2023 Lowy Lecture — Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

2023 Lowy Lecture — Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Australia's Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, delivered the 2023 Lowy Lecture at Sydney Town Hall.


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Australia in the world


It’s a great honour to have been invited to deliver the annual Lowy Lecture.

The Lowy Institute has been an important part of our national discourse for 20 years.

It is a great gift to Australia from Sir Frank Lowy, a man who has found so many ways to add to the fabric of our nation.

Sir Frank’s story is an extraordinary one. A story that began on the other side of the world, and became a quintessentially Australian one.

A 13-year-old boy in war-ravaged Budapest, torn between the realities of survival in a city under the fist of the Nazis and the Hungarian Arrow Cross and the fading hope that his father would one day come home.

Life hurled everything at him. Yet we see the man Frank Lowy became, what he made possible here in Australia.

And ultimately, what he has made possible for Australia.

I also want to recognise that tonight is the first Lowy Lecture since the passing of your founding Executive Director and one of Australian foreign policy’s finest writers and thinkers, Allan Gyngell.

Allan famously said that: “the world is a messy place”

And because of that, foreign policy involves:

“an unceasing cycle of action and reaction, in response to an inconceivably complex set of variables”.  

That relentless complexity speaks for the world of today.

More economically connected than ever before - but also more politically fragmented.

A world confronting new flashpoints, old fault lines, ongoing tests of the rules-based order and resurgent challenges to free societies and open economies.

An ongoing land war in Europe.

A conflict in the Middle East, following the 7 October terrorist attack by Hamas, that has claimed thousands of innocent lives in mere months.

Climate change and the risk it presents to the stability of national economies, populations and borders.

And – closest to home - fundamental geopolitical change and intensifying strategic competition.

Upholding Australia’s security in this time of volatility means managing urgent and competing pressures and engaging with complex and fast-moving situations.

And yet the decisions a Government makes in these moments must be informed by much more than a cycle of action and reaction.

What we do and decide cannot be an unconnected set of responses that look no further than the end of the day.

Our actions have to be anchored in a strategic framework - and shaped by an overarching vision for Australia’s future and our place in the world.

Through our first 18 months in office, our Government’s approach to Australia’s foreign policy and our national security has been defined by a complementary focus on investing in our capabilities and investing in our relationships.

Investing in our deterrence and our diplomacy.

This reflects our recognition of Australia’s interests – but it also speaks for our belief in Australia’s agency.

The role we can play in our region, where prosperity is driven by shared opportunity and stability must always be secured by collective responsibility.

This is the contribution Australia can make, as a middle power in the Indo-Pacific.

Safeguarding a region of rules and rights.

Where every nation – large and small– is free to pursue its own destiny and secure its own future. 

A region where the sovereignty of every nation is respected and the dignity of every individual is upheld.

Where we all contribute to regional peace and stability, because we recognise that a more secure world benefits us all.

Australia's Prime Minister delivering the 2023 Lowy Lecture

It’s often said that what happens on the world stage matters to Australia.  

But we are not just observers of the interplay of others’ ambitions.

And our foreign policy is not just a catalogue of things that happen to us.

What Australia says and does on the world stage matters – to our security, our prosperity, to the strength and stability of the region we call home.  

That’s why it matters that we take our seat at the table and have our voice heard in the debate.

Making ourselves part of the solution to climate change.

Re-energising our role in regional and multilateral forums.

Restoring our relationship with the Pacific family, so we are the reliable partner they look to first.

Supporting the fundamental guardrail of dialogue between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

And putting dialogue at the core of our own international and regional engagement because even when issues are contested, we will always achieve better outcomes when we can deal directly and honestly, at a decision-making level.

Putting a priority on communication over confrontation does not mean choosing the easy course.

It’s not a matter of Australia opting-out of the hard work of defence and security.

Peace is always hard work - and defence and security are central to the task.

Peace must be built, preserved, defended and upheld.

We don’t need to look too far back in history or too far from home to remind ourselves of the devastating toll of the alternative.

This is why when I talk about investing in our capability and investing in our relationships, the concept of investment is deliberate and important.

First, because engagement depends on our active agency.

