Perth USAsia Centre – Private Roundtable opening remarks

  • Speech, E&OE

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I acknowledge any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people with us today.

And I reaffirm the Government's commitment to the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

It is my pleasure to be here today at the Perth USAsia Centre. Thank you, Gordon, for inviting me and thanks to you all for coming today.  

Since its inception, the Perth USAsia Centre has made a distinctive contribution to the national debate on foreign policy, drawing on its unique vantage point here on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

We in the east know the Western Australian view of the world is often a little bit different.

That's why voices like yours are so important and why the Australian Government is proud to support the work of the Perth USAsia Centre.

Your stated mission – to strengthen relationships between Australia, the Indo-Pacific and the United States – is not too dissimilar from our mission.

We see these relationships as central to protecting and promoting Australia's interests.

And like all relationships, they require sustained commitment, patience and diligence.

As our ‘Indian Ocean capital', Western Australia has an important role to play in this task.

Those thousands of kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline provide more than just access to some of the world's most beautiful beaches – although that's certainly a perk.

Western Australia is our gateway to the ‘Indo' in ‘Indo-Pacific'.

It connects us to a growing region of two billion people, home to some of our top trading partners, and vital global shipping routes.

More than half of Australia's sea-borne exports depart from Indian Ocean ports.

The Indian Ocean component of our Exclusive Economic Zone spans more than 81 million square kilometres.

And around half of Australia's naval fleet is located along our Indian Ocean coast – as I was able to see for myself during the last term of Parliament when I spent a week with the crew of the HMAS Sheehan at Fleet Base West and on the floor of the Indian Ocean

Like the Pacific Ocean, the future of the Indian Ocean region will be shaped by strategic competition between great powers – India, China and the United States.

But Australia doesn't have to be just a passive bystander as this unfolds.

As Foreign Minister Wong as put it, Australia is in a “race for influence” to shape Australia's external environment in our interests.

We can and will need to chart our own course, working in concert with others, to help ensure our region remains peaceful, stable and prosperous.

And we will need to use every element of national power – geographic, economic, diplomatic, social, political and defence.

In each of these domains, Western Australia – and the Western Australian viewpoint – is a critical national asset.

Our approach – identity, values and interests

Since taking office, we have articulated a few guiding principles for our approach to Australian foreign policy.

The first is around our identity.

Who we are matters.

The Australia we project shapes what others think and feel about us.

It shapes how willing they might be to trust us, to undertake a new line of cooperation, or to join us in genuine partnership.

We want the world to see modern Australia – one of the most diverse nations on earth, bringing together more than 300 different ancestries and home to the world's oldest continuing civilisation.

Australia's First Nations people were our first diplomats.

Their story should be at the heart of the story we tell about Australia.   

The family and ancestral links of modern Australia connect us with the cultures and societies of virtually every corner of the globe.

In my first speech in Parliament, I quoted the great Australian chronicler of Australia's Anglo-Celtic convict heritage, Robert Hughes who wrote:

“(Multiculturalism) proposes.. that some of the most interesting things in history and culture happen at the interface between cultures. ..the future .. in a globalized economy .. will lie with people who can think and act with informed grace across ethnic, cultural, linguistic lines… In the world that is coming, if you can't navigate difference, you've had it.”

Australia is well placed to navigate this future.

In an increasingly diverse global environment, our diversity is a strength, and we maximise our influence when we are able to bring it into the heart of our foreign policy.

The second principle of our foreign policy is the role of our values.

We believe in democracy and the rule of law.

We believe in fairness and equality.

We believe in honesty and openness.

We believe in listening and empathy.

These values underpin not just the society we seek to build at home, but the foreign policy we pursue abroad. 

The third is around our interests.

The Australian Government believes is in the interests of both Australia and China for the relationship to be stabilised.

We have taken some first steps, but it will take time.

As we seek to stabilise the relationship with China we will continue to work with our partners to build a region that is stable, peaceful, and prosperous and where sovereignty is respected.

In practice, that means:

  • a strong, mature alliance with the United States;
  • deeper engagement in Southeast Asia and the Pacific; and
  • productive and practical cooperation with our Quad partners and all those who share our aspirations for a peaceful region underpinned by international law and robust institutions.

I want to emphasise though, that while our region is our immediate focus, we recognise that Australia is part of a much broader community of nations.

As Foreign Minister Wong said recently, Australia may not be a global power, but we do have global interests.

We care not just about the region we live in, but the world we live in.

Some problems – like climate change – simply cannot be solved without better global cooperation.

And for a country of our size, multilateralism remains one of our most important tools.

We helped build the multilateral system and it has served us and our region well over many decades.

It is worth remembering that the rules-based order in our own region didn't spring from nowhere.

It came from the norms, principles and rules established first at the United Nations and carried forward by other international and regional organisations ever since.

That's why it is essential that we continue to engage the world beyond our own immediate region. 

One of the key reasons behind the establishment of my position as Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs was so we could devote more time and energy to nurturing those relationships in other parts of the world.

In fact the main reason I am here in Perth – apart from the wonderful opportunity to meet with you all – is to speak at Africa Down Under, as part of my mission to deepen our ties beyond the Indo-Pacific and ensure Australia's global interests are being served. 

Africa is a great example of why this matters.

By 2050, Africa is projected to represent a quarter of the world's population.

And an estimated 1.1 billion Africans will have entered the middle class by 2060.

Other nations see the growing importance of Africa on the international stage, particularly in global multilateral institutions.

The Kenyan Permanent Representative's clarion call for the world to support the rules based international order during the Emergency Session of the UN Security Council on the situation in Ukraine was a striking example of this.

African nations can be powerful voices on issues that are vital.

Australia has good economic links already into Africa, with over 170 mining companies active on the continent and a combined investment of around $40 billion.

Many of these companies are based here in Perth.

Australians of African heritage are a diverse and growing cohort, and a great national asset.

When Perth's own Peter Bol captured the nation's imagination at the Tokyo Olympics, it was about more than just some good running.

It highlighted the strength and pride we draw as a nation from our migrant communities.

I see this every day in my own electorate, Gellibrand, which is home to some of Melbourne's largest and most significant African migrant communities.

It was my engagement with these communities that drew me to visit Kenya and Ethiopia in 2018, to better understand the journey that these diaspora members had travelled to become a part of our nation and to learn from the relationships that they maintained with their countries of origin.

These communities gift us enduring links to the continent and position us well to seize the economic, political and social opportunities of a growing and increasingly influential Africa.   

It is in our global interests to do so, but it is also in our national interests.  


All of which brings me back to where I started – the Western Australian viewpoint.

You see things a little differently here.

Because of where and who you are, you see opportunities – for example, hosting the world's largest African mining conference outside of Africa.

And that's why I'm looking forward to hearing from you today about how you see the challenges and opportunities facing Australia in the years ahead.

Thank you.

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