House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Private Members' Business

Australia: International Relations

1:22 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House recognises:

(1) the importance of effective political and diplomatic relationships and economic exchange between Australia and our region; and

(2) a responsible and internationally engaged Australian Government is required to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of a changing world.

Through much of our history Australia has grappled with the tyranny of distance—the fact that we were very far away from the centres of global power. But now, of course, the world's centres of economic, political and strategic gravity are shifting towards Asia, creating unparalleled opportunities and unprecedented challenges for Australian policy makers. China's GDP approaches, and is likely to overtake, that of the US. Indeed, on some measures, it already has. India is the world's third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, and it is forecast to be the fastest growing major economy in the world from 2016. Indonesia is now the eighth largest economy in the world on purchasing power measurements, having risen from 14th place in 1990. All three are seeking a position in the world commensurate with their economic power. Japan remains the fourth largest economy according to PPP, and its importance to regional strategic consideration continues to grow.

Our economic relationships with our neighbours are becoming ever more important to our national prosperity. At the same time, rising tensions, particularly in the South China Sea, present a challenge for regional economic and strategic stability, with significant ramifications for Australia. Labor continues to argue that disagreements in the South China Sea should be peacefully resolved in accordance with international laws and norms. But if we want to insist that other nations play by the rules, we also need to adhere to them. That is why Labor has, for example, announced that, through bilateral negotiation, or, if necessary, with the assistance of the International Court of Justice or a binding international arbitration, we want to fairly and finally settle a maritime border between Australia and Timor-Leste. Support for a rules based order is also an expression of our values—a sign of our willingness to act as a good global citizen.

Just today, we saw a real example of the cost to Australia of not doing so. The former President of Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmao says the Liberal government's approach to the maritime border issue is jeopardising Australia's bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Labor welcomes the conclusion of a number of free trade agreements in recent years, agreements that were progressed by several successive governments. But to seize the opportunities and to mitigate any challenges of the Asian century, our engagement with our regional partners has to be deeper and richer than just bilateral trade agreements.

The Hawke and Keating Labor governments enhanced regional multilateral structures, leaving us with APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The Rudd government worked to have the United States included in the East Asia Summit, a key regional institution with an open political, security and economic agenda. The Gillard government secured a strategic partnership with China—the establishment of a new bilateral architecture to guide the future of our relationship. And we produced the Australia in the Asian century white paper. We made sure that the changing dynamics and emerging opportunities of the region were included in every aspect of government decision making.

One of the first things this government did was to erase that white paper—an act of electronic book burning without explanation. No long-term strategic approach replaced it. Instead, a reflexive, transactional attitude has characterised this government's approach to our region. Its approach to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was a prime example. The government's resistance made Australia's eventual participation seem begrudging and half-hearted to our neighbours. It undermined our ability to influence the direction of the bank from the ground up. We should have gotten in early, and we could have had much more influence on setting the rules if we had done so.

The changes to our region should be considered in all our policy decisions—domestic as well as international. The government cites the New Colombo Plan as its signature foreign policy. Of course, we support students gaining experience in Asia, but a student study program as foreign policy falls well short of the mark. Under this government, Australia is missing economic and political opportunities in our region and is being left behind as our neighbours shape the Indo-Pacific and the world of the 21st century.

Unknown member: I second the motion.

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.