Fullerton Forum Keynote

28 Jan 2019 Speech


Fullerton Forum Keynote

Monday 28 January 2019


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests.

It’s a great honour to be here at the seventh annual Fullerton Forum.

Over the years, the Forum has earned a reputation for incisive debate on regional security and defence policy, and for developing some of the key themes for the Shangri-La Dialogue later in the year.

I thank our host, the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

You play an important role in shaping our understanding of the region we share.

And I acknowledge my esteemed colleague – Minister for Defence – Dr Ng [Ung] Eng Hen. He is a great friend to Australia and a stalwart of the region.

This is my third visit to Singapore in just over a year, my second as the Australian Minister for Defence, and I first came as Minister for Defence Industry.

Pacific Step Up

I am here shortly after an important announcement made by the Australian Government.

Manus Island is an island of 50,000 people, it is characterised by its rugged jungle, deep water port and strategic location in the Pacific.

Last year, at the invitation of the Papua New Guinean Government, Australia has agreed to a major joint initiative which will see the development of the Lombrum Naval Base, the old HMAS Tarangau, on Manus Island.

This will create a vital operating base for the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Royal Australian Navy.

The development will significantly enhance our bilateral cooperation and help PNG protect its sovereignty, manage its borders and address a wide range of security challenges, including transnational crime and illegal fishing.

Our long naval history at Manus builds on many decades of maritime security cooperation in the wider Indo-Pacific.

Australia has committed two billion Australian dollars over 30 years, under the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, including giving 21 patrol boats to regional countries.

The first of these boats, soon to be delivered to Papua New Guinea, will named after Ted Diro.

It will pull in to its new home at Manus Island in just a few days.

Brigadier General Ted Diro, the first Commander of the PNG Defence Force, spent a significant amount of time as a young man in Australia.

Having won a scholarship to attend high school in Queensland, Ted was later commissioned into the Australian Army early in his career before returning home to serve his country with distinction.

So the arrival of the patrol boat bearing his name in Manus Island is a fitting first act for what Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced in late 2018
as the significant South Pacific Step-Up in our whole-of-government engagement with the Pacific region.

This strengthens our economic, people-to-people and security engagement in the Pacific, taking our partnerships across the region to a new level.

It builds on our existing cooperation through the Pacific Maritime Security Program – Australia’s 2 billion dollar commitment over 30 years to the Pacific region.

Within Defence, this Step Up includes six key areas of focus.

First, we are supporting our Pacific partners by establishing a rotational Pacific Mobile Training Team, which will be based in Australia and travel around the region to undertake training and engagement with our allies.

Second, the Australian Navy will increase its deployments in the Pacific with more exercises and training, and a focus on maritime security, targeting transnational crime and drug trafficking.

Third, the Australian Defence Force will have a dedicated large‑hulled vessel to support our increased engagement in the Pacific, to build interoperability with our partners and support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Fourth, we will establish support for annual meetings for Pacific defence and police chiefs in Australia.

This will promote stronger relations and develop a shared understanding of the common security challenges in our region.

Fifth, we will provide support for a security alumni network focused on maintaining and deepening the people-to-people connections forged over decades.

These people-to-people links are so vital (as with Ted Diro, the young army officer): training overseas builds a network and an understanding of neighbours, which is so very useful to these officers later in their career, many of whom progress to a career in public life.

And finally, the South Pacific Step-Up will see an increase in sporting engagements between the Australian Defence Force and Pacific island military forces.

As the service men and women in the room know well, sport is a big part of military life: we will build personal links across our region, one tackle and one
goal at a time.

We are also building on significant partnerships across the Pacific.

Defence is increasing support to Vanuatu to build their security capability through significant infrastructure upgrades for the Vanuatu Police Force.

The redeveloped Vanuatu Mobile Force facilities will deliver enhanced capability and stronger opportunities for training between the Australian Defence Force and the Vanuatu Mobile Force.

We are partnering with Fiji to redevelop the Blackrock Camp into a regional hub for police and peacekeeping training, and pre-deployment preparation.

A little over a week ago, Prime Minister Morrison visited Fiji to ceremonially
commence that revitalised relationship.

For decades, Fiji was one of Australia’s closest relationships in the South Pacific.

Under the previous Australian Government, that relationship was strained.

This Government has restored it.

In a choice between dialogue and engagement or isolation, I prefer dialogue and engagement.

