National interest, good international citizenship and Labor’s foreign policy
On 31 May, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, spoke at the Lowy Institute on how Australia can be a better international citizen.
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The US Alliance, our region, global engagement.
Most mainstream thinking in this country accepts these as the main tenets of Australian foreign policy.
Parties, experts and great institutions such as this one may differ over emphasis and approach, but there’s broad agreement on the component parts – and their central importance.
Perhaps this is why foreign policy often plays a marginal role in Australian election campaigns.
Elections are designed to amplify difference – but foreign policy is most often about continuity and seeking common ground. And I think that is proper.
Campaigns are built on concentrated points of contrast.
Yet – even if foreign policy doesn’t shift a single vote in a single seat at this election – Australia’s place in the world, our future in our region, and our responsibilities as a good international citizen deserve to be part of the national conversation.
Because there are differences between Labor and the Liberals and Labor and the Greens - and those differences matter.
The key difference between the two major political parties, the progressive and the conservative forces in foreign policy traditions, is foundational.
Labor believes that good international citizenship is a critical driver to achieving a secure and prosperous Australia.
For as Gareth Evans observed, “good international citizenship is no more — and no less — than the pursuit of enlightened self-interest”.
Good international citizenship aligns with enduring Labor values of solidarity, fairness, equality, justice and inclusion.
We believe strongly that our national security and prosperity improve with greater international security and prosperity.
By acting as a good international citizen, by enhancing the rules-based international order and by promoting respect for universal human rights, we are working for long-term peace and prosperity for Australian people.
As we build Australia’s international reputation we also build economic and strategic advantage.
It is in this area of difference that Labor has crafted its proud foreign policy tradition.
A century has passed since the First World War.
Since Australia became – in Banjo Patterson’s words – ‘to know what nations know, and feel what nations feel’.
Yet it took a second, deadlier, more devastating conflict for the world to learn that ‘total war’ could only end in total destruction.
The First World War energised efforts to create a system to regulate inter-state behaviour.
But it took the Second World War, and 60 million dead, to make the need for such a system undeniable.
A century after Australians died in their thousands in the mud of the Western Front, we no longer see war as a grand adventure…nor an inevitable outcome of competing interests.
For all its imperfections, the international system of institutions, rules and norms established since the Second World War, continue to influence the behaviour of states, even powerful ones.
But just as the dawn of the 20th century unleashed massive social, economic and technological change across Europe and North America—that transformation is being repeated at a greater speed and on a greater scale in our own region, the Indo-Pacific.
With this comes unparalleled opportunities for Australia, and significant challenges too.
Not just a checklist, to be worked through one-at-a-time.
As Allan Gyngell has said the challenges we face are more complicated, more interrelated and more internationalised.
Take the impacts of climate change, of conflict, of people movement driven by poverty and inequality, of health crises and of course terrorism – all threats to our security.
The decisions that we make in this decade, and the actions we take as a global community, are writing the history of this era, and defining the years ahead.
We won’t be wealthier or safer if we only seek safety and wealth inside the walls of a fortress we build for ourselves.
Achieving a prosperous and secure future for our nation demands that we look beyond our borders.
This has always been the Labor way.
A foreign policy tradition of Australia as an enthusiastic participant in establishing international frameworks: the laws, norms and international institutions that govern international behaviour.
Of course, the names, places and stories are familiar to many of you.
San Francisco in 1945, Doc Evatt, drafting the Charter of the United Nations.
Advocating for his vision of a UN – a place where every nation had an empowered voice – not just the great powers.
Ben Chifley’s decision to support the birth of an Indonesian Republic, rather than the revival of a Dutch colony.
Whitlam, as Opposition Leader, leaving footsteps in China for the United States to follow.
And as Prime Minister, inspiring a national change of consciousness in the way that Australia looked at the world and our place within it.
Gough helped Australia move from the narrow to the inclusive, from insularity to openness.
Soon after being sworn in he said that:
“Our thinking is toward… an Australia which will enjoy a growing standard as a distinctive, tolerant, cooperative and well-regarded nation not only in the Asian Pacific Region but in the world at large.”
