Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer
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The Hon Alexander Downer MP
Meeting Global Challenges: Australia and Europe
Thank you Eero Vuohula for your kind words of introduction.
It is a great pleasure to be here in Helsinki – my first visit.
I want to thank Dr Tapani Vaahtoranta and the Institute for providing me with the opportunity to address you this evening. I am pleased to be able to contribute to the Institute’s lecture series on the EU.
It might seem strange that an Australian Foreign Minister would be part of an EU lecture series but Australia and the EU share many common interests and cooperate closely across a range of issues – many of which I hope to touch on tonight.
I’d like to start by asking you to imagine a straight line running between Helsinki and Canberra and to think about what lies between our two capitals – the great Eurasian power of Russia … Central Asia … Iran and the challenge its nuclear program poses to the non-proliferation regime and the security of an already sensitive region … Afghanistan, still under threat from the Taliban … the emerging giants of China and India … and the new democracy of Indonesia.
Clearly, we are separated by great stretches of geography. But that’s almost irrelevant, because we are joined very closely by shared values and also by the global challenges that engage us in those vital parts of the world – the fight against terrorism and the anti-liberal ideology which supports it, the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the challenge of weak and failing states, the growing energy needs of China and India, and the increasingly pressing issue of climate change, to name a few. Just as we share these challenges, we also share the responsibility for responding to them.
I believe the partnership between Europe and Australia is a strong platform for addressing these challenges. But before I discuss this further I’d like to reflect first on the relationship between Australia and Finland.
We know the people of Finland are resourceful and hardy – with a reputation for independent action and an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s no surprise that a Finn was one of the very first Europeans to set foot in Australia.
When Captain James Cook embarked on his great voyage of discovery to the South Pacific in 1768 – in an old coal ship just 30 meters long - he had with him a Finnish draughtsman and naturalist named Herman Spoering. As many of you may know, Spoering made a significant contribution to the recording of the voyage and its discovery. Sadly, weakened by the long voyage, he died before the Endeavour returned home.
In Australia, to keep this Finnish explorer’s name alive, we’ve named a street after him in our capital city, Canberra. And since Spoering’s epic journey there are now around 17,000 people of Finnish descent for whom Australia is home.
Europe’s place in the World
It’s been seven years since Finland last held the EU presidency. And much has changed in that time. The EU itself has almost doubled in size, growing from 15 to 25 member states. And today, the European Commission gave the green light for Romania and Bulgaria join the European Union on the first of January next year and so become a union of 27 member states next year.
It is critical for the European Union, with its increased weight and ability to influence global affairs, to engage beyond the concentric circles of foreign policy which bind themselves tightly around Europe.
Finland has a particularly important role in setting Europe’s directions. I was very pleased to hear Prime Minister Vanhanen say that Finland’s aim for the EU Presidency was to promote a “New Europe”. A Europe that should – to quote Mr Vanhanen - “look into the future, participate in global change and ideally lead it”.
Australia stands ready to work with Europe to promote global peace and prosperity. We have strongly supported the EU3’s efforts on non-proliferation with Iran.
Similarly, we’ve welcomed Europe’s contributions to peace in the Middle East, its response to the crisis in Lebanon, and to reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. And I acknowledge the positive role that Finland, as current President of the EU, is playing in dealing with these challenges.
One of the issues that I was able to discuss today with your Foreign Minister, and yesterday with members of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, was Afghanistan.
Both Australia and Finland have contributed troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Australian forces have been deployed, in partnership with Dutch forces, to the south of the country where the security environment is particularly uncertain. The Taliban believe that they can outlast us – as they have outlasted others. But the history of the Taliban and their support for terrorists who have killed on a mass scale mean that we simply can’t afford to fail in Afghanistan.
Australia and Europe – Developing a key partnership in the Asia-Pacific
The Asia-Pacific region is not immune, or isolated, from these challenges. It is the responsibility of countries like ours, with shared democratic values to work together to address them.
Australia and Europe have the opportunity to lift the level and profile of our relationship to create a “key partnership” to meet these challenges. We are already moving to develop this in the areas of counter-terror and in efforts to stabilise and contribute to the rebuilding of weak or failing states.