However deep the sentiment or rich the history, our bilateral and multilateral ties are not self-fulfilling, or self-sustaining.

They are a full-time test of our commitment.

Advancing Australia’s interests and delivering outcomes demands resources and resolve, it takes time and attention and it requires more than a measure of patience and perseverance as well. 

And second, because when Australia invests in our region and the world, we get a return.

The dividend of peace is measured in decades of extraordinary growth and prosperity for the people of our region. 

And like every other nation that has benefited from this framework of freedoms and fairness, Australia has a responsibility to uphold it and defend it. 

That’s why, even though we are half a world away from Ukraine, we are proudly one of the largest non-NATO contributors to its military and humanitarian needs.

We stand with Ukraine in support of its courageous people – and also in defence of a fundamental principle.

The right of every sovereign nation to be secure in its own borders and to determine its own future.

We have taken this same principled approach to the crisis in the Middle East.

From the moment we learned of those horrific attacks on October 7th, our Government has condemned Hamas and called for the release of all hostages.

We mourn the loss of every innocent life in this conflict: Israeli and Palestinian.

Because every innocent life matters.

We will continue to make it clear there is no place for prejudice or hatred, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, here in our society.

Australia recognises that Israel has the right to defend itself - and the way it does so matters.

Which is why we have called on Israel to respect international humanitarian law.

This means civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected, and humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach those in desperate need.

The recent pause in hostilities in Gaza allowed for the release of more than 100 hostages and supported an increase in humanitarian access to affected civilians.

Australia wants to see this pause resumed and we support urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire.

We have said all along, this cannot be one-sided.

Hamas must release all hostages – immediately and unconditionally.

It must stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and lay down its arms.  

And I reiterate what I said in Parliament in October: Hamas is the enemy, not the Palestinian people.

There can be no role for Hamas in the future governance of Gaza - and Gaza must not be used as a future platform for terrorism.

None of us should abandon hope in the ultimate goal: a two-state solution, with Israelis and Palestinians living securely and prosperously within internationally-recognised borders.

Without any doubt, Australia’s future security and prosperity will be defined by the strength and success of our engagement in the region we call home.

John Curtin’s decision to recall Australian forces from the Middle East for combat against Japan in New Guinea is widely held to represent the beginning of Australia setting our own foreign policy.

It also represents the first anchoring of Australian strategic policy in Asia and the Pacific.

When Curtin spoke of ‘the Battle for Australia’, he made it clear that we had to fight to secure our continent and our home.

That anchoring of Australian strategic policy in our region has been a core tenet of Labor defence and foreign policy ever since. 

We saw it when Gough Whitlam founded our diplomatic relationship with China and established our partnership with ASEAN.

Bob Hawke and Paul Keating then amplified Australia’s interests on a pan-regional basis.

First by establishing the APEC forum and then, through Keating, elevating it to include the whole Pacific Rim at a leader-level.

Kevin Rudd built on this work with his role in the expansion of the East Asia Summit and the elevation of the G20 forum.

Through the 80s and 90s, a period of profound change around the world, Australia established the enduring geopolitical architecture of the region.

A mighty achievement for a middle power.

The challenge and the opportunity for our generation is to reinforce and expand upon those achievements.

To act in the best of tradition of Labor Governments - and in doing so advance the best interests of the Australian people.

This means modernising those existing frameworks and forums so they can empower us in new economic, security and energy progress.

Maintaining and strengthening a strategic balance that can adapt to a changing region.

And seeking out new opportunities for deepening our bilateral ties.

For our Government, this work begins with Indonesia.

I’m pleased to say that Australia and Indonesia are making remarkable progress towards a Defence Co-Operation Agreement.

This is something President Widodo and I have discussed on a number of occasions – and the progress we have made is a credit to the work of Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles in particular.

This new agreement will be binding under international law, elevating our defence partnership and enabling new ways for us to work together.

It will be underpinned by the Lombok Treaty and it speaks – above all – for the deep and important trust between our nations.

Together with our new Strategic Partnership with the Philippines – our Government’s actions are making it plain that Australia is seeking our security in Asia, not from it.  

