Paul Keating was right when he said; “when you change the government, you change the country”.
As we get reminded time and time again, when it’s the United States Government that changes, the impact radiates throughout the world.
As we meet together this morning, we are on the cusp of a new chapter in international relations.
Today, Washington time, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.
US democracy has shown its resilience. Attempts to undermine it have failed.
But America came close to the brink.
The images we woke to on January 7 diminished those who seek to harm it.
They explain why it was so important for all of America’s allies to be utterly unambiguous when President Trump sought to undermine the democratic process.
As so many have observed over the years, the most important example of America’s power is not its military or economic prowess.
It is the power of America’s example.
That is what millions of people have been inspired by, in struggles around the world against authoritarianism.
And that is what America’s adversaries most seek to undermine.
The great tragedy of the recent past is the power of America’s example has been diminished from within.
It is in Australia’s interests as a US ally to encourage the restoration of that power.
Also because the world is weaker and more uncertain, when America is weaker.
Of course, as WA Governor, Kim Beazley always states, Australia must be the ally that the United States needs, rather than the ally it wants.
If it wasn’t already obvious, Malcolm Turnbull’s difficult first phone call with Donald Trump demonstrated the challenges building a strong relationship between our nations’ leaders would face.
But Scott Morrison went too far - partly out of his affinity with Donald Trump, partly because of the political constituency they share.
There is no doubt Mr Morrison put this affinity and his political interests first when he effectively went on a campaign rally stage with Donald Trump in Ohio.
He neglected to meet with any senior Democrats over a week long visit to the United States.
The fact that this was poor alliance management is highlighted by the fact that Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo and Defence Secretary Esper all met with senior Labor Party leadership on their Australian visits.
Recently, unlike most world leaders, Scott Morrison refused to disavow President Trump’s incitement of the storming of the Capitol.
He remains afraid of the far-right extremist fringe dwellers who make up the bedrock of his personal support – and who he cultivates through the avatars of Trumpists and conspiracy theorists like Craig Kelly and George Christensen.
The fact that George Christensen is the Chair of Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment and other self-appointed international spokespeople like Andrew Hastie have been promoted, has facilitated them filling the vacuum left by an absent Foreign Minister.
Former Resources Minister Matt Canavan has seriously proposed an iron ore levy on exports to China.
Even former diplomat, Dave Sharma proposed in June last year the astonishing suggestion that Australia should recruit Russia for the perceived task of China containment, inspired by Donald Trump’s comments on an accommodation with Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Morrison wants to ride this tiger because he thinks he’s on a political winner – but we have seen this month that the longer you ride it, the harder it is to dismount.
The images we woke to on January 7 of the brutal assault on American democracy failed to stop Congress and the Senate fulfilling its constitutional duties. We all hope that FBI warnings of further attacks by armed militias are not realised.
But the strength and resilience of US institutions have endured. In that darkest hour, it’s leaders from both parties determined, once the Capitol was secured, to continue their work that very same day and show the American people, and the world in the most emphatic way possible.
And, starting today, President Biden will bring arguably unprecedented experience to the role and a clear agenda for his first one hundred days.
Initially, much of that agenda will necessarily have a domestic focus.
He will need to turn around the COVID-19 response, boost the US economy and try to heal deep divisions. He will decisively revive US leadership on climate.
Internationally, he will bring a strong personal commitment to restoring the US to what Bill Clinton once called the ‘indispensable nation’.
The world he will face will be different from the one he faced as Vice-President in the Obama administration.
COVID-19 has swept the globe and reminded us how interconnected and interdependent we are.
Global economic growth has been hard hit, years of development gains have been reversed, and millions thrown back into poverty.
Political actors pushing authoritarianism, protectionism and isolationism have been emboldened.
The increasingly tense relationship between the US and China has become a defining geo-strategic trend of our time.
Our region, already home to some of the world’s most difficult flash points, is where new geo-political struggles will play themselves out.
And amid it all, the clock keeps ticking on climate change – a fundamental threat that demands collective action to protect the planet we share.
