Thursday, 3 September 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I preface my question by recalling the remarks of former foreign minister Julie Bishop, who, a week out from the 2016 US presidential election, observed that the then candidate Mr Donald Trump was domestically focused and that it would be:
… up to our region, including Australia, to persuade a Trump administration to focus on the Asia-Pacific.
Now that you've been the foreign minister for two years, how is that project going? How successful have you and the Prime Minister been in persuading President Trump to focus positively on our region? How has President Trump's diplomacy helped Australia's interests in the Asia-Pacific?
I thank Senator Patrick for his question. I think the best way to respond to Senator Patrick is, in fact, to refer to some of the singular outcomes of the 2020 AUSMIN meeting held recently in Washington between the US Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, the US Secretary of Defence, Mr Esper, Minister Reynolds and me, because the Indo-Pacific was the principal topic of our discussion. We reached agreement on a large range of issues. Let me start with the deployment of an affordable, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, if one is achieved, and therapeutics to the Indo-Pacific region. That builds on early US support, with Australia and New Zealand, for the distribution of key medical and health supplies to the Pacific at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We agreed our Global Health Security Statement, which will also help us build Indo-Pacific partner capacity in biosecurity, biosafety and biosurveillance to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks. Importantly, to reduce the risk of future pandemics, we agreed to establish a new working group between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of State to monitor disinformation efforts so as to counter state-sponsored and other malicious disinformation and interference.
In terms of supporting the economic recovery in the region, we focused on the development of high-quality infrastructure investments—particularly through the trilateral infrastructure partnership and other mechanisms, including the Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership and also the proposed undersea cable for Palau—with other partners, including, as I've said, Japan. We're looking at ways to mobilise private sector investment in the Indo-Pacific to deliver high-quality infrastructure and natural resource projects. When you meet Adam Boehler, the head of the DFC, the Development Finance Corporation in the United States, you absolutely know how focused the administration is on those high-quality infrastructure projects in the Pacific and South-East Asia. (Time expired)
In the run-up to this year's US election, what positive efforts have you and the Australian ambassador in Washington made to engage directly with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's foreign policy team? What discussions have you or Ambassador Sinodinos had with Mr Biden's senior foreign policy advisers—for example, former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken or former Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President and East Asia expert Ely Ratner?
I thank Senator Patrick for his supplementary. I will start by saying what an exceptional job former Senator Sinodinos is doing as Australia's ambassador in the United States, dealing with the significant challenges that COVID-19 is bringing both to the operational aspects of an embassy, particularly a large embassy like that in Washington, and, importantly, to the management of any bilateral relationship and those engagement issues. Ambassador Sinodinos has been exceptional in his outreach across Washington, and I see that in every interaction and every engagement I have.
It would not usually be the case that a minister would canvass, in public, discussions had with representatives across the political sphere in any country, but I can say that on my previous visit to Washington, in March this year, a number of those mentioned in Senator Patrick's question participated in a very diverse roundtable discussion with foreign policy experts, and I particularly appreciated their insights. (Time expired)
Joe Biden's former foreign policy platform says that he aims 'to win the competition for the future against China'. Mr Biden's East Asia adviser, Mr Ratner, wants Australia to increase defence spending to help blunt China's regional power. How do you think a Biden administration will deal with China? How might that differ from President Trump? What do you expect a Biden administration will ask of Australia?
I thank Senator Patrick for his question. Firstly, I think that no matter from whom any exhortation to Australia comes, in terms of defence spending we have a very, very significant reply, and it's called the defence strategic update. Secondly, I would say that the United States' relationship with China, and vice versa, is a matter, of course, for each of those countries, not for Australia. It's a matter for any US administration, no matter who is the elected US administration.
What I would say, though, is in relation to the Indo-Pacific. The Indo-Pacific is where we both live—the United States and Australia. It's the home of our greatest responsibilities. It's the home of our most compelling priorities. What we do in our work through AUSMIN and in our bilateral relationship is all about making the most meaningful contributions we can to foster a better Indo-Pacific—an Indo-Pacific that is open, secure, prosperous and based on the rule of law.