And the same is true for our prosperity.

More than any other part of the world, Asia is where Australia’s economic destiny lies.

Our Government has made clear our strong and continuing commitment to ASEAN centrality.

Australia's Prime Minister delivering the 2023 Lowy Lecture

We also recognise that for too long the economies of ASEAN have not been central to Australia’s economic thinking.

Business investment in the region has been stagnant, people to people connections under-resourced and trade well short of its potential.

This weakens our presence and our relevance. 

The new strategy we launched in Jakarta in September is all about changing that.

It’s called Invested, a set of strategic recommendations from Nicholas Moore around everything from energy transformation and supply chain resilience to better business connections taken together, they represent the most significant upgrade of Australia’s economic engagement with ASEAN nations for a generation.

And we will be able to advance our strategic and economic partnership further when we host the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Melbourne next March.

As with the nations of ASEAN, Australia and India is another relationship that has been underdone for too long.

Not enough work was done to turn the genuine ties of affection, into tangible benefits for our peoples and economies.

I’m proud our Government is taking our partnership with India to a new level, both bilaterally and through the revitalised Quad.

Channelling our common histories and cultures into a greater sense of common cause, including deeper strategic co-operation to maintain peace and security in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

And working to realise the enormous potential of our partnership in everything from clean energy to higher education.

Every step of the way, our Indian diaspora are demonstrating how important and valuable they are in achieving this goal.

Another reminder that our diversity and social cohesion is both a national treasure – and an international asset.

Seizing these new opportunities does not mean letting go of existing strengths.

Australia does not have to choose between deeper partnerships or a broader range of partners.

We can and must look to build both.

That’s why, at the same time as we are boosting our security and economic co-operation with Southeast Asia, we are building on our longstanding ties with Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Even within those two partnerships, we see the potential for greater depth and diversity.

Australia will continue to be a reliable energy provider to the powerhouse economies of North Asia as we help drive their transformation to clean energy and deepen our security collaboration.

Because energy security is economic security and it is national security.

For more than half a century Australia has been the single largest economic, security and development partner in the Pacific.

We engage as partners, as neighbours and as equals.

By respecting institutions like the Pacific Islands Forum and promoting unity in the Pacific family.

This is where I particularly want to acknowledge the outstanding work – and quite extraordinary stamina – of Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy.

Our neighbours understand the realities of strategic competition, in addition to the issues they face in building more resilient communities and stronger economies.

We must engage on these interconnected challenges.

Because climate change is a security issue, in the Pacific more than anywhere else.

Just as economic development and infrastructure, including digital connectivity through subsea cables is essential to the stability of the region.

The historic agreement we’ve struck with Tuvalu is a powerful example of engaging with this combination of priorities.

It safeguards sovereignty, provides security against rising sea levels and respects the inherent dignity of that nation and its people.

This is the most significant piece of Pacific diplomacy Australia has been part of since our support for Papua New Guinea’s independence.

And it’s a reminder of how Australia can play to our unique strengths, the opportunities that only we can offer our neighbours.

That’s the spirit of our new Pacific Engagement Visa, which comes into effect next year.

And the improvements we’ve made to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme.  

In a region where more than one third of people live on less than $1000 a year, PALM workers send home an average of $1500 a month boosting Pacific economies and lifting families out of poverty and filling urgent gaps in our workforce, including in aged care and regional communities.

Our region is drawn closer by these economic and social connections - the personal ties that bind.

That’s also the beauty of a team from Papua New Guinea taking part in the National Rugby League.

It taps into a passion and a culture that people in our two nations share.

When I had the privilege being the first foreign leader to address the PNG Parliament in January this year I made it clear Australia was looking to finalise a Bilateral Security Agreement with our nearest neighbour, our close friend and our fellow democracy.

I’m pleased that we were able to sign that agreement when Prime Minister Marape visited Canberra this month.

And I look forward to welcoming him for his address to our Parliament in February next year, the first Pacific Island leader to be extended this invitation.  

Our Government’s careful, methodical and respectful approach, has delivered significant progress in the Pacific.

We have brought the same sense of calm and consistency to the work of stabilising our relationship with China. 

