JULIE BISHOP: Fleur, thank you for your kind introduction, and I’m delighted to be here today at UNSW Sydney to officially launch Meridian 180, a timely initiative that is designed to drive discussion and debate on regional and global issues.
The theme focusing on trust is particularly pertinent given that we are living in a very volatile, complex, ever-changing world. We are facing dramatic change, in fact, change is the one constant in our lives. Technological advances are disrupting the way we live, work and engage, on a scale and at a pace perhaps unprecedented in human history.
We are witnessing a realignment of great power, perhaps the biggest realignment since the end of the Cold War. There are rising strains of populism, protectionism, nationalism around the world. Security challenges are evolving. There are asymmetric threats, terrorism attacks being carried out by non-state actors. There is a mass movement of displaced people around the world, on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War.
We are facing environmental challenges that impact every corner of the globe, and, perhaps one of the most significant challenges, in a geo-strategic sense, is that the international rules-based order is under strain – that framework of conventions and institutions underpinned by international law, that has governed how countries behave and towards each other, over the last 70 years. That international rules-based order is not only under strain, it’s under direct challenge by some actors around the world.
It’s long been understood that global peace, security and prosperity can only come about through cooperation between nations and that relationships between nations must be built on trust and respect. And that individual governments can only deliver greater peace and prosperity and security to their nation if their people trust their government to do the right thing. I think it’s quite evident that trust between nations and trust between governments and their people is in short supply. There is a trust deficit around the world.
So today I’ll make some observations about trust in diplomacy, how Australia has built relationships, developed relationships based on trust, and the impact that that has had on our national interest. First, allow me to use one example of trust in diplomacy, and it relates to North Korea – currently and still seen as a rogue state because of its development of illegal ballistic missiles and its illegal nuclear weapons program.
There are many stakeholders, not least South Korea, China and Japan, who will need to play a part in resolving this seemingly intractable issue of North Korea’s status. Yet it is the relationship between the United States and North Korea that will, or will not resolve the tensions.
North Korea has long confounded the world, indeed successive US Administrations because while it is prepared to negotiate a peace, given that it is still technically at war, since 1953, time and time again North Korea has gone back on its word. It has agreed to weapons inspectors and then throws them out. It agrees to negotiate a peace and then continues with its illegal behaviour. North Korea has developed an illegal weapons program, it is in continued defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions, that have led to significant economic sanctions being imposed upon it, and it has continued to threaten to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could be fitted with a miniaturised nuclear device, that is capable of striking US mainland.
Given this scenario, it was particularly concerning late last year when the United States approach appeared to be a military strike. The consequences of that would have been catastrophic. Yet, President Trump adopted an unorthodox diplomatic stance when he agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un in Singapore for the now famous Singapore Summit. He did it on the basis that he was going to develop a personal connection with Kim Jong Un based on trust between the two leaders. He’s continued to promote the personal relationship between the two leaders as the basis for a negotiated peace. There’s a long way to go and I think Secretary Pompeo has his work cut out for him when he attends the next summit, because if there is trust between the leaders, it is yet to filter down to those who will be implementing a peaceful outcome.
nevertheless, an unorthodox approach has led to a situation where the bookies are backing Kim Jong Un and President Moon to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in a couple of hours from now. That is an extraordinary proposition in anyone’s language.
At the other end of the trust scale is the relationship between the United States and Australia. We are the closest of allies and friends. In fact, few countries could claim to have such a close, like-minded relationship as Australia and the United States. However long standing a relationship though, it should never be taken for granted, and relationships built on trust need nurturing and careful management.
In the lead up to the 2016 Presidential election, many believed that it was a foregone conclusion and Hillary Clinton would be elected the President of the United States, particularly as controversies seemed to continue to engulf the Trump campaign. I was not so sure, because I’d visited the States and I detected a level of support for Donald Trump from some unexpected quarters. So I instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to prepare two briefs – an incoming brief for a President Clinton and an incoming brief for a President Trump. To say there was reluctance on the part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide the second brief is an understatement. Most felt that it was a waste of their precious time. We also ensured that our team in Washington devoted as much energy and interest in the Trump campaign as they did in the Clinton campaign, and this stance most certainly paid off.
We didn’t pass judgement, we didn’t run a commentary, we continued as a government to say, ‘this is a matter for the American people, we will leave to the wisdom of the Americans to elect the President of their choosing’. I believe this approach assisted us because we were able to establish very early on a constructive relationship with the new Administration, and not all nations were able to do this.
It was also very helpful to enable us to recover rather quickly from the first tense phone call between our two leaders. But we also had a deep well of friendship to draw upon that had been built up over at least one hundred years. For it was on the 4th of July 1918 when our great General John Monash commanded American forces at the Battle of Hamel in France, which many say turned the tide of World War I, and our militaries have fought side by side in every major conflict since that time.
Another example of a relationship where trust became an issue is our engagement with Indonesia. Indonesia is one of our most important economic and strategic partners, a close neighbour, and yet our relationship has been through many different phases over the years. A particularly low point occurred in 2011 when the then Federal Labor government without warning banned Australian live cattle exports into Indonesia. This put at risk our reputation as a reliable and trusted trading partner, and it took some time to recover ground.
