House debates

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Questions without Notice

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation

4:01 pm

Photo of Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the derisory response of APEC leaders to his plan for a European Union style Asia-Pacific Community. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this personal crusade is costing Australian taxpayers, including Ryan taxpayers, almost $50,000 a month yet rated only a single dismissive sentence in the six-page communique at the APEC summit? Prime Minister, is this the most expensive footnote in the history of Australian diplomacy?

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Ryan, of course, has extensive familiarity with various countries in the region, particularly in and around Hong Kong, but we will leave that to one side given the notorious history of his branch structure in Brisbane. Going on to the broader question of the future of the region, I say as follows—

Photo of Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of relevance. I am not sure what part of the question the Prime Minister did not understand, but I am happy to ask—

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Ryan will resume his seat. I will listen carefully to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

In fact, it was both Hong Kong and Taiwan that I should have referred to in the earlier answer. The Asia-Pacific Community is a proposal of the Australian government which looks at the question of where we want to be in 2020 in the Asia-Pacific region. It simply asks this: do we want to shape our region’s future or simply respond to events; do we want to repeat in this region the mistakes made by Europe in an earlier century; do we want to allow conflicts to arise or do we want to form the structures necessary which will support cooperation and the habits of cooperation to bring about a common sense of security in the period ahead?

When I launched this proposal in an address to the Asia Society earlier this year, I said that there would be a long process of discussion with the region. We have dispatched Dick Woolcott, an eminent Australian diplomat of great standing and who is, I believe, respected by both sides of the parliament—I would have hoped by the member for Ryan as well—to various capitals across the region to solicit their views on how such an Asia-Pacific Community could be shaped into the future. That process of consultation continues. Furthermore, it has been the subject of considerable discussion between myself and various heads of government, both in capitals and most recently in Lima at the APEC summit.

The bottom line is this: either you can be reactive in your foreign policy, as those opposite have been for so long, or you can have an activist approach which says, ‘Here is the region we would like to see in 2020; here are the building blocks to get there; here is how we preserve peace into the future; here is how we preserve stability in the future; here is how we actually support economic growth into the future; and here are some structures and suggestions about how that might be done.’ Similarly, this government has done the same on the question of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation: either you can stand back and allow the forces that have been at work for some time to simply have their play and have no results produced or you can put your best foot forward and have a go. We have done that with a joint commission, chaired by ourselves and the Japanese, which is currently co-chaired by a former foreign minister of Australia, Gareth Evans, and a former foreign minister of Japan. That work will have its report by the time we get to the NPT review conference next year.

I simply make the point: you can either play a passive-reactive game in terms of Australia’s voice in the world or engage in an activist foreign policy which seeks to shape our region and the global order to maximise not only the interests of Australia but also the interests of peace and security in the 21st century. That is what we are on about when it comes to foreign policy and we are proud of it.