House of Representatives Speech- Australia’s Foreign Relations

In the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s matter of public importance motion there is an almost palpable desperation to create some kind of relevance for the Liberal Party. They are almost bereft of coherent policy on foreign policy or international relations, as we have seen with the small assistance the member for Ryan has attempted to provide with his claim to have an interest in international relations—which, I regret to say, is usually manifest in his spending more time overseas than he does in Australia. In the speech she has just given, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition shows her failure to understand the broad strategic foreign policy framework which the Rudd government has worked so assiduously to create in the two years since the last election. What we have seen in the last two years since the election of the Rudd government is a renewed commitment to multilateralism and, with that renewed commitment to multilateralism, a regaining of the respect of the nations of the world for Australia’s position in the world.

In the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s matter of public importance motion there is an almost palpable desperation to create some kind of relevance for the Liberal Party. They are almost bereft of coherent policy on foreign policy or international relations, as we have seen with the small assistance the member for Ryan has attempted to provide with his claim to have an interest in international relations—which, I regret to say, is usually manifest in his spending more time overseas than he does in Australia. In the speech she has just given, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition shows her failure to understand the broad strategic foreign policy framework which the Rudd government has worked so assiduously to create in the two years since the last election. What we have seen in the last two years since the election of the Rudd government is a renewed commitment to multilateralism and, with that renewed commitment to multilateralism, a regaining of the respect of the nations of the world for Australia’s position in the world.

There is a long list of foreign policy achievements which I have not even remotely got the time to deal with in the time available. I would start by pointing to the way in which Australia’s commitment to multilateralism and engagement with the world is enabling Australia to participate in the global battle—and we should not be in any doubt about its global nature—to deal with climate change. What we saw from the former government was a disengagement with the global process in relation to climate change. What we have seen from the Rudd government is an engagement at every level with the councils of the world, an engagement which will enable Australia to play a major role, we hope, at Copenhagen. The Prime Minister has said that he has been invited by Denmark’s Prime Minister Rasmussen to be one of the ‘friends of the chair’. Australia has been instrumental in strengthening and confirming the role of the G20 as the premier institution for global economic governance, and Australia’s participation in the G20 has enabled our country to raise climate change issues in that forum as well.

I will just list a range of other relationships that the Rudd government has forged and is working on, all of which have been able to be called upon for aid in relation to the global battle against climate change. We could point to APEC, which was of course initiated by a Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, in 1989. APEC is now flourishing. It was attended by the Prime Minister last week, and it of course has a link with the G20. Nine of the members of the G20 are also members of APEC. One of those common members is Australia, and Australia has been able to raise climate change in both of those forums.

Australia is spearheading efforts in the Pacific region to secure stability and security for small island states. We have been working hard on stabilising the Solomon Islands and we have been pressing for an early return to democracy in Fiji. The role that Australia has been playing in the Pacific has enabled Australia, again in the climate change context, to champion the particularly pressing need that a number of the smaller countries in the Pacific have for action to be taken on climate change. Australia is currently the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and at the Cairns conference was able to be instrumental in the delivery of the Pacific Leaders’ Climate Change Call to Action, which of course is a call to action to deal with the threats to some of our Pacific neighbours.

In September, at the request of the UN Secretary-General, Australia co-chaired a roundtable at the UN Special Session on Climate Change. We have been able to forge a relationship with Mexico on climate change. At the G8 meeting at L’Aquila in Italy in July—and Australia is not a member—Australia was able to attend and we helped to form a two degrees Celsius, 450 million parts per million ambition for global action on climate change. I have no doubt left out some other multilateral engagements that Australia has been able to make to assist in the global battle against climate change, but I should also mention the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, which Australia launched at that meeting of the G8 at L’Aquila in Italy. That is how the new form of engagement, the commitment to multilateralism, that Australia has demonstrated under the careful stewardship of foreign minister Smith and Prime Minister Rudd, has been able to assist us in relation to climate change.

But I also wanted to mention just how absurd are some of the nitpicking propositions that were advanced by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, notably in relation to China and in relation to Australia’s longstanding and continuing support for Israel. In relation to China, I happen to have coincided with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on a visit to China. I participated with you, Deputy Speaker Burke, in a parliamentary delegation, led by the President of the Senate, which arrived in Beijing on 1 November. Over the subsequent 11 days we visited Shanghai, Chengdu and Lhasa, finishing in Hong Kong. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not present at any of the very high level meetings that the parliamentary delegation was able to have with the Chinese leadership. Who knows what the Deputy Leader was listening to, because, at the parliamentary delegation’s meetings with the Chinese leadership—and I should stress that it was at the highest levels of the Chinese leadership—we heard over and over again about China’s commitment to its relationship with Australia and how much China values its relations with Australia. And just before the parliamentary delegation went to the People’s Republic of China, there was of course the visit by Vice Premier Li Keqiang.

Perhaps the most significant of the meetings that our parliamentary delegation had with the Chinese leadership was with the Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, who made it very clear just how much China values its relationship with Australia, pointing to the massive increase in trade with Australia in recent years. Our two-way trade with China has grown from quite a small amount when another Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, restored our relations with China to some $78 billion in 2008. The senior Chinese leaders with whom we met, who included the Deputy Minister for Commerce, Madam Ma, pointed out, as is obvious, that as a result of the global financial crisis there had been some lessening of that two-way trade. But they were at pains to point out in all of our meetings that the lessening of the two-way trade between China and Australia has been a smaller lessening than the trade drops experienced with other countries.

As the foreign minister has just told the House, the relationship we have with China is one which does not prevent our government from raising human rights issues when those issues need to be raised. We as a delegation were able to raise with the Chinese leadership our concerns about the human rights situation in Tibet and about the need for a speedy resolution of the situation of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu. The strength of the relationship is demonstrated by the fact that we are able to raise these matters.

In relation to Israel, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should be ashamed of herself for suggesting that there has been any lessening in the strength of Australian support for the state of Israel. She omitted to mention—and this is the selective approach she took to almost all of the topics she mentioned—the support Australia gave to Israel during the Gaza conflict at the start of this year; the vote that Australia made at, and Australia’s position in withdrawing from, the Durban review conference and its assistance to ensure that other countries did the same; the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Israel as part of the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in June this year; and Australia’s position on the Goldstone report.