Australian Institute of International Affairs
National Conference
Monday 24 October 2022
Canberra, ACT

Thank you for the opportunity to be here at the Australian Institute of International Affairs and to address this conference, it really is a pleasure to be here.

I begin by recognising the depth of foreign policy expertise assembled here today and across the membership of the Institute. There is much knowledge, wisdom and experience to be harnessed within your ranks, which I look forward to doing as the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and, hopefully, one day as the Minister.

This conference plays a key role in keeping the Australian foreign affairs community abreast of the challenges faced around the world, the opportunities we should seize, and how Australia can be an influential contributor to our region, within the global community, and in pursuit of our national interest.

I welcome the opportunity to serve in this crucial portfolio, bringing insights from time in government across cabinet portfolios in education, trade and finance – each with its international interface – along with the experience of having served on the national security and expenditure review committees of cabinet.

Many of you I worked or engaged with during my time as minister for trade, tourism and investment in the former Coalition government.

In that portfolio I was able to see first-hand the dedication of many in the international affairs community to achieving tangible benefits for both Australia and our partner nations as part of a strategy focussed on economic diplomacy.

Economic diplomacy is important to every nation, as each seeks to maximise the benefits to their people and their status of achieving stronger economic outcomes.

We should never forget that our influence as a nation, Australia’s influence as a nation is enhanced by our nation’s economic strength. We are just the 53rd most populous nation yet we are the 13th largest economy.

It is by virtue of our economic strength that we sit at the table of the G20, fund missions across so many nations and international institutions, provide valued development assistance to others and are a credible national security ally to our closest of partners.

However, economic diplomacy itself is intrinsically intertwined with successful engagement across cultural, security and other diplomatic domains.

The many trade and cooperation agreements secured during our time in government recently would not have been possible without effective relations and understanding across nations. Equally, such agreements will, ideally, play a critical role in strengthening our international relationships beyond the economic domain, better equipping Australia to traverse the increasingly difficult challenges we face now and in the future.


In preparing to speak to you today, I was reflecting on the five months that have passed since the election and since my appointment as Shadow Minister.

In just that very short period since Australia changed government in an orderly way – demonstrating the strength and stability of our democracy – it is staggering to consider just how much the world has continued to face … and sadly not for the better.

Like an increasing number of global leaders, I grew up in what we may now consider to be an era of rose-coloured glasses. While the world still has many challenges, the outlook then was widely encouraging.

We witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nuclear disarmament was cooperatively embraced by the two global powers of the time. Terrorism was isolated to global hotspots. Democracy, freedom and equality were spreading. With growing economic liberalism wealth was growing, while poverty was shrinking. And nations were working together effectively to tackle universal challenges like the hole in the Ozone Layer.

Fukiyama’s “End of History” now not only feels like a different era, it was a different era.

If the global challenges posed by COVID-19 with its economic and health impacts were not enough for the world to contend with…

Who would have imagined that we would be here today facing threats emanating from Russia to activate nuclear capability?

Though people will debate the genuineness of the threat, it is coming from an embattled leader closer to the end of his power than the start and history is littered with many examples of what that confluence of events can bring.

As Ukraine’s resistance remains steadfast, and hundreds of thousands of Russians flee their country to avoid Putin’s draft, it compounds the pressure on a leader who is clearly a major risk to the world.

Steadfast we must remain in support of Ukraine and the clear defeat of Putin. All nations have an interest in respect for their borders and their sovereignty.

We will all sleep a little more secure if Putin’s anachronistic invasion of another nation is defeated. Equally, we will all be a little less secure if it is eventually successful and tolerated.

Australia has joined the world in giving much to support the defence of Ukraine. We have been right to do so and we should give more, doing so as swiftly and comprehensively as possible.


Whilst the outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine was already underway at the time of the change of government in Australia, the dire ramifications of war in Europe are now being felt across the global economy.

Spiralling energy prices and rising inflation are making life harder for households and businesses, sparking increased risks of downturn and recession potentially in some parts of the world.

While COVID fades as a policy challenge in most nations, although notably not China, the other challenges for governments are rising. Economic challenges, security challenges, budgetary challenges and energy challenges, which will only make meeting, in the case of the latter, climate change targets even harder.

