SPEECH: Notice of Motion, Federation Chamber, Monday, 2 May 2016






MONDAY, 2 MAY 2016 


That this House:



  1. The importance of effective political and diplomatic relationships and economic exchange between Australia and our region;

  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, the US. Indeed, on some measures, it already has.[1]

India is the world’s third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, and is forecast to be the fastest growing major economy in the world from 2016.[2]

Indonesia is now the eighth largest economy in the world on purchasing power measurements, having risen from fourteenth place in 1990.

And 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, of course, 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’s why Labor has, for example, announced that through bilateral negotiations, 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 successive previous governments.

But to seize the opportunities and 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, of course, 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 grudging 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—we could have had much more influence about setting the rules if we’d 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.

[1] Previous speech

[2] DFAT Country brief