Speech to the Perth USAsia Centre 10th Anniversary

I’d like to also acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where we are gathered today, the Whadjuk Noongar people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

I extend that respect to First Nations peoples present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were trading and interacting with their region long before white settlement. Aboriginal people in the Kimberley were engaging with what we now know as Indonesia. So perhaps some of the themes here we are discussing are not as new to this part of the world as we think.

Can I acknowledge His Excellency the Honourable Chris Dawson AC APM, the Governor of Western Australia.

I acknowledge Paul Papalia, Minister for Police, representing the WA Government.

And my fellow speakers:

  • My good friend, Professor Gordon Flake, founding Chief Executive Officer of the Perth USAsia Centre
  • Professor Stan Grant, and
  • Rebecca Tomkinson – CEO of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia.

As well as:

  • Julie Bishop, ANU Chancellor – former Foreign Minister and an extraordinary advocate for Western Australia and our pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Hon Richard Court, Board Member, Perth USAsia Centre, former Ambassador to Japan and, of course, former Premier of Western Australia.
  • Hon Kim Beazley AC, Chair, Perth USAsia Centre, former member for Brand, former Labor leader and Former Defence Minister. It is worth remembering that as the architect of the Two Oceans Naval Policy, Kim came up with the idea of the Indo-Pacific before it was even a thing.

I am delighted to be here to help the Perth USAsia Centre mark its tenth anniversary.

My time establishing and running the centre as its inaugural chief operating officer and executive director was a time of great promise and excitement and I am proud to reflect on the way this organisation has now firmly established itself as one of the region’s premier strategy and policy institutions.

The germ of an idea for a Perth-based strategic institution focused on the Indo-Pacific came out of The University of Western Australia’s ground-breaking In the Zone Conference, which I was also fortunate to be involved with from its inception.

In the Zone was itself something of a reaction to frustrations coming out of the 2008 Melbourne Economic Forum – a feeling familiar to all Western Australians that policy makers in the East failed to appreciate the significance of the economic changes that had been taking place in the West.

While the rest of the world was hit hard by the Global Financial Crisis, Australia was able to avoid the worst because of urgent government responses and the powerful effect of the WA mining boom.

Participants at the 2008 Melbourne Economic Forum dismissed the boom in WA as skewing the national economy. The truth is the WA mining boom saved the national economy.

So, In The Zone was created because the national discussion on the East Coast was arrogantly ignoring the significance of the West.

As the nation’s Indian Ocean gateway to the part of the world home to 60 per cent of the world’s population, connected closely to and operating in the same sensible time zone, Perth and WA should never be ignored.

In November 2012, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Perth for Australia-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) meetings along with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

The visit was hugely significant at the time.

Though President Obama had announced his ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific a year before, most east coast wonks still dismissed Perth as something of a foreign policy backwater.

If you asked the average punter back then about foreign policy and Western Australia, they most likely thought you were inviting a discussion on the merits of secession.

That decision to hold AUSMIN in Perth came about thanks to a rare alignment of the diplomatic and political stars.

Western Australia was supremely fortunate to have two brilliant Western Australians in key positions at a perfect moment in time – Kim Beazley as US Ambassador and Stephen Smith as Defence Minister.

These two proud Western Australians brought AUSMIN to Perth, and the rest is history.

Secretary Clinton announced the creation of the Perth USAsia Centre at an event at The University of Western Australia with support from the US Studies Centre, the American Australian Association and with funding from the Federal and State Governments. 

I acknowledge the support of then Premier Colin Barnett and also the Vice Chancellor of UWA, Professor Paul Johnson, whose office I bowled on into and asked that I get the job of setting all of this up!

The new centre, based in a booming city in a vibrant and growing part of the world, working in the time zone of the region, and committed to addressing issues in this region.

The Centre has always been clear that its mandate was not about articulating WA’s interests, but about articulating the national interest as viewed from the Indo- part of the Indo-Pacific.

It was a dream job and I am proud of helping the Perth USAsia Centre on a good and stable path.

For better or worse, I helped to bring the highly-regarded Professor Flake on board as the centre’s first CEO.

