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It’s a privilege to be invited to speak at this University, from which both my parents and I graduated.
And it’s a particularly opportune time to be invited to speak on foreign policy given the dynamic and disruptive circumstances we face.
Labor’s foreign policy deals with the world as it is while at the same time working to change it for the better. In the language of the international relations texts some of you have been reading, it is both transactional and transformational.
As foreign policy involves an expression of national identity, we start with the knowledge of who we are: an independent, multicultural nation, proud of our diversity and confident about our place in the world.
Labor’s foreign policy is focused on the national interest – on affirming our identity, standing up for what we think is right, and enhancing our ability to build the nation we want to be and the world we want to live in.
But to change things for the better, we have to deal with the world as it is, and the world in which we now live is characterised by unprecedented disruption, a world in which power is deeply contested.
As students of international relations, you are no doubt familiar with Hans Morgenthau’s classic Politics Among Nations. One sentence stands out: “International politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power”.
While, for democratic nations, power is conditioned by values and exercised within the framework of the rule of law, Morganthau’s proposition is correct: power is at the centre of international relations. The acquisition, use and pursuit of national power define the essence of diplomacy.
Coming to terms with power, what it is, how to build and employ it, and how to construct a regional foreign policy architecture that encourages constructive outcomes from power competition – these are the challenges that Australia’s foreign policy must address.
Four inter-related questions are relevant to identifying the scope of these challenges.
First, who are we? What gives us our identity and power, without which a foreign policy lacks legitimacy and authority?
Second, what do we stand for? What are the values that provide the unity and inclusion that defines us as a robust and resilient democracy, and motivate our foreign policy?
Third, what do we want? What defines the purpose of our foreign policy, and gives it its energy? What are ‘our national interests’?
And fourth, what is our operating environment? What kind of world are we trying to secure our interests in, and how do we go about helping to shape its future?
Starting with the first question: who are we, and what gives us our identity and power?
National power has both quantitative and qualitative characteristics.
Geographical size, our natural resource base, our industrial and military capacity, and an educated, trained, inclusive, united and employed population – these are the quantitative elements of national power.
National culture, public attitude, the quality of national governance and a durable diplomacy – these are the qualitative elements of national power.
We often see ourselves as having less power than is actually the case. We use tentative phrases like “middle ranking power” and defensive terms like “punching above our weight”, as though we lack confidence in our standing and our ability to get things done.
Yet the facts are so different. Here are just a few indicators.
According to The World Bank, we are currently 13th in global GDP rankings, just behind South Korea. If we really were a ‘middle ranking power’, we would rank with Latvia and Estonia – economies less than one fortieth the size of ours.
While the university global ranking models are notoriously variable, seven of Australia’s universities consistently fall within the top 100 in the world, with the University of Adelaide placing just outside the top 100.
Our cities rank among the most liveable in the world. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, Adelaide ranked fifth in 2017, and tenth in 2018. Melbourne, Sydney and Perth are all consistent contenders for the top 10, and Lonely Planet ranked Canberra third in its list of the world’s best cities to visit in 2018.
Australia sits 3rd on the UN Human Development Index, which takes into account life expectancy, education and Gross National Income.
And with our love of sport, Australia ranked 10th on the medal tally at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
On virtually any measure, except population size (where we rank 53rd), Australia is a substantial nation with considerable power.
This brings me to the second question: what do we stand for? Central to Australia’s identity are our values: what we stand for defines who we are as a nation. Our values give coherence and strength to all dimensions of public policy, domains as distinct as education, health and social welfare, on one hand, and defence, security and foreign policy on the other.
While values and interests differ, they are not axiomatically alternatives in the construction of foreign policy. Values and interests are intimately interrelated, sometimes consistent and sometimes divergent.
What distinguishes the values system in democratic societies is the fact that our values come to a focus in what we term ‘the rule of law’.
At the core of the values to which we as Australians adhere is the intrinsic worth and dignity of each person by virtue of their shared humanity – their fundamental right to exist, to chart their own course through life, to live a life of worth and fulfilment.
While democracy is a principle of political participation as distinct from a value in the strict sense, it is a political expression of values. Democracy affirms that citizens matter, that they have a stake in their society, and that they can change direction as they see fit.
Values should inform all dimensions of public policy. That’s why values, as a core element in the construction of a foreign policy, are not just desirable, but necessary.
If that, in brief, tells us what we stand for, then what is it that we want? This brings us to our third question – a consideration of our national interests.
