JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Rory, Vice-Chancellor, Aunty Matilda — thank you for that beautiful welcome to country, ladies and gentlemen. I am truly delighted to be here today, first because I support the concept of a conference on women in national security, as does everybody in this audience quite evidently and I am delighted that so many women are here amongst those present, but secondly I am very interested in the rather intoxicating topic of “The Future of Power” and I am delighted by the opportunity to speak about it.
During my time as Australia’s Foreign Minister and, indeed, during my time as a member of the Howard, Abbott and Turnbull Cabinets I became acutely aware of the use of power, by who and how, and particularly the significance of the exercise of hard power — the deployment of military assets or economic power to influence others; hard power to make others yield to the will of those wielding it. However, my focus as Foreign Minister was more on the use of soft power and Australia’s voice throughout deployment of soft power, and our values, and our interests, and our priorities.
Australia is a significant nation. We are highly regarded around the world as an open, liberal democracy committed to freedoms, and the rule of law, and democratic institutions. We are an open, export-oriented market economy. High-quality Australian goods and services are traded around the world. Even though we are 53rd in population size, we are the 13th largest economy in the world, and this year we broke a record: we are in the 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth — no other country on earth has ever achieved that.
We have seen instances of Australia’s use of hard power: our intervention in Timor-Leste, our intervention Solomon Islands — and I think RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission on Solomon Islands, should now be considered textbook in terms of regional cooperation to achieve a positive outcome — in this case, the restoration of law and order in the Solomon Islands, Australia influences not primarily through the use of hard power but in two particular ways.
First, we devise and implement policies that are directly implemented by Australia. For example, through our aid program and, as we have representatives of the Pacific Island nations here today, I will use one example, the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, whereby Australia builds and then gifts to Pacific Island nations patrol boats — high-quality, high-tech patrol boats, so that the Pacific Island nations can defend their sovereignty, can protect their borders and can be part of a regional effort to combat transnational crime, whether it’s illegal fishing, or money laundering, or people smuggling. So, through our aid program we give others the capacity and capability to defend and protect their sovereignty.
Secondly, we seek to influence the policies and decisions of other nations, particularly the great powers, and that can only be done through robust policy development on our part but also the building of close personal relationships based on trust over time with the leaders of those nations.
Now, history has shown that power can be exercised equally for good and for bad. The 20th Century is replete with examples, but take the power of the German Nazi Party in the 1930s that ultimately lead to unspeakable suffering across Europe throughout World War II, and then the utilisation of power by the United States, its military assets helping the allies end the war and end the suffering, and then its economic power being implemented through the visionary Marshall Plan to rejuvenate the economies of Europe, particularly Germany, to end the suffering.
And we should never ever forget the power of ideas. The pen is mightier than the sword, and if you look at the political, and social, and economic doctrines of, say, capitalism, democracy, communism, fascism, totalitarianism, socialism these ideas in their manifestation have had the most dramatic impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people throughout the 20th and, now, the 21st Centuries.
So, when we discuss the future of power, the implicit question is will we remember the lessons of history or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. This morning I want to address a number of challenges that I believe will impact on the exercise of power in the years ahead.
The first relates to the international rules-based order. This is the framework of conventions, and treaties, and alliances, and institutions underpinned by international law that has evolved since the Second World War to ensure there was never a repeat of that global conflict. That international rules-based order is under strain. Indeed, as our Foreign Policy White Paper released last year details, we are living in a very contested, competitive environment.
How states behave and towards each other is of vital importance, and that rules-based order must survive, must be defended and protected as it continues to evolve, to ensure that we can prevent global conflict and that people can continue to strive for and gain prosperity. And the facts are there. In 1950, 72% of the globe were living in abject poverty. Today, it’s less than 9%. In 1950, the global life expectancy was 48 years. Today, it is 72 years. This incredible advancement in human history has occurred since the Second World War, during the period of the evolvement of the international rules-based order.
Secondly, populism is on the rise. Around the world, there are some leaders who see an opportunity for political gain by embracing popular stances. Now, this is a very complex issue for politicians, because governments want their policies to be supported, governments need to be popular because in a democracy you need the voters to elect you, but we must question whether policies that are superficially attractive to sections of the community actually have any long-term benefits or are they in fact detrimental, and history has shown that they are. Protectionism, nationalism, industry-subsidisation, the unaffordable growth of the welfare state, are just examples that spring to mind.
We have seen some obvious examples of populism overlaid by protectionism, overlaid by socialism — Venezuela is a great example of that concern but, you know, there are examples closer to home. I have been quite disturbed to listen to the head of the ACTU, Sally McManus, who is leading the charge for anti-trade, anti-business, anti-employer, anti-profit, as if these are bad for our country, and we really need to guard against those populous policies that are regressive and would be bad for a country like Australia to even contemplate.
Third, democracy. At a time when populism is rising, we are also seeing a decline in some parts of the world in their faith in democracy. I don’t think it is going too far to say there is a crisis of confidence in democracy, and there are some very disturbing results from a global survey carried out by Pew Research Centre last year across 38 nations, thousands and thousands of respondents.