This sense of national self, and Gough’s staunch belief in the international law, established Australia as an authoritative and independent voice on the world stage.
Whitlam established the Australian Development Assistance Agency and increased Australia’s development assistance — a commitment that was continued by successive Labor governments.
Of course, the Abbott Opposition went into the 2013 election saying that they too were committed to an aid funding target of 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income.
But instead, the aid program has subsequently been gutted — and is now the weakest in Australian history.
Within two months of taking Government, Whitlam ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty, something previous governments had refused to do. In fact, it was part of the flurry of ratification of international treaties and support for conventions.
Labor today remains committed to strengthening non-proliferation regimes and pursuing responsible nuclear disarmament.
Our disarmament efforts have been described by the Coalition as ‘utopian’.
But we believe, as President Obama said in Hiroshima, that we need a moral revolution on nuclear weapons.
We also know that we have been successful in the past.
The Hawke Government established the Australia Group, the Keating Government launched the Canberra Commission, the Rudd Government established, together with Japan, the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
This is part of our proud and progressive tradition.
Australia as an engaged member of the global community of nations.
During Australia’s previous term on the Security Council, in 1985-86, Foreign Minister Bill Hayden and our UN Ambassador Richard Woolcott, who is with us here today, drove Council action on Apartheid - furthering foreign policy priority that Australia pursued over successive governments.
Bob Hawke and Gareth Evans initiated the APEC forum and the economic co-operation across the Pacific Rim that it has delivered.
Gareth spearheaded the Cambodian peace process, returning normality to a people who were devastated by genocide and civil war – and bringing far greater stability to the region.
Prime Minister Paul Keating made APEC a leaders’ forum – and urged Australia to look for its security in Asia, and not from Asia.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith worked to have the United States included in the East Asia Summit, expanding US engagement in our region.
Bob Carr brought to a successful conclusion our campaign for a seat on the Security Council. Hopefully, it is now uncontroversial that Labor’s Security Council bid was in the national interest.
An accepted piece of bipartisan wisdom that Australia can show leadership at a global level.
And we are proud, of course, of the work Prime Minister Julia Gillard in establishing regular and formal leader-level dialogues between China and Australia—a foreign policy achievement which will only grow in importance over time.
Because there is no more important foreign policy consideration for Australia today than the rise of China as a prosperous, peaceful and stable world power.
The emergence of China as both a regional and global superpower represents tremendous opportunities and benefits for Australia.
We must effectively and independently engage with China.
With our other partners in Asia, too.
But this commitment to the region, and to further developing our relationships with its major actors, does not mean that our commitment to our Alliance with the US is any way diminished.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale rejected Australia’s Alliance with the US on this very stage, describing it as ‘stifling’.
It’s an odd choice of word — seemingly designed to create a headline without really advancing an argument.
And drawn from a sense of impotence that, to my mind, does not exist in the frank, honest friendship at the core of the US Alliance.
I do, however, value the opportunity it gives me to reiterate the value that Labor places on the US Alliance – and the strategic and economic benefit that it has long delivered, not just for Australia, but for our region too.
Our ability to be positive and assertive in our engagement in the region is bolstered by the confidence and security provided by our Alliance with the United States.
The Greens want Australia to shun the world’s leading democracy, but don’t really know where we should go.
It’s a pattern common to their foreign policy – the search for righteous indignation and the embrace of false binaries.
The Greens also oppose the current military campaign against Da’esh in the Middle East, without really providing any credible alternative to prevent that organisation murdering, raping, and enslaving men, women, and children, and urging attacks in Australia.
Australia under Labor will continue to be a reliable ally to the United States.
But we will disagree with our ally when it is in our interest to do so. It's also in the global interest that we should be independent within the alliance.
As Kim Beazley said, we want an alliance, not compliance.
We are more valuable as an ally if we act confidently and independently within the Alliance.