Indeed, two years later when I became Foreign Minister, one of the first issues I had to deal with was the fallout with Indonesia over the live cattle exports. While seeking to manage that issue, we were then hit with the Snowden allegations, to the effect that in 2009 the Australian government had sought to intercept phone calls of senior Indonesian political leaders, including President Yudhoyono’s wife.
Without acknowledging the accuracy or otherwise of these allegations, we set about seeking to re-establish the relationship. Indonesia had recalled its ambassador. There were significant tensions between us, but we knew we had to re-establish the relationship as quickly as possible, and at many levels of government, counterparts worked hard to restore the trust that was so essential for an ongoing relationship. A key element was our offer to deepen our cooperation in the fight against a common foe; terrorism and violent extremism. Australia and Indonesia agreed to have much deeper and stronger cooperation in defence, security, law enforcement and some might say ironically, intelligence issues. It was that level of cooperation that assisted Indonesia in its fight against terrorism which of course is in our interest, but we have been able to re-establish a very strong relationship built on trust because we are working together to achieve an outcome.
In my nine years, five as Foreign Minister and four as Shadow Foreign Minister, I observed that Australia’s voice is respected on the world stage. Our views are highly regarded. We have a reputation as an open, liberal democracy, committed to freedoms, the rule of law, democratic institutions. We are an open export-oriented market economy and we sell our high-quality goods and services around the world. We are highly regarded as an economic power, while 54th in terms of population, we are the 13th largest economy in the world. And we have set a world record – 27 consecutive years of uninterrupted economic growth. And that has made Australia somewhat of a pinup in global economic circles.
It is important for us to seek to influence regional and global affairs to the extent that we can and Australia is adept at doing this in two ways. First, we seek to influence the decisions and policies of other nations, including the great powers, but this requires very robust policy development on our part and also very strong personal relationships that can build trust over time. Secondly, we can seek to influence by directly implementing policies and programs, for example, through our aid program. In this way, we have an influence over other nations, and also in partnership to achieve common outcomes, working with countries in counter-terrorism, against transnational crime and the like.
Our influence is perhaps greatest in the Pacific, and I’ll turn to that in a moment. Let me give you an example of how Australia has had to build trust before we can influence. In 2006, Fiji had a military coup and the government of the day was removed. The relationship with Australia plunged into crisis as Australia imposed travel sanctions on the leaders of the coup and this particularly incensed Commodore, as he was then, Bainimarama, who believed that he had removed a government that was a threat to the national security of Fiji.
These travel sanctions were in place for a long time, supported by successive Coalition and Labor governments. However, I could see that they had served their purpose, that was to register Australia’s disapproval of military coups, and that they were becoming counterproductive because Fiji was turning to others to partner with them for their development and security needs. That could not be in Australia’s national interest. Well before the 2013 election, I decided that we had to normalise our relations with Fiji. I met with Fiji’s Foreign Minister, and I accepted that Fiji would return to a democracy by holding elections in 2014, some eight years after the coup. On coming to government, I unconditionally withdrew the travel sanctions because I was sending a message of trust. ‘I will take you at your word that you will have elections in 2014, and our relations can normalise,’ and that has been the case.
As Foreign Minister, I believed one of my priorities was to build those relationships, was to build that trust, and there were many challenges. Our relationship with China is vitally important to Australia, yet it requires constant management, careful constant management. We’re two very different countries, very different outlooks, but together we can achieve some good things for our region. A particular focus on the ASEAN countries – ASEAN being central to the peace and stability to the Indo-Pacific region. But there was no priority higher than our commitment to step up our engagement with the nations of the Pacific. We utilised all the diplomatic tools at our disposal, hard power, our defence and security in trade, soft power through our aid program, education exchanges, access to our labour market.
I visited the Pacific 34 times as Foreign Minister, and my 35th was on the drawing board before I decided not to continue in this role. Our focus on the Pacific is built primarily on relationships between Australia and each nation, in a number of fields. In the defence and security area, many of you will recall the RAMSI Intervention, the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands, when Australia led a regional force of defence and police personnel to re-establish law and order in Solomon Islands after internal conflicts in 2003. That RAMSI Mission is a textbook in regional security cooperation.
We have also provided over the years, gifted, Pacific patrol boats to each Pacific nation, so that they can secure their borders and manage their security, whether it be protection against illegal fishing or transnational crime. The fact that they have their own patrol boats had given them some control over their sovereignty. And bigger and newer and faster boats are about to be delivered, they are being built in my home state of Western Australia. Last year, we announced that the Australian Government would support a Pacific Security College to develop capability amongst Pacific Island nations, to be responsible for their own security, albeit with their allies and partners, but that they would have a degree of autonomy and independence in terms of their sovereign defence and security.
One of our closest friends and neighbours is Papua New Guinea, and it’s the only nation that Australia has had administrative control over in our history. So we have a unique relationship with Papua New Guinea. It became apparent to me that there was a very low level of trust between the people of PNG and their government of the day, and that trust in their public service had also declined.
