This special AustCham 'Leaders in Business' address features Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon. Stephen Smith MP. Mr Smith will be in Singapore to attend the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference, the East Asia Summit Informal Foreign Ministers' Consultations and the 15th ASEAN Regional Forum. His presentation will focus on Australia's engagement with its South East Asian neighbours and the foreign policy priorities of the Rudd Labor Government.
Speech by The Honorable Stephen Smith MP Minister for Foreign Affairs Australian Chamber of Commerce Singapore Australia’s engagement with Singapore and South East Asia Singapore, 23 July 2008 [download in PDF] Introduction Thank you, Phil, for that introduction. Thanks also to AustCham Vice-President Mark Davies and Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs, for arranging this lunch, and to Macquarie Group for sponsoring today’s event. It’s good to be here with representatives of the Australian business community in Singapore. I want to take this opportunity over lunch with you to speak about Australia’s relationship with Singapore and our active and expanding engagement in our region. I’m the fifth Australian minister to visit Singapore officially since the Government was elected. My visit follows those by my colleagues Trade Minister Simon Crean, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, and, most recently, the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Australia’s bilateral relationship with Singapore is one of the most comprehensive we have in South-East Asia. It is underpinned by long-standing political, defence, education, trade, investment and tourism links. We share a similar strategic outlook. As a consequence Singapore is a real partner in our engagement with the region. Australia and Singapore enjoy close people-to-people links. These have been strengthened over time through tourism, migration and education. Your presence here today is a testimony to those links. Around 15,000 Australians are currently living in Singapore and another 800,000 Australians are expected to visit here over the course of 2008. With around 264,000 Singaporeans visiting Australia in 2007, Singapore was our sixth largest tourism market. But Australia is more than a tourist destination for many Singaporeans who came to Australia to study and to conduct business. Singapore is our largest trading partner in ASEAN, and it’s our fifth largest trading partner globally. Our commercial links continue to grow from a strong base in a clear eyed and mutually beneficial way. Singapore is also a significant investor in Australia - over A$25 billion as at 31 December 2006 – with interests as diverse as Optus, the Melbourne Bourke Street Myer site, and Basslink, the electricity interconnection between Victoria and Tasmania. Australia is also investing in Singapore. Over 1500 Australian companies have a presence in Singapore, many of them choosing to make Singapore the base for their regional headquarters. Our sponsor today, Macquarie Group, is a case in point. Major investments in Singapore by Australian companies in recent years include Toll Holdings acquisition of SembCorp logistics and the investment by Qantas in Singapore-based budget airline Jetstar Asia. In 2007, Australia exported over A$3 billion in services to Singapore, including accountancy, legal, financial and logistics, reflecting an annual growth of over 11 per cent last year, and making Singapore our third largest services trade partner. There is always more that can be done to strengthen our trading relationships and encourage greater investment flows. Australia already has a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore (SAFTA). This agreement is comprehensive and provides a model to aspire to when negotiating similar agreements. I want to assure the Australian business community in Singapore that the Government is committed to keeping SAFTA relevant to Australian business. We are very aware that Australian businesses offering professional services to Singapore and the region would like the regulatory framework here to give them greater opportunities. The Government will continue to work with you towards that objective. We continue to seek the views of Australian companies on how it can be enhanced to better meet their needs. We have a Ministerial review of the Agreement in the near future which we will use to deliver tangible gains. In addition, my visit to Singapore this week is an excellent opportunity to discuss our ongoing negotiations towards a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN. Our negotiators are here in Singapore as I speak, working towards a final deal on the ASEAN wide FTA. Our aim is to conclude these negotiations next month. An FTA between ASEAN and Australia and New Zealand will provide a further platform for our ongoing enhanced economic and trade engagement with our region. I’m in Singapore to take part in Foreign Ministerial meetings of the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN-Australia Post Ministerial Conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum. It’s my first opportunity, as Foreign Minister, to do so. In addition to the important work of each of those organisations, this week has also been an opportunity to meet bilaterally with many Foreign Ministers from across the region to discuss a full range of issues, including climate change, food security, energy security and disaster management. For Australia, South-East Asia will always be critically important to our strategic, security and economic interests. Our security and prosperity is in no small way linked to the political and economic development of our friends and neighbours in South-East Asia. And how the region adjusts to the shifts in economic and strategic power in the coming decades will shape Australia’s strategic environment. The significance of