- About us
- Visas and migration
- Travelling to Australia
- Services for Australians
- Doing business with Australia
- Study in Australia
- Development cooperation
- About Australia
- Australia-Malta relationship
- Travel advice
- Register with us
Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies
Alumni Association Lecture 2011
delivered by H.E. Ms Anne Quinane
Australian High Commissioner
at Palazzo Capua, Sliema on Thursday 19 May 2011
It is indeed an honour for me to deliver the annual MEDAC Alumni Association lecture and to have the opportunity to speak to you about Australia’s relations with Malta, but also more broadly Australia’s engagement with the EU, as well as with the broader region. I include in that broader region, very topically, North Africa and the Middle East. I will also cover Australia’s active participation in the G20 and our engagement with NATO.
Before addressing these topics however I would like to extend my formal congratulations to Dr Joe Borg on assuming the Chairmanship of MEDAC, a role for which he is of course eminently well-qualified as a former Foreign Minister of Malta.
And I would like to mention the wonderful tribute to former MEDAC Chairman, the late President Emeritus Professor Guido De Marco, which I attended last Saturday. Arriving as I did in December 2009, I was privileged to meet Dr De Marco on many occasions before he passed away almost a year ago. Saturday’s event was an impressive collection of personal observations about this great man, adding to the vast body of tributes that have most deservedly flowed in his honour since his untimely passing.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Australia views world events and problems from the perspective of a middle power with both global and regional interests. Our alliance with the United States is a cornerstone of Australian foreign policy and central to Australia’s global and regional engagement, as is our commitment to the United Nations and multilateralism. In our own region, vital to our interests, we are profoundly engaged, both bilaterally and multilaterally, in a complex and dynamic economic, political, security, military and development cooperation agenda.
But our focus is also on events and issues beyond our own region. Australian foreign policy is animated by the principles of good international citizenship and what we can do through the agency of creative middle power diplomacy, with our friends and partners in the world, to contribute to the development, maintenance and improvement of the regional and global order. Australia is committed to pursuing a peaceful, stable and prosperous rules-based global order. An order that will underpin global human security and prosperity and directly contribute to safeguarding our own.
Following are some facts which may interest you:
Despite a relatively small population of 22 million Australia has the 13th largest economy in the world.
We are the fourth largest economy in Asia after China, Japan and India.
We are one of the world’s most significant suppliers of energy and raw materials that power the global economy.
The World Economic Forum has ranked Australia second of 55 of the world’s leading financial systems and capital markets. Currently our terms of trade are at 140 year highs and our dollar at record levels.
The Australian economy has outperformed the majority of developed countries over the past two decades, displaying a high level of resilience during the recent global economic crisis. Dynamic expansion in both commodities and services trade with Asia now complements trade patterns that reflect historical links with Europe and North America. The continued importance of the Asia-Pacific region as a source of world economic growth means Australia is strategically located for business and investment. Our economy is increasingly integrated with the emerging super economies of Asia.
In terms of defence expenditure, we are currently the 14th largest in the world and the 5th largest in Asia.
If we were a European state, we would come in at number five in military power after France, the UK, Germany and Italy.
We have doubled our overseas development assistance budget over the last five years and our plan is to double it again by 2015.
We have a sophisticated higher education sector with many of our universities ranking in the world’s top 100, and we have the highest proportion of international students among the tertiary student population of anywhere in the world.
We are one of the oldest continuing democracies in the world and are deeply committed to the extension of democratic values across the world.
In our region we are a founding member of APEC (the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum), the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN being the Association of South East Asian Nations, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting plus (Australia, China, India, Japan, NZ, Russia, South Korea and the US) and the East Asia Summit. The recent decision by ASEAN to expand the East Asia Summit by including the United States and Russia advances Australia’s interest in creating strengthened regional arrangements to better address economic, political and security challenges.
Australia and New Zealand have now concluded a free trade agreement with ASEAN creating a combined free trade area of 623 million people with a combined economy of $3.5 trillion.
Australia has one of the most multicultural and cohesive societies in the world – a strength which has enabled us to engage comfortably across most of the regions around the globe.
