Vale Mr Shinzo Abe

House of Representatives 1/08/2022

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (10:39): I would also like to join my parliamentary colleagues in mourning the tragic death of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister and, of course, a long-time friend of Australia. For over a decade, Shinzo Abe was really a giant of international relations, not just in our region but, I think it would be accurate to say, across the globe. He can be really credited with evolving Japan’s approach to foreign affairs and security policy, which was, of course, hardly an easy task.

After decades in the post-World War II period of what we could probably characterise as a reluctance to have a more forthright or forward-leading engagement in both the region and global affairs, Japan really re-emerged under Abe as a leader in regional and global affairs. And he made this goal clear. He was open about it. He spoke about how fundamental freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law were in developing his diplomatic relationships and bilateral relationships.

So much has been said—and will continue to be said and written—about Abe’s legacy since his death. But I do, as we all do, want to particularly pay tribute to his immense contribution to the Indo-Pacific—even that phrase itself is something that has evolved and come from all of his tremendous work. He was the one who popularised the conception of our region as the Indo-Pacific and highlighted how important the region is to international affairs. Australia is no longer suffering, in some respects, the tyranny of distance as we had been earlier last century, on the other side of the world. Now we are front and centre in probably the most important region in global affairs. And Abe recognised that very, very clearly and very early.

He spoke in his tenure as Prime Minister about a confluence of the two seas—between the Pacific and Indian oceans—and the strategic importance of framing our region in this way, seeing it in that way, understanding it in that way. He not only recognised but embraced India as an important partner in our region—something that we, I think, learnt from, frankly, given what I have described in the past as a somewhat benign neglect of India. A lot of talk about cricket, curry and the Commonwealth, which is great, but the relationship is so much more than that, and it can be so much more than that. Abe, to his great credit, understood the importance of India as a rising power in the region.

He welcomed a common objective of a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific. He advanced that goal, leading through the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which continues today and is an increasingly important partnership between Australia, Japan, India and the United States, another great Pacific power. He can be given credit for not only the Quad’s creation but its continued significance to our region, in many respects, to get the balance right.

He identified the need for a drastic reshaping, as he called it, in the areas of diplomacy and security. And he made a considered effort to build and develop bilateral and multilateral relationships that advance the security of the Indo-Pacific, as he conceived it. This included partnerships and work with ASEAN as part of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. He also helped save, to a certain extent, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement which former US President Trump had abandoned.

Australia often looks, in many respects, to our major partners, our major friends and allies, as part of our foreign affairs for leadership, support and coordination. I think it is probably true to say we need to be looking at Abe’s legacy. Australia can really understand that he was such a good friend of ours. The values that we share, that Australia and Japan share—democracy, human rights, the shared interests that we have in bolstering and propping up the international rules based order—are something we can look to. We can look to that example of the work that Abe had done. He was actually the first Japanese leader to be invited to address this parliament, in 2007, and it was his vision that helped elevate our bilateral relationship to a special strategic partnership in 2014. Under his leadership, Japan emerged as one of our like-minded partners in Asia—a legacy that endures today.

On a bit of a tangent, I remember when I was in this place working as the national security adviser for former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. There was a moment when we were looking at enhancing our defence relationship with Japan, and that involved Japanese forces doing exercises in Australia, on Australian territory. I was very alive to the sensitivities of a lot of our veterans, including a lot of the RSL, and all the other stakeholders. I remember calling up a lot of veterans and the RSL and talking them through the fact that we would be doing joint exercises with Japan in Queensland, for example. I called Tom Uren, the former Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. We know Tom was a POW in Burma, on the Burma Railway, and suffered horrifically during World War II. I said to Tom, ‘Look, I get how this might be difficult for you as a veteran.’ I think he was 90-something when I spoke to him. I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said: ‘Peter, first of all, I appreciate you calling to talk me through this. I will never forget what I went through in World War II and what suffering my comrades and I went through on the Burma Railway. It was horrific. Never forget—never forgive, to a certain extent, but never forget. But you’ve got to do what’s in Australia’s best national interests.’ He was a big enough man, and such a great figure himself, that he was all about overcoming his own emotional hurt to say, ‘Do what’s important for Australia.’ He understood that Japan was now a friend, even though he’d had that history during World War II.

In conclusion, I’ve got to say that Abe’s death is actually a tragedy. It’s senseless in so many respects, because of the brutal way he lost his life. It’s really so odd, because of the relative lack of political violence in Japan. It’s very uncharacteristic of modern Japan. It’s also a tragedy in the randomness of the attack on the values and the ideals that he worked for decades to champion, those things that we’ve discussed in this motion. So, in a sense, it’s an attack on all of us, and we need to stand firm on that—all of us who uphold, defend and promote the values that we cherish in our region and across the globe. It’s the loss of a husband as well—the loss to his family—and the loss to his nation. I extend my deepest condolences to his partner, who had been his partner for decades, on the loss of a life that had so much more to contribute to affairs of the region. It’s a loss for all of us who admired Abe and his leadership. It’s a loss for Australia, which has lost a true friend. Vale, Shinzo Abe.