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Thanks Gerard, for your introduction and your very warm welcome here again to the Sydney Institute. Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
To the very many distinguished guests who are here this evening, it’s wonderful to see such a great roll-up to the Sydney Institute.
In the 20 years that I’ve been a Senator for New South Wales, the Sydney Institute started the way and has led the way in cogent debate and discourse in Sydney and it’s an enormous credit to Gerard and Anne over all of those years.
I last spoke here at the Institute in July of 2015, as the Minister for Human Services about the important role that that department plays in supporting victims of domestic abuse in Australia, whether they were members of the general public or in fact staff members of the Department itself, of the 34,000 staff that it has.
Tonight, attending here as the Commonwealth’s Minister for Defence, it is fair to say that a great deal has changed since then.
Whether it is the unexpected, to some, Brexit result; the rise of nationalism and protectionism in a number of countries; the global spread of Daesh-inspired terrorism; or most recently the continued belligerence of the North Korean regime, they have all contributed in their own way to a general sense that the world is less predictable and perhaps less safe than it was just a few years ago.
Australians have reason to be concerned about threats to the region’s stability, and concerns about how those threats might impact our national interests. Trade protectionist pressures, tensions on the Korean peninsula, further destabilisation of the rules-based order, all have the potential to impact on our own prosperity and to derail regional economic momentum.
It is heartening to me that we, as Australians, take a strong interest in our region and in our links within it. In particular this year there has been considerable public debate about our Alliance with the United States following the election in November last year.
But there has also been strong interest in Australia’s efforts to support, for example, the Government of the Philippines in their fight against Daesh-aligned terrorists in Marawi, and of course there is intense public interest in the continued actions of the North Korean regime and their illegal ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.
It’s fair to say that not everything that is written and said on these issues by a plethora of experts is something that I agree with, but on the whole I believe that the interest does show that Australians want our nation to engage on these issues and to articulate our position on global issues with strength and with clarity.
Trust, transparency, consistency and shared values underpin Australia’s relationships with our partners and allies in the region and foster regional stability. Indeed, transparency and trust coupled with sustained efforts to integrate the global economy have underpinned the unprecedented economic growth that our region has experienced which has lifted millions out of poverty to the benefit of the entire globe, including Australia.
At the heart of the matter, we recognise that as a nation we can’t simply pull back and avoid the issues and challenges in the hope that others somehow will find a resolution that benefits all nations, small and large.
As I have said in remarks recently in both Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue and at the Seoul Defence Dialogue, trusting that increasing economic interdependence will ensure our regional stability and security is in fact a false belief. This would be an at best unsophisticated, and at worst, irresponsible approach to international relations.
What would the map of the world look like, what would the history books tell us, if we had taken that approach towards the nations, and the leaders of the nations, who acted despicably in the 20th Century?
Or to put it another way, can we see anything in the world today that tells us that the international intimidation and coercion that we see currently, or the regional abuses of power and disregard for the rule of law that we observe, will end well? There are real threats – regionally and globally – that, as I said, have the potential to impact on Australia.
Now, notwithstanding much commentary, Australia doesn’t base our strategic planning or our national security objectives on personality politics. Not our personality politics; nor the personality politics of other nations. If some in Australia found the US election result a surprise, Australia’s democratic churn since the 2007 election probably had a few people in Washington scratching their heads from time to time as well. But as I said, the Alliance is not based along party lines or based on individual leaders.
So perhaps the silver lining to the uncertainty that I outlined earlier is that it does in some ways present an opportunity to shed complacency, to recognise the false comfort of a “set-and-forget” approach to national security, and to recognise the fundamentals of our security: we have to work hard together with like-minded countries to insist on the rule of law. And as I have said before, at this time of heightened uncertainty, we should be reinforcing the rules, not allowing them to be bent or disregarded. It doesn't mean that they are carved in stone, but it does mean that efforts to change them need to be orderly and collaborative.
In the dynamic strategic environment in which we find ourselves, rather than stepping back from our region, there is a clear need to engage more broadly and more deeply.
Indeed, we prioritised international Defence engagement in our 2016 Defence White Paper and the subsequent increasing strategic uncertainty in our region has only reinforced our commitment to regional engagement.
We have existing security and regional frameworks within the Five Power Defence Arrangement for example, with ASEAN, with the East Asia Summit, and our long standing ANZUS Treaty. In these times of uncertainty, what we need to be doing is to strengthen these regional frameworks, as well as forge stronger bilateral partnerships and reliable engagements if we are to effectively contribute to regional security and regional prosperity.
The ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meetings Plus has become the leading forum in the region to facilitate Defence engagement, and Australia has advocated since the first meeting I attended in November of 2015, for increasing the frequency of meetings from biennial to annual events, and I am pleased to say that we see that being supported most recently by other member nations.
