House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Questions without Notice

Foreign Policy

3:07 pm

Photo of Kym RichardsonKym Richardson (Kingston, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister advise the House of any links between Australia’s foreign policy and Australia’s prosperity? Is he aware of any alternative policies, and what is the government’s response?

Photo of Alexander DownerAlexander Downer (Mayo, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Kingston for his question and his interest. Over the years Australia’s links with foreigners have been very beneficial to this country. One job in five in Australia is created as a result of trade. That is links with foreigners. They are not all bad; they are okay. Twenty per cent of our GDP comes from exports, and our exports have doubled since 1996 to $210 billion. The point I make is that to achieve these sorts of things requires a foreign policy which builds close relations with key countries. We have never been apologetic for building a strong relationship with the United States of America, and with Japan, China, Indonesia and India. These five key relationships have been crucial to us. When things have got difficult in international economics those key relationships have been especially important to us. I think back to 1997-98 and the Asian economic crisis. Not only did Australia weather that crisis with very great distinction, if I can put it that way—and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer deserve great credit for the way Australia did weather that crisis—but also, importantly, we were able at that time to provide assistance to countries in Asia and help them get out of difficulties; countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Republic of Korea. The point I make is that strong bilateral relationships help you through difficult economic times, particularly with key countries.

Today we have volatility and uncertainty in global financial markets. That is of concern. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have spoken about that. It is yet another occasion when we need to use our strong relations to make sure that Australia can weather this storm as best it can, and I am sure we will.

The simple point I make is this: to run a successful foreign policy in Australia, amongst other things you need to have strong relationships with five key countries, including: with the United States, a relationship that the Labor Party wishes to downgrade; with Japan—and the Labor Party, by the way, opposed the historic security agreement that we reached with Japan recently; and with China. The Leader of the Opposition has spoken highly of his relationship with China, which is, by the way, fine, and that he is going to make a great visit to China.

Photo of Peter CostelloPeter Costello (Higgins, Liberal Party, Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

To solve global warming.

Photo of Alexander DownerAlexander Downer (Mayo, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

We await that visit, which was apparently a visit, as the Treasurer interjects, to solve global warming. When it comes to India, we have heard a bit of opposition over the last couple of days. A suggestion which will not be particularly—

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Will you support them in APEC?

Photo of Alexander DownerAlexander Downer (Mayo, Liberal Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, we will support them. A suggestion, by the way, that India is a country that cannot be trusted because it will proliferate nuclear weapons is not a suggestion that I suspect is welcome in New Delhi. Neither is it a fair criticism of the Indian government nor the Indian parliament, because India does not have a record for being a nuclear proliferator.

The Labor Party wants to replace the strong relationships that this government has studiously built over the last 11 years with its curiously described notion of liberal multilateralism. Everything will have to be decided by the United Nations and by the General Assembly. You are basically saying that you will contract out our foreign policy and we will give the French, the Russians, the Chinese as well as the Americans and the British a veto—any one of them—over what we might want to do. When you are operating in a difficult international economic environment you need those strong relationships with key countries. I do not think the Secretary-General of the United Nations is going to be able to help deal with some of these very difficult international economic issues, even with the best will in the world and all the determination he can muster. This is a country that needs a common-sense and practical foreign policy and not some sort of head-in-the-air kind of theoretical foreign policy articulated by the Leader of the Opposition and built around some construct of liberal multilateralism—some concept from a textbook years old and very dusty.