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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1513

South China Sea


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (14:47): My question is to the foreign minister. Will the minister explain to the House the importance of clarity and consistency on policy in the South China Sea, and is she aware of any alternative approaches?


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:48): I thank the member for Menzies for his question and for his interest in this important issue. The South China Sea has the busiest shipping lanes in the world; indeed, two-thirds of our exports pass through that sea. It is the coalition's view that, in foreign affairs, clarity and consistency are all-important, especially when dealing with significant and difficult issues in our region and issues involving great powers.

This government has been utterly consistence in relation to the South China Sea, calling on all nations to refrain from coercive behaviour, calling on all nations to respect international law and, indeed, calling for China and the Philippines to accept the recent international arbitration ruling award as final and binding. As they have done for decades, Australian vessels and aircrafts will continue to exercise their rights of passage and overflight under international law in the South China Sea.

However, in contrast, what we have seen from the Leader of the Opposition is a complete failure of leadership on the South China Sea as Labor has announced inconsistent, contradictory positions. There was Senator Dastyari ceding almost all of the South China Sea to China by saying, 'The South China Sea is China's own affair.' Then, over the weekend, Labor's shadow defence minister decided that Australia should escalate tensions by having our navy conduct freedom-of-navigation operations within 12 nautical miles of Chinese controlled land features that are also contested by other claimants. We hear vague mutterings from the Leader of the Opposition, but it took the former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating to denounce Labor's latest pronouncements as 'shocking'.

This is too important an issue for Labor folly, indulgence and inconsistency. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to confirm that it is Labor's policy that the Australian Navy should sail within 12 nautical miles of contested features in the South China Sea, something Australia has not ever done before. Australia should be seeking to de-escalate tensions in the region. Australia is not a claimant state. Australia should not take sides, and we should continue to urge all parties to conduct peaceful negotiations between the claimants. It is time for the Leader of the Opposition to show some leadership over his party on this issue. It is too important for Australia to have the inconsistent mutterings from the Leader of the Opposition and his contradictory pronouncements on this issue.