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Creating a secure environment for Australia in the Asia-Pacific Region: address to the Annual State Conference of the South Australia Branch of the Returned & Services League

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by the

Minister for Foreign Affairs The Hon. Alexander Downer MP

to the

Annual State Conference of the South Australia Branch of the Returned & Services League

Creating a Secure Environment for Australia in the Asia-Pacific Region

Adelaide, 4 July 1998

(Check Against Delivery)

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Creating a Secure Environment for Australia in the Asia-Pacific Region

Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Annual State Conference of the Returned & Services League, South Australia Branch Adelaide, 4 July 1998.


On behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address this Conference and to express Bruce Scott’s sincere regrets that he is unable to attend today. As you know, this weekend Mr Scott is in France, where he is taking part in joint commemorations with the French Government to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

I am pleased to be able to speak to you today because the RSL has not only played an invaluable role over the years in promoting the interests of ex-service men and women, but has also been at the forefront in community discussion of the defence and security policies of Australia I want briefly to discuss with you today the Government’s approach on both of these matters.

Suitable Acknowledgement of the Contributions of Ex-Service Personnel

Bruce Scott’s duties in France involve him in a number of ceremonies which will see Australians receive appropriate recognition for their part in the battles of the Great War.

The first of these will be the dedication later today of a memorial park to the Australian Corps, funded by the Australian Government, on land donated by the French Government at Hamel, the site of an important victory for the Australians under Lieutenant General Sir John Monash. The second will be the ceremonial burial tomorrow of Private Russell Bosisto of the 27th Battalion, whose remains were found near Pozieres earlier this year. And the third, later tomorrow, will be the dedication of a memorial park at Fromelles to the memory of the Australians of the 5th Division

who lost their lives in that terrible battle.

Those will be occasions for remembrance and sober reflection on the bravery and self-sacrifice of our forbears. But I am pleased that it will also be an opportunity to say "thank you" directly to four Australian First World War veterans who will take part in the ceremonies, including one who will need no introduction to you all - Howard Pope, 101 years young and who was also a member of the

27th Battalion. I am also tremendously pleased, as I’m sure you are, that Howard and his fellow diggers are to receive the Legion of Honour from a grateful French Government.

These are significant moments in commemorating the sacrifice made by Australian men and women in the service of their country. But they are just part of the recognition that the Government continues to give Australia’s veteran community.

That recognition was clearly demonstrated in the recent Federal Budget, which confirmed the Prime M inister’s announcement that the Gold Card will be extended to all Australian veterans over 70 years of age who faced hostile forces during World W ar Two. This will provide Gold Cards to an additional 50,000 veterans, and the Government will now turn its attention to other veterans groups who wish to receive a similar extension of the Card’s facilities. The Budget also contained an

increase of $6.80 per fortnight to war widows’ and war widowers’ pensions, which will benefit over 100,000 people - 6,000 of them in South Australia.

For veterans in South Australia, I note that the amalgamation committee reviewing operations at Daw Park Hospital has abandoned plans for a single incorporated Health Service, and am pleased

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of Veterans’ Affairs. The Government has also announced that it will provide a grant of $1.7 million to the W ar Veterans Home at Myrtle Bank, and the opening of a new Veterans’ Information Service through the Centrelink Office in Mount Gambier means that veterans in the south-east no longer have to do business by phone, or during six-monthly visits by officers from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

In relation to all these initiatives, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of the RSL and veterans generally, whose successful cooperation will benefit not only veterans, but the community at large.

Our National Security - the Domestic Context

I turn now to another issue I know is of concern to you all - what the Government is doing to help create a secure environment for Australia.

The foundations of national security lie in a strong domestic economy. Since coming to office two years ago, the Government has made the restoration of Australia’s economic fortunes its main focus.

As a result, Australia’s macroeconomic fundamentals are the best for more than a quarter of a century. We have the lowest inflation seen since the 1970’s, a budget surplus of $2.7 billion instead of the $10.5 billion deficit we inherited in 1996, and an economy that grew by 4.9 per cent in the

year to March 1998. In all these areas, Australia is a world-leader.

On that foundation, we need to build a defence force that is more efficient and effective, and capable of delivering a hefty military punch when needed. The Government has implemented the Defence Reform Program within the ADF to re-focus our forces, to meet growing demands for modernising capabilities, and to get more out of our defence dollar.