For Australia, the arrival of the Biden Administration presents an opportunity to expand alliance cooperation on the challenges before the world and our region.
The alliance was forged in World War II under Labor, and one of our greatest Prime Ministers, the proud West Australian, John Curtin – and we have deepened it each time we have been in government.
Labor’s support for the alliance will remain stronger than ever under a government I lead.
The close emotional ties that bind our relationship are important.
But the alliance must be more than an extended celebration of ‘mateship’ and a series of photo opportunities.
It is underpinned by shared values and an alignment of interests, and we must never be complacent about either of these dimensions.
We need to constantly discuss and renew them, sometimes even argue about them and, when we have reached a common understanding, act on them.
Where interests are not completely aligned, we must be able to disagree and know that the relationship can none the less be sustained.
Under President Trump, we saw the first steps in a retreat by the US from its historical role as the leader of the post-War international order; an order whose underlying values are those which Australians hold dear.
It appeared the US was no longer interested in being the indispensable power.
So, I welcome Joe Biden’s strong commitment to US leadership in the world and the desire to bring together US allies to face the challenges I identified earlier.
Australia must do all it can to support the Biden administration in this effort, recognising that the shift we saw under Trump has deeper roots and these could continue to complicate Joe Biden’s efforts.
President-elect Biden understands that, even with considerable investment in national power, the only tenable long-term US strategy for the projection of US power and leadership involves working collaboratively with its allies.
In our region we have seen not just the rise of China, but the first half of this century will see India become the world’s second or third largest economy, and Indonesia emerge not just as an ASEAN influence, but the fourth largest economy and a global influence.
The emphasis on allies will mean US expectations of Australia will continue to be high. We must be prepared to invest in the full range of our capabilities.
Indeed, private sector trade and investment between our two countries and in the region is vital, including in advancing the social compact in areas including research.
Our pool of savings in superannuation is a major strategic asset which the current government seems determined to undermine. Of course, it has the potential to further drive infrastructure investment in Australia and the region, producing positive returns for investors whilst delivering positive outcomes.
In his April article in Foreign Affairs entitled, ‘Why America must lead again”, Biden said “We can be strong and smart at the same time”. He then added something that should echo with Australians:
“...diplomacy should be the first instrument of American power. …Diplomacy is not just a series of handshakes and photo ops…It requires discipline, a coherent policymaking process, and a team of experienced and empowered professionals. As President, I will elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy.”
It’s an approach we look forward to, and it’s an approach characterised by the discipline and consistent leadership that Labor has delivered when in government.
This new phase of engagement with the US will also be an opportunity to better realise our shared objectives in the Indo-Pacific region.
Australia should focus its engagement with the Biden administration on building an Indo-Pacific where the sovereignty of all regional states is upheld, international rules are respected, and open trade drives prosperity for all.
We should aim for real progress in addressing climate change and pandemic recovery – and action to ensure our experience with this pandemic won’t be repeated.
We should also look towards playing an active role in emerging challenges, such as cyber security and the impact of artificial intelligence, consistent with the constructive role former Labor Governments played in arms control.
We should seek steady and predictable engagement.
An engagement guided by a deep understanding of regional countries’ interests, not attempts to force them to pick sides.
It has been reassuring to see the extent to which the Biden team has already acknowledged the imperative of strategic engagement and leadership in the Indo-Pacific region.
Joe Biden’s strong commitment to climate change action will be warmly welcomed in the Pacific.
Australia’s interests call for greater, more strategic effort from the US in Southeast Asia.
As a driver of economic growth, and a focal point of great-power competition, it is a region that requires consistent support from key partners.
As this audience in Perth knows, the Indian Ocean region is also of growing importance, reflected in the fact the last face to face Australian American Leadership Dialogue was held in Western Australia.
Further encouraging the US to be more engaged will require Australia to lead the way through our own actions and lift our game in the region.
Unfortunately, the Morrison Government has failed to deliver a clear strategy.
It has funded its Pacific Step Up through a Southeast Asia step down.
It has slashed $11.8 billion from the aid program and halved our development assistance to Indonesia – our closest neighbour and one of our most important relationships.
