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The enduring UK/Australia relationship

Friday, February 22, 2008

The following speech was given to the Cook Society, (a British-Australia friendship organisation).

Australia and Britain have much in common - our value systems, a lot of shared history and deep and strong economic interests.

These are important bonds; bonds which help us take on the growing challenges of globalization. Talking together, sharing ideas and agreeing common action on global issues of mutual concern, becomes an increasingly important part of our relationship.

Today I want to focus on two global threats to the security and prosperity of our citizens climate change and the rise of extremism and terrorism.  Two challenges that require global cooperation, and on which our two countries can work closely to achieve shared goals.  

Climate Change

There is now conclusive scientific evidence on the effects of climate change.  It is widely accepted as a threat to global prosperity and security and widely accepted that action is needed now, if that threat is to be averted. 

In economic terms, Nicholas Stern’s report suggests that inaction on climate change will be potentially catastrophic for the global economy costing between 5-20% of global GDP at least.  Imagine doing business in an economic climate comparable to that of the Great Depression and the two World Wars of the 20th century.   Economic disruption on this scale would have obvious and far reaching consequences.  The implications for Australia will become clearer when the Garnaut report is published later in the year.

Even those not swayed by the immediate effects on our environment must surely be concerned about the far reaching consequences - the effect on Australia’s tourism industry if sites of rich natural beauty like the Great Barrier Reef become extinct.  The Australian mainland is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change and I fear that both the droughts and the flooding you have recently experienced will become more common and more severe.

The future of the Pacific Island Countries where even minimal sea level rises could cause conditions likely to force people from their land and create a generation of economic migrants on Australia’s doorstep. 

Last October I took part in the Pacific Island Forum in Tonga.  The people of Tonga and those of neighbouring islands really are directly on the front line of climate change.  Living on low lying islands their whole way of life is threatened and some fear they may have to abandon their homes if sea levels rise or catastrophic weather events become more frequent.

I discussed similar challenges just yesterday with the Papua New Guinea Minister for the Environment and Conservation.

Climate change brings risks to our security, wherever we live.  It is a “threat multiplier”, by which I mean that in volatile regions where pressure on political and economic structures is already intense, climate change brings with it problems. Problems such as floods, droughts, extreme weather events, rising sea levels and erratic weather conditions, all of which drive food, water and energy shortages and migration.  In unstable neighbourhoods, this could just tip the balance from relative stability to instability.  At worst, climate change could be a factor that causes a state to fail.

In Britain we have set a long-term legal framework for reducing emissions through the Climate Change Bill.  Together with our EU partners we have committed to reducing emissions by up to 30% by 2020, ensuring that by the same date 20% of our energy comes from renewables, and aiming to make Carbon Capture and Storage the standard technology for all fossil fuel power stations. 

But as an international community we need to do more. We have to invest heavily in energy infrastructure, identify new technologies and build national and international coalitions of political will, if we are to succeed.

I am optimistic that Prime Minister Rudd will be a key ally in this task. Mr. Rudd showed this by signing up to the Kyoto Protocol within hours of taking office and setting long term targets of cutting emissions - by 60% of 2000 levels by 2050. In addition, as a Mandarin speaker he probably understands China as well as any Western leader. He can play a critical role in engaging China as a partner in driving the transition to a low carbon global economy.

A new report from the Climate Institute concludes that making very substantial reductions in Australia’s net greenhouse emissions is affordable and compatible with continuing growth in incomes, employment and living standards.  I hope that Australia, like the UK, will view achieving climate security not as a sacrifice but as both an urgent security and prosperity imperative, and an opportunity for growth and innovation.  

We can push ahead with a rapid transition to a global low carbon economy. We can support an ambitious UN framework; deepen engagement on emissions trading and technology development and transfer. 

Counter Terrorism Prevent

I’d like to turn to a challenge that both countries are sadly familiar with.  The Bali monument just outside the Foreign Office for the innocent people who lost their lives is a reminder of the random and catastrophic nature of terrorist attacks. Many families here and in Australia have struggled to come to terms with the loss of a young person who was on holiday in Bali and lost their life to a terrorist’s bomb.

One of my constituents, aged 20, had saved up for many months to take a dream trip round the world. Her travels had only just begun when she was killed with her cousin by the Bali bomb. Meeting bereaved families as Minister for consular affairs, I am in no doubt about the human cost.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our security services, and our key allies, for the work they do, most of it unseen, which keeps such horrors as the Bali bombings as infrequent occurrences. The counter terrorism relationship between Australia and Britain is strong and deep. The head of the Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorism Unit visited Australia last year and we have a constant exchange of expertise and analysis.

The responsibility to tackle violent extremism is one we share. The important challenge for us is to help create cohesive and resilient communities within which the terrorist messages will not resonate.  Communities which will challenge the twisted narrative used to radicalise the vulnerable. We do need to address grievances, whether social, economic or political, which some people hold and which may encourage them to sympathise with the propagandists of violence.

In the UK we have increased funding for projects aimed at undermining extremism to over 8 million, funding over 200 programmes worldwide to engage mainstream voices. My previous Ministerial Department - Communities and Local Government - is now a central part of the UK Government’s response to terrorism. It is engaged in empowering women, giving leadership opportunities to young Muslims and more help for English speaking Imams. 

Our two countries have much to gain from sharing our ideas, insights and plans. There is more we can do together to counter extremism in South East Asia and the Pacific region, particularly in Indonesia, where we are already engaged in projects such as the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement and Co-operation a regional centre for excellence in the fight against terror

Australia and the UK have strong links.  Take our economic relationship - more than 8 billion worth of two way trade in goods and services annually.  The UK is not only proud to be Australia’s gateway to 495 million consumers across Europe, but also its largest market for wine! 

There is more - information sharing for example. The UK’s current immigration system has been developed from Australia’s experience.

We strongly support Australia’s efforts to promote democracy, stability and development in the Pacific region and beyond.  Australia lives in a fragile neighbourhood, but there are signs of optimism and the creation of a new Minister for the Pacific is a positive indication that the new administration is committed to building on progress. 


Australia remains and will continue to be a valuable ally.  At a time when the UK Government has reinvigorated our foreign policy objectives, I hope to reinvigorate our relationship with one of our closest partners.   And I hope to get out to Australia soon to meet the new administration.

The world constantly changes, providing new challenges, new opportunities.  The wealth of experience and the networks of people that your members can draw on are an invaluable resource.  One challenge, for all of us, is to engage the younger generation.  I hope that you will be up for that challenge and help ensure a new generation will keep the UK/Australia relationship modern, relevant and, above all, as enduring as it deserves to be.

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