Bill's Speeches



Good afternoon everyone

It’s always a special pleasure to be in the United States and here in Washington DC.

A hundred years ago – in the mud of Western Front, Australians and Americans fought and fell together, faces to the foe.

Ever since – from the north coast of Papua New Guinea and the islands of the Pacific, the biting cold of Korea.

The jungle dark of Vietnam, the mountains and green valleys of Afghanistan and today, in the skies over Iraq in the fight against Daesh.

Ours has been a bond built on shared sacrifice.

A friendship forged in war – and tempered by peace.

A partnership dedicated to a safer, more free world.

And – from the very first days – we have found common ground, shared values, an instinctive recognition of a kindred national spirit.

Ours is a shared belief – not just in an individual’s liberty, but in their right to pursue happiness.

The principle that people should be judged by their qualities and rewarded for their hard work – not shackled by the circumstances of their birth.

We both believe in a country where anyone can make it, where there is room for everyone to be their best.

But right now – in our two nations, indeed in democracies around the world – that idea is being challenged, tested and disputed.

Too many of our fellow citizens are abandoning their faith in mainstream politics because they feel it has failed them.

Rallying not in the name of a particular political ideal, but against the very idea of politics itself.

I haven’t come to the US to wade into the Presidential contest – but I see those forces at play here, as I do at home, as I do around the world.

I’ve made some forthright criticisms of Donald Trump in the past –he hasn’t tweeted at me yet. 

I reject his slogans of building walls and filling jails. 

I don’t believe one of the world’s greatest melting pots, should adopt a race-based immigration policy or that the world’s most powerful force for peace should retreat to an isolationist foreign policy.

But Donald Trump in himself is not the problem.

The problem is, people believe he is the solution.

And this is not a phenomenon confined to the United States, or to one end of the political spectrum.

Exclusion, disillusionment and marginalisation are maladies affecting every democracy.

And they are ripe for exploitation by extremists in every guise.

We live in a time of insecurity and frustration.

An age where working people feel as if doors are being closed in their face.

After years of playing by the rules, ordinary Australians and Americans believe the deck is now stacked against them.

The future of work will be defined by the limits of automation and artificial intelligence - that much we know for sure.

But the future of wages, of the middle class, of jobs that enable people to live a life full of quality and meaning is nowhere near as certain.

The promise of our nations has always been a pact between generations.

Parents DNA hard-wired to gift a better standard of living to their children.

Every wave of economic change has been driven by that dream – breaking down tariff walls, joining multilateral processes, embracing new technologies. 

But for the first time in living memory, the prospect of passing on a better quality of life cannot be assumed.

In this more uncertain world, it is easy to appeal to a sense of nostalgia…to practice the politics of prejudice, to scapegoat a convenient minority.

And it is easy for fundamentalists and preachers of hate to hold out the false promise of certainty and power to young people who feel marginalised. 

This is why we need to make the politics of inclusion work – in economic policy and in foreign policy.

Because inequality and alienation are not just domestic threats to our political stability.

They are international threats to our regional and global security.

At home and abroad, we cannot merely condemn extremism, or repudiate it.

We need to set the positive counter-factual.

We need to demonstrate that engagement is better than isolationism.

That inclusion and respect deliver richer rewards than digging ideological trenches or building walls.

We need to prove our democratic and political institutions – and our international trade and security frameworks - are up to the task of keeping peace and securing prosperity.

Where extremists seek to exploit flaws - our task is to fix them.

And where we need to adapt, or improve or modernise our approach and structures – we must.

There are – undoubtedly - things we can learn from each other.

For example, I think it is important for Australia to look at how the Americans have handled the vexed issue of foreign donations.

Because I firmly believe Australia should be banning donations from overseas. 


On the broader question of foreign Policy, the party I lead – the Australian Labor Party - has long held to a policy built on three pillars:

1.)          A strong alliance with the United States

2.)          Closer engagement with the United Nations and multilateral institutions

3.)          A comprehensive relationship with the Indo-Pacific region.

