Federation Chamber Statement – Foreign Affairs





Subjects: Foreign Affairs

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well, what a difference the Albanese Labor Government is making after just six months, after nine long years under the coalition government. We’ve heard a lot of talk about the Pacific. The Coalition Government in the past talked about their Pacific step-up. We called it a Pacific stuff-up because that’s what it was. Now all they can do is try and score cheap political points on our national security and our foreign policy. That is what they’ve reverted to. It’s a bit of a disgrace because the issues, the geostrategic challenges that we are facing, are far too important. The strategic global contest in the Indo-Pacific, the centrepiece in many respects of this contest between the rise of authoritarianism and democracy, is too important to play politics with, as the Prime Minister has rightly pointed out.

We are a government that is focused on the geostrategic challenges that we face. It is about our national interest, not playing cheap politics with our national security and foreign policy. In the six short months of this government the Minister for Foreign Affairs; the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who is here in the chamber; the Prime Minister; and others have gone about resetting relationships in the Pacific, rebuilding trust and renewing commitments across the Pacific and South-East Asian nations on issues that they care about, such as climate change. The foreign minister and our other ministers have used the three Ds of statecraft—nuanced diplomacy; development assistance; and defence, building our defence capability—together in order to achieve our objectives, which I am sure those opposite would have to agree with. I am sure they’ll provide bipartisan support.

Our objective is the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the ongoing prosperity that flows from that. We can’t disagree about that. But it is also about defending the liberal rules-based order, one that benefits us and nations in the region to ensure security and stability. That is why the nuanced diplomacy that has been practised by our executive, by the ministers who have been doing such a great job across the region, is about improving relationships, reducing tension and making Australia a partner of choice for the countries of the region. That is so important because in the past, frankly, there has been a degree of paternalism, a kind of arrogance towards the Pacific. We have heard all the stories. They are our partners. They are equals. They are sovereign states. They need to be treated with respect, and that is exactly what we are doing.

We’ve announced $900 million, committed over four years from 2022-23, to increase support for the Pacific and more than $147 million over four years to advance Pacific security and engagement priorities. We have increased development assistance for South-East Asia by $470 million. The member for Riverina mentioned increased overseas development assistance. He is kind of right. The previous government increased it in part of the Pacific, but they also ripped $11 billion dollars over nine years out of the development assistance budget. That is what they did. So, you’re partly right there, member for Riverina.

In defence we are working to build defence assets that deter adversaries that would seek to diminish the rules-based order, whether they be state or non-state actors. We are establishing a Pacific Defence School to train Pacific Island countries’ defence and security forces, an important initiative. We’re advancing economic partnerships—Indonesia is a prominent example—and building people-to-people links, creating 3,000 engagement visas each year.

Whether it is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the PM, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister, they’ve all made a tremendous effort over the past six months to advance our national interest across the Indo-Pacific. They’ve combined the three Ds in a very effective way to help us stabilise our relationships with major economic partners, including stabilising our relationship with China. We’ve seen the importance of dialogue occurring for the first time in six years between the leaders of China and Australia.

This is all about making our region more resilient, about allowing Australia to help shape our strategic circumstances to our advantage, to shape a region and a world that have respect for the international rules-based order, human rights, shared security and shared economic strength—as the Prime Minister has called it, the importance of the international rule of law. We are a trading nation. We have to ensure that as many nations as possible—our partners—respect that rules-based order, because it benefits us and because it is about the future of our children and grandchildren. What we do now will shape the next 10 to 20 years.