The Prime Minister also announced the Fiji-Australia “Vuvale”, which means family, Partnership; a broad ranging and comprehensive agreement for deeper economic, security and people-to-people links.

We have put in place a bilateral security agreement with Solomon Islands and are strengthening our security arrangements with other Pacific Island countries to underpin our enhanced security engagement.

Australia is also delivering and majority-funding the construction of the Coral Sea Cable System – a high-speed undersea telecommunications link to the Solomon Islands and PNG.

This boost in connectivity will drive economic growth, improve governance and security, and will help create close to three hundred thousand new jobs in the Pacific by 2040.

That’s right, three hundred thousand new jobs: unlocked by the boost to the economy and growth that greater connectivity will provide.

Exercise Indo-Pacific Endeavour

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year’s Australian Defence Force exercise
Indo-Pacific Endeavour will see a major military task group deployed to the Indo‑Pacific region.

It provides an opportunity for Australia’s Defence Force to demonstrate their capabilities and to work alongside partner nations.

In 2019, the focus of Indo-Pacific Endeavour will be the Indian Ocean, in recognition of the Indian Ocean region’s rapid economic transformations and increasing strategic competition.

Engagement with India – a key strategic partner for Australia – will be the cornerstone of Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019.

This Task Group will participate in a series of activities and exercises framed around port visits to India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
and here in Singapore.

Indo-Pacific Endeavour demonstrates how Australia’s strategy for proactive engagement depends on our ability to grow the depth and sophistication of how
we work and operate together.

Our Pacific Step Up, and the steady stream of lower level engagement and exercises, is not a short-term commitment for us.

This is a significant and enduring engagement – underlined by our willingness to play a leading role in supporting security and peace in a potentially volatile region.

It is after all, our neighbourhood.

Because of the importance of the Indo-Pacific

So, the reasons for our Step-Up in the Pacific are clear and compelling.

The Indo-Pacific is home to eight of the ten most populous nations on earth.

50 per cent of the world’s population, including the world’s largest democracy,
call it home.

12 of the member states of the G20, including the three largest economies in the world are Indo-Pacific nations – not to mention ten of the world’s smallest economies.

Our sea lanes are the busiest in the world, with nine of the world’s ten busiest seaports and many of the largest cities of today and tomorrow.

It is no surprise, then, that militarisation has become a defining characteristic,
with seven of the world’s ten largest standing armies in the Indo-Pacific.

It is a region witnessing a major shift of global economic and political influence.

It is seeing the rise of new powers and the re-emergence of old ones.

It also plays host to the defining great power rivalry of our times – between the United States and China.

The rules based global order continues to be challenged, and requires the reinforcement of all those committed to its continued operation.

New and more insidious threats, particularly in the cyber realm, are challenging our security and law enforcement agencies, with little regard to borders.

As new levels of connectivity and interdependence are brought about by advances in technology and communications, this threat cannot be dealt with by one nation alone.

Oligarchies, as well as a host of non-state actors, pose new challenges to regional stability.

This is a region on the move, and it is increasingly apparent that it is one in which partnership must be our direction forward.

The Rules Based Global Order is under threat

We will face some difficult decisions about how to prioritise limited resources in this more complex and contested environment.

The risks we face are getting too varied, big and complex for any one country to reliably address alone.

Australia shares the ambitions of those that want a region where countries have the freedom to make their own choices.

Where there do not have to be choices between economic gain and sovereignty.

And in the Indo-Pacific’s vast maritime domains, where global commons abound, it is all the more important that free and open access to oceans is fostered and rules governing maritime behaviour are followed.

Countries will be more secure in a region characterised by respect for international law and other norms, where disputes are resolved peacefully, without the threat or use of coercion or force.

And countries will be more prosperous in a region where open markets facilitate the free flow of trade, capital, technology and ideas; where open markets facilitate prosperity and the well-being of our people.

This is why Australia championed the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and is participating in negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

We must therefore seek a balance that supports prosperity and helps protect the interests of all states – both large and small.

That’s why I do not agree with commentators who have sought to describe emerging great power competition as a new Cold War.

It’s a simplistic and unsophisticated characterisation of what is a much more complex and dynamic geostrategic paradigm.

Any division of the region into Cold War-like blocs is doomed to failure, since it would necessitate false choices between prosperity and security.

Unquestionably, rivalry between the US and China will be a feature of our international outlook in the foreseeable future.

However, it is critical that US-China relations do not come to be defined in wholly adversarial terms.