On our part, Australia has concluded a series of Memoranda of Understanding on Counter-Terrorism with 12 countries from India, across South East Asia to Fiji. These agreements flow from mutual interest and the sharing of expertise and information and they underpin pragmatic, behind the scenes, cooperation between police, intelligence and border protection agencies.
The EU and some of its member states have joined with Australia to provide funds and expertise to a centre set up by regional countries in Jakarta to develop capacity and expertise in confronting terrorism in South East Asia.
The Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) is a very practical initiative, building the collaboration necessary for an effective regional response to be made to the threat of terrorism. A number of terror networks in the region have already been disrupted but much more needs to be done.
Australia has proposed to the EU several new areas for further collaboration in counter-terror cooperation involving Australia, the EU and South East Asian countries: these proposals have been designed as a practical, results-oriented, way forward. If accepted by the EU, they would give real meaning to the notion of a “key partnership” between Australia and Europe in counter terrorism activities in South East Asia.
Finland, and the EU, have already made a notable contribution to security in South East Asia. The initiative taken by your former President Maarti Ahtisaari to broker a peace deal in Aceh represented an important contribution to the strengthening of peace and stability in Indonesia.
Practical cooperation has been the hallmark of Australia’s commitment to East Timor – Australian Defence Force personnel and police worked with counterparts from New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal to restore order after riots earlier this year. We are providing a significant green helmet military contingent in East Timor to complement the UN police force.
Europe, through contributions to the UN, and to development assistance, has an important role to play in stabilising and rebuilding this country.
The European Union has the world’s largest bilateral aid program. We welcome the EU’s engagement with Australia in the development of its proposed new strategy for the Pacific region. Australia has joined with 14 other Pacific countries in a Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands – or RAMSI. RAMSI is about restoring law and order – some 150 advisers are working to rebuild the institutions of government and put the government of the Solomon Islands on a more stable footing.
Coordination in design and delivery of aid programs to the Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations is critical to the success of such programs – here Australia and Europe can also develop their relationship into a “key partnership” that delivers real benefits to regional security and weak and failing states.
The increased global dependence on, and competition for energy resources is another issue I’d like to mention, because it’s a challenge that both Europe and Australia share. Australia has a strong stake in this area as a major supplier of the world’s energy resources. We’re currently the world’s largest exporter of coal. We’re the 5th largest exporter of LNG. And we supply over 60 per cent of the world’s uranium needs, including to Finland. But we are also an importer of oil and like Europe, we’re keen to diversify our energy mix.
So we’re naturally interested in Europe’s move towards developing a Common External Energy Policy.
In Australia, the Government recently decided to undertake a review of our future options for nuclear energy. As a part of that review, we’re looking at alternative processes in the nuclear fuel cycle, including conversion and enrichment. I’m very much looking forward to visiting some of your nuclear facilities tomorrow and keen to hear European views on the role of nuclear energy.
Australia is strongly committed to combating climate change. We’re working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly through the cleaner use of fossil fuels and low emissions technology. Australia is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, even though we are one of the few countries presently on track to meet the targets we would have faced under Kyoto.
So, we are focusing our efforts on practical initiatives that can be taken, including through the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The Partnership includes key developing and developed country emitters – China, India, Japan, Korea and the United States – and focuses on action to develop low-emissions technologies. It recognises that climate change actions should complement, and not frustrate, economic development and energy security goals. And this initiative is complementary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, G8, and other climate activities.
A Changing Europe
As a long-time friend and partner, we look forward to seeing the EU assume its rightful place on the international stage, as a strong, outward-looking and competitive global player.
Europe’s and Australia’s close relationship is founded on a rich history of partnership and achievement. We must now turn our attention to what more we can achieve together in an era littered with challenges, but full of opportunities.
We need to position ourselves for the challenges, ensuring that our domestic policy settings are robust and able to support our international efforts.
Finland has already led the way, making competitiveness a key issue of the Finnish EU Presidency. Now a number of other EU member states are making difficult decisions to address the economic challenges of low growth and unemployment. I notice that the most recent economic figures are encouraging.