We recognise the current rules-based system, the system the United States designed and led in the aftermath of the Second World War, has delivered seven decades without a mass global conflict.

And we understand, very clearly, that Australia’s strategic relationship – and our close friendship – with the United States is not just a benefit to us, but to our wider region.

The Indo-Pacific is a more secure, more prosperous and more stable place, because of American engagement.

That’s why the Labor Government in 2011 worked so hard to secure the Force Posture Initiatives that not only provide the opportunity for both our nations to enhance our defence and security cooperation - but also include our regional partners in these endeavours.


These structures and conventions, this respect for a framework of rules, is essential to a peaceful resolution of the situation in the South China Sea.

Australia is in no way a disinterested observer in this matter.

Both sides of Australian politics – are of one mind on this question.

Like all nations, we have a right of passage through the oceans and skies of the region, in accordance with international law.

As a trading nation, Australia has a direct stake in freedom of navigation - and in upholding accepted behaviours.

Around one-third of the world’s shipping transits through the South China Sea.

That’s US$5.3 trillion in total trade passing through the area each year.

It is in no-one’s best interests for the current climate of heightened tensions to carry on.

And it is vital that all claimant states seek to de-escalate tensions and work within the ASEAN framework, to finalise a Code of Conduct, as soon as possible.

Australia continues to urge all parties to abide by both the terms, and the spirit, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

On the broader question of the future shape of our region, I have never bought into the idea of an inescapable binary "choice" between Australia’s alliance with the United States and our deepening friendship with China.

Because I don’t see diplomacy as a zero-sum game.

The massive commercial and economic interdependence between China and the United States - and the deep, diversified diplomatic, cultural and military links between the two countries are powerful, tangible arguments against any escalation in tensions. 

That truth applies for Australia as well.

The inescapable economic reality for a low-population, fair-wage nation like Australia is our future prosperity depends on a close, constructive relationship with China.

Today around 500 million people are members of Asia’s burgeoning middle class.

In the next two decades, that figure will grow to over 3 billion.

China will go from an economic superpower, to a veritable force of economic nature.

Its economy, the real incomes and the purchasing power of its people will continue to grow.

And its so-called ‘One-Belt-and-One-Road’ economic policies will be influential from Central Asia to Europe.

But China is not the whole story for us in Asia.

Australia needs an intelligent, nuanced foreign policy approach with our whole region.

We need better ties with India – the fastest-growing major economy in the world.

We need a more active role in ASEAN, particularly as a partner with Indonesia where 9 million people are entering the middle class every year.

And we need to ramp up our efforts in renewable energy – preparing for the $2.5 trillion of investment that will flow into the region by 2030.


While we seek to harness these opportunities, we must also meet our responsibilities.

Including a renewed focus on our nearest neighbour Papua New Guinea and the island nations of the Pacific – particularly when it comes to tackling climate change. 

For proud nations like Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, climate change isn’t an academic argument, or a piece of political rhetoric.

It is a living, immediate, existential threat.

Rising sea levels, king tides and storm surges are eating away land, roads and seawalls.

Polluted water is seeping into village wells, and floodwaters are spreading disease.

We can’t, in good conscience, ask these nations to bide their time and retreat to higher ground while we bicker over our next move.

We need to lead.

The force of America’s advocacy and its example has been a powerful lever for global action on climate change.

In particular, I think of the breakthrough moment earlier this month when President Obama and President Xi formally joined the Paris Climate Agreement.

The world’s two biggest economies, its two largest polluters, coming together to commit to real action on hard deadlines.

Again, proof that the world is a better place when co-operation between its great powers is the order of the day.


If climate change and geopolitical security remain problems best solved by the nation-state forums and frameworks of the 20th Century – we also must recognise that the new face of terrorism operates outside the established international order.

Beyond the world of international law and traditional nation-state conflict.

