Speech by the Hon Bill Shorten MP on Labour’s Foreign Policy at the Lowy Institute on 29 October 2018

A speech at the Lowy Institute by the Hon Bill Shorten MP stated that:
‘The foreign policy of the next Labor Government will be different from those of the past – because the world is different.
Power is shifting. The international order in which Australia has operated since the Second World War is being disrupted.’

An excerpt from the speech follows:

‘A Labor Government will put the Pacific front and centre in our regional foreign policy.
We’re not going to forfeit the Pacific because we didn’t turn up.
Labor will reconstitute the role of Minister for Pacific Affairs and International Development that the new Prime Minister has recently relegated to Assistant Minister status.
The Minister will serve within the Foreign Affairs portfolio and will coordinate our Pacific strategy and programs across government, proof of how seriously we take the Pacific and the people who call it home.
We will engage with the Pacific not through the intricacies of geopolitics – but in its own right.
Our goal will not be the strategic denial of others but rather the economic betterment of the ten million people of the Pacific islands themselves.
The new Prime Minister’s decision to miss the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Nauru sent the worst possible message at exactly the wrong time.
It is part of a pattern of neglect of the Forum by Coalition Prime Ministers.
Obviously, development assistance is critical – and Labor will grow our Aid commitment to the Pacific.
But our agenda for engagement will be bigger and broader than this.
We will encourage others, including private firms, to invest in projects that drive development in the region: from roads and ports to water supply, communications technology and energy infrastructure.
New Zealand are already doing this, the United States and Japan are exploring their options.
Australia should be too.
My vision is for Australia to actively facilitate concessional loans and financing for investment in these vital, nation-building projects through a government-backed infrastructure investment bank.
Our neighbours in the Pacific are looking for partners to help them build infrastructure – and as Prime Minister, I intend to make sure they look to Australia first.
I see this financing facility as a way Australia can elevate our status as a ‘partner-of-choice’ for Pacific development and enhance security and prosperity in the region.
We’ll also look at opportunities in government services, where Australia and the region can both benefit – through us utilising our economies of scale and comparative advantages in technology and expertise.
Take the provision of Pacific patrol boats and the advisors which accompany them, enabling Pacific countries to engage in better surveillance of their exclusive economic zones and defend themselves against threats from smuggling, illegal fishing, various forms of exploitation and other types of transnational crime.
All this, in turn, helps build the sovereignty of the Pacific states.
Our TAFEs and vocational training institutions could do more to help Pacific nations expand their skills.
The Seasonal Workers Program, is a Labor initiative which has enormous mutually beneficial potential. And where there is a genuine shortage of seasonal workers, the Pacific should be prioritised.
We believe in giving people in the Pacific the opportunity to find work here – not as a substitute for local workers, nor as a way of undercutting overall wages and conditions – but with a guarantee that no-one working in Australia is exploited.
That’s particularly relevant in light of reports today that widespread wage theft for overseas workers, means 1 in 3 are earning less than half the minimum wage.
We must also address the particular inequalities affecting women in the Pacific, from education to jobs to family violence. Just as the Gillard Government did with the ongoing Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative.
Equality for women is an economic and social priority for Labor here at home and gender equity and social inclusion will be at the heart of our foreign policy in the region and the wider world.
The Australian Defence Force already enjoys close relationships with the militaries of the region but we can do more.
We will seek to actively work with the PNG Defence Force, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, and the Tonga Defence Services to identify how the ADF can help these nations bridge specific capability gaps.
We want to mend the relationship with the RFMF, to ensure the ADF is best-placed to develop the Fiji military’s professional capabilities to ensure Fiji’s security needs.
In doing so, we will be mindful of the lessons of the past: co-operation must focus on instilling professionalism in military forces and respect for the rules of armed conflict, international humanitarian law and the principle of civilian authority over the military.
No community of nations are more concerned about climate change – with better reason – than our Pacific neighbours.
Rising sea levels are an existential threat for these nations.
Under a Labor Government, Australia will be much better placed to help our neighbours respond and to press their case internationally because we accept the science of climate change – and we accept the need for real action.
Papua New Guinea is the largest Pacific state and the one with whom we share the longest history, it lies just five kilometres from the closest Australian islands in the Torres Strait.
We need to start thinking of it as a ‘big’ country. Already a population of 8.4 million – and by the middle of the century it could reach Australia’s current size.
Several Prime Ministers of Papua New Guinea have raised various concerns about Australia’s visa policies – the costs and restrictions on their citizens – which have impacted relationships at the personal level.
Under a government I lead, we will institute a thorough analysis of the details and causes of the discontent – seeing how we can improve the system without undermining border security.
Building a deeper form of engagement will require more than Kokoda tourism.
It requires us to recognise Papua New Guinea’s leadership role in the Pacific, according the government and people of Papua New Guinea the respect of equals, as well as friends.’

Read the full speech at:
https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/foreign-policy-next-labor-government

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