South-East Asia to our future security and prosperity underlines the need for comprehensive and active engagement with the Asia-Pacific region – one of the three pillars of the Australian Government’s foreign policy approach. The very close and productive relations Australia enjoys with our Asian neighbours provide the foundation on which we base our approach to wider regional blocs or groupings. Australia’s engagement with ASEAN ASEAN, created in 1967 with the objective of promoting regional stability and development, is one of this region’s oldest organisations. It has particular economic and strategic importance for Australia. We became its first dialogue partner in 1974, and we have invested considerable effort in building this partnership ever since. From its five-member beginnings in 1967, ASEAN has grown to include ten nation states and 575 million people. In 1990, its aggregate GDP stood at some US$350 billion. This year, the IMF predicts it will reach almost US$1.5 trillion. Our two-way merchandise trade with ASEAN totalled over $55 billion in 2007. Over 70,000 students from ASEAN countries are studying at Australian educational institutions. In June, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd became the first head of Government of an ASEAN dialogue partner to visit the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. I congratulate Singapore on its Chairmanship of ASEAN, which has seen landmark developments like the signing of the ASEAN Charter and finalisation of the Economic Blue-Print. As Singapore prepares to hand over the role of ASEAN Chair to Thailand, how much we appreciate the key role it has played in shaping ASEAN’s response in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. On behalf of ASEAN, Singapore co-chaired the ASEAN UN International Pledging Conference in Rangoon on 25 May. Australia supports an ongoing role for ASEAN in the much-needed reconstruction work in Burma. And we welcome ASEAN’s role in reaching out to the rest of the region. As I advised my ASEAN counterparts yesterday, Australia will provide a further $30 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Burma adversely affected by Cyclone Nargis. This will be in addition to the $25 million we have already provided and will be directed to those in greatest need – women, children and the displaced. In my recent meetings with the ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan I have discussed the adoption of the ASEAN Charter. This represents a further evolution of ASEAN as an organisation. It illustrates how ASEAN is trying to reconcile its traditional values of sovereignty and non-intervention with internal pressures for reforms in its decision-making processes. Australia welcomes as a positive step ASEAN agreement, under the new Charter, to establish a human rights body. ASEAN Foreign Ministers held their first meeting yesterday with the Panel charged with working out the details of this body’s mandate and operations. Once ratified, the Charter will help ASEAN evolve into an even stronger more integrated organisation. There are several key elements in Australia’s relationship with ASEAN: developmental cooperation, economic and trade links, and defence and security cooperation. Australia is one of ASEAN’s major development partners. In 2008-09, Australia’s total Official Development Assistance expenditure for the East Asia region will be nearly $1 billion, most of it for ASEAN member countries. Our development assistance is both bilateral and regional, and designed to reduce poverty and address transnational threats such as people trafficking, illicit drugs, terrorism, infectious diseases and regional economic integration. Australia recently announced Phase II of the ASEAN Australia Development Cooperation Program, which will continue to support ASEAN’s economic integration, including its goal of establishing an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. The East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum Australia is also pursuing economic outcomes in partnership with ASEAN at the East Asia Summit, whose Foreign Ministers’ Meeting I attended yesterday. In 2005, Australia became a founding member of the East Asia Summit, the body that groups ASEAN with China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Australia. The East Asia Summit is a major regional forum that makes a significant contribution to East Asian community building. It provides an invaluable opportunity for high-level discussions about critical issues like energy security, climate change and regional financial cooperation and integration. We welcome Singapore’s initiative to move to substantive consultations for EAS Foreign Ministers, and strongly support continuing this practice. Australia is also examining future options for economic and trade integration between the sixteen countries of the East Asia Summit, which collectively account for around 60 per cent of Australia’s trade. The recent track-two study into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA), essentially an EAS wide FTA, and the establishment of an Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) have been very positive developments. Australia supports the East Asia Summit’s trade and economic cooperation goals. We will continue to play a constructive role in advancing the interests of this important body. Our cooperation with ASEAN also embraces defence and security. