House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Private Members' Business

Australia: International Relations

1:27 pm

Photo of Andrew NikolicAndrew Nikolic (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I welcome this opportunity to reflect on how the diplomatic element of our national power helps to ensure our economic and security interests resonate on the regional and global stage. Our economic diplomacy is vital as the eyes of the world shift from the North Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific as the engine room of global economic prosperity for the next 30 to 50 years. There are some 500 million people in the middle class from India to Asia, and some projections have that growing in the next 20 years or so to 1.7 billion people—people who are increasingly educated, socially engaged and internationally connected. How lucky are we to sit astride the Indian and Pacific Oceans, beautifully positioned to provide quality goods and services into that growing middle-class market—that unfolding economic miracle on our doorstep?

Just consider what has been achieved by our government since the 2013 election to establish the conditions for Australia to benefit from that increased demand. Outstanding trade diplomacy, led by Minister Andrew Robb, has resulted in a trifecta of free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea. Andrew Robb has also secured our place in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a grouping of 12 countries that represent some 40 per cent of global GDP.

But our diplomacy has also been skilfully applied to ensure that Australia's security interests are prominent, particularly in responding to resurgent terrorism. As a 31-year veteran of the Australian Army and as a former first assistant secretary of International Policy Division, I have seen firsthand how effective international engagement enables effective policy responses, particularly when it comes to things like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, where Australia is often called upon to be a first responder, and, as I said, to respond to resurgent terrorism.

We have worked hard to ensure that our interagency responses in Australia are well connected, resourced and very well linked in to our key friends and allies. We have appropriately funded the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and our police and security agencies. This has enabled them to play a crucial international role in restoring the integrity of Australia's border protection system. That enhanced cooperation has allowed us to beat the people smugglers' model, to cancel 140 passports and stop misguided Australians fighting alongside terrorists in Iraq and Syria. We have applied financial sanctions on Australians engaged in terrorism and made it an offence for Australians to enter declared terrorist controlled areas in Iraq and Syria.

We are punching above our weight in the international coalition against terrorism. People like the member for Canning, seated here, who have helped our international reputation as the second largest contributor on the ground in Iraq and the air campaign in Iraq and Syria. The government has provided $1.3 billion in extra funding to Australia's security and intelligence agencies to better track and disrupt those seeking to do us harm, so when it comes to the economic and security dimensions of our national power the government has strengthened our bilateral relationships with important economic and security partners.

We also play a prominent role in multilateral forums. The East Asia Summit, the United Nations, ASEAN and others. Importantly, we have refocused Australia's foreign development and trade efforts on our immediate region, working with partner countries and organisations like the Pacific Islands Forum, to enhance our collective security and prosperity. At a people-to-people level, I heard the slur against the Colombo Plan from those opposite, but that plan has given more than 10,000 Australian undergraduate students an opportunity to study and network in over 35 countries in our region. Just last week, foreign minister Bishop had 80 members of the diplomatic corps and some of their spouses, in Tasmania, looking at the trade and investment opportunities available in my great state.

We have achieved a lot: we have rebuilt Australia's relationship with Fiji following years of stagnation under Labor; we have established the Pacific Leadership And Governance Precinct in PNG; we have lead international recovery and reconstruction efforts in Vanuatu and Fiji; we have got widespread praise for our membership of the UN Security Council; we have played a lead role in the aftermath of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17; we have contributed to a range of UN Security Council resolutions, effective diplomacy—strong relations in our region that produce a vital and stronger Australia, and those laudable objectives remain a key focus for the Turnbull-Liberal team.

Debate adjourned.


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