We are clear-eyed about the situation.

Mindful that for all the change the Australia and China relationship has undergone through 50 years now, we remain two nations with very different values and political systems.

I’ve said before that China does not see itself as a status quo power.

It seeks a region and a world that is much more accommodating of its ambitions and its interests.

And yet it is always important to make the point that China’s extraordinary and unparalleled economic achievements have been made possible by our region’s commitment to peace, freedom of navigation and respect for sovereignty.

This is where our Government’s patient, calibrated and deliberate approach to managing this relationship is so important.  

We’ve put a focus on rebuilding dialogue – and my visit to Beijing and Shanghai last month was another step in this process.  

This doesn’t mean compromising any of Australia’s core interests or values.

In fact, we use dialogue to advance those interests and articulate those values.

To advocate for the rules-based order, to assert our commitment to human rights and to affirm the peace and stability that has benefited both our nations.

Our approach has seen ministerial meetings resume, student exchange and tourism revived and the resumption of co-operation in central areas including climate change and consular issues.

I’m pleased most of the impediments to trade have now been removed.

Opportunities for our farmers, producers and exporters in barley, hay, coal and timber, and wine are back on track.

Between January and October last year, Australia exported $194 million worth of those products to China.

In the same period this year, it was $8.5 billion.

By the end of this year it will exceed $10 billion – and much more next year.

More than one in four Australian jobs relies on trade - and our single biggest trading partner is China.

The position we outlined on first coming to government has guided us: co-operate where we can, disagree where we must, and engage in the national interest.

This is a principled and practical way of managing complexity that is delivering benefits for Australia, China and the region.

As we take stock at the end of 2023, we can see that in every part of the world Australia is working to turn agreement into action.

To convert dialogue into delivery.

We are revitalising our bonds with the Pacific family.

Stabilising our relationship with China and contributing to strategic balance in the region.

Modernising our engagement with Asia more broadly.

And turning our alliance with the United States to face the future.

The people of Australia and the United States share a history of sacrifice in the cause of peace we hold a common commitment to democracy, freedom and equality.

Those enduring values guide us and bind us.

But ours is not just an alliance of rich history and deep affection - it is a pact between two Pacific nations.

The submarine technology we are securing through AUKUS will deliver Australia the single-biggest boost to our defence and deterrence capability, in our history.

It will transform our ability to contribute to the stability and security of the region.

The passing of the AUKUS legislation through the US Congress last week is an historic achievement.

This will enable the transfer of Virginia-class submarines to Australia and revolutionise the way our technology, research and defence industries co-operate.

This is the ‘innovation alliance’ President Biden talks about.

One we are strengthening through new engagement in technology, quantum computing and cybersecurity.

In May this year President Biden and I signed the Australia-United States Climate, Critical Minerals, and Clean Energy Transformation Compact.

A third pillar to the Australia and America’s alliance, to stand alongside our security and economic co-operation.

The biggest economic and technological change of any of our lifetimes is underway.

We can help shape it – and share its opportunities.

Not by seeking to compete with or outbid the Inflation Reduction Act but by deriving the maximum benefit from it moving Australia up the international value chain in critical minerals, energy and manufacturing.

I conclude tonight with this.

I said earlier that foreign policy cannot merely be a catalogue of things that are happening to us.
Nor should we treat it only as a survey of the challenges and obstacles we face.

When our Government invests in Australia’s capability, when we invest in our relationships we are not seeking to hold back a changing world, or isolate ourselves from it.

We are investing in Australia’s ability to shape the future - and to share in the benefits of change.

To seize the opportunities of global energy and technology transformation.

To re-anchor ourselves as an economic, security and development partner of choice in the region.

To power the next wave of economic and infrastructure growth in North Asia.

To partner with our allies in new fields of innovation with new skills and opportunities.

To use our status as an influential middle power to help secure the peace and security that underpins our prosperity.

We will always face difficult challenges and complex choices.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that this remains a time of profound opportunity.

That’s why we will continue to engage, we will continue to use Australia’s agency to advance Australia’s interests.

Securing our home.

Strengthening our region.

And shaping our future.


Source: The Hon Anthony Albanese MP