We should have disagreed in 2003, as the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was such a terrible mistake with such long-trailing consequences.
Our value as an ally increases when we are prepared to speak up, to question, analyse and act thoughtfully.
While acknowledging the conspicuous flaws in the current system, Labor supports the United Nations and other multilateral institutions as key instruments in our foreign policy too.
Because some of the most pressing and serious challenges facing us can never be solved unilaterally, even bilaterally, perhaps even regionally.
They require truly global action.
The international system provides a platform from which we can project our voice and our national interests well beyond the comparative size of our economy and our armed forces.
Under Labor, we secured a spot in the Security Council for the first time in a generation.
You will remember that the Liberals sneered at us when we embarked on our bid, threatening to cancel it during the 2010 election.
And yet, as John Langmore has pointed out, Australia realised much during its term, on Syria, on MH17, on small arms, on human rights in North Korea.
We should not forget nor minimise the contribution the United Nations and its associated organisations have made to the modern world.
Because of the United Nations, smaller states have an international voice.
And countries like Australia can demonstrate global leadership.
Labor recognises the interdependence of nations — the interdependence of global opportunities and global challenges.
Successful Australian interaction with the countries of the Indo-Pacific — our third pillar — will be achieved by meaningful engagement in the region, grounded in strong bilateral relationships, and real commitment to multilateral processes and rules-based norms.
A Shorten Labor Government would promote cooperative and mutually beneficial relationships with our key regional partners.
At the same time we will pursue closer engagement with key regional institutions — including ASEAN, the East Asia Summit and through the APEC meetings.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd emphasised the need for strong and effective regional institutional arrangements – and indeed Kevin has still been doing a great deal of work in his retirement on this issue – to account for the rebalancing of global economic power currently underway, ensuring these institutions steer the region towards peace, security and prosperity.
Australia must be part of shaping new institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
We should have been a founding member, not a hesitant, last-minute participant.
The London G20 conference lessened the impact of the Global Financial Crisis and a Labor Government played a key role in building up this institution reflecting the changing economic relationships since the Second World War.
The legitimate aspirations that a number of countries had to be at the decision-making table when it came to managing the effects of the Global Financial Crisis.
The Gillard Government launched the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper to ensure that Australia’s engagement with Asia was promoted at every opportunity; methodically, consistently and over the long-term.
We established a whole of government approach, building people-to-people links that would support a genuine place for Australia within Asia.
The electronic book burning that wiped the Asian Century White Paper from departmental history was petty, short-sighted and typical of a small-minded approach in so many of the big questions.
A Labor Government will revive and redouble our efforts to build Australia’s relationship with Asia through exchange and cooperation across every sector of the economy and our community.
Thriving in the Asian Century—seizing the economic opportunities and managing the security challenges—requires an understanding of the history, cultures, societies and languages of the nations to our north.
The language component of this literacy is currently lagging, with more Australian school students studying Indonesian in 1972 than do so today.
This needs to change, as the capacity for Australians to build deeper ties with Asia will only be enhanced by an increase in proficiency of Asian languages, and the better cultural understanding that comes with learning a language.
That’s why a Shorten Labor Government will establish an Asian Century Teaching Scholarship Program which will enable 100 qualified Australian language teachers each year to complete language immersion programs in targeted Asian countries, with a priority on cementing Asian language proficiency.
I began this speech by looking back at the development of the international system in which we now work.
Looking forward, the international centre of global economic activity will continue to track towards our region.
The growing economic power of our Asian neighbours is reflected in their expanding diplomatic influence and foreign policy aspirations.
These nations will test Australia’s economic influence, as well as our diplomatic influence both regionally and globally.
Passing this test demands more of our national energy and imagination.
We cannot hope to play the role of quiet observer in the shifts in power occurring on our doorstep.
We will not prosper in the Asian Century by retreating into the Anglosphere - any more than we will enhance our reputation in the region by seeking to shirk our obligations as a prosperous nation, or opting to pass by on the other side of the road.
Both major parties often say that the first responsibility of a government is to ensure the security and prosperity of its citizens.