As my colleague the Minister for Defence has pointed out, the Government’s priority is to ensure that Australia’s armed forces continue to have the capability to defend our territory and interests from armed attack. The ability to defend our maritime approaches, and therefore the need to operate our forces beyond our shoreline, will be essential objectives for our defence policy. Likewise, attention to training and education of our defence personnel will be vital if Australia is to maintain a "knowledge edge", and to stay at the forefront of the Revolution in Military Affairs.

Three Layers of Australian Security Arrangements

Now I don’t need to tell you that having our own house in order is not enough to ensure national security. It is vitally important that Australia be active in fostering a secure environment for itself, both within our immediate region and in a wider context.

The Government seeks to promote Australia’s security interest through an interlinked series of activities that are carried out on three levels - globally, regionally and bilaterally.

The end of the Cold War has meant that the risk of world-wide conflict has diminished considerably, but other potential threats to the world and to Australia remain, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the global level, the Australian Government takes a strong interest in security issues, particularly efforts to strengthen multilateral arms control and

disarmament regimes.

It was, for example, an Australian initiative which helped bring the Chemical Weapons Convention to fruition, and Australia also played a significant role in bringing the negotiation and adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to a successful conclusion. Australia is currently at the

forefront of moves to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention through the negotiation of a

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United States and other countries, sought to keep Iraq to its word in relation to a full accounting to UNSCOM of its weapons of mass destruction programs.

Australia has also been active in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, the international community’s primary arms control negotiating forum. It has a proven track record in negotiating effective, verifiable global disarmament and non-proliferation treaties which have helped reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction, including in Australia’s area of primary strategic concern.

In addition to leading the establishment of a consensus in the CD on negotiating a ban on landmines transfers, Australia is also promoting the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty as the next building block in the international nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Australia is committed to continuing to make every effort to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, through effective and verifiable means. These efforts can keep at bay the global dangers that would arise from unchecked proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the terribly destabilising effects that they would inevitably have on our own region.

At the regional level, Australia supports strongly the work of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

The ARF is giving practical expression to an emerging common interest among regional countries in promoting stability and security. This year, Australia played a leading role as co-chair, with Brunei, of the ARF’s Intersessional Support Group (ISG) on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), in which good progress has been made on defence-related CBMs and the involvement of defence practitioners in the ARF process.

The ARF is now firmly established as the primary multilateral fomm for dialogue on security issues in the Asia Pacific. It has made important strides in developing the habits of dialogue and cooperation which underpin trust and mutual respect in the region. Importantly, the ARF is not avoiding the more sensitive security issues - it is discussing, with the participation of some of the countries directly affected, the potential implications of the regional financial crisis, South Asian

nuclear testing, and developments in the South China Sea.

The ARF needs to keep moving forward in practical and effective w'avs, and ARF member states must give close attention to fostering the ARF’s forward-looking agenda. While advancing its confidence-building measures agenda, the ARF must also promote a better capacity to contribute to the avoidance and management of regional differences and disputes - indeed, it has already begun to discuss the development within the region of appropriate mechanisms of preventive diplomacy.

Strong, confident relationships provide the underpinning for regional stability and effective multilateral security cooperation. For this reason, Australia has been extending the number of countries with which it has bilateral dialogues on regional security issues.

In 1996, we commenced political-military talks with Japan and the Republic of Korea. Last year we agreed to commence four new important bilateral regional security dialogues with the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and China.

Our dialogue with Indonesia on regional security and arms control issues has now been running for four years, and we have a successful program of cooperation under the bilateral Agreement on Maintaining Security. We have regular contact with Malaysia and Singapore on security issues and through defence cooperation arising from our participation in the Five Power Defence Arrangements. Cooperation with Papua New Guinea proceeds under our Joint Declaration of Principles, and with New Zealand under ANZUS and Closer Defence Relations.

The Government has also revitalised our ANZUS alliance with the United States. Australia believes that the United States’ continuing engagement in the region is a critical factor for regional stability, and that our alliance makes a valuable contribution to regional security. Of course, it is * ^ 1 · ' S / ' * · * ? · . * * ·· * ·* ···* · v ·· V . v ^ { ί y · v * ·;··· *·; *’ ··'. + ' • 4 · k · .·. V eN <·**··* ·â– *.*·····.*:* ***** '·.··· '* «â–º ··**·· " * * 4 ···* * ··*


the role of the United States, and the changing relationships between it, China, Japan and, in the longer term, India and Russia - that will largely determine the nature of the Asia Pacific’s strategic environment over the next decade and a half.

