Australian Mission to ASEAN

17 March 2018, Sydney Australia, ‘Remarks to New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards Reception’

17 March 2018, Sydney Australia,  ‘Remarks to New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards Reception’

Location: Novatel Sydney, Darling Harbour

Australia-ASEAN Week: New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards reception

Good morning and thank you Andrew (Byrne),

Let me also recognise the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and offer my respect to their Elders past and present.

I’m thrilled to be back in Sydney, my hometown, and to be here with New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards participants.

We deeply appreciate the support from universities, businesses and alumni associations across ASEAN countries, involved in these programs.

The cultural understanding and friendships that students develop through their time in Asia and Australia will last a lifetime.

And I speak from experience. 

I was a high-school exchange student to Japan back in 1986 for one year. 

It opened my eyes to a whole new world, of language, of history, of culture and about myself. 

In fact, I doubt I would have taken the course I have in my life, if I had not embarked on that program.

Now, although these experiences have immense personal benefit there’s also a sense of being part of something bigger.

Your involvement in the events today come at a momentous time in Australia’s international relations.

So allow me to offer some thoughts to help you prepare for your part in this significant diplomatic event, the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.

I’ll give a brief outline of Australia’s relations with ASEAN then set out our objectives for the Special Summit.

The first thing to say is that Australia is one of ASEAN’s oldest friends and we have long supported its ambition to shape the culture of how states interact in the region.

We became ASEAN’s very first external relationship, as a so-called Dialogue Partner, back in 1974.

Over the last 50 years ASEAN has transformed the region from conflict and poverty, to peace and prosperity.

ASEAN has embedded good habits of cooperation between states.

And it has pursued regional economic integration so successfully that nations in the region and its people have experienced unprecedented prosperity compared to the past.

Its material wealth, measured as GDP, has more than doubled in real terms in less than two decades. It is now a US$2.5 trillion economy.

Its growth prospects are equally impressive: with a population of 630 million, growth of 5%, rapid urbanisation and growing middle class. Some forecast that ASEAN will be equivalent to the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030.

The so-called ‘ASEAN Way’ has shown how patient statecraft has worked for our region.

ASEAN has sought to shape a region in which might is not right and where inclusiveness is the norm.

ASEAN’s statecraft has helped preserve the sovereignty and autonomy of its members and minimised conflict between member states, overseeing a period of remarkable stability.

And ASEAN has also used its influence to amplify the region’s voice on the global stage.

It has brought in major powers such as the United States, China, India, Japan and Russia through the East Asia Summit, the region’s premier political and security forum, in which Australia plays an energetic role.

These are extraordinary achievements.

My second broad point is that Australia and ASEAN share the same objectives.

We both support the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes as principles that apply to how states should behave.

We share with ASEAN an interest in shaping a region where all nations have the right to pursue their interests peacefully and in cooperation with their neighbours.

We both support liberal economic values.

Australia has from the start supported ASEAN’s economic integration and trade liberalising activities, and we continue to do so today.

During the past decade, we secured the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, still ASEAN’s most comprehensive trade agreement.

The Declaration of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 marks another step forward for the region, guiding Member States through a process of structural reform.

With ASEAN now representing around 15 per cent of Australia’s total trade, and as our third largest trading partner, after China and the European Union, its ongoing prosperity is inseparable to our own.

My third point is that Australia matters to ASEAN. As a strategic partner, we sit at the front rank of ASEAN’s external relationships.

Australia’s strong economy is the foundation of our international strength and influence and reinforces our engagement with ASEAN.

As many of you know, we are entering our 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth – a world record.

We are the 13th largest economy in the world and a member of the G20.

As people who’ve benefited from the quality of our education system, its appeal is undeniable: six Australian universities are among the world’s top 100 and we continue to welcome the 100,000 students from across the region who study in Australia.

We are delighted to continue to offer some 1,500 scholarships for ASEAN students.

Our military capabilities allow us to support our partners in the region, for example, standing with the Philippines against the ISIL-inspired terrorists in Marawi.

We use our development assistance program with ASEAN to tackle issues like human trafficking, or to promote stronger economic competition laws.

Our strength as a nation comes from being one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies that embraces its diversity.

Today there are around nearly 1 million Australians who proudly claim their heritage from countries across Southeast Asia.

This diversity is a source of strength for our economy and it speaks of our attractiveness to the rest of the world as an open and tolerant society.


Challenges facing Australia and ASEAN

Let me now turn briefly to the challenges facing Australia and the region.

Looking ahead, economic growth in the region and globalisation will continue to shape our prosperity and security.

But several trends are converging to create a more uncertain outlook for Australia and the region, and indeed, the rest of the world.

You may have already read the Australian Government’s latest Foreign Policy White Paper, which to briefly summarise assesses several of these trends:

First, the international order is evolving: the United States remains the most powerful country but its long dominance of the international order is being challenged by other powers.

Power is shifting in the broader Indo-Pacific region. The effect of China’s growth is accelerating shifts in relative economic and strategic weight.

Other trends include rising anti-globalisation and economic populism, the evolving terrorist threat in our region, technological change, demographic shifts and climate change.

Southeast Asia sits at a nexus of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific - a position which poses a major test for the region’s cohesion.

Another source of competition in the region is geo-economic.

Even as economic growth has bound economies in our region closer, trade and investment and infrastructure development are being used as instruments to build strategic influence as well as commercial advantage.

This poses policy dilemmas for countries in the region because its infrastructure needs are enormous.

Pressures on open trade policies are re-surfacing.

As nations understandably look for fairness in global trade, the best response to unfair competition is to use the global enforcement mechanisms that are available, in particular the dispute settlement processes provided by the World Trade Organization.

It remains vital for all of us to resist protectionism and to continue progress towards deeper and closer economic integration. 

Given these challenges, where does the Special Summit fit in to addressing them?

In short, they can only be addressed through further engagement and cooperation.

No single country can resolve any of these challenges alone.

Australia believes that we are stronger when we address them with partners such as ASEAN.

This Summit demonstrates Australia’s effort to ensure we remain a leading economic, security and development partner for Southeast Asia.

The Summit’s themes of enhancing regional security and prosperity will lead to practical results such as strengthening our joint efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism, and helping to secure greater opportunities for our people and businesses.

This Special Summit represents both a major step-up in Australia’s commitment to ASEAN.

Your involvement in the events today are an essential element of a successful Summit.

Australia’s relationship with ASEAN of course draws impetus from people and institutions outside government.

The New Colombo Plan and Australia Awards place people at the heart of our engagement.

The personal effect can’t ever be underestimated in diplomacy.

Every time I meet alumni from the New Colombo Plan or Australia Awards, I’ve always been impressed by their insights and their level of maturity.

They’ve also left a similarly positive impression with my counterpart Ambassadors from ASEAN states.

You help personify the connections and understanding between Australians and the people of ASEAN.

And I have no doubt that you’ll make the same positive impact when you meet leaders later today.

Good luck and I’m happy to answer any questions as part of our discussion.