The next meeting of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus group is in the Philippines at Clark Air Force Base, indeed in October this year.
Regional security and regional prosperity are very tightly bound. Neither of them comes for free, and neither of them is a part time pursuit. And if Australia doesn’t play its part, actively, collectively and confidently, we will be destined to enjoy neither, I fear. As a trade based nation we can’t prosper alone and we can’t secure ourselves alone. So, whether it’s collective action, in some cases collective self-defence, a credible alliance system, a robust diplomatic stance that others can rely upon, energetic trade links, they are all vital to our security and our prosperity as much now as they have ever been.
At the centre of Australia’s defence and security arrangements is our alliance with the United States.
We noted that in the 2016 Defence White Paper, which I launched with the Prime Minister, that the United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades, which was the time-frame of the White Paper. It will continue to be Australia’s most important strategic partner through our long-standing alliance, and the active presence of the United States will continue to underpin the stability of the region.
Those facts have not changed since the Prime Minister and I launched the White Paper 18 months ago.
The election of President Trump has generated much public debate, though, about the merits of the Alliance. I want to make two points on that; first that this is a relationship built on values and underpinned by a century of standing side by side through military conflict around the world. It’s not defined by who resides in the White House or the Lodge. That said, President Trump and Prime Minister Turnbull have engaged positively, multiple times, on major issues of concern to both of them, whether it is people movement and border protection, or the behaviour of the DPRK. The Australia-United States alliance itself has seen changes of government on both sides of the Pacific over the past 65 years and it’s continued to strengthen and grow. The second point I would make is that the Alliance continues to deliver real benefits to both our countries’ defence and national security.
Over the past nine months Australia’s government, your government, has developed a strong working relationship with the Trump Administration. I’ve met with my counterpart, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, multiple times - in Australia, in the United States, in South East Asia and in Europe - which demonstrates the commitment we both have to this defence relationship. My visit to Washington just last week absolutely reinforced that, and if anything, reinforced that the Alliance continues go from strength-to-strength. We remain committed to growing that relationship, to working with the Administration to advance our mutual defence and security interests.
Across the region, this is the area I’d like to look at now, whether it’s in my discussions with my counterparts in Singapore, in the Philippines, Indonesia, in Laos or in Vietnam, there is increasing concern about terrorism, including the prospect of returning foreign fighters from the Middle East, the emergence of new terrorist bases in our region itself, the terrorist radicalisation of vulnerable youth via the internet, and the self-radicalisation of disaffected members of societies. Together, coming from various directions and perhaps in different ways, but together we are determined to use collective action, where appropriate, collective self-defence to counter those terrorist threats.
We are also working together to address the nuclear and ballistic missile threats generated by North Korea. Working together in terms of the implementation of the United Nation Security Council’s unanimously agreed sanctions.
And I want to emphasise the importance of those sanctions taking effect, both the UN Security Council resolutions and the autonomous sanctions that countries like Australia have imposed. We have also, additionally, urged the parties for example to the UNCLOS arbitration, in a different context, established in accordance with the UN Convention, to abide by the recent ruling on the South China Sea, to show responsible leadership and adherence to the rule of law.
We don’t take sides amongst the claimants of features in the South China Sea, but we do absolutely support the application of UNCLOS and the application of the rule of law.
We are working closely with our regional partners towards greater security, towards greater stability, and greater prosperity, but that’s not at the expense of working closely with the United States on these and other issues. We don’t face a binary choice between engaging with our partners in Asia or the United States, indeed I would proffer that we have to increase our regional engagement with our partners, that we have to increase our engagement with our allies, where ever we have shared concerns and shared interests.
From Australia’s perspective, what we want to be seen as and what we argue for, the Prime Minister, myself, the Foreign Minister, is as a security partner who is consistent; who can be relied on both in the region and through our contributions to coalition efforts, for example to fight terrorism at its source.
Creating the conditions, given the current climate, for a regional future that is secure and stable and prosperous is not an easy endeavour, and as I said, it cannot be a part-time effort. It will require more time, it will require more effort, more international engagement, more money inevitably, more diplomacy, and a collegiate approach to collective action. And Australia recognises this and operates at that level. We all have to play a part in that, and the closer our bonds, the greater probability our collective interests in stability and security will be protected.
So alongside heightened interests in the Indo-Pacific, Australia will continue to engage constructively in and with the region that is increasingly driving the world economy, as you would all know.
Our response to the uncertainty and complexity that we see in our strategic environment will be to create new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, to consolidate that cooperation, to engage with China, to draw on the diverse strength of our strong and valuable alliance with the United States, and to pursue openings with new partners. We will continue to work within, and to strongly advocate for, a rules-based global order where there is no place for coercion, or intimidation, or the abuse of leverage, or illegal actions, or predatory behaviour.