The Australian Defence Force also continues to contribute a great deal to Australia’s closer engagement with the region. The ADF maintains an important network of people-to-people links which have contributed to strategic dialogues, and to the strengthening of ties in a range of Australia’s most important bilateral relationships. These contacts also help build the transparency

and mutual trust which Australia seeks to promote in regional forums like the ARF. For example, the ADF has over the past year made good progress in building ties with China, though an exchange of ships visits and the establishment of military-to-military talks.

With the addition of our new dialogues, Australia now has bilateral security linkages, in one form or another, with most of the countries of the East Asia/Pacific region - adding further depth and substance to Australia's regional engagement.

Australia’s aid program also helps advance our security interests. In Bougainville, we are providing $100 million over five years to help reconstruct the war-tom island. In Indonesia, we’ve provided more than $50 million in humanitarian aid to assist with that country’s response to the regional

financial crisis. Australia has spent $26 million since 1995 on international de-mining assistance as part of my pledge to commit $100 million on de-mining over 10 years in countries like Laos and Cambodia, and $50 million to help many thousands of Vietnamese villagers obtain clean and safe water supplies. Our aid programs help our neighbours improve their standard of living and develop more effective and open structures of government, which helps make our region a more stable place.

The activities that the Government has initiated at all these levels have one fundamental aim - the advancement of Australia’s interests through the creation of a secure international and regional environment.

The Financial Crisis and Nuclear Tests - the Latest Challenges to Security

There have been two major developments in our region since your last State Conference, and I would like now to touch on them both.

The first is the onset of the economic difficulties which are testing the flexibility and durability of the region’s governments and institutions. These stresses have potential flow-on effects for stability and security.

The White Paper and Strategic Review put out by the Government last year noted that the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific region has become considerably more complex, particularly with the shift of the global strategic landscape away from the Cold W ar's bipolar balance. Both documents concluded that the rapid economic growth of recent decades was changing strategic relativities among regional countries, and that the uneven distribution of this growth might exacerbate political, economic and cultural differences in ways which could create new sources of instability.

The same, of course, applies to rapid economic downturns, and we will need to look closely in the coming months and years to see whether there have been fundamental shifts in the pattern of changing strategic relativities.

Australia is helping to resolve the economic difficulties of the region, and lessen the likelihood of instability, at all three of the levels I have just mentioned.

Multilaterally, we have been urging the IMF and other agencies to take political, social and cultural matters into account when arranging rescue packages for the economies in direst need. Regionally, •.:«..'swer-.wiIJ b e ^ t iv e ^ A P E ( 5 4 o - s e e k s a t o t ie e e 't 0 r t ii» ^ * a B e ia iT a n d < e c e » 0 ^ c ' ^ a b l » i i i . ' t i i e 1r6^p9n,-,t ,->'''··'·v '·


while the ARF will develop a coordinated regional response to the security aspects of the crisis. Bilaterally, we are working actively with all our neighbours on both the economic and aid fronts to bolster their efforts to shorten the duration of the current economic problems.

Similar considerations apply in Australia’s responded to the recent nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan.

Australia has a direct security interest in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in our region, and is deeply concerned at the nuclear tests. The actions of India and Pakistan show a flagrant defiance of international non-proliferation norms and have serious implications for global and regional security.

Bilaterally, we made our attitude clear to both countries by recalling our Ambassadors for consultations, by suspending our defence relations with the two countries, by cancelling all visits by Ministers and senior officials, and by suspending non-humanitarian aid. Regionally, we have

supported the condemnation of the tests at the recent ARF Senior Officials' Meeting, and moves to have the tests and their implications considered at the next ARF Ministerial meeting in late July. At the global level, we have helped generate condemnation of the testing in the Conference on Disarmament and the United Nations Security Council. We have also pursued the issue at the

International Atomic Energy Agency, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation and within other appropriate forums.

Conclusion - the Need for Australia to Keep Engaged

The recent regional economic crisis, and the decision by India and Pakistan to undertake tests of nuclear weapons, brought into stark relief one fundamental truth for Australians who may want to turn their backs on the world and its complications.

It is something that Australia’s service men and women have proven through their commitment and sacrifice around the globe for almost as long as Australia has existed as a nation.

It is this: if we want a secure and prosperous Australia, we must be engaged - with the world, with our region, and with our neighbours.

Strength and self-reliance, which have been this Government's consistent policies, are just the start. True security lies beyond our front door, beyond our street, and beyond our last suburbs. This Government will ensure that, wherever matters that affect the security of our nation are being discussed or tested, we will be there, to ensure that the outcome is a safer Australia.

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