In the same breath we should state clearly that Asia’s peaceful and prosperous rise is critical to us meeting this responsibility.
And that demands that Australia be a consequential and confident actor in our region, and in the international system more broadly.
A country that can influence global and regional institutions and can shape the Asian strategic environment — pursuing creative diplomacy that will ensure that our values and interests are protected for the long-term.
The rules-based international order has brought so much benefit to our country, and we should act to maintain and support that system.
We cannot expect other nations to adhere to a system we do not ourselves uphold.
On whaling, on the settlement of international trade and maritime disputes, on French nuclear testing in the Pacific, we insisted others play by the rules.
On the overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea, we urge all parties to abide by both the terms and the spirit of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Australia has a good record of acting in defence of this system, but not a flawless one.
Australia’s key role in securing independence for East Timor was a proud moment for our nation.
But we have allowed the maritime boundary dispute to poison relations, and Labor will change this.
I announced earlier this year that a Shorten Labor Government will intensify efforts to conclude good faith negotiations with Timor-Leste to settle the maritime boundaries between our two countries.
If I am Foreign Minister after July 2 I intend to travel to Timor-Leste before the end of August to launch negotiations.
If we are not successful in negotiating a settlement with our neighbour, we are prepared to submit ourselves to international adjudication or arbitration.
It is in the national interest of both countries that we do so— and other nations collectively support the institutional arrangements that will assist us.
It is also in our national interest to proactively combat climate change, both domestically and internationally.
Domestically, Labor would adopt ambitious and achievable targets and measures that set a common sense pathway to a low pollution economy.
Far from the world of global summitry, climate change is an existential threat to some of our neighbours in the Pacific.
I saw this first hand when Bill Shorten, Richard Marles and I visited PNG, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati last year.
We should be amplifying the voice of our Pacific island neighbours — as several leaders of their leaders have asked us to — ensuring that the world understands the plight facing these low-lying, small, island nation states.
Both our Immigration Minister and our Foreign Minister have publicly joked about the existential threat posed to some Pacific countries.
We are currently under-doing engagement with our Pacific island neighbours on climate change, but also on broader questions of security and economic development.
And when we withdraw from our near region, others may take our place.
Australia has a proud history of engaging with our Pacific island neighbours — through the Pacific Patrol Boats, through institution strengthening, education exchange, technical assistance, and through RAMSI.
But I fear that this is being lost through aid cuts and through indifference, and indeed, through our own bureaucracy which undervalues the strategic importance of our Pacific neighbourhood.
We should be looking at the next steps in co-operation, particularly regarding climate change adaptation.
We should also be exploring with our friends in the Pacific, ways to prepare for a future where some parts of their countries become uninhabitable.
Some of these countries are making their own contingency plans — and we should be supporting them.
More than six decades ago, a great Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley defined the Labor mission in a phrase that no-one has been able to better.
He spoke, of course, of the “light on the hill”.
The moral duty to work for “the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand”.
This duty was expressed in our recent aid announcement.
Labor supports a strong aid program because as a good global citizen Australia has a duty to help reduce poverty and inequality, and respond effectively to humanitarian crises.
Labor supports a strong aid program because it helps keep Australia safe, by working to tackle serious diseases and violence in our region, and across the world.
Labor supports a strong aid program because it benefits Australia’s economy when countries go from being aid recipients to trading partners.
I believe that there is much more that Australian ideas and values can offer in shaping a better world.
Australia can have a more creative and more confident presence on the world stage.
The Labor Party stands apart from any other party, Left or Right, with its coherent articulation of the conceptual framework behind our foreign policy.
The Labor Party stands apart from any other party, with a clear vision at the core of our foreign policy.
We believe in being good international citizens, because it’s our moral duty, but also because it serves our long term national interest better.
Good international citizenship is a principle worth emphasising.
It’s a priority that we are proud to advocate.
It is the idea at the heart of our plans for the future of Australia and our place in the world.
Here – and anywhere – where we may give a helping hand.