For Europe there will be difficulties in bringing about this change and overcoming resistance to it. This resistance is common amongst all of our constituents. But strong leadership and maintaining a clear direction for the future is essential.
Australia is an example of a country which has faced and responded vigorously to similar domestic economic challenges. We have undergone significant reform over the past two decades. And the investment, while painful for some sectors of the community at the time, is now paying dividends. We’ve liberalised trade, foreign investment and financial markets. We’ve introduced two sets of workplace relations reforms, as well as tax and corporate law reforms. And we’ve implemented a broad-ranging National Competition Policy Agenda.
An economic challenge that Australia is currently grappling with – and one which is also common to Europe – is that of our ageing population. It’s predicted that over the next 40 years, the number of Australians over the age of 65 will double, while the number of Australians in the workforce will stay unchanged. This is a challenge that we’re actively working to address by building further flexibility into our labour market policies. I’m pleased to see that through the “jobs and growth” strategy of the Lisbon Agenda, Europe is also planning ahead in this regard. The evidence is clear that some EU member states are already pursuing these reform agendas are growing.
So Ladies and Gentlemen, these are testing times, and the global challenges we face are indeed diverse.
But we must embrace these challenges and turn them into opportunities – opportunities for global prosperity. Europe has a rightful place and a leadership role to play in this vision. A strong and open Europe, closely connected with the outside world and working with partners, including Australia, is an essential force for good.
Finland’s vision for a “new Europe” is exciting. We welcome Europe’s renewed drive for economic and social reform. And we encourage Finland and others to demonstrate the strong leadership needed to see it through, so that Europe can assume a role and influence commensurate with its weight in the international community.
And beyond your borders, the EU must continue to look outwards and actively engage with the world. The challenges we face today are pervasive and beyond the scope of any one country. We need to remain united to address them.
Finnish Institute of International Affairs – Speech
Q and A session
Mr Minister, thank you very much for your excellent presentation. It was very pleasant and nice to hear it. You spoke very warmly about EU – Australia cooperation and I strongly support that, but I have one question. Do you think that Australia and the European Union could help the DOHA round in the WTO towards a happy end and here I would suggest that perhaps Australia and the EU could together convince the Americans to make some concessions in the agricultural dilemma? Thank you.
Well first of all I think it is very important for the DOHA round to be completed, I mean if you are concerned, when you think about the great challenges the world faces today: dealing with the problem of terrorism, which I talked a bit about in the speech, wrestling with the growing power of China, and the greater role of China in the international community; climate change, another very important and perhaps in some respects a more immediate environmental challenge that the world faces, not in any particular order, the real problem of continuing the task of alleviating global poverty and vast differences in wealth between the rich countries and the poor, and the poor in poorer countries, then it has to be said that a successful DOHA round is important to all of those things in way or another but none, for none is it more important for addressing the issue of global poverty. I mean you have got to have a conscience about this. In Europe, in America, in Japan, in Australia we live very, very well our per capita GDPs are what, about ,000 something like that, yet we deny, the European Union, the United States, Japan deny poor farmers in developing countries easy access to our markets and when you really reflect on that, that is pretty outrageous that we spend many times more money on subsidising already reasonably prosperous farmers then we give to foreign aid.
The Doha round is an opportunity to try to address these outrages in international economic architecture. This thing about Europe and America, you come to Europe it is all the Americans fault, everything is America’s fault as far as I can make out. Every fault of the world seems to be America’s fault. You go to America and they want the EU to do more and the EU is not doing enough in the Doha round. The honest truth of this is that when it comes to international agricultural trade, it is going to have to be a compromise between the two. I mean, the Americans are going to have to reduce still further, the offer they have made on reducing agricultural subsidies, but the European Union is going to have to do more in terms of market access. I mean you can say that the Americans are going to have to do more, and we’ll do nothing more and this is not facing reality. I mean think about it, you will not get that deal through the U.S. congress, quite apart from everything else. So there has got to be an element of give and take on both sides, and you should be prepared to do that. I mean, yes, sure, the Americans should certainly be prepared to do more in terms of reducing farms subsidies. We would like to see them abolished, farm subsidies, that would be good. They won’t do that but we would like to see them do a good deal more than they have done.