Only 40% of the respondents from Australia thought that democracy was the best form of government. About 25% of respondents in Japan, Israel, Italy, Hungary, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States thought that a single, strong leader, unchallenged by a parliament or courts was the best form of government, and 17% of respondents in the United States, Italy and France believed that direct military rule was a preferable form of government.
Now, if you look at it objectively, a majority of respondents still supported representative or direct democracy, but after the 20th century and the lessons of history I am astonished to find that there are people living in successful, robust democracies around the world who are contemplating life under a dictator.
Fourth, demographics — and this is where the future of power becomes so critical. Leaders around the world must grapple with the challenges of the demographic shifts we are seeing in the West and the East. In our part of the world, leaders are challenged by the impact of the massive baby-boomer generation going into retirement, and the question has to be asked; are those in power making decisions for the long term, taking into account those demographic shifts or are their policies just going to have short-term benefits? And this is where the future of power becomes critical because leaders must be challenged: are these policies, are your actions for the longer-term benefit of your citizens and your nation or are they for short-term political gain?
A man whose work I admire greatly, US economist and Professor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Thomas Sowell, has written and spoken widely against populism and short-term policy development, and he came up with a three-point test that should be applied to determine whether policies have a short-term or long-term benefit.
First. Compared to what? In other words, how does this policy compare to other alternatives, are there other options and what are they, have they been considered, what kind of contestability has gone on to determine whether this is the best policy available? Having been a Cabinet Minister for such a long time, I know how important it is for there to be a diversity of views and contestability around the Cabinet table: look at this policy, compare it to others — is it the best available?
Second. What cost? It can be in dollar terms, resources, human cost. Populous policies really have little regard for cost.
Third. Where is the evidence? Evidence-based policy making must be critical, should be critical to the consideration of any good leaders. That’s why I established the Innovation Exchange within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. On coming to the role of Foreign Minister, I was deeply concerned about the impact of our aid budget. There were countries who had received billions of dollars of Australian aid over decades and yet on any objective measure, including the millennium development goals at that time, they were going backwards. How could that possibly be?
So, I decided we had to start afresh, clean sheet of paper, and work out how we could better direct our aid budget so that it would have the desired impact of reducing poverty, raising standards of living and driving sustainable economic prosperity. So we put together an ideas hub over the road from DFAT, not even in the R G Casey building.
We brought together the most creative thinkers from within DFAT, from across the public service, from outside, from the private sector, we had people seconded from Google, the World Bank, and we gave them some of the intractable development problems and said; Solve it. Take risks. Come up with ideas that no one thought of. Don’t do what we’ve always done that hasn’t worked. We began to enter global competitions and hackathons, and we challenged the ideas. There was an enormous amount of contestability.
Those ideas that we thought would work we trialled, we piloted. If they worked, we scaled them up. If they didn’t, we dropped them. Now, that’s not an approach that the risk-averse public service of Australia is used to engaging in and yet it works.
I have adopted a fourth test to add to Thomas Sowell’s three. Fourth test: what could possibly go wrong? In an interconnected, interlinked world, a policy stone dropped into a pond can have enormous impact elsewhere, and I have to say one of the worst examples of a failure to ask what could possibly go wrong was in 2008, when the new then Labor Government decided to wind back the Howard Government’s tough border protection laws.
That single decision was not run through the Thomas Sowell three-point nor the Julie Bishop one-point test. As a result of that decision, the people smuggling trade was invigorated. It was back in business: 50 000 people tried to make the treacherous journey to Australia on unseaworthy boats — 800 unseaworthy boats – 1,200 people that we know of have drowned at sea, thousands and thousands of people were put into detention in centres across Australia, in off-shore detention centres in Manus and Nauru, and today we are still dealing with the case load of what must be the greatest public policy failure in recent times.
Consequences. Leaders and decision-makers must have regard to the consequences — inevitable or unwitting consequences — and be aware that consequences will occur as a result of your decisions.
That brings me to probably one of the more controversial leaders in today’s world, yet the most powerful, and that is the President of the United States, for the United States is still the world’s economic and military superpower.
President Trump campaigned on disruption and disregard for the political establishment and its norms, and to be fair he is honouring his election commitments, but what it means is that the United States, who was the instigator, the defender, the supporter, the promoter, the advocate of the international rules-based order is now challenging sections of it that the administration believes are not in the United States’ interest, particularly the United Nations, the WTO and, perhaps, multilateralism more generally.
President Trump has a preference for bilateral deals, because he believes that he is able to negotiate a better outcome for his people, his nation. Yet others see his ‘America First’ policies as a zero-sum game, where America only wins if other nations lose, and this is particularly of concern in the trade area. Now of course leaders must act in their national interest, in the interest of their people — that is a given, but I also think there needs to be an appreciation of the lessons of history, the value of multilateralism and the fact that global challenges can only, will only ever be resolved by coordinated global action.
