, we are working on establishing permanent diplomatic presences in Malé and Bengaluru – and I’m very much looking forward to officially opening our Consulate-General in Kolkata later in this trip.

What is very clear to me from my discussions is that Australia shares a very similar perspective to many of you about the sort of region in which we want to live.

Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has spoken a lot about this recently...

...about how we want to live in an Indo-Pacific that is peaceful and stable... that is not characterised by conflict...

...but one whose character is marked by “rules and norms that underpin our security and prosperity”.

We want our region to be open and inclusive... be based on agreed rules... support countries of all sizes choosing their own destiny.

We want our region to be prosperous and connected.

To share a measure of just how important the Indian Ocean is to Australia economically (even putting aside the general points I’ve made about trade and shipping routes)…

... we share the region’s longest Indian Ocean coastline as well as its largest search and rescue zone... we are heavily invested in the future of this region.

But we acknowledge that the Indo-Pacific faces significant challenges:

  • shifting geopolitics
  • climate change
  • maintaining the health of the blue economy, the source of millions of jobs across fishing, tourism, mining and transport
  • and a grinding economic recovery post-COVID.

Minister Jaishankar has referred to the “host of strategic challenges” we face..., an important part of our work has to be building stronger regional architecture, to support our ability to work together and to build the regional economy.

As we all know, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has had rippling economic impacts across the region.

Apart from the terrible suffering of the Ukrainian people, Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine has been intensely disruptive to the global rules-based order, and has exacerbated global food supply insecurity.

Food prices, energy and fertiliser costs have all spiralled up, impacting people across the Indian Ocean.

As the only Ministerial-level organisation spanning the Indian Ocean, we see IORA as an important forum to address regional challenges.

So, I’d like to thank Bangladesh for its leadership as Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) chair – and commit Australia to working closely with Sri Lanka and India during their upcoming terms as chair.

I’ve been really pleased to see first-hand what we can achieve when we work together.

Under Bangladesh’s strong leadership last November, I worked with counterparts in the IORA Ministerial Meeting to agree IORA’s Outlook of the Indo-Pacific.

This document marks the first time this region, as a region, has established a common view of an Indo-Pacific built on the international rules-based order...

...adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

…and the rights and obligations UNCLOS contains in relation to the establishment of maritime zones, the freedoms of navigation and overflight, and the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

We’re strong supporters of initiatives that address the impacts of climate change in our region, including the Australian-funded IORA Blue Carbon Hub, and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).

And Bangladesh’s own Indo-Pacific Outlook, announced in April, echoes many of our shared principles for the region.

Earlier this year, I attended the African Union summit in Ethiopia and met with a number of delegations from several Indian Ocean states, including Mauritius and Mozambique.

And in February, I discussed maritime cooperation and the Indian Ocean with Kenya’s Foreign Minister in Nairobi.

What is crystal clear across my discussions is that no matter which side of the Indian Ocean we are on, we all want to live in a region that is peaceful, and predictable.

In February, Australia co-chaired the Eighth Bali Process Ministerial Conference with Indonesia in Adelaide on people smuggling, human trafficking and modern slavery...

... just one example of our region coming together to confront shared challenges.

Together, we can respond to issues no single country can fix on its own.

I’m very confident that with greater cooperation and partnership, we can create a region that meets our aspirations for being open, inclusive and secure.

We’ve also been working hard in recent years to build that notion of partnership across the Indo-Pacific.

Through working with regional partners, such as India, France and Indonesia, to combat shared challenges.

Through forums like the Quad, which we see working alongside regional institutions, including the Pacific Islands Forum, ASEAN, and of course IORA, to strengthen our shared interests and build capacity to pursue them.

Later this month, Prime Minister Albanese will host Indian, Japanese and US leaders for the Quad Summit in Sydney.

And through Australia’s AUKUS defence capability collaboration with the United Kingdom and United States – one element of our approach to maintaining regional stability and security in a more challenging strategic environment.

Last month, Australia’s Defence Strategic Review also recommended further defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. Colleagues, we meet at a challenging time in global history, but one in which we can also see the immense opportunity across the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific more broadly.

We recognise the urgency of the issues we face right across our region, not least climate change and the health of global oceans.

And turning inwards is not the answer.

The answer is the very opposite.

It is redoubling our efforts to work together, in an open, collaborative, sustainable way, through regional and global institutions and systems that promote cooperation.

Through a strong, supported multilateral rules-based system.

Through open, non-distorting markets, even as we work together to decarbonise our economies.

Through science and evidence-based decision making.

Australia commits to this work; Australia will play its part.

And it is a measure of our commitment to working together and to the Indo-Pacific that Australia is honoured to be able to host the next iteration of this conference in 2024...

...the first time we will have done so in this forum’s history.

Thank you all for the contribution you have made and are making to this ongoing project – I look forward to working even more closely with you on Australia’s behalf in the years ahead.

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