Julie Bishop is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Interpreter has also asked Foreign Minister Bob Carr to submit an article making Labor's case.

The Coalition's foreign policy is designed to protect and project our reputation as a strong and prosperous nation and our values as an open liberal democracy.

Our focus will be on economic diplomacy, with the various operations within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade better aligned in support of that policy across government. This will mean that DFAT will have a clear focus on promoting the economic interests of the Australian people and Australian businesses in its international engagement.

While Australia is a global nation with global interests, our foreign policy focus must be on our region – the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific (Indo-Pacific).

Australia's standing in the world is at its highest when our influence in our region is at its strongest. While our standard of living relies on the capacity of our producers and manufacturers to export our goods and services across the globe, we need to capture the opportunities presented by the growing economies in our region.

A key pillar will be a renewed focus on finalising Australia's current free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations and building a network of bilateral and regional FTAs to broaden and diversify our trade relationships. Australia and New Zealand both commenced FTA negotiations with China in 2005, with New Zealand concluding its negotiations in 2008 while there has been little appreciable progress on an Australia-China FTA under Labor.

In spite of its overwhelming success, various Labor Trade Ministers have been dismissive of the New Zealand agreement and of the need for an Australia-China FTA, with one minister describing it as 'overrated'. The Coalition is mindful that Australian exporters are at an increasing disadvantage with their New Zealand competitors. There is a similar story in other important export markets such as South Korea, where the US has completed an FTA, allowing it to take market share from Australian beef exports, for example.

The ongoing failure of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations makes it more critical for Australia to build a strong web of bilateral and regional FTAs, as are many of our competitors including the US, New Zealand, Europe and Canada. This support is essential for Australian exporters and investors if the opportunities stemming from Asia's growth are to be expanded beyond the energy and mineral resource sectors.

Enhancing Australia's trade and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region means building mutual trust and respect. Australia must strive to restore, protect and enhance its reputation as a reliable trading partner, particularly in food exports.

It will take effort and commitment to restore Indonesia's faith in Australia as a reliable trading partner after the Government imposed a ban on live cattle exports without so much as a phone call to Indonesia to first discuss the issue. The Coalition will adopt a 'no surprises' policy with our neighbours and consult with them in advance of decisions or actions that affect their national interest.

Australia's foreign aid program must also have a clear focus on building economic sustainability in recipient nations in our region. The goal of AusAID should be to transform our overseas development assistance program from aid-donor-recipient relationships to sustainable economic partnerships.

In my meetings with leaders of developing countries in our region, they often express the desire to attract more private sector investment from Australia and to have stronger trading partnerships, rather than rely on more foreign aid. The Coalition has committed to reviewing the current guest worker program for Pacific Island nations to ensure it is operating effectively and delivering two-way economic benefits.

The extent to which Australia benefits from Asia's growth will also depend in large part on our ability to understand the social, political and economic systems of regional partners. A signature policy of a Coalition government will be the establishment of a New Colombo Plan that captures the spirit and vision of the Menzies-era initiative, although in reverse.

The Menzies Government reached out to the region through the original Colombo Plan, drawing in its best and brightest students to study in Australia. In doing so, it built a legacy of friendships and understanding between peoples and countries in our region that exists to this day. Over 30 years from the 1950s about 40,000 students became alumni. There are many examples of Colombo Plan participants who now occupy senior roles in politics, government and business in their home countries.

The New Colombo Plan will provide opportunities for our young students to live and study in our region, immersing themselves in the culture and language of another country. What differentiates the New Colombo Plan from existing scholarship and student exchange programs is that it will involve an internship with a business operating in the host country. A number of Australian companies have already expressed an interest in participating, while several overseas companies have also indicated they are keen to have Australian interns working with them. Several policy roundtables have been held to date, with a final policy position to be finalised in coming weeks. A dialogue is already underway with ministers and universities in the region, as well as with our higher education sector in Australia and the business community.

My vision is for the New Colombo Plan to become a rite of passage for young Australians, who will have the opportunity to live and study in our region and act as unofficial ambassadors of our nation, returning home with new skills, ideas and perspectives and enriched by their experiences. Not only will they add to Australia's productivity and prosperity, they will help broaden and deepen our engagement in the region.