In Australia, the study of Indonesian has been at crisis levels for some time and the Morrison Governments’ attacks on the humanities is exacerbating this.
It has ignored pleas from regional leaders– including President Jokowi – to act on climate change.
It has cut our diplomatic footprint.
Australia should be doing all it can to help show the way for the US to support Indo-Pacific regional pandemic recovery, reinforce ASEAN centrality and strengthen regional architecture.
This includes lifting US leadership engagement and boosting US economic integration with the region.
We hope the Biden administration prioritises attendance at the East Asia Summit and gives close thought to joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP).
The Obama administration recognised the geo-strategic significance of the CPTPP, and we hope this will be reprised under Joe Biden.
I understand that this holds domestic sensitivities for his administration. Indeed, Labor shares some of the concerns voiced in the US, such as those around the need to ensure labour and environment issues are properly addressed in trade agreements.
But with the centre of economic gravity in the world shifting to the Indo-Pacific, the US absence from key regional trade architectures must be addressed.
Relationship with China
The Biden administration will inherit a more challenging relationship with China.
Recent decades have seen China’s economic development lift more of its citizens out of poverty than at any place and at any time in human history.
It is a remarkable achievement.
Globalisation and the relatively ubiquitous nature of technology means that population will continue to drive China’s ongoing rise.
The economic rise of China has consequences for global power.
China, under Xi Jinping, has taken a new direction – one in which it increasingly seeks to assert its growing power, even when that contravenes accepted and agreed international rules.
As a result, the bipartisan shift in Washington towards strategic competition with China is likely to endure.
How the US under President Biden approaches this strategic competition, works with allies and defends its key interests will be critically important to Australia.
From promoting human rights and the rule of law, investing in defence and broader technological capability, defending against threats – physical and grey-zone – and identifying areas of cooperation, Biden’s approach to the China relationship will have global and local implications.
It’s more likely to succeed if President Biden plays to America’s strengths and puts some clearer definition around the terms of future US-China competition. This should allow the US and its allies to defend clear red lines, but also enable co-existence.
This is also clearly in Australia’s interests.
A key task for Australia will be ensuring any settling point that is reached between the two powers will take account of the interests of the countries of the Indo-Pacific.
Labor sees the need for a US regional strategy that strengthens the international rules, provides credible offers of support to regional countries, and boosts prosperity.
One that ensures clear expectations about how countries should behave are set – as well as providing opportunities to work collectively in response to common threats.
It was an encouraging start to see incoming National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan’s expression of solidarity for Australia in the face of China’s recent trade sanctions against our exporters.
This stood in contrast to the Trump Administration’s trade war with China, which saw little attention in Washington to the risk that Australian farmers would lose market share to US competitors because of Chinese actions.
It was a dereliction of duty for Scott Morrison to say and do nothing about the implications of the US China Phase One trade deal.
This creates the possibility of a paradoxical outcome where markets in China which have been closed off to Australian exporters, are opened up to our American competitors in sectors including meat, wine and timber.
You can’t manage differences with an alliance partner by simply ignoring them – especially when tens of thousands of Australian jobs are on the line.
Even more important will be working with the US and other likeminded countries to find ways to ensure any potential coercion is successfully resisted, and its impacts mitigated.
This is why an American reinvestment in the global rules of the road under Biden is welcomed.
The article in Foreign Affairs by Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, who will be key players in the Biden administration says a lot in its title; “Competition Without Catastrophe - How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist with China”.
The statement: “Although coexistence offers the best chance to protect US interests and prevent inevitable tension turning into outright confrontation, it does not mean the end of competition or surrender on issues of fundamental importance. Instead, coexistence means accepting competition as a condition to be managed rather than a problem to be solved.”
They argue against simplistic analogies with the US-Soviet Union cold war and argue China is an essential partner:
“Global problems that are difficult enough to solve even when the United States and China work together will be impossible to solve if they fail to do so – climate change first among them, given that the United States and china are the two biggest polluters. A host of other transnational challenges – economic crises, nuclear proliferation, global pandemics – also demand some degree of joint effort. This imperative for cooperation has little parallel in the Cold War.”
