EU Diplomatic Corps

Speech, check against delivery


29 July 2013

Thank you, and can I start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. Can I acknowledge His Excellency, David Daly, the European Union Ambassador to Australia and our guest of honour today. And can I also acknowledge Dr Brendan Nelson, a great servant to this country. And I suppose his relevance in the context of this room, although Brendan is relevant in very many rooms, is as a former Australian Ambassador to the EU.

And as Brendan reminded me with his appointment and indeed with Duncan Lewis's appointment, I think that we can feel very proud about the fact that we have sent two very high-profile, very great Australians to represent this country with the European Union, which says much about the contemporary relationship that Australia has with the EU and the importance of the EU in Australia's world view.

Thank you for those remarks about Geelong. I'd be very keen to continue the speech about the significance of Geelong. Geelong was actually meant to be, at least in my view, the capital of Australia. That is another story which will take me an hour or two to tell you, so I won't do it now. But I'll invite you back on another occasion to do just that.

Can I also just, before I start, acknowledge and pay my condolences to all the families involved in the terrible train tragedy in northern Spain and the appalling bus tragedy that we've just been made aware of in southern Italy. And I know that all the hearts of Australians go out to people in those countries around those tragedies.

It really is an honour for me today to speak at the launch of this publication, commemorating the last 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and the European Union. And I'd especially like to thank the EU Delegation to Australia and Stroudgate Publishers for jointly publishing this book. It will no doubt be a really useful tool for policy makers and for the general public when examining the history of our engagement and contextualising our contemporary relationship.

And while it serves its purpose as a record of past achievements in the Australia-EU relationship, it also signals the potential of what can still be achieved in Australia's journey with the European project.

And now, as we stand here today in our 51st year of diplomatic relations, the pace and the substance of our engagement has never been stronger. We've recently concluded negotiations for a crisis management agreement, and this will strengthen our ability to respond jointly to international crisis, by enabling Australian contributions to EU-led missions.

As Australia accelerates its transition to emissions trading scheme, our two economies are aiming to become the first major markets to have their domestic carbon trading schemes formally linked, hopefully setting a precedent for other countries to follow in addressing the challenges of climate change.

The trade and investment relationship has always been robust. Today EU's 28 members together rank as Australia's second-largest trading partner, with a total two-way trade of $81 billion in 2012 - a fact which is often forgotten, I think, in the context of Australia seeing its economic relationship with the world.

The EU is also Australia's largest source of foreign investment and the most common overseas destination for Australian investors. As active global citizens who have the same international reflexes, Europe and Australia are very much partners in promoting the shared values of freedom and democracy around the world, and this partnership is an important asset for Australia as we step up to the front-line of multilateral cooperation through our membership of the UN Security Council and through our chairing of the G20 next year in 2014.

When looking at all of this, in sum, it is safe to say that Australia has been and continues to be very much the beneficiary of Europe's integration and the EU status as a global player.

In my previous role as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, I was really pleased to be able to serve as a panellist in the Australia and Europe in Conversation series, which was organised by the ANU Centre for European Studies, as part of the commemorations of last year's anniversary. A fellow panellist on that day was the EU's head of delegation to Australia, his Excellency David Daly, who we are also very much here today to farewell. David has taught me much in our relationship about the European Union. The first thing he has made clear to me is the EU is run by Ireland.

And, in my very first bilateral with Noel White, who's here as well, he reinforced that point to me. I made the point that Ireland has a pretty significant shareholding in this country as well, and so that made complete sense to me indeed. During the discussion on that day at ANU, I remember us both acknowledging the wondrous experiment that is the European project and speaking with pride when describing the really vibrant nature of our contemporary relationship to which David has contributed greatly.

David, you have played a key role in this relationship over the last four and a half years, during your tenure. As well as the crisis management agreement, we've concluded the passenger name record agreement and also arrangements to allow the EU and Australia to deliver aid for each other in different parts of the world, which has been really important. We've made good progress on a framework agreement and we've seen a steady stream of high-level visits in both directions, including the European Commission's President Barroso's visit back in 2011, which was the first such visit to Australia by an EC President in nearly 30 years. And just recently we've had our own Governor General in the European Union as well.

I'd really like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Australian Government, to thank you for your contribution to the bilateral relationship during your time in Canberra. It is the nature of the work that we're all involved in that, periodically, great periods of time come to a point where we have to say a sad farewell, and unfortunately that is a time today. But all good things must come to an end, and our loss is Sri Lanka's gain, and we wish you very much the best in your next assignment in Sri Lanka.

But thank you for all the service that you've given to Australia and, of course, to the European Union during your time here. You will be very sorely missed. Thank you.

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