We are seeing these pressures mount from the developed nations of Europe to the less developed, such as Sri Lanka in our Indo-Pacific region.

Fortunately, Australia is better insulated from some of these challenges than many of our counterparts. We face them today with a stronger economy, comparatively less debt, a comparatively stronger budget, as an energy exporter and as a nation that already increased its defence investment.

But we are far from immune. There will be direct and indirect impacts upon Australia, including the potential that such pressures make effective multilateral cooperation even harder


Sadly, Ukraine has not been the only source of military tension in the last five months.

Even though we knew the threat was ever-present, were we ready to see live ballistic missiles from China being fired over Taiwan?

What will the long-term impact be from the firing of Chinese missiles into Japanese territory?

As if they were feeling overlooked by these challenges and crises, North Korea has recently sought to reinforce to our region and the world the threat it poses to peace and stability.

We have been inspired by Iranians – led by schoolgirls – standing up for some of the most basic of human rights and values. Although simultaneously we are demoralised as the ruling Iranian regime reminds us of the depravity of those who govern for their own ends rather than those they are supposed to uplift.

Regional skirmishes have flared, in places like the Armenian – Azerbaijan border. The 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings reminded us that the threat of terrorism remains ever present. And another COP looms large, posing yet another moment to see if global cooperation can really work together to address an issue that we all face.

Also in the short time since the election, we have seen the end of the second Elizabethan era with the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Her life should serve as a reminder to us all, especially those in public office, to put duty first – duty to protect against threats to the peace and prosperity of our nations, duty to stand against those who undermine the rules-based international order and duty to stay true to values, our word, our commitments.


We are amid the most complex geo-strategic environment in decades.

The global challenges and their impacts on Australia and our region have multiplied.

They demand effective domestic and foreign policy.

As you all appreciate, Australia has historically maintained a very strong bipartisan approach wherever possible when it comes to foreign policy.

Indeed, this long history of bipartisanship has been the bedrock of Australia’s success as we engage internationally and have built our ability to influence global outcomes.

I assure you that, as shadow minister, I will do my best to maintain this historic approach and offer the Opposition’s support to the government whenever it is in the national interest to do so.

Bipartisanship, which has smoothed changes of government by providing for broad continuity of foreign policy from one Australian government to another, has helped Australia withstand challenges throughout much of our modern history. It will remain necessary to help us address the increasingly complex challenges we face, and those we are yet to confront.

Threats against our sovereignty – attempts to disrupt and undermine our democracy – cyber-attacks on government and key institutions – these are all parts of a new theatre of subversive attack that have one purpose – to rattle our people and shake faith in our democratic principles.

Our security agencies have told us how foreign actors are increasingly active in our community here on Australian soil seeking to influence and interfere.

In government the Coalition strengthened our defences to these threats, responding with significant tranches of national security legislation which was implemented with bipartisan support in the main – to give our security agencies the tools and powers they need to keep us safe.

Significant new foreign interference and foreign influence reforms have enhanced the capability of Australia to counter foreign actor activity against us here at home and abroad.

While improvements to these regimes will no doubt be made over time, our world-leading legislative reforms saw a recent European Parliament delegation to Australia look at our models and, as the French Member of the delegation, Raphael Glucksmann, said: “Australia is at the forefront of this fight against foreign interference…”

Reinvigorating and elevating The Quad has been crucial to building cooperation in combatting new and emerging threats across our region. While complementing the welcome adoption of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

The AUKUS security partnership will be critical for Australia’s defence in the years and decades ahead, building upon our deep security and intelligence cooperation amongst all of our Five Eyes partners.

In many respects, the success of Australia’s approach in building this framework can be seen in the bipartisan support it has enjoyed.


In this fora I want to acknowledge the work of our Coalition foreign ministers from this time, Julie Bishop and Marise Payne.

They spoke to Institute conferences and events a number of times.

Their dedication and commitment to the foreign affairs portfolio, along with Marise’s significant contribution as defence minister, placed Australia in a strong position to withstand the pressures we face and to positively influence the outcomes we seek.