There are four core interests that underpin the framing and delivery of Labor’s foreign policy: the security of the nation and its people; the economic prosperity of the nation and its people; a stable, co-operative strategic system in our region anchored in the rule of law; and constructive internationalism.
Our ability to realise and advance these four core interests depends on harnessing our power as a nation.
Security goes to the essence of the contract between government and the people. But it is important to understand what security is. While defending the nation against armed attack is critical, a government’s responsibility for security extends far beyond national defence to embrace the fundamental wellbeing of the nation.
Governments everywhere are dealing with problems consequent upon increased global connectivity – cybercrime, pandemics, the displacement and movement of people, the threat of nuclear weapons and global terrorism. And, unless the global community is able to regroup around securing deep and effective cuts to global carbon emissions, climate change – like nuclear proliferation – is fast becoming an existential threat to humanity.
Economic strength is at the core of national power. It is also central to the wellbeing of citizens. Economic growth delivers rising living standards, technological innovation and social advancement. Economic growth delivers improvement in human welfare, lifts people out of poverty and creates opportunity for future generations.
Shared and growing economic prosperity contributes to the alignment of strategic interests.
In this context, Australia has a deep interest in stable, settled and consistent trading arrangements. First, we benefit from economic engagement with the world – imports and exports account for around 40 per cent of Australia’s GDP.
Secondly, open and consistent trading arrangements enable greater economic engagement between nations, and greater convergence of interests.
Thirdly, our relative economic size means we have much to lose from trade conflict predicated on a win/lose binary, where economic weight and the capacity to inflict economic harm become the primary determinants of outcomes.
And these are precisely the risks that the growing trade war between the US and China brings with it.
Australia has a direct interest in an open, rules-based international order in which countries work together to resolve tensions and to tackle problems.
When countries close themselves off, turn inward and disengage from the world, the risks of misunderstanding, tension, rivalry and conflict rise.
Notwithstanding our sizeable national power, we are not a global power. Yet we do have global interests. To realise our interests, we need both to shape emerging opportunities and to hedge against adversity. This is what constructive internationalism does: it deals with set-backs and disruption, while at the same time generating opportunities.
So, we need to support and advance an agreed international rules-based order, where those seeking to shape and make the rules do so through negotiation not through imposing their will on others.
As students of international relations, it is important that you see constructive internationalism as a fundamentally strategic concept: it was when Gareth Evans promoted it as ‘good international citizenship’ and it has become even more so as we seek to hedge against the consequences of disruption.
Constructive internationalism generates international public goods that reflect our values and meet our national interests. By working cooperatively, we create critical international public goods – such as global responses to nuclear proliferation and climate change, global trade rules, sustainable development goals, to name just a few – where we all draw benefits, even when the economic, environmental and security returns are different in kind and distribution.
And most important of all, constructive internationalism makes the world a better place.
So we come to the last of the questions I raised earlier: what is our operating environment?
The defining characteristic of the contemporary world is disruption.
In the economic domain, we see this in the rejection of trade rules internationally and the growth of the ‘gig’ economy domestically.
In the political domain, we see it in the resurgence of racism and right wing ideology around the world.
In the social domain, we see it in the growing ability of those who see themselves as alienated, disadvantaged, overlooked or forgotten to find their voice.
And in the technological domain, we see it in the fundamental changes to the nature of work that emergent technologies bring with them.
The disruption that we currently face is driven by a variety of structural factors, ranging from the economic and social inequality of which Thomas Piketty writes, refugee flows resulting from civil war and societal breakdown, consequent ethnic tension in neighbouring countries, the reappearance of nationalism, and the alarming re-emergence of national politics driven by ideology rather than good policy, and a clear sense of strategic competition between the world’s biggest powers.
This disruption is exacerbated by new tensions in the basic operating system underpinning the traditional competition for position and power. We are seeing a dramatic change in the use of economic power to achieve strategic aims.
In circumstances like these, it is easy to give in to uncertainty, become defensive and timid, keeping the head down so as neither to give offence nor be offended.
This would be exactly the wrong response. In times of uncertainty, advantage lies with whoever sets the agenda. And that is exactly what we should seek to do, practically, confidently, optimistically, and in coordination with our like-minded partners.
It is important to remember that disruption generates innovation – it creates unimagined opportunities. Our challenge is to identify them.
What are Labor’s key foreign policy themes?