And Australia and the United States broadly share these same values. In the eight months of the present US Administration there has been a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific Region. Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defence Mattis, both made their first international visits to the region. Vice President Pence, in addition to that, with them, have all visited Australia, for substantive discussions, including our AUSMIN talks in June of this year. And it is, perhaps unpalatably to the doubters, it is clear that the approach that the US is taking to the United Nations Security Council to North Korea is forceful and clear itself. America has brought Russia and China to the table to broker unanimous condemnation and the strongest sanctions ever directed at North Korea – an outcome which doubters widely dismissed as impossible.
Three weeks ago, when I was in Seoul I met with the US General Vincent Brooks, he is, in no particularly order, the Commander of United Nations Command in Korea, the Commander of the United States Forces Korea, and the Republic of Korea-United States Combined Forces Command, an esteemable role in anybody’s calculation. His leadership of that United Nations Command, to which Australia has contributed since the Korean War in the 1950s, is particularly important. The ability for Australia to work effectively, collaboratively with General Brooks, with our South Korean colleagues, is very, very important. We have senior military officials embedded in that command, carrying out exactly those roles.
In terms of our security certainty, I think it’s worthy of note that Secretary Mattis is on the record for his unambiguous undertakings on America’s commitment to defending itself and its allies, on adding security certainty, and on the US intention to continue its leadership role in the Pacific.
And he canvassed some of those in his remarks at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in June as well.
I spent last Tuesday in Honolulu at the US Pacific Command for a series of meetings to discuss exactly these issues of regional security, with senior leadership of the United States military. I then visited Washington for defence and security talks, which were focused on threats to regional and global stability. As Secretary Mattis said during our meeting the US-Australia alliance “is ironclad, based on 65 years of mutual trust, respect earned on the battlefield, and friendship across the sea.”
As well as those observations, in terms of the Alliance, we should not lose sight of the significant benefits that being part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangements contribute to our national security, which have in fact been essential to coordinating our response to global terrorism threats at home and abroad, and addressing growing cyber security challenges.
Our alliance also provides Australia with increased protection through the doctrine of extended deterrence, through access to classified military platforms, to high quality intelligence, to access to space, and other capabilities which we could never afford to replicate at our current rate of Defence spending.
We are a massive island continent with vast areas of responsibility that include our coastline, our exclusive economic zones, and a search and rescue area of responsibility that actually makes up more than 10 per cent of the surface of the Earth (more than 53 million square kilometres).
We do have enormous challenges, and the challenges include protecting ourselves and our interests while drawing on what is a relatively small taxpayer base, and defying the tyranny of distance.
Many have said, and I would agree, that can’t prosper alone, and in fact we cannot secure ourselves alone. We need unimpeded maritime and air trade routes; and we need to contribute to, and benefit from, collective security, collective action, and a global rules-based order.
That’s why, in standing here, I unequivocally endorse both the value of the Australia-US alliance and Australia’s active role in our broader region. We should not forget the importance of the Alliance’s role to Australia’s security and that of our interests and it is important that we celebrate what is a truly unique relationship between the two nations.
And it is worth considering some key aspects of our strategic relationship and its history.
Next year, in 2018, the United States and Australia will commemorate what Ambassador Joe Hockey is calling “100 Years of Mateship”. During World War One, and this is a summary, General Monash was commanding US troops, along with his Australian force, at the highly successful attack on the French town of Le Hamel. This was the first modern combined arms assault in history and it was in fact deliberately timed to be fought on the 4th of July 1918.
It was also the American troops’ first offensive action of the First World War, and it very nearly didn’t happen.
The day before the attack, when he discovered that American troops would be fighting under an Australian commander, US General Pershing ordered those troops to be withdrawn.
Such was the strength of the mateship which had already been generated between the two forces during their combined training ahead of the battle, there were various ruses taken up by the US troops to stay and fight, including a number of US privates who I am told took off their US uniforms and cloaked themselves in Australian uniforms, as Diggers.
In the end the US relented, our troops fought side by side, and history was written in Hamel.
Last week, I presented Secretary of Defense Mattis with Ambassador Hockey’s gift, to honour the 100 Year’s of Mateship – two coins, very familiar in the military context, and a small vial of soil, taken from the battlefield at Hamel. Secretary Mattis was very gratified to receive the gift, but I hadn’t realised until that moment that he turned from the meeting table at which we were sitting, and said ‘I’ll take this into my office and put it on General Pershing’s desk’, which is the desk he now uses.
This was a remarkable battle. United States Corporal Thomas Pope was awarded both the US Medal of Honor and our Military Medal for single-handedly attacking and silencing a German machine gun post.