Cold War commentary fails to see a fundamental but defining difference, namely, that the world’s economies are far more closely integrated and mutually dependent than they were when the West contested the Soviet Bloc.

China has received strong support from major economies – including Australia
– in integrating its own economy with systems that have helped underpin and consolidate its growth, most notably the World Trade Organisation.

Growth we have all benefited from.

There is no gain in stifling China’s growth and prosperity.

This is not an agenda in any capital that I know.

We are not interested in containing China, but we are interested in engaging and encouraging China to exercise its power in ways that increase regional trust and confidence.

The building and militarisation of artificial features in the South China Sea, for instance, has not increased regional confidence in China’s strategic intentions.

Instead, it has increased anxiety.

On the other hand, resolving disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with international law would build confidence in China’s willingness to support and champion a strategic culture that respects the rights of all states.

As the exhortation goes, “to those that much is given, much is expected”, similarly for nation states, for those with great power comes great responsibility, and so I call on China to act with great responsibility in the South China Sea.

The Indo-Pacific we aspire to is one underpinned by the rules‑based order, which is open, inclusive, robust and free of coercion.

As such, we welcome China’s contributions to global security, including its participation in UN peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief, and anti-piracy operations.

Adherence to rules is what delivers security and prosperity, rather than tension and suspicion.

Yet the rule of law is under threat in many areas around the world.

It is under threat from oligarchies who think it is their birth right to simply annex their neighbor at will.

It is under threat from countries who treat all of cyber space like their own personal fiefdom, to do with as they will; to take what is not rightfully theirs.

Australia is prepared to play its part in defending the rule of law.

As such, we are open to conducting multilateral activities in the South China Sea to demonstrate that they are international waters.

In an age of increasing interdependence, a “might is right” approach serves the long-term interests of no country.

We fall short of our economic potential when parties choose to withdraw behind walls and withdraw from mechanisms designed to make us stronger.

Australia envisages a region that is more closely integrated and where we all collectively reject isolationism.

We must work together, not apart.

Working together, we can increase prosperity and security

It is thus our collective responsibility to preserve a system of rules and standards,
a system in which differences are managed peacefully.

This is why Australia is strengthening existing partnerships, most importantly our Alliance with the United States.

We value its importance and presence in establishing and promoting the norms and principles that have underpinned the region’s security and prosperity.

ASEAN, too, is a vital partnership for us, and central to the Indo-Pacific.

Australia has been intimately associated with ASEAN since its creation in 1967.

Part of the genius of ASEAN has been to create frameworks for the engagement of Australia and many others in the region.

Forums like the East Asia Summit are a key part of that.

As the region’s premier forum for discussing strategic challenges, Australia has sought to bolster the strategic role of the East Asia Summit so that it can positively influence the region’s rules and norms.

And the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus has established itself as the premier forum for practical defence engagement between 18 countries.

I was pleased to see all of my ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus counterparts at our last meeting here in Singapore, in October.

It was an opportunity to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to co-chairing with Indonesia the Experts’ Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations.

These and other ASEAN forums provide a platform for us to navigate the rapidly shifting strategic environment.

ASEAN’s success in rising to this challenge is fundamental to the interests of the region, including Australia.

Australia’s place in the world has always been tied to this region. We are neighbours; we are partners; we are friends – strategically, economically, geographically, culturally.

As both the 2016 Defence White Paper and the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper make clear, Australia’s key interests now, and in the future, lie in the Indo-Pacific.

So we are deepening our regional cooperation in practical ways, based on shared interests in defending our sovereignty and expanding our prosperity.

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit held in Sydney in March 2018 marked a new era in our increasingly close relationship.

The Sydney Declaration affirms ASEAN’s central role in evolving a rules‑based regional architecture that is open and inclusive, and promotes stability and prosperity.

It sets out our joint commitment to work towards a more secure, prosperous and peaceful region.

Australia has already backed that Declaration with real action.

For example, we have instituted the ASEAN-Australia Defence Postgraduate Scholarship.

It is the first of its kind.

It will allow the best and brightest defence officials in ASEAN and Australia to work together, compare notes on how the region is evolving, and develop strategic thought as a cohort at the Australian National University.

We have unique, longstanding partnerships with individual ASEAN members such as Singapore and Malaysia, in the Five Powers Defence Arrangements.

Our personnel and training exchanges with ASEAN countries have also built up not only better capability and interoperability among partner forces, but also solid people-to-people links.