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), founded in 1994, was in part an Australian diplomatic initiative. It remains the region’s primary multilateral security forum. The ARF positively contributes to counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and maritime security capacity building. It fosters military to military and civilian-military security cooperation. Both of these are crucial in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as the tragic events in Burma have shown. It is important that the ASEAN Regional Forum develop practical capabilities in this area. We look forward to collaborating with ASEAN Regional Forum partners in practical regional security initiatives, so the region becomes more responsive to its security challenges. In addition to the security-related work we do with ASEAN as a group, Australia contributes to regional security and stability through bilateral cooperation programs. We have defence relationships with all South-East Asian countries (except Burma), including the Five Power Defence Arrangements and the Lombok Treaty, an historic Agreement on the Framework for Security Cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, came into force in Perth on 7 February 2008. Close cooperation with ASEAN and its member states is essential for combating the terrorist threat in South-East Asia. We have concluded counter-terrorism MOUs with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Brunei. Australia recognises the great contribution ASEAN has made to regional stability, economic growth and cooperation over decades. It has been pivotal in bringing together the diverse communities of South-East Asia to the one table to jointly advance the region’s interests. An Asia Pacific Community ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit make a unique positive and constructive contribution to regional relations and regional cooperation. So, too, does APEC, which came into existence through Australian efforts, and which has an important role to play in promoting regional prosperity and security. The Government of Singapore will be hosting APEC in 2009, and we look forward to working closely with them. APEC, ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit processes can and should continue to develop in this complementary fashion. The reason Australia is able to work so well in these various regional bodies is that we share a common objective with our partners, including Singapore. Australia and Singapore both want to see a stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific. In the three and a half decades since Australia became a dialogue partner with ASEAN there have been enormous changes in the region. So we need to think about how to position the region to better shape and influence them. That’s why, consistent with our stated goal of engaging comprehensively with the Asia-Pacific region, the Prime Minister recently announced an Asia Pacific community initiative. The Asia Pacific community initiative is about encouraging a regional debate about where we want to be in 2020, as world economic and political influence continues its inexorable shift to Asia. The Prime Minister began a regional conversation about how the Asia Pacific regional architecture might evolve to meet future strategic, security, economic and political challenges and opportunities. About a regional body that would for the first time: • span the Asia- Pacific, and include the US, Japan, China, India, Indonesia and other states in the region; • engage in a spectrum of dialogue, cooperation and action on strategic, security, economic and political matters; • encourage the development of a genuine and comprehensive sense of community whose operating principle was cooperation. The existing regional bodies will continue to play their essential roles. There could be a new piece of architecture - as ASEAN and APEC once were – or it could evolve and emerge from the existing architecture, as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit have. As currently configured, none of the current architecture is comprehensive in membership, scope or purpose. No single grouping allows all of the key regional players to be in the same room at the same time, talking about both economic and strategic matters. India is not a part of APEC. The United States is not part of the East Asia Summit. As you know the Prime Minister has appointed a special envoy, Richard Woolcott, to engage with the region’s political and intellectual leaders and pursue this conversation. Conclusion Australia’s relations with ASEAN have never seen such potential. While we are in good shape, there is much more we can and need to do. The evolution and development of our regional architecture is vital for our region’s future prosperity. Helping create the right structures for the future, or helping them to emerge from existing ones, will be a difficult task, but it’s not a process we can afford to watch from the sidelines. As Australian industry in Singapore, you have a real stake in the work I’ve been describing. You live and work in a country which is trade and investment focused, and which benefits greatly from regional stability and growth. We want the region to keep growing and to keep prospering, and we want you to continue to make the most of the opportunities in this dynamic economy. I wish you and your colleagues every success. Thank you.
Mr Smith was sworn in as Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs on 3 December 2007. A barrister and solicitor by profession, he completed his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws at University of Western Australia and a Master of Laws at London University. He has practised as a barrister and solicitor in Perth and lectured and tutored in law in London. In 1991 and 1992, Mr Smith was Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Australia. Mr Smith has been the Federal Member for Perth since March 1993. Prior to his appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith held a range of Shadow Ministerial positions including Shadow Minister for Trade, Shadow Minister for Resources and Energy, Shadow Minister for Communications, Shadow Minister for Health, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations. From December 2006 until the federal election in November 2007, Mr Smith was the Shadow Minister for Education and Training.