Almost exactly 15 years ago, when the streets of New York were filled with the smoke and ash and dust of the World Trade Centre, when the Pentagon here in DC was attacked and United 93 crashed in that field in Pennsylvania…Australians watched on in horror. 

Even now, images from that day reach send a chill into the hearts of all freedom-loving people.

Those deeds of unspeakable evil redefined the way we saw the world – and they re-cast the face of terrorism.

15 years on the threats our world faces have evolved yet again.

Those elaborate, large-scale attacks, carried out with military precision have given way to low-tech, opportunistic acts of violence.

Carried out by lone actors with little direction, using unsophisticated means. 

The footprint of these terrorists - and their threat profile is much more difficult to detect.

Because of social media and digital platforms, the propaganda arm of modern terrorism has a longer reach than ever before.

And around our world, individuals are radicalising more quickly, often acting only under a vague sense of broad direction from extreme terrorist groups, rather than from specific instruction.

In circumstances such as these, the traditional threat indicators and the old mindset for identifying risk may not assist us.

The perpetrators may not have a history of extreme political ideology, or extreme radical pronouncements 

There may be only very tenuous links between them and overseas organisations, or no visible connection to broader movements at all.

There may not even be evidence of an individual acquiring the components needed for complex weapons.

In an era when information is more fragmented and more obscure – we need stronger co-operation between our own domestic security agencies, and our international partners.

As democracies, as nations made great by migration, as leaders in the Indo-Pacific, the security threats we face are common and our responsibility to counter them is shared.

In cyber security, we need to co-operate more closely to protect both sensitive government-to-government information and confidential industrial and commercial information.

This is critical to our national security, to our economic competitiveness and to the protection of intellectual property.

Cyber attacks have no respect for international borders – and a parochial approach won’t help us guard against them.

As allies, as partners in the international security community, we need a more co-ordinated effort to stay ahead of the game.

Just as we must work together to deprive terrorist organisations of funds and resources.

This requires modernising treaties, conventions and export controls.

Because in 2016, people can Google bomb-making instructions and use 3D printing to make a gun.

In our world, terrorism can be downloaded at home and its weapons home-made.

This is a particular concern as we face the next phase of our conflict with Daesh.

Sidney Jones, one of the leading foreign policy thinkers in Jakarta has said:

the conflict in Syria has captured the imagination of Indonesian extremists in a way no foreign war has before.”

And as our troops in the Middle East begin to reclaim ground and resources from the terrorist forces, there is a particular risk of a demobilising army returning to Asia - armed with new combat skills and nursing old hatreds.

Detaining, policing and deradicalising these individuals will require leadership in particular from the world’s largest Muslim nation – Indonesia and the United States.

Beyond a specific theatre of conflict – there is a bigger battlefield in the fight against terrorism, and the pursuit of a more secure world.

Countering extremism depends not just on strong law enforcement and rigorous security.

It also relies on a cohesive, inclusive society.

I utterly reject the dangerous false choice peddled by some here and at home that you can have western liberal values, respect difference, cherish peace – or be a Muslim – but you can’t be both.

Wherever we live, fanaticism is a weed we have to pull out by the root - digging down into the social dislocation that draws people to hatred and violence.

Our task is to show there is no honour in crime, no glory in death, nothing to be gained by throwing your life away and taking innocent people with you.

And that returns us to the challenge of inclusion, to proving that governments and politics and markets serve the interests of the whole community.

Because if people feel that there is more to be gained from working inside the system, rather than railing against it.

If citizens believe they have a shared stake in the future of their nation.

If Australians and Americans and citizens of every democratic nation feel that there are rewards to be won from hard work, that there are opportunities to be seized on merit – then that is the formula for a stronger and safer world.

Restoring faith in those old principles will take new ideas and new energy.

But if Australia, the home of the fair go - and America, the land of opportunity can live up to our founding ideals.

If we can prove worthy of the nation we wish to see in the mirror, the country we tell our children to believe in.

Then securing the future is well within our grasp.


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