First, as I mentioned earlier, openness is an economic and political imperative for Australia. We need to be active in our key international institutions, particularly the economic and development institutions such as the IMF, the ADB and the AIIB, and work to strengthen the authority of the WTO in fostering global free trade agreements.
We also need to work closely with the members of the G20, APEC and ASEAN.
As a multicultural society, we affirm who we are in our engagement with the region.
Second, the Pacific will be core business, and we’ll be serious about it. We need to pay heed to Prime Minister Tuilaepa of Samoa when he said recently that, just when the Pacific was becoming a more crowded and contested strategic space, the Pacific nations’ traditional partners seemed to have ‘left the neighbourhood’.
We will reverse the neglect of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Governments. But we also understand that our role in the region – being a “partner of choice” – is not an entitlement. Rather, it needs to be earnt.
That means we will need to need to demonstrate that we understand the region’s challenges and can offer support and leadership to assist them in their security and prosperity. Aid will be important, but our engagement must be more than that.
Unlike the Coalition, we understand the need to reflect our commitments to our Pacific neighbours in our actions.
The Boe Declaration, agreed at the recent meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, recommitted member states to the Paris Agreement and recognised climate change as “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.”
Labor called on the Government to support the declaration, and we welcomed its decision to do so.
But there remain those within the Coalition who continue to argue the Government should walk away from the Paris Agreement. In recent days the Prime Minister has argued it’s in Australia’s strategic interests to remain committed to the Paris Agreement because it’s important to our Pacific neighbours.
But mere words are not enough.
The Coalition has no plan to meet Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.
And its internal climate wars rage on.
After months of trying to get his National Energy Guarantee through his party room, we saw former Prime Minister Turnbull walk away from the emissions reduction component of the policy, before dumping the policy in its entirety days before he lost the Liberal leadership. And the new Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, has proudly declared the Government won’t replace the Renewable Energy Target with anything after it peaks in 2020.
The Coalition’s continued refusal to accept climate science and take meaningful action in response has a direct cost to our international reputation and our relations with our Pacific neighbours for whom climate change is an existential threat.
Third, our foreign policy will be grounded in the understanding that our nation’s success and security lies in our region. As Keating said, Australia needs to seek security in Asia rather than from Asia.
Labor’s FutureAsia plan, announced last year, is a framework for Australia which will build Asia relevant capabilities and foster greater regional collaboration.
This is a consistent tenet of Labor’s approach to the region, from Prime Minister Whitlam through Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard: spanning recognition of China, to the establishment of APEC, to a White Paper which recognised the need to shape domestic policy to meet the opportunity and challenges of the Asian century.
A Shorten Labor government will take the next steps in this journey, to achieve a step change in our relations with Asia. Not tinkering, not gradualism, but a fundamental whole of government, indeed whole of nation, effort to deepen and broaden our engagement with Asia.
And, as I’ve said previously, if we want to get it right with Asia, we need to get it right with China. We need a China policy that begins with what China actually is, not as others might perceive China to be or as China wishes to represent itself. We need a policy that is clear about where our interests come together and where they differ. We need a sophisticated and consistent approach to managing differences, while working together where we can. And we need to deal with China on the basis of respect, not fear.
Fourth, our relationship with the US is of paramount importance to us. Our alliance policy is built around our deeply shared constitutional and legal values as well as our shared interests in global stability, peace and security.
We need to ensure that our work with our ally is both sensitive to the changes underway in the Indo-Pacific region and conducive to creating a more confident, vibrant and robust regional security architecture.
Fifth, Labor’s constructive internationalism will see us both expand and deepen our engagement with the international community on two of the critical issues that demand urgent action – climate change and nuclear disarmament.
These are existential threats to humanity as a whole, and we cannot simply leave it to others to do our heavy lifting for us.
Finally, we need to revisit our development assistance policy, re-instating and, more importantly, re-aligning development assistance programs so that they deliver real benefits, especially to nations in our own region (Indonesia, Timor-Leste, PNG and the South Pacific).
We must respect that climate change is the major security concern of the Pacific nations. Infrastructure development is also essential across the Indo-Pacific, as is a focus on women and children, particularly in the education and health sectors.
All of this brings us back to the foreign policy challenges facing Australia and what we need to do about them. Labor’s answer is to address disruption head on by working confidently and collaboratively with our regional neighbours to realise the opportunities that disruption inevitably brings with it.
In short, we will deal with the world as it is, but seek to change it for the better.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.