All of this is part of a bigger picture. And we are proud to play our part.

We are focused on engaging – as a priority – our neighbours and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia conducts over 70 multilateral and bilateral exercises in the region on a regular basis in support of these goals.

These exercises allow us to share best practices, improve interoperability and build trust. This engagement must be underpinned, however, by a robust commitment to strong and effective defence forces.

A Credible Force to Deter Coercion

As an island nation, it’s no coincidence that the Australian Government is investing in the maritime security of the region.

And we’re not alone.

Just last week I visited Japan, and was briefed on the new Japanese National Defence Program Guidelines.

Japan is investing 340 billion Australian dollars over the next five years, a record high and an increase of 35 billion Australian dollars.

Australia strongly supports Japan’s efforts to build and modernise their sovereign capabilities, and to play a strategic role in the Indo-Pacific that is commensurate with their great economic strength.

Australia is deep into the largest build-up of our maritime capability since the Second World War.

We are investing over 90 billion Australian dollars in a fleet of 55 leading‑edge ships.

12 Attack Class submarines, nine Hunter Class anti‑submarine warfare frigates, 12 Arafura Class offshore patrol vessels, one hydrographic ship, and 21 Guardian Class patrol boats for Pacific Island Countries and Timor Leste.

We have also invested in new capabilities providing greater maritime awareness to both Australia and our partners.

One element of the suite of capabilities I am particularly keen to bring to bear in our engagement in the Indo-Pacific is Australian expertise and knowledge.

This is why we offer 1,000 training positions in Australia to military officers from South East Asian nations.

We are also boosting our support to those nations’ agencies working to combat a broad range of maritime security threats.

The beauty of this engagement is not just in what we give but what we receive – in the knowledge and experience of our Indo-Pacific partners who want to address the same opportunities and challenges we do.

As the rate of technological disruption adds risk to long-term defence projects, we are supporting our generational investment in new Defence capability with a significant new focus on building the capabilities and partnerships we have with defence industry.

We are investing over 200 billion dollars in strengthening our defence capabilities and growing the Defence budget to two per cent of Gross Domestic Product by 2020-21.

Our aim is to provide a credible force to deter coercion.

But Australia cannot do this alone

We live in a more uncertain, competitive and contested world, and we will need to be increasingly engaged and agile in how we pursue our shared interests.

Fundamental to our success will be the understanding that security and prosperity are intimately linked.

And that, despite this connection, prosperity alone cannot serve as a guarantor for security.

We must be architects of a durable peace that anticipates the challenges of the future, rather than looks wistfully to accommodations of the past.

We must welcome competition – not fear it – by holding ourselves, and others,
to the rules that extend equal opportunity to all.

To do this, we need to nurture regional structures that sustain security, build mutual trust and uphold the rule of law.

We need to build defence forces that are responsive to new challenges.

And we need to strengthen cooperative arrangements that draw on our shared stake in individual sovereignty and collective prosperity.


There is no question we all face some big challenges ahead.

Australia has moved forward in this space: taking a step up in the Pacific, reprioritising our investments and effort, refreshing our friendships and alliances and undertaking a significant boost to our defence capabilities.

But this is not something we can do alone.

It will take the concentrated effort of all of the nations represented here to keep our region stable, prosperous and secure.

Our default needs to be engagement, not unilateralism; dialogue not isolation.

To recognise that transnational problems need multinational solutions.

To put ourselves in the shoes of our neighbours and think from their point of view.

Now I know that’s no easy task.

And I’m sure I’m not alone in that challenge.

But if ever it is the time to do so, it is now.

Now is the time to reach out and engage.

Whenever I meet someone and give them my card, I always say: “By the way,
I read my own emails”.

Most people don’t believe it – they imagine an army of gatekeepers and staff checking and filtering.

But truly I do, because it’s the best way to stay in touch with my constituents, the broader Australian public, and experts and counterparts from around the world.

And I’m here to reach out to you.

I read my own emails: and I want you to reach out to me, to everyone else in this room, to those you meet and will meet across the great and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

This Forum is such a fantastic opportunity to do that.

By rejecting isolationism, rejecting suspicion and embracing engagement we can increase trust, develop closer links, and forge a new path forward.

Through such engagement we can all play our part in safeguarding our region’s prosperity and the well-being of our people.

Because when all is said and done, thatis our shared responsibility.

Thank you