Future Directions in Australian Foreign Policy
Diplosphere Annual Conference by Australian High Commissioner, H E Harinder Sidhu
4 July 2022
Ko tēnei taku mihi ki ngā tāngata whenua o te rohe nei.
Ka mihi hoki au ki ngā tohu o te rohe nei.
Nō reira, tēnā koutou katoa.
[I acknowledge the indigenous people of this area. I acknowledge the important landmarks of this area. Thus, my acknowledgement to you all.]
I am delighted to be here with you all this afternoon.
I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to Diplosphere, for inviting me to address you today, only three months after taking up my role as High Commissioner.
I would also like to acknowledge members of the diplomatic corps here today.
Our close relationship with Aotearoa-New Zealand is a constant feature of our foreign policy.
We are joined by the deepest bonds of friendship, history, values and sacrifice.
We are vitally important economic partners.
Next year marks 80 years of diplomatic relations and 40 years of our Closer Economic Relations agreement - milestones that we can be proud of.
It’s now just over a month since Australia elected a new government, one that has been particularly active on the international front.
Naturally there is curiosity about what the change will mean for Australia’s foreign policy.
The new government has made a point about policy continuity. There is no fundamental shift in our foreign policy, or in our close relationship with New Zealand.
But there are changes in emphasis and tone that are worth mentioning.
So I’ll highlight three areas of the new government’s foreign policy.
The first is with respect to our relationship with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The government is committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. I haven’t the time to go into it in detail and commend the statement to you. But in short, it calls for ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’
As part of its commitment to implement the Uluru Statement, the new government will move to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Building on this commitment, Foreign Minister Penny Wong has promised to introduce a First Nations Foreign Policy, to reflect indigenous voices in our national identity.
This recognises that foreign policy starts with who we are.
Minister Wong has said ‘We tell a more powerful and more persuasive story of Australia when we tell our full story.’
It will take time to consider, learn and evolve how we do this. But as a practical step, Australia will appoint an inaugural First Nations Ambassador - who will lead a new office within our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
New Zealand is further ahead on this journey than Australia.
We can learn from New Zealand, how to better represent First Nations peoples and weave their values into our foreign policy.
This engagement will be complemented by work already being done under the Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand Indigenous Collaboration Arrangement.
The new government will also maintain and deepen a focus on our region – the Indo-Pacific and, in particular, the Pacific.
We will continue to seek a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific, where rules and sovereignty are respected.
The government has reinforced its commitment to key structures of our Indo-Pacific policy – the Quad, AUKUS, ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum.
The Foreign Minister and Prime Minister underscored their commitment to the region by their choices of where to conduct their first official travel – respectively to Fiji and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat; and to Indonesia.
In doing so, the government placed a focus on respectful listening to the perspectives of our counterparts in the region.
This recognises that how we go about our diplomacy is as important as what we do.
We already have deep cooperation with New Zealand in the Pacific.
We recognise New Zealand has a unique and powerful voice in the Pacific.
Australia can listen and learn from New Zealand’s approach to regional issues.
Our shared outlook and advocacy in the Pacific are a great asset.
We are both founding members of the Pacific Islands Forum - the pre-eminent Pacific institution, the heart of Pacific regionalism.
And, as Minister Wong said to the PIF on her first visit, ‘Nothing will change our geography, our proximity. Nothing will change the fact that our future is intertwined.’
We will be led and guided by the Pacific Islands in our approach. The Partners in the Blue Pacific Initiative, of which Australia and New Zealand are members, sets the tone for the way we propose to engage going forward.
And as a first step, we recognise nothing is more central to the security and economies of the Pacific than climate action.
The new Australian government has acknowledged the clear and consistent message from Pacific island nations – that climate change is the most critical challenge they face.
International commitment starts at home. On 16 June, the government submitted a revised Nationally Determined Contribution to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, lifting Australia’s emissions reduction target to 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and reaffirming our commitment to reach net zero by 2050.
The target is underpinned by a series of policies and measures – largely in the energy sector – aimed at transitioning Australia to a low carbon economy.
By 2030, the proportion of renewables in Australia’s National Energy Market will increase to 82 per cent.
The new government will also reinstate the role of Australia’s Ambassador for Climate Change.
We will also deliver to our commitments on climate finance, especially to the Pacific. This will include both direct finance through our aid budget and through mechanisms such as the $3.5bn Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility in the Pacific (AIFFP).
This week, we will see the next iteration of the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum in Australia. The range of topics for discussion reflect the breadth of the bilateral relationship.
It is a relationship that is constantly evolving, agile and forward looking, as I hope I’ve shown through the issues I’ve sketched out so far. I’m excited to be starting my posting in New Zealand at this time.
I hope to have the opportunity to work with and learn from many of you, on this journey.
Nō reira, tēnā koutou katoa. Therefore, greetings to you all.