In this, it is my view that this perspective is consistent with a mature approach from Australia.
COVID-19 has underscored that for Australia, effective multilateralism should be our default practice and posture.
It is dangerous for Australia to be part of efforts to tear down useful multilateral institutions.
Because there are a lot of problems we can only solve through cooperation.
In other words, far from being a feel-good exercise, Australian leadership in the multilateral system is an extension of our national power. There is so much for us to gain by engaging more creatively and enthusiastically.
It is therefore a good thing for Australia that our principal ally is also strongly committing to multilateral cooperation.
We look forward to welcoming the US back to the Paris accords.
Labor’s position on climate change shares much with that of the Biden team and we are well positioned to cooperate closely with the US and the many other key allies and partners who take climate change seriously.
Scott Morrison’s stubborn resistance to joining the global consensus on climate change has led to his government now being totally isolated on the international stage — frozen in time while the world warms around them.
With John Kerry being charged with marshalling international support for greater global ambition, we can expect Mr Morrison’s isolation to create tension in our alliance and damage our interests.
It is not just the threat posed by climate change that has worsened; the threat posed by authoritarianism has also gained momentum.
The growing confidence of autocracies and their willingness to engage in action designed to undermine democracy calls for closely coordinated international action.
And so, the Biden team’s proposed Summit for Democracy is also welcome.
It is clearer than ever, following what we saw at the US Capitol, that supporters of democracy must act collectively to defend our values.
We also look forward to Australia working more productively with the US in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
As Australia’s current disputes with China underline, we have a deep interest in a world where trade takes place in accordance with clear rules and liberal principles.
Working effectively with the new US administration at the global level is going to require a lot of Australia.
While Labor has a track record of global leadership, we have seen our Prime Minister take aim at “negative globalism” and “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”.
Let's call this what it was: Mr Morrison pandering to President Trump and those who follow him in Australia.
And the Coalition has deliberately run down our diplomatic capability – making Australia weaker in prosecuting our interests.
In a world of sovereign states, acting together does not happen automatically – political leadership and diplomacy are the vital skills that enable it.
We’ve been living with a pandemic for nearly 12 months, but we’ve seen no leadership from this Government on how Australia is working with the WHO and key countries to ensure our resilience to future pandemics.
Indeed, it burned capital with a poorly managed call for an inquiry, which was always going to take place.
The Government sought a splashy announcement, when it should have been doing the behind the scenes diplomatic leg work to generate global support for a thorough investigation.
We’ve seen no leadership from Australia in rallying progress towards the global economic recovery or advocating for much needed support for our near neighbours in forums like the G20.
A stark contrast to our role in the international response to the Global Financial Crisis.
And when it comes to climate, we are turning our backs on all the nations that matter most to us, on one of the issues that matters most to them.
We can’t secure our interests alone – we need to work alongside the US and our allies, as well as aligned partners, to achieve our goals.
Australia needs to lead, including within our alliance with the US, and not just rely on old assumptions.
The Biden-Harris victory was historic and inspiring for many Americans and Australians alike.
A woman of colour has been elected to high office.
A Cabinet that reflects modern America has been nominated.
The program articulated by the incoming administration represents hope for progress on so many issues of central importance to Australia.
We hope to warmly welcome members of the Biden-Harris administration here soon.
The task before us represents a challenge, but it is exciting.
We need long term vision, wise strategy, and consistent advocacy of our national interests.
Scott Morrison will have his work cut out given his attendance at partisan events with Donald Trump and his failure to build any connections with the Democrats.
An obvious starting point would be for him to come to the table on climate change.
The Morrison Government would have to explain the absurdity of its arguments about the alleged cost of achieving net zero emissions, but to be increasingly isolated is an untenable position.
President Biden’s inauguration today represents a triumph of hope over fear, common purpose over division.
After a difficult 2020 for the world, that is an aspiration which we in Australia can pursue with enthusiasm.