Labor restoring Australia’s international diplomacy

Published on Wed 23 November 2022 6:28pm

Now, as we emerge from COVID-19, there is an opportunity to refresh and reframe our development assistance programs so we will once again fulfil Australia’s historic role as a supportive, responsive, collaborative regional partner and as a middle power looking to have a positive influence in areas like climate, ocean protection, fair and free trade, peace, and disarmament.

 Mr Wilson (6:28pm) – I’m very glad to make a contribution to the consideration of the budget measures in detail, specifically when it comes to the Albanese Labor government’s measures in foreign affairs, trade, tourism and investment. There’s just no doubt that Australia’s sustainable economic wellbeing, its peace and security, its capacity to be a responsible and influential middle power on the world stage, particularly in our Indo-Pacific region, depends on the highest-quality engagement through all the vectors of foreign engagement—in trade, development assistance, in defence and in diplomacy. But we certainly didn’t get that from the previous government in any of those areas, let alone on a concerted and strategic basis. Mercifully, that has now changed.

Within barely a month of the election of the Labor government the Prime Minister had held face-to-face meetings with leaders of some of our most important partners and neighbours, including the US, Japan, India, Indonesia and New Zealand, and in the first six months the foreign minister has renewed contact with some of Australia’s closest partners, visiting 21 countries. My good friend and colleague the Minister for International Development and the Pacific has already met with all of his Pacific Islands Forum member counterparts and a number of them more than once. There’s no question that that kind of attention and engagement is vital to promoting our national interest. That’s why the government and its ministers, including the Minister for Resources here and the minister for trade in the other place, are bringing to bare all the tools of statecraft to pursue and secure those interests, many of which depend on international cooperation and on multilateral forums and agreements.

Climate change is a perfect example. We know the enaction of the recalcitrance of the coalition not only did enormous practical and economic harm to Australia but also harmed our reputation and relationships, especially in the Pacific. From the Leader of the Opposition who once crudely joked about Pacific Islands being subsumed by rising sea levels, we now get equally crude dog whistling about Australia’s participation in climate mitigation funding mechanisms for developing countries. Notwithstanding the determination of those opposite to always choose the low road, to always choose negative us-and-them politics, we recognise the need for a bipartisan approach to rebuilding Australia’s international engagement capacity and influence. That’s why we’ve re-established the programs supporting the bipartisan parliamentary delegation to the Pacific, and I look forward to going to the Pacific with some of those present here tonight. That program was cut by the coalition. I’m going to Fiji, I think, on 11 December, so hopefully some of you will be with me. We recognise the need to be united in showing up and listening and working with our Pacific family. Under the former government we’ve seen the consequences of a different approach.

In all seriousness, the Albanese Labor government is investing in development assistance and diplomacy in our region and beyond because we know it is the most effective and cost-effective means of promoting inclusive economic growth, ensuring peace and stability. That’s why, from 2022-23, we’ll provide an additional $900 million over four years to the Pacific to support development and resilience. The government will strengthen our people-to-people links by establishing a new Pacific Engagement Visa, the PEV, providing a pathway for permanent residency for 3,000 nationals each year from Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste. And we’ll support civil society and non-government organisations who do such incredible and necessary work on the ground in local communities. We’ll provide $32 million to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation under a new Indo-Pacific broadcasting strategy to help foster a diverse, independent and professional regional media sector. And the government will boast our ODA to Southeast Asia by providing an additional $470 million over four years, including—and this will get those opposite going—a new $200 million climate infrastructure partnership with Indonesia. Our focus on the significance of Southeast Asia will be reflected in a new office of Southeast Asia within DFAT. These are just some of the measures that will allow Australia to re-engage, to work collaboratively and to live up to our character as a nation that has no hesitation whatsoever in sharing common challenges with friends, partners and regional allies.

Now, as we emerge from COVID-19, there is an opportunity to refresh and reframe our development assistance programs so we will once again fulfil Australia’s historic role as a supportive, responsive, collaborative regional partner and as a middle power looking to have a positive influence in areas like climate, ocean protection, fair and free trade, peace, and disarmament. I’ll be interested in the minister’s views on all of those. 

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