But to be honest with you, the market access offer, the agricultural market access offer by the European Union, it is not good enough. You can’t expect just the Americans to deal with all the political pain of reducing farm support. You have to be prepared to bear with some of that political pain yourselves in providing for more market access.
How can bighearted people, who care about the poor of the world, not think it is a good thing to give those people a better access to your markets? That would be my answer to that question.
Thank you, that is of course a most difficult question.
This will be pretty easy then
Thank you chairman and thank you Mr Downer - I think that was the right pronunciation – for your very interesting speech and also your reply to this trade issue. I am sure that this is not the place for EU Australia policy. I just want to remind you about two or three facts that I am sure that you are aware of. It is not many years since export subsidies was the number one threat to the Doha round and the EU has committed itself to get rid of all the export subsidies on its trade. As far as import access is concerned, there is a unilateral commitment, to open trade to all the least developed countries for all goods except arms, including agricultural products, including the most sensitive products by 2009. Many of the gives have already been done. I am not so sure about the takes.
If you want to take the view that the European Union could do anything more, you might be able to get your deal through the Congress. It is as simple as that. If you don’t want a deal, you don’t need to do anything more. This sort of, we have offered this and we have offered that, well I’ll tell you a bit about Australia.
It is important to think that there is more to the world than the European Union. In our case, we have gone through a long period unilaterally of reducing tariff protection. We have seen factories close in our country, workers complaining, holding up banners and abusing the government over the last 20 years as we progressively reduced that tariff protection for manufactured goods and opened up our markets for the services sector. Who has benefited from that? Well, amongst others, there is the European Union. You have gone in and bought banks, set up financial institutions, you sell many more clothes and Versace luggage and all sorts of things into Australia. Just fair enough. We think that is OK.
But there has been a lot of resistance to that in Australia. You come along to the Doha round and you want us to do more for you and we do. We say, fair enough, we’ll liberalise, we’re quite happy to bear some more political pain to liberalise some more. Remember, that when it comes to agriculture, my constituency is not actually suburban Adelaide, my constituency is the rural area around Adelaide. When I was a child in that area my father had a dairy farm, and there were a large number of dairy farms and dairy factories there. When Britain joined the European Union in 1973, you told us we couldn’t sell our cheese and butter into Europe anymore and we couldn’t. And you can drive round my constituency and you can see the closed factories. The dairy factories that are now art galleries and drop in centres. We felt what had happened in Europe, and it is important in Europe that you remember the outside world. Remember that we have feelings too and we have all paid prices for trade liberalization.
I am a passionate supporter of the liberal market model and it is true that you have been in the process of reforming the common agriculture market. It has gone from being a horrific monster to just being a bad thing. That is real progress. All it is today is just a bad thing. It is bad economics, it is bad social policy domestically in Europe. You are making poor Europeans pay more for agricultural products that they need for food which is the most essential thing of all. You are making poor Europeans pay more for food than they need to and you are keeping out of Europe, not the least foodstuff from the least developed countries but also from developing countries and of course developed countries in order to protect farmers. Many of these farmers are not pathetically poor peasant farmers, about 50% of the support from the Common Agricultural Policy goes to farming conglomerates and businesses and to the shareholders. You have got to understand that there are feelings on both sides here. In a lot of the world, this has been a problem for the image of the European Union, this issue of farm protection, farm subsidies. It has been a problem for the image of the European Union and I hope that Europe realizes that in the context of the Doha round you need to strike some kind of a compromise with the Americans, not think that, as usual, the Americans should do all.
There are more people in Europe than in America, and Europe’s total GDP is about the same as America’s. We expect you to carry your burden, not just the Americans to do everything and I think you will understand my point.
Thank you very much. I think it extremely helpful for us in Finland to hear this blunt talk. We have such a strong agricultural lobby in this country that sometimes…
They are probably small though. Agriculture is 3% of Finland’s GDP. You can do it.