And then we moved to World War Two, where Australia benefited enormously from the immediate combat and materiel support of the US, from the Battle of the Coral Sea to the US Fifth Air Force operations out of northern Australia to destroy enemy air and ground forces.
As you know we’ve commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea this year, which I did with US Admiral Scott Swift, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, on the deck of HMAS Choules, in the sea itself. A particularly poignant and compelling commemoration as we both deposited wreaths on the ocean beneath us. There is no more stark reminder of those who lost everything in that battle, and frankly in that war.
During the war, the US Lend Lease program gave us much needed weaponry and essential logistics support, but it is important I think for Australians to recognise that reciprocal Lend Lease support from Australia to the US meant that by 1944 the US owed Australia more than we owed the US.
That was a unique situation for the Lend Lease program that remained until 1949 when the debt was written off. During World War Two we pulled our weight and paid our bills in full, and then some.
During the Korean War, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation for its courageous defence at the Battle of Kapyong, and the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney set a world record for a light fleet carrier by flying 89 combat launches and recoveries in one day.
During the Vietnam War, America again honoured an Australian Army unit with the US Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation, “D” Company of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, for their courage at the Battle of Long Tan.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Harold E Holt naval communication station at Exmouth in Western Australia, and the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, which have delivered remarkable intelligence and early warning dividends to both the US and Australia.
The benefits of our close strategic relationship with the US do not stop there. And I am about to refer to a procurement issue, these are always very sensitive issues for Defence Ministers, but in the 1960s, under the then-Coalition government of Prime Minister Menzies, Australia became the only nation other than the United States to acquire the most complex and sophisticated aircraft of its day: the F-111. We purchased a more advanced version than originally in service with the US Air Force, the F-111C. I think Air Marshal Binskin will tell you there are still US pilots around who haven’t forgiven us for that yet. We flew and maintained this aircraft, we modernised it, we advanced its avionics, its precision bombing capability, and terrain-following airspace penetration capabilities until 2010. This singled out Australia as the most trusted of America's allies to hold and operate highly technical and advanced aerospace technology.
We continue to be that trusted partner in aerospace, now manufacturing key components for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a global supplier to the construction program.
We continue to work with the US on highly technical and classified submarine and combat management technology, for us to design and build the most advanced conventional submarines in the world.
Little know, but we have over 600 Defence personnel embedded in military and Defence organisations in the US – 600 across 31 states of the US, giving us access to unprecedented operational, training opportunities and intelligence exposure. I had the pleasure of meeting some of these men and women last week at PACOM as I went to Washington, at the National Security Agency, at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as well, both in Washington.
We continue to collaborate both on military technology such as that built into the EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and our P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, which are just coming into service now. It would take Australia decades at a conservative estimate, that’s before one starts to estimate the dollars, to design, to build and integrate such advanced evolutionary technology into aircraft from scratch.
And to those who might doubt the importance of such craft – I’ve met them from time to time – I would recall that by 2035, about half of the world’s submarine will be operating here in our region. About half of those submarines will be Chinese. Without a credible anti-submarine deterrent, there remains enormous potential for our maritime trade to be held hostage to the strategic pressure exerted by others.
We will also continue to strengthen and advance our relationship in new domains including space and cyber, including offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.
There are new deterrence challenges including those posed by North Korea. And there are new technologies to harness, including unmanned aerial systems, advanced radars, and communications and combat management systems.
We indeed share a robust and reliable approach to global challenges, we share unequivocal support for a rules-based global order, we are uncompromising on the central value of a liberal democracy based on multiple-political parties, and we do not step back from supporting our friends and allies, or defending their rights to border integrity, aspirations for regional stability and the desire for self-determination, whether they are small or large.
Ladies and gentlemen, I mentioned when I began some of the events that had led to a general sense of unpredictability in the global strategic environment, whether it is the unexpected Brexit result; whether it is that rising nationalism and protectionism; or the spread of Daesh-inspired terrorism; or the continued belligerence of the North Korean regime. In the context of all of that, there are two things I think that we need to take to reassure us, and they go back to the title of my remarks tonight.
It is reassuring that the Alliance continues to be a force for unity in uncertain times and a counter-weight to the strategic uncertainty facing our region. It makes a strong sand a credible contribution to regional security and deterrence in times of crisis.
But like our regional stability and prosperity, it can’t be taken for granted. It is also not a part-time endeavour that we pick and choose to be part of in good times but not when times are tough.
So, whether it is that alliance with the United States, or indeed in our relationships with other allies and partners across the region, Australia seeks to be a consistent and transparent member of the international community. And we will continue to make our interests known so that we can work with others where we overlap, in the interests of all to defend the rules-based order.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak here tonight.