Cultural diversity has become a touchstone of Australia’s national identity. A tolerant and inclusive society, Australia is a nation built by people from many different backgrounds, coming from around 200 countries across the globe. Australia accepts and respects the right of all Australians to express and share their individual cultural heritage within an overriding commitment to Australia’s democratic foundations and to English as the national language.
At the 2006 census it emerged that the top ten countries of birth of immigrants were the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, Italy, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Greece, Germany and South Africa. About one quarter of our population was born overseas and about half of the population has at least one parent born overseas. Our immigrant communities contribute substantially to our economic advantage as links strengthen with the burgeoning economies in our region. Muslims form an increasingly important part of our diverse, modern society with the 2006 census recording a total of more than 340,000 Muslim Australians.
Australia also has a proud record of humanitarian re-settlement having accepted refugees fleeing conflict in Indo-China in the 1970s, in East Timor in 1975 and again more recently, in the Balkans in the 1990s and in other parts of the world at different times, including South and Central America and Africa.
Migration is of course the solid foundation of the bilateral relationship with Malta. I rarely meet a Maltese or Gozitan who doesn’t have relatives in Australia. Though some arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries the vast bulk of migrants from these islands went to Australia in the 1950s and 60s, when economic circumstances here were grim and Australia was proactively building its workforce on the back of immigration.
It is very difficult to establish precisely how large the Maltese community is in Australia though the well-accepted idea that the community there is equivalent to the population in the Maltese Islands today is almost certainly a myth. Of the total of around 87,000 who emigrated in the peak period, around 18,000 returned and of course some have passed on. At the last Australian census in 2006, around 154,000 claimed Maltese ancestry and around 44,000 indicated that they were born in Malta. We find that not all among the first and subsequent generations born in Australia identify themselves as of Maltese origin at census time.
The fact remains however that Australia has the largest Maltese community outside Malta and the family links back and forth are extremely dynamic. Having departed in poverty not knowing if they would ever see their homeland again many now-retired original migrants visit regularly, especially during the summer festa season, and there are plenty of family visits in the other direction as well. A number of Australians of Maltese origin or descent have risen to prominence in politics, business, the arts and other fields of endeavour.
To support these community connections and foster closer relations, Australia and Malta have a number of bilateral agreements in place covering social security, double taxation, health services, working holiday arrangements and air services. Changes to citizenship law in both countries in recent years have facilitated the access of Maltese Australians to the full benefits of dual nationality.
People-to-people links are the rich underpinning of a bilateral relationship that reflects shared values at the national and international level, a shared commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the conviction that nations must work together to address the many challenges facing the world today. Malta and Australia cooperate in the United Nations and the Commonwealth, as well as in other forums such as ASEM and the OSCE. Malta’s membership of the EU has created a new dimension to the bilateral relationship.
In recent years a number of high level visits in both directions have reinforced the excellent relations enjoyed between our two countries. Just two months ago His Excellency President George Abela and Mrs Abela undertook a State Visit to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. In November 2008 Australia’s Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, accompanied by her husband His Excellency Mr Michael Bryce, made the first ever State Visit by an Australian Governor-General to Malta.
Later this year Prime Minister Gillard looks forward to hosting Prime Minister Gonzi at CHOGM – the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in Perth in late October.
Due to distance and the size of the Maltese market, commercial relations are not extensive however in 2010 the Armed Forces of Malta took delivery of four in-shore patrol boats manufactured by an Australian company, Austal, based in Western Australia. Austal also provided a second, larger catamaran ferry to Virtu Ferries Ltd for the Sicily run.
One of the world’s leading project management and construction companies, Australia’s Bovis Lend Lease, is project managing two major construction projects in Malta – Smart City and City Gate. Bovis Lend Lease has been active in Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 1970 and has grown to be one of the region’s leading providers of project and construction management services.
And one of Australia’s four major banks, the Commonwealth bank of Australia, established CommBank Europe in Malta in 2005. CommBank provides infrastructure and utilities solutions, corporate lending and asset finance solutions to clients throughout Europe.
In recognition of Malta’s robust regulatory arrangements for its very successful financial services industry, the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority last year concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the Malta Financial Services Authority.