It is the mindset as well.
I’d like to ask about China since you live in that part of the world. How is the rise of China impacting on Australia and what is the Australian perception of the growing influence of China?
My short answer to that is: Good. The rise of China, on the face of it, is a good thing for us. For example, Australia is either the largest or the second largest destination for Chinese overseas investment. We have a lot of Chinese investment in Australia. Secondly, we’ve seen, as I suppose you have seen, massive growth in our export to China. We saw a 30% growth in our exports to China just last year. This growth of China, 9% a year, at 1.3 bn people, it has been really great.
What does it mean geopolitically? It means that the geopolitics of East Asia, to a much lesser extent the world, frankly, but the geopolitics of East Asia are going through a very dramatic and a very important transition. China’s international diplomacy is driven not by, as the Soviet Union’s was, a desire to spread some kind of crazy ideology but it is dominated by what I sometimes call “resource diplomacy”. China wants access to resources raw materials and energy in order to drive its economy because the Chinese leadership has one major ambition and that major ambition is to lift up the living standards of its people. To help the poor, very good ambition that, to help the poor. This is the single greatest ambition of the Chinese leadership and I think one should believe that, it is absolutely true.
In order to do that, they have a pretty fluid kind of diplomacy. In Asia what they want to do is do is to increase their influence in the region in order to provide themselves with that greater degree of security. This is difficult because there is a status quo in Asia which, if you like, is being challenged by the growth of China. Japan, the world’s second biggest economy, still of course a much bigger economy than China, still more than double the size of the Chinese economy, doesn’t want to see its position in the region undermined. There are other countries, like ours, we use us as an example here but we are not the only country to hold this view, who believe that in order to underwrite the stability of the region you need to maintain an appropriate balance of power. This involves a balance between China and Japan, a balance that involves the United States in our region and in the architecture of our region and in the activities and life of our region. A balance that includes our country and importantly a growing India.
The last point that I’d make is that therefore, a quite interesting competition about
The last thing I would like to say on China, we often use this phrase in Australia, that China’s ambition is to get rich before it gets old. I mentioned in my speech something about ageing populations, which we are all facing. China has the world’s fastest ageing population so they do need to get rich before about 2020. They need high rates of growth before they have to deal with a massive problem of an ageing population. They are very conscious of this and this will present a limit, if you like, to China’s growth. Access to resources and prices and internal economic management, the extend of liberalization and the balance of liberalization and competition policy and all of those things as well as the extent to which they are able to maintain their firm central political control over a middle class which is fast growing and, if things don’t continue to go very well, will think that they should to have their say on decision making.
These are all very big challenges that China faces. It faces big challenges and it presents for us good opportunities, great opportunities. You shouldn’t pursue a policy of containment of China, you should be engaging China as much as possible in regional and in all sorts of global architecture and working with them but you need to make sure that as a growing and emerging, and they know about this in the history Europe, substantial and great power in a region can cause instability unless there is a well thought through balance of how to handle it. There are a few thoughts on China.
Thank you very much for this answer.
Thank you, I’m (inaudible) from the University of Helsinki. Mr Foreign Minister you dealt a lot in your speech about regional conflicts as well as terrorism. One of the issues besides agricultural trade that the United States and Europe have different views is how to fight terrorism and particularly the role of human rights in this context. My question is since Australia is involved in both Iraq and Afghanistan what is the debate at the moment in Australia and Australia’s view on Geneva Conventions which is something that the US Government is re-interpreting and the EU is very strongly opposing. Thank you.
Well I mean these are all legitimate questions and I mean in our case we are the world’s sixth oldest continuously operating democracy so we tend not to respond terribly well to lectures from people on human rights. We have had a better record on human rights in the past 100 years than not quite all but nearly every country on earth.
You had New Zealand’s Prime Minister here last night. Australia and New Zealand were the first countries to give women the right to vote. I think denying women the right to vote is much record on human rights. I mention this become we come to the debate with a very strong and passionate commitment to human rights. At the same time we have got to deal with this problem of terrorism.