Gordon was an inspired choice. I’d like to quickly take this opportunity to commend Gordon on his contribution to this centre.

Gordon and his wife Pakayvanh moved their entire family literally from one side of the world to the other, and to use an American expression, they really drank the Kool Aid and Gordon bought himself a ute! They are committed Australian citizens, making a great contribution to our nation.

Gordon is now a fixture in Perth and around the country and around the world where important discussions are happening.

I’d also like to thank him for joining me in Washington recently and leading a ‘fireside chat’ with some of our US counterparts in relation to our work on critical minerals.

This centre is now a gathering point for leading thinkers and strategic and policy influencers right across our region, bringing together industry, government and academia. 

When you think about it, it was extraordinary it hadn’t happened earlier.

After all, so much of the region’s energy and raw resources were now coming out of this State. And the companies engineering that trade were all based here in Perth.

Western Australia has made an outsized contribution to the stability we have enjoyed in our region over many decades.

This stability is now being tested. It has been and will be from centres like this one, that Australia gets the ideas and policies to confront the challenges facing the Indo-Pacific and ensure a safer and more prosperous future.

When we established this Centre, the focus was very much on recognising Perth as Australia’s Indian Ocean Capital.

Perth’s proximity to nations in the Indian Ocean brings direct engagement with important partners like India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia.

Indeed, I learnt as much or more about the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) from the Perth USAsia Centre than from the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties inquiry!

Japan is our second largest trading partner and fourth-largest foreign investor, so our relationship is crucial.

Some of Japan’s most significant trading houses such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui now have a presence here in Perth. Japanese gas giant Inpex has more people based in their Perth headquarters than in Tokyo.

India and South Korea rely upon Australia for their ongoing energy security and economic development.

I am looking forward to a visit early in the new year to meet with the South Korean government and Korean industry partners to discuss these very issues.

This regional reliance on Australia is only going to increase.

And we should not forget the critical importance too of our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies to the stability of our region.

A youthful country, its economy is set to rocket upwards, with bold ambitions to reduce emissions and to create a new capital, we should all want to be part of Indonesia’s remarkable story that is yet to come.

We want to continue to live in an Indo-Pacific that is peaceful and prosperous.

A region where sovereignty and international law and norms are respected.

Australia’s links with key strategic partners like the US are built on a shared commitment to democracy, free enterprise and a rules-based global order. 

I personally don’t have to look far at all to be reminded of tangible cooperation between the US and Australia.

It is happening right in my backyard – literally down the road from my home in Shoalwater.

My electorate of Brand will see an increased tempo of port visits by the US Navy at HMAS Stirling as part of the rotational presence agreed to under AUKUS.

Rockingham, my hometown, the place in which I grew up, will be transformed - socially and economically as US service personnel  become part of the local community.

And I won’t cop any jokes thank you about what this might mean for culture in Rockingham.

But there are other links between Western Australia and the US of growing importance.

I recently travelled with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Washington where Australia and the US made significant progress on critical minerals and rare earths supply chains and shared investment in these resources.

A great deal of of these rare earths and critical minerals come from right here in WA.

I met with counterparts from the National Security Council, Amos Hochstein, Senior Energy Adviser to President Biden, and Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce.

These talks put Australia’s resources sector, particularly our critical minerals sector, at the heart of strategic policy discussions in Washington.

In many ways it was a continuation of that dialogue that was begun at that Perth AUSMIN in 2012.

It was furthering the objectives that I set out when I spoke at the 2019 In the Zone Conference on critical minerals.

The impact of the Perth USAsia Centre over time is now undeniable.

The centre’s focus on the key strategic issues facing WA, Australia and the broader Indo-Pacific region today and into the future is so crucial.

This of course could not be achieved without the tireless work of the amazing staff at the Centre, and I thank you for that.

Your work helps ensure our policies reflect the rapidly evolving global strategic, technological and economic environment across this highly important region.

I am extremely proud of the small part I have played in the life of the Perth USAsia Centre, and I’m really very pleased to be here to say happy birthday!

Thank you.