As I said one of the reasons I am delighted to be in the foreign affairs portfolio is because it builds on my former rolls, particularly my time as trade minister.

That role gave me the opportunity to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and gave me a keen sense of understanding of its important role in representing and advancing Australia’s interests.

Advancing those interests through trade is absolutely critical, because one in five Australian jobs depend upon trade.

It was, in part, the Coalition’s success in trade negotiations that helped Australia emerge from the height of the global pandemic so successfully.

The Australian economy and labour market outperformed all major advanced economies.

Under the Coalition, we finalised 11 trade agreements, stretching from north Asia, through ASEAN, to Pacific Island nations, across the Pacific, to UK and ultimately an agreement with India. This network took the share of Australian trade covered by Free Trade Agreements from 27 per cent when our government was elected to almost 80 percent by the time of its conclusion.

Obviously, these FTAs have proved enormously successful in building economic outcomes as we increase two-way trade under. They also help to strengthen the resilience of the Australian economy.

But notably they also deepen the connections we have with signatory countries and are a building-block for further strengthening our people-to-people links, in areas such as education.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the Japanese Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Shingo Yamagami.

He enthusiastically informed me that in 2020, Japan was the biggest investor in Australia for that year, surpassing the United States.

Whilst of course the US remains the largest investor overall, His Excellency stressed how Japan’s increasing focus on Australia – and resulting investment – has developed as a direct consequence of the closer trade and other economic ties we have built.

It was an early act of the then new Coalition Government to sign the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement in July 2014.

I note that that agreement was then signed on behalf of Japan by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a towering figure on the global stage for many years, a great friend to Australia and who, so sadly, was lost earlier this year in an act of violence that shook us all. I pay tribute to his legacy.

These strong relationships, often founded on a bedrock of trade ties, help strengthen our shared interests across governments, businesses and peoples.

There should be no doubt how fundamental many of these agreements, not just trade agreements, but also significantly expanded network of strategic partnership agreements, will be in our future. Agreements with countries that enable closer cooperation where we have shared values or interests can only build our sphere of interest.

Such bilateral and plurilateral agreements work alongside our commitments to multilateralism and the rules-based international order.

Australia, rightly, seeks to be a good partner who adheres to the obligations made under the very agreements and treaties we enter into. Our partners should have confidence in the genuineness of undertakings that we make and we should expect the same of them.

The tariffs on Australian barley and wine, as well as indirect sanctions being applied to our forestry industry, resources sector, live seafood and other industries, represent breaches of the China – Australia FTA and of China’s WTO obligations.

These are deeply disappointing actions for which Australia is rightly using dispute resolution mechanisms of the WTO to right a wrong, but which would be better resolved by China swiftly agreeing in a bilateral setting to end such attempted coercion.

The recent contact between Australia and China’s Foreign Ministers is welcome. I hope there will be more of it.

The last leader level dialogue between our nations occurred between then prime minister Morrison and Premier Li Keqiang in the margins of the last face to face meeting of the East Asia Summit, in 2019 in Bangkok. I was present for that meeting.

I would hope – and expect – a similar opportunity to eventuate for Prime Minister Albanese when face to face G20 and EAS events occur next month in Indonesia and Cambodia. This will also mark the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Australia – China diplomatic relations.

Such a meeting, if it occurs, will also be welcome. The refusal of China to engage in ministerial or leader level dialogue over recent times has been counterproductive. Whatever the differences, talking is the last thing that should be ceased, not the first.

However, in any talks it is essential that Australia remain resolute in defence of our national interest and explicit in defence of our values.

Ultimately, the test of any talks will be in the outcomes yielded.

Critically, we should press for progress on worrying and sensitive consular cases, which have recently passed yet more critical deadlines with no known progress, leaving individuals and families in a continuing state of despair.

We should of course press for an end to the trade sanctions, for respect for international laws, for the safety of our defence forces, and for basic human rights to be upheld. We should also seek areas for cooperation, where possible, while keeping our eyes wide open to the challenges that appear even more evident after the last couple of days.


COVID frustratingly prevented most direct face-to-face contact from early 2020 until around the time of the recent Australian election. This was especially true with Pacific Island nations who imposed strict travel restrictions reflecting their early vulnerability to COVID.

