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Speech for the Bali Democracy Forum opening session, Denpasar

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It’s a great pleasure to be back in this beautiful island to support this important meeting.

I want particularly to acknowledge our host, the founder of the Bali Democracy Forum, President Yudhoyono.

Your Excellency, Indonesia is a close neighbour but, more than that, you are a close partner and friend.

Your personal initiative in launching this Forum in December 2008 is only one example of your statesmanship and vision.

The Bali Democracy Forum is also striking proof of Indonesia’s own remarkable democratic transformation since 1998.

Australia has been proud to work with you in this important Forum.

From the first, Australia has shared and understood your vision: for this to be an open means to promote discussion about democracy, not a closed meeting between democracies.

In your words here last year, “to exchange views, promote dialogue and produce solutions”.

We have enthusiastically joined with you.

My predecessor, Kevin Rudd, co-chaired the inaugural meeting with you in 2008 and the Australian Government has been represented at senior levels at every Forum since.

It is an opportunity for Australia to show our support for your initiative and to share our support for democratic practices and values in our region - and the fact that we do so here, in Indonesia, is fitting indeed.

Australia and Indonesia are democratic neighbours.

Indeed Mr President, we recall your own words at that first forum four years ago, when you said: I do not believe in the notion that ‘democracy is not for Asia’. Many of democracy’s success stories have occurred in Asia ... There are many

records of the practice of pluralism, consultation, tolerance, consensus building, mutual accommodation, egalitarianism, protection of minority rights throughout Asia.

Mr President, I could not agree more - indeed I have seen this with my own eyes.

Australia is proud to have provided not just moral support and encouragement but practical, active assistance for Indonesia’s three national elections since 1998.

As a young parliamentarian I came here to Indonesia to be an election monitor for those first free and fair elections fourteen years ago.

I’ll never forget the remarkable days I spent among the villages of West Timor as they gathered to vote - and it is a great privilege to return once again to a democratic Indonesia today.

Here is a thoroughly democratic system, thoroughly home-grown and rooted in the people’s own culture and values.

Mr President, the experience of your own nation and that of many others has shown us that the practices and values of democracy can be applied in this region.

This is important for the rights of the people.

Human rights are most secure where government is limited by constitutions and laws, where powers are separated, where free and fair elections are the norm.

Where political speech is free, decision-making is transparent and open and the views and aspirations of citizens find a voice.

And your own nation and many others have also shown that over time the path to democracy is also the best path to development and peace.

The wellbeing of societies, no less than the rights of individuals, is built by our democratic practices and values.

The rule of law, stable property rights, functioning markets and free trade unions all foster economic prosperity and social stability, not just individual freedom.

With all this in mind, Australia comes to Bali as a willing partner to all nations who are on the democratic path - our people have a democratic temper.

Australia was amongst the first to adopt the secret ballot, to remove property qualifications for the vote, to extend the right to vote and the right to stand for election to women.

As it does for all democracies, our progress took time - we bring with us hard-won lessons of many patient decades of democratic innovation.

We are not complacent - we work to improve our democratic practices, to increase transparency of political parties, to improve electoral systems.

And our experience of working with our friends in the region as they build their own democracies is considerable.

Right here and right now the question that must be answered is this: what is the best way that we can support the goals and aspirations of this Forum.

First, we can provide practical support to the conduct of elections.

While there is more to democracy than voting, no single measure does more to embed democracy in a society than the effective conduct of free and fair elections.

Australia funded the Global Commission’s recent report, Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide - and we endorse its key recommendation that donor funding and political engagement continue throughout the electoral cycle, not simply at election time.

Through our development aid program, Australia has supported the strengthening of electoral cycle processes in Indonesia, PNG, the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.

In Timor-Leste, we have also provided electoral support since 1999, including working with the National Electoral Commission to assist with this year’s successful Parliamentary elections.

We help train election officials, civil society organisations and media representatives in civil education and election management, in order to increase the public understanding of, and support for, these electoral processes.

Australia has also supported the Indonesian Government’s Institute for Peace and Democracy since its inception here in Bali in 2008, including in its work with emerging leaders of Egyptian civil society.

And I am pleased to announce today that Australia will further support the work of the Institute through a partnership over the next 3 years, from 2013 to 2015.

Australia is also ready to offer practical support and encouragement where countries have taken positive steps towards a democratic future.

As we have when for example, we acknowledge recent progress towards elections in Fiji, where we have been supporting voter registration.

As we have when we respond to political opening in Myanmar, where we have lifted sanctions, normalised trade and investment links and resumed leader-level political contacts.

Second, we should support the development of the civil society institutions which participate in democratic electoral processes - and support measures to include minority groups in democratic politics.

Through the Centre for Democratic Institutions, Australia supports the efforts of governments in Melanesia, Timor-Leste and Indonesia to achieve democratic reform through parliamentary and political party strengthening activities.

Australia partners with Transparency International to strengthen citizen engagement against corruption in the Asia Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Australia is also currently Chair of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

Through IDEA we support the strengthening of election observation, capacity building for electoral management bodies, strengthening of political parties and support to constitution building-work in member states.

Third, we must encourage the participation of women in democratic processes.

In Australia, in the region, in every corner of the world - all women are born equal to men.

Yet this inherent equality is far from reflected in the politics and functions of our societies.

Consider the Pacific, where women hold five per cent of parliamentary seats - compared to a global average of 18 per cent.

This is why Australia’s new 10-year $320 million Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program will include mentoring and training to female members of parliament and candidates - above all, so they can run in elections and win.

I recently took up a role as Champion for the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education Initiative, Education First, with a particular focus on lifting the education of women and girls - and in turn, to lift their social and political participation.

As co-chair of the Secretary-General’s Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group my personal commitment is to prioritise education and the rights of women and girls.

Not only because of the transformative power of education in human development but because of the importance of education to deepening democratic norms.

Finally, Australia lends not only our hand, but our voice.

We not only support democratic practices, we speak out for democratic values. Our region has many histories and stages of political development.

There is no single template for democracy.

But there are universal and enduring values, enshrined in international law, which underpin democracy and bring dignity to every individual.

Values such as non-discrimination, the right to liberty, equal treatment before the law, freedom of thought and religion, and freedom of speech and assembly.

Australia is committed to internationally stated and agreed values of development, democracy and peace - above all, to the right of all societies and nations to exist in security and peace.

A peace in which the rights of every person and every nation are respected - in which agreements between nations are respected and no nation threatens another.

I want to leave you with one final, vital observation.

Fifteen years ago, a person who predicted that today the Australian Prime Minister, the Timor-Leste Prime Minister and the President of Indonesia would all be elected leaders of democratic nations would have risked being dismissed as utopian or naïve - never mind had they predicted that all three elected leaders would meet in an atmosphere of friendship and goodwill.

Yet that is now unremarkable - and I am so pleased to be here with President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Gusmao again today.

The lesson is that we should never be imprisoned by the past - indeed if the history of the nations gathered here tells us one thing above all, it is how quickly democratic change can come.

The past informs the future, but it should never determine it.

I look forward to the discussion which will follow, and I know many other important points will emerge.

Thank you.