Power is delegated. You have it when it’s ceded by others, either willingly or unwillingly, but if you have power you have a responsibility to use it for the benefit of others, and policy-makers have a responsibility to meet the now four-point test of long-term benefit.
Let me close by commenting how delighted I am to see this focus on women in national security. I was a member of the Cabinet’s National Security Committee for five years, from September of 2013 until I resigned eight weeks ago, and during that time I came to appreciate the role of female Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers around the world, the women involved in peace-keeping, in intelligence, in security, in the decision-making behind the national security concerns of nations worldwide. So I pay tribute to the organisers, Rory, of this Conference and I wish you all the very best in your deliberations today. I trust that I have given you some food for thought as we discuss power and all its manifestations.
RORY MEDCALF: We’re only a tiny bit overtime so I know I’m stretching the friendship, but I’m going to ask our speaker to take a couple of questions. I will moderate the questions and I’m particularly interested in questions from our delegates here, at the Conference, given that you’ve taken the trouble to be here today.
There is a microphone. I think one over there, another at the back. Please, get my attention. I’ll take two questions, one after the other, and then you’ll have the option of very brief answers.
JULIE BISHOP: I have to go back to the Parliament, don’t I?
RORY MEDCALF: Yes. We’ll take this one, at the front, if you can give really nice, succinct questions please, and we’ll see what we can do. And, please, state who you are for the rest of the group.
I’ll take other one question after that.
QUESTION: Good morning. Is this on?
RORY MEDCALF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Julie. I work for Foreign Affairs and I have been very impressed and very inspired by your service for the Department, so thank you on a personal note. I think we talk about frank and fearless advice often, and I think your comments today talk to how challenging it is for leaders to make good decisions and to think long term. As a policy person working in the national security field, I think it is a privilege to be able to say it like we see it. That’s our job. Someone else has to deal with the ramifications on the political front.
How can, as a practitioner, how can we be, I guess, honest public servants? What do you see as frank and fearless advice?
RORY MEDCALF: Thank you, and then one other question and then we are done. At the back, there. We do have a few minutes at the Women in National Security Conference. We’d like more. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ms Bishop. Rules, of course, the authors of rules also exercise power. The examples you gave in the post-World War II context is a good example of that. Do you think the rules are being rewritten by rising powers, by countries that (inaudible) the impact that it will have on how (inaudible) exercise in the future?
RORY MEDCALF: Thank you, so ‘frank and fearless’ and ‘the rules’.
JULIE BISHOP: As a Minister, I was deeply indebted to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the quality of the advice that they provided to me in briefings, and what I found most useful is where the submission stated it as it was: the pros, the cons, this is it, and then, of course, left it to the Minister and the Minister’s office to consider the political ramifications, the strategic, the impact more broadly, but as long as I was given the facts and then the judgement of the Department, I felt confident that I would be able to make a decision that met the political considerations, as well.
DFAT looks long term. Politicians, sadly, do not. And so, I felt very confident arguing my case in Cabinet, in the National Security Committee, because I had that strong, solid backing of DFAT’s opinion, judgement and expertise.
I have to tell a little story, though, where getting DFAT to provide me with that advice was like pulling teeth. In the leadup to the Presidential election in the United States, in 2016, I asked for an incoming brief of the Republican candidate and the Democrat candidate, and DFAT willingly supplied the incoming brief for the Democrat candidate. They had a brief on Hillary Clinton like this because, of course, she’d been the Secretary of State in the Senate and the like — no trouble at all.
As time went on, I started getting a little agitated because I wasn’t getting a brief on the Republican candidate. I had visited the United States in September of 2016 and I came back with a very strong view that candidate Trump was receiving significant support from unexpected quarters, and so I doubled-down on DFAT and said, “Send me the Trump brief.” I got a kind of eye-roll, even though I couldn’t see who it was. I knew there was an eye roll – that I was wasting precious resources on the part of DFAT, but nevertheless the brief came in and it put us in a very good position to work with the incoming administration, because we made no judgment, we provided no running commentary, we left it to the wisdom of the people of the United States as to whom they chose as their president, but we were prepared and many nations were not, and we’d reached out to the Trump campaign, where many nations did not.
While it took a while for DFAT to come around, they did, and it stood us in very good stead, particularly after a rather uncomfortable phone call between the President and our then Prime Minister. We were able to build a very strong relationship very early on with the new administration. I don’t know if that helps.
JULIE BISHOP: Oh, right. Okay, I’ll be very quick. The international rules-based order must continue to evolve and, of course, rising powers must have their say, and if we refuse to acknowledge it, like in the case of the International Monetary Fund, and give a seat at the table to a significant power, like China, then of course it will break down. So, you must take a count of the rising influence and power of others in the changing dynamics but, nevertheless, the fundamental framework must remain.
The United Nations, the WTO, multilateralism — there is no alternative of which I’m aware that would ensure the ongoing stability, prosperity, peace and security in the world today. Thank you.
RORY MEDCALF: Thank you, and on that note, please join us in thanking Julie Bishop. Thank you.
– Ends –