So it has also been welcome to see our nearest neighbours prioritised for visits by the new government now that borders are again open and travel again possible.

Our nearest neighbours naturally held out the welcome mat to meet the new administration and would no doubt welcome that it was occurring on their own home soil.

However, it has not all been smooth sailing. Some in the new government gave the impression, pre-election, that a few extra visits or a change in tone could solve complex problems. This has been exposed as overly simplistic.

Take the offer of election funding to the Solomon Islands, for example.

Some international media described the handling of the initial offer, made by the Albanese Government, which was publicly savaged by the Sogavare Government, as “dunderhead diplomacy’.

I note Minister Wong made comments interpreted by some media outlets as a criticism of Timor Leste President Ramos Horta for his use of the media on a sensitive bilateral matter.

Given the terrible public handling of the Solomon Islands election funding offer or, more recently, the offensive way – acknowledged by the Government now – of the handling of the decision on West Jerusalem, perhaps Minister Wong needs to hold herself to her own standards around media sensitivities.

Nonetheless, I do welcome the efforts of the new Government to build upon the Pacific Step-Up of the Coalition Government, where we opened new missions, established new infrastructure funding, made available new climate funding and prioritised development assistance.

It has been pleasing to see Prime Minister Sogavare visit, and to hear him restate commitments in relation to security and basing, as it was pleasing to see President Ramos Horta visit and the advances being made it seems to resolve sensitive issues.

I would also like to say that the US summit with Pacific leaders recently is very welcome and, as Australia has emphasised for some time, that there needs to be more such US engagement right across the Indo Pacific.


Having been a senior Minister, I know the importance in government of doing what you say you will do and the consequences if you don’t.

When President Bush awarded John Howard the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, he said the award recognised John Howard’s

“..unwavering support for liberty, free institutions, and the rule of law as the true and hopeful alternatives to ideologies of violence and repression..”.

It’s a reminder to us all and to the government – that judgements will be made on individuals on whether we do what we say and stay true to our values.

In the months leading up to the election, Labor from Opposition adopted certain policy positions which it has not yet acted upon. One example is Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong declaring that Russian diplomats should be expelled from Australia.

The policy position was unequivocal.

This hasn’t happened. When questioned, the Government appears to be retreating from that position.

Whether it should or should not occur is not the point in this context.

The Government, from Opposition, said that is what should happen.

It has not yet offered satisfactorily explanations to Australians of others as to why not.

Nor have we seen the use of Magnitsky type sanctions since those utilised by the former government; notwithstanding the enthusiastic calls by the now government for their use.

Perhaps on these issues Labor was just playing pre-election politics in some of these areas. But explanations, at the very least are now due in relation to relevant action to occur.


A fundamental part of my role, and of any Opposition in our system, is to the hold the government to account for the things it says; the things it says it will do, and; its delivery of them.

Bipartisanship and the support for bipartisan foreign policy does not mean the absence of scrutiny and the occasional criticism. We will seek to get the balance right.

In the past five months I have met many people and organisations representing the international affairs community, including many from the diplomatic corp.

I look forward to further engagement and working with organisations like the Institute and those here in this room and the broader international affairs community.

My approach, as I indicated, will be of one seeking to be constructive; calling out where necessary mistakes or actions, but looking to advance always Australia’s national interests.

Our national interest is always best served by holding true to our values. Values defined in the last foreign policy white paper as political; economic; religious freedoms; support for liberal democracy; the rule of law; racial and gender equality; and mutual respect. If we are always guided by those in our engagement with others, it will serve us well. It will guide us well. It will help us to be predictable and consistent in the decision making we take. And predictability and consistency help other governments in their engagement with us.

I look forward to your advice, your wise counsel, helping to inform our policies and our approaches over the years ahead as we seek to build a foreign policy platform and agenda to take to the next election that maintains the consistency of Australia’s traditions of bipartisanship where possible, but also seeks to ensure we enhance Australia’s ability to be able to influence the international environment to secure the peace and prosperity we all wish for.

Thank you once again for the chance to be here.