In this context I note that the global financial and economic crisis did not spare Malta, but it was one of the least affected countries in the EU. Addressing the Maltese Parliament earlier this year, President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, praised the government’s economic management and sound decision-making, pointing out that Malta was amongst the last EU member states to enter recession and amongst the first to emerge from it in 2009. The Maltese economy is growing at a faster rate than many EU partners and the Government is on track to get the deficit below the 3% threshold by the end of this fiscal year. Low and reducing unemployment, and investment and jobs growth, are further indicators of Malta’s sound economic profile.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The recent global economic crisis has seen the emergence of the G20 – the Group of 20 – as the premier forum for international economic cooperation. Comprising 19 countries and the European Union, the G20 accounts for 85 per cent of the world economy, 80 per cent of global trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population, and it represents all geographical regions. Australia is committed to active participation and policy leadership in the G20 and has much to contribute given our sound record of economic management and our strongly performing financial sector.
France has set an ambitious agenda for its presidency of the G20 in 2011. Australia is working closely with France in the lead-up to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Cannes in November to deliver outcomes that promote growth and jobs across the global economy.
The G20 is an outward looking forum and Australia and other G20 members are committed to ensuring that the G20 takes into account the views of non-members and other international organisations like the UN.
It was important that the G20 Leaders at the Seoul Summit in November 2010 called for the conclusion of the WTO Doha Round negotiations. The cost of failure to conclude the Round this year would be dangerously high, not only for global trade but also for the future of the multilateral trading system.
Australia welcomes the G20’s focus on development, in particular food security and infrastructure. On commodity price volatility Australia wants to ensure that proposals promote transparency and well-functioning markets, without resorting to price controls that distort investment and consumption patterns. Improved productivity on the other hand would help mitigate agricultural price volatility, and bridge the productivity gap between developed and developing countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 27 members of the European Union as a bloc is one of Australia’s largest trading partners and our largest investment partner. Australia and the EU enjoy a constructive and substantial relationship built on a shared commitment to freedom and democratic values and a like-minded approach to a range of international issues.
Australia and the EU have been served well by a Partnership Framework concluded in 2008 which shapes the direction of cooperation and outlines specific activities to give this cooperation practical effect. During a visit to Brussels last October Prime Minister Gillard proposed that the Framework be elevated to Treaty-level, something the EU has with almost all other G20 partners. President Barroso welcomed the proposal and both sides are now working towards entering formal negotiations.
To date cooperation has focused on
shared foreign policy and global security interests,
the multilateral rules-based trading system and the bilateral trade and investment relationship,
the Asia-Pacific region including the effective delivery of development assistance,
energy issues, climate change and fisheries and forestry,
science, research, technology and innovation, education and culture,
and facilitating the movement of people.
Political level contacts between the EU and Australia have intensified since these arrangements were put in place and this pattern is set to continue.
I turn now to Australia’s engagement with NATO.
Australia has consistently been the largest non-NATO contributor to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and continues to be strongly committed to ISAF efforts to deny terrorists safe haven and a base for activity. The ISAF mission remains the first priority for Australia’s engagement with NATO.
Our contribution to ISAF comprises around 1,550 military personnel complemented by around 50 civilians. Our efforts are focused on Uruzgan province where we operate as part of the multinational combined team.
Last November Prime Minister Gillard attended the NATO-ISAF Summit on Afghanistan in Lisbon. There she welcomed the adoption of the alliance’s new strategic concept which recognised the importance of NATO’s partners and featured a new approach towards NATO partnerships. It also recognised that the trajectory of emerging security threats is difficult to predict and that responses to such threats require global cooperation.
Partnership reform, giving a voice to partners such as Australia in ISAF deliberations and decision-making, was endorsed by NATO foreign ministers in a meeting in Berlin last month. Acknowledging this positive development Foreign Minister Rudd underlined that Australia looked forward to flexible and substance driven cooperation with NATO going forward.
Australia’s commitment to working multilaterally to advance peace and security is further reflected through our engagement since 2009 as an Asian partner of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. At the recent OSCE summit hosted by Kazakhstan in Astana, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd detailed Australia’s active engagement in security issues in our region in partnership with our neighbours.