We had 88 Australian killed in Bali and we had some, as there probably were Finns, killed on 9-11. We had one Australian killed in London on the seventh of July last year. So we have had Austrlians killed in many of these terror outrages. So everytime there is a terrorist outrage, we want to know how that happened, how these people snapped through, whether we had arrested someone and we hadn’t properly interrogated them and so on. So when it is a life or death issue you have to get the balance right, between the rights of those people who you might have great suspicions about and the integrity your human rights system in your society and the lives of your people, I mean the greatest human right anybody has is their life. So you have to get the balance right. It is terribly difficult this, actually. It is terribly difficult.
We have had some of the same debates – although I don’t know that you are right, by the way, in saying that this is a debate between Europe and the United States. I’m not sure where you got that idea from. These are issues that are fiercely debated in the United States and fiercely debated in many of the countries of Europe which if you like are carrying the heaviest burden in the fight against terrorism. I was in the UK recently and I noticed how passionately they debate some of the steps they have taken there. I mean, I think they‘ve realised as we have that you have to do a few things which you wouldn’t do outside of, outside of a dangerous environment like this. So we try to get the balance right and if you think the balance is going a bit wrong we can always change back but we do our best to try and get that balance right. We have given our intelligence services the capacity to detain people for several days, for seven days, where as in the past you could only detain people for, I think, up to 24 hours. So you know, that has been controversial. It hasn’t really affected too many people obviously, but it has been controversial in principle. We’ve introduced a system of control orders with the approval of a judge. You can put limitations on somebody’s activities if there is reasonable suspicion they may be engaging in terrorism activities. You know, it has been controversial as well. They are difficult decisions these. But the thing is though, when the bomb goes off and a hundred people are dead, people wonder why you didn’t do anything about it. When you’ve had a lot of people – I don’t know how many Finns have been killed by terrorists in recent times, but maybe some. I can really only speak for us. In our case as people died the public demand you do more to stop them dying. We’ve, so far, as of this moment that I speak - maybe we have been very lucky but we have been very determined to stop terrorist attacks in our country, even though we live next door to the world’s largest Islamic country – Indonesia. But we have managed to put in place a whole series of measures which so far have been effective in stopping that happening.
But I hadn’t heard that it was a debate between what you call Europe and America. I think that is not right. I think these debates are fiercely discussed, fiercely mounted here in Europe and of course they are in America. So anyway there must be some background to that. But I, look can I just say that I have sort of noticed that since I have been here today that the few people – there is a bit of sort of anti-americanism around. I don’t think that is either funny or good. I really don’t – let me tell you that. I think this is incredibly unproductive. I think this is a fashion and it is a fashion that will get you no where. America has been, it has got its faults and I’m not a spokesman for America, but it has got its faults and there things Americans do that I don’t always agree with but America has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and takes most of the hits. Americans have laid down their lives like no other nationality has in the struggle against terrorism and Americans have paid the bills like no-one else has in the struggle against terrorism. Just as they do on almost all of the great global issues that the world has faced in the last hundred years. As I said earlier today, I mean, you know, they‘ve made modern Europe possible but I don’t suppose anyone bothered to send them a thank you letter. It cost an enormous number of American lives and cost an enormous amount of American money to do that over a very long period of time and they are doing what they can and sure they are making mistakes from time to time but they are doing what they can to try to deal with this evil of terrorism. They are laying down lives and they are also spending a lot of money. I don’t always think that it is welcome by America that people here might be chipping away at them and attacking them the whole time. I am sure they find it very hurtful and very upsetting when they are doing so much to try to help. I think people do because they think they can take America for granted. But if America turned away and said that we were not going to do any of this anymore and you can just do it yourselves. We are just going to go back within fortress America. I wonder who would pick up the cudgel from the Americans and carry that burden. It is a tough thing.
I was asking about the Geneva Convention (inaudible).
In relation to the military commissions, the Supreme Court handed down made its ruling they applying the ruling and are introducing legislation which is still to be debated by the congress in order to ensure that the Military Commissions adhere to the Geneva Convention. That is exactly what has happened so we will wait and see.
Thank you Mr Downer. There are no more questions.
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