The Australian government has established, in partnership with the PNG government, a School of Leadership and Governance at the University of PNG. They are beautiful buildings but, it’s more than a symbol. We are actually retraining or training the entire Papua New Guinea public service. Courses on accountability, and transparency, and integrity, and ethics, as well as specialised courses in their area whether it’s treasury, finance, environmental, defence. This beautiful new precinct will be officially opened at the APEC meeting in November, that’s being held in Port Moresby. Already two and a half thousand public servants from PNG have been through our school of leadership and governance.
Two other areas where Australia has been able to influence the decisions and outcomes of our friends in the Pacific – we are providing access to our labour market. This is probably what the Pacific Islands wish for above all else. To give their people an opportunity to gain a living, to gain skills and bring them back to their home country. We started with a Seasonal Worker’s Programme, giving workers in the Pacific an opportunity to work through our agricultural, horticultural seasons for up to six months, where Australian workers were not available. The remittances that they send home, on average, about $5,000 for a season, have gone to building sustainable economic outcomes in their home countries. This year, I announced that we would expand the Seasonal Worker’s Programme to a Pacific labour scheme that would cover much broader areas of the Australian economy where there is a shortage of workers in hospitality and tourism and aged care, as well as agricultural horticulture, forestry, a whole range of areas. Pacific Island workers can seek visas of up to three years and also gain skills, Certificate III, Certificate IV skills. This will transform both the Australian economy and also the economies of our Pacific Island nations, and very few other countries can offer that opportunity for the Pacific.
One other program that’s particularly dear to my heart, that will have long-term consequences I believe, is the New Colombo Plan. Some of you will remember the original Colombo Plan that was established in the 1950’s, that brought students from the Asia Pacific to Australia to study in our universities, live amongst our families, gain skills and qualifications, and then go back to their country to utilise those qualifications and skills in building their nations. Over 30 years about 40,000 young people gained a qualification from an Australian university. And it was always a delight to meet Cabinet Ministers from Singapore or Malaysia who had such a warm and deep rapport with Australia because they had been Colombo Plan scholars.
I decided it was time that we reverse that and we established the cunningly-called New Colombo Plan, and the Australian Government supports Australian undergraduates, the young people in our universities to live and study and undertake an internship in one of 39 locations across the Indo-Pacific. We started with a pilot in 2014, with four locations, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. It was such a success that we rolled it out in 2015 across all 39 locations from China, India, Mongolia, right through to the Marshall Islands, and Fiji, the Pacific and everywhere in between.
By the end of 2020, over 40,000 young Australian undergraduates will have lived, studied and undertaken practical work experience under the New Colombo Plan. If you speak to any of them, and there are a number of them here at UNSW, they say what a transformative experience it has been for them. It’s opened their eyes to Australia’s place in the world, they’ve learned new skills, gained new perspectives, deepened a connection, a network with countries in our region. From the Australian Government’s point of view, this is one of the best investments that we can make in foreign policy terms. Generations of young Australians who have experienced life, living in a country in our region where we desperately need to build personal connections. I believe the New Colombo Plan would have immense implications, positive implications for Australia’s engagement in our region, for generations to come, alright, decades to come.
My last point about building relationships is another passion of mine, and that is the empowerment of women, particularly in the Pacific. We have put in place a number of initiatives and policies and programs to empower women in the Pacific because I truly believe that no nation will reach its potential unless it fully engages with and harnesses the skills and ideas and energy of the 50% of the population that is female. In the Pacific, leadership amongst women is rare. Only 5% of the Parliamentary positions are filled by women. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the largest economy in the Pacific, a country of some 8, possibly 9 million people, there are around 100 Parliamentary places, not one woman is in the PNG Parliament.
We have a number of initiatives in place. Boosting their financial empowerment, their leadership opportunities, but one particularly stands out for me, and it is a mentoring program between Australia and the Pacific. We focused on a pool of women from the Pacific, those who had been awarded an Australian award. In other words, they had done their Masters or PhD at a university in Australia and gone back to the Pacific. We contacted those women to find out what they’re doing now, and in many cases, they are certainly not reaching their potential or contributing as they could to the betterment of their nation. We’ve set up a formal mentoring program between women and men in Australia and these Pacific women, potential leaders of the Pacific. For example, a young woman in Vanuatu wants to be the Auditor General of Vanuatu. She hasn’t got many ideas on how she’s going to achieve that, but we’ve connected her with the Chief Government Whip of our government, Nola Marino. And she is giving advice and support, and providing a shoulder, and ideas, and they are connecting on a regular basis. And many other business women and political leaders have offered to be part of this mentoring program.
I hope that I’ve given you some ideas on the role that trust plays in diplomacy, and the importance of relationships built on trust. It requires constant reinforcement. It requires long-term thinking and commitment, but for Australia to reach its potential, and for Australia to continue to be an influential voice in our region and globally, we need to build trust. We need to embrace trust in all our relationships and that is a never-ending task.
On that note, I am delighted to formally launch Meridian 180 here at UNSW Sydney.
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