In particular we work closely with our near neighbour Indonesia on people smuggling, human trafficking and transnational crime, and together for the last five years we have co-sponsored an effective Interfaith Dialogue in our region. Other co-sponsors are the Philippines and New Zealand. Participants are also drawn from the 8 ASEAN countries, East Timor, Fiji and PNG. These dialogues have affirmed principles and recommendations for practical actions to build interfaith understanding and tolerance by governments and civil society. They have helped to strengthen relationships between faith leaders, nationally and regionally, and increased engagement between governments and faith communities. They have also promoted interfaith education.
Australia is also extremely active on the Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Agenda. In Berlin on 30 April Australia together with Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates reaffirmed a joint intention to work towards achieving nuclear disarmament and a strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, based on the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
Last year we joined ASEM, the Asia Europe Meeting, a further opportunity to cooperate cross-regionally on issues such as global financial reform, sustainable development, climate change and energy security, the Millennium Development Goals and country-specific situations such as Iran, Burma, Afghanistan and North Korea.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Here in Malta, located where it is in the centre of the Mediterranean, we have a particularly close view of the extraordinary developments that have unfolded in North Africa and the Middle East this year.
Australia was at the forefront in calling for concerted action in the UN Security Council against Libya in the lead-up to the passage of SC resolution 1973. Australia was also quick to respond with humanitarian aid to address the crisis in Libya and to date has provided $25 million to UN agencies, the International Red Cross, IOM, and the World Food Program. We are the third largest donor of humanitarian aid in response to the Libya crisis after the US and the EU. Australia has established a dialogue with the Libyan Transitional National Council. Foreign Minister Rudd joined the Libya Contact Group at its last meeting in Rome on 5 May. Australia has fully implemented UN mandated sanctions against Libya and continues to call for the Gaddafi regime to stop attacking the civilian population and to step down.
In late February and early March respectively Foreign Minister Rudd visited Egypt and Tunisia to register Australia’s practical support for their democratic transitions. It was the first ever visit by an Australian Foreign Minister to Tunisia. Possible areas of support include food security, dry land agriculture and water management, tourism development, electoral support and civil society support. Australia is committed to supporting democratic transition across the region.
On 13 May Australia again condemned the actions of the Syrian regime against its people and called on the Syrian authorities to immediately end all violence against civilians and to withdraw the military from the streets of Der’a, Homs and other cities. Targeted financial sanctions against key regime figures have been ramped up and an embargo imposed on arms and other equipment used for internal repression.
Australia has a range of interests in the Middle East that would be impacted by adverse developments in the region. In addition we now have an Arab community in Australia of many thousands. In a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington in early May Foreign Minister Rudd said:
“The strategic and economic impacts arising from these developments are profound: the future of the democratic project in the Arab world; the influence of Iran; the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the wider Arab world; the outflow of peoples from the Middle East to safe-havens elsewhere in the world; the risk of rising extremism and terrorism, not to mention, the price of oil.
In responding to these challenges, Australia is deeply engaged with the United States and with our friends and partners in Europe and the Middle East – because we see our interests and our values deeply at stake in these developments.”
In the UAE in early March the Foreign Minister attended the inaugural Gulf Cooperation Council - Australia Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue. Australia has substantial interests in the Gulf. A healthy level of two-way merchandise trade with the GCC is growing and diversifying, thousands of Australian professionals work in GCC countries, and hundreds of Australian companies are based there. Over 12,000 students from the Gulf are studying in Australia. Australia and Saudi Arabia are members of the G20. Aviation links are strong and provide a solid foundation for two-way contact. Australia and GCC countries share an interest in regional security and stability and cooperate closely in counter-terrorism and defence. The UAE hosts the Australian Defence Force headquarters in the Middle East.
Australia has consistently urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to move constructively towards a negotiated two-state solution. It is the Australian Government’s firm position that the Middle East conflict can only be resolved through negotiations between the parties that lead to a secure Israel living side-by-side with a secure and independent future Palestine State.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Australia is a foundation member of the United Nations. Like Malta, Australia has a long history of active and proactive engagement in the UN, and in other multilateral bodies.
The Australian Government is committed to working through the UN to enhance global peace and security; improve economic and social well-being especially in the developing world; shape a strong global outcome on climate change; work towards a sustainable future; ensure effective responses to natural disasters; seek human rights for all; empower women; strengthen international law; and promote economic stability and growth across the globe.
This commitment is the driving force behind Australia’s campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2013-14.