It is a pleasure and an honour to be invited to address The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.  This Centre is a very distinguished enterprise, which has as one of its core missions, to stimulate discussion about the strategic signposts of our world today.  To be asked to help do that is deeply appreciated.

The current relationship between Australia and the UAE

I have been asked to speak about Australian policy towards the UAE and the Gulf.  I will do so from my perspective of having led our nation for three years but also mindful of the consistency that has been at the core of our relationship – a consistency of outlook, of strategic alignment, of deep friendship, of strong and growing commercial ties.

Australia and the UAE are still headed down the road that was charted together many years ago, which found renewal and common purpose after September 11 and which our leaders have in recent years deliberately charted towards broader horizons.

In reviewing the diplomatic record over the past decade, the themes are consistent:

*   First, a bilateral relationship that is dynamic and of strategic significance to both countries.

*   Second, a commitment to trade and investment –and a desire to broaden those ties.

*   Third, an enthusiasm for strong people-to-people ties, across many dimensions.

*   Fourth, shared strategic interests in the security, stability and development of the Gulf region.

As part of this strong architecture of ties between our countries, the UAE hosts the Australian Defence Force Headquarters for the Middle East – our base, which has been pivotal to our role in the war in Afghanistan, in aiding the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in strengthening maritime security in this region. I acknowledge the courage and commitment your nation has also shown in the fight in Afghanistan.

Australia is truly thankful for this hosting and co-operation.  I am personally thankful because as Prime Minister, I went to the base on a number of occasions in order to visit our troops in Afghanistan.

It is one practical expression of the friendship between our two countries.

That friendship is also expressed in our growing economic relationship.

I pay tribute to all those who are participating in the dynamic and growing web of economic and trade ties between our countries.

Total joint trade now exceeds $5 billion annually.  The UAE currently enjoys a slight trade surplus with Australia – so enjoy while you have it, because we intend to narrow it.

While the UAE exports significant petroleum and related products to Australia, we have growing markets here in alumina, seeds, grains, fruit, meat and livestock, dairy, vegetables – and in passenger motor vehicles from Toyota operations in Australia.

But behind these numbers are two larger stories.

First, they involve people.  Over 16,000 Australians are living and working here in industries and economic sectors that are vital to the UAE’s future:  health, education, financial services and construction.  Indeed the UAE is the 11th largest overseas host country for Australians in the world.  I think we should jointly aim to see the UAE burst into the top ten.

350 Australian companies operate in the UAE and around 1000 students from the Emirates study in our universities.

I have to say that these ties are infectious because Abu Dhabi has even hosted Australian V8 Supercars.

Any two nations that can jointly enjoy V8 Supercars surely cannot have strategic differences.

As important as the V8 Supercars are, airplanes are pretty important too.  The airline of Australia, Qantas, in 2012 forged a strategic partnership with Emirates Airline and the results have been exceptional indeed.

Passenger traffic at Dubai International Airport to and from Australia was up over 38% as a result of the tie with Qantas.  Nearly 200,000 Australians visited Dubai in 2013.  There are 140 flights per week between Australia and the Gulf, one every 72 minutes.

Etihad Airways and Virgin Australia are enjoying a partnership that is also showing great success with 28 weekly flights out of Abu Dhabi to Australia each week and this year seeing new flights daily to Perth.

This is solid growth – that can only lead to more economic growth.

There are also human ties in times of need.  The people of Queensland have not forgotten – and I have not forgotten – the very genstyle=”font-size:11.0pt;font-family:”Arial”,”sans-serif”">There are also human ties in times of need.  The people of Queensland have not forgotten – and I have not forgotten – the very generous donation, in the wake of the devastating floods and Cyclone in Queensland in 2010-11, of $30 million by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, to build ten Category 5 cyclone shelters that can protect up to 800 people.  This was an extraordinary act of friendship from a good and trusted friend.

On another front, Australia was well represented here last April at the Global Vaccine Summit hosted by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and conducted together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I was very pleased that our young Australian of the Year, Akram Azimi, a refugee from Afghanistan, who had been vaccinated by an Australian Aid program, was able to attend.  His experience shows that the world working together can eradicate polio and I am proud that as Prime Minister I ensured our nation made a substantial new commitment to this life- saving work.

The second story behind the economic numbers is the diversification of both our economies.  For the UAE, a significant part of the future is an expansion of the economy from petroleum into a wider array of business activity.  In this diversifying economy and particularly in its services sector, especially education, Australia can play a larger role.  We can help equip the next generation of Emiratis to build a more diversified economy at home.

As the UAE endeavours to diversify its energy profile, we can also be of assistance.  In 2012, under my Prime Ministership, our two countries signed a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement – enabling the UAE to become Australia’s first Middle Eastern export market for uranium.  This is a key building block on the UAE’s goal of establishing a domestic nuclear industry later in this decade.  This agreement also reflects the confidence we have in the UAE and its adherence to international norms regarding non-proliferation.

This is a signal achievement.

Underlying all of these practical outcomes of  the friendship between our two nations is a web of diplomatic dialogue that is of essential importance to both countries.  Our leaders and our ministers meet regularly.  We are working towards a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Australia.  I supported it as Prime Minister and I will support its successful conclusion under the current Australian Government.

The UAE emphatically supported Australia’s bid to win a seat on the Security Council and I want to thank the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah, for what he said in backing our bid in August 2012.   We are now in our second year of service on that august body.  Australia supported the permanent establishment of the headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency here in Abu Dhabi – where IRENA is now located.

I am pleased that under the Government I led we first indicated to you our support for Dubai’s successful World Expo 2020 campaign and that the current government followed through with our vote.

Our nations share a firm friendship.

In an uncertain, indeed too often dangerous world, we have come to look to each other.

Today, I want to canvas some of the challenges that confront us both in your region of the world and some of ways our bond of friendship today can become even stronger for tomorrow.

Peace and Security

Our nations, our people, want to live in peace and security.

But we live in a world in which requires us to confront some immense issues. Very troubling issues.  Issues whose outcome is not clear.  Issues that, quite frankly, threaten the security, stability and prosperity of the entire world.

Precisely because of the nature of those issues, it is more important than ever that our two countries work together in a difficult and often dangerous world.

So let me turn to them, and discuss them with you:

First, Syria.  This is the civil war that is breaking the hopes of everyone in the region.  A tyrant is butchering his people.  He has had no compunction about using weapons of mass destruction to do it.  The opposition is atomised, and to a larger and larger extent it has become radicalised. The tentacles of this war are spilling over into Iraq and Lebanon.

All these factors together – Assad’s entrenched power and willingness to go to any lengths to remain in power; the lack of any meaningful structure to reach a peace settlement that will create a new Syria; the different factions in the civil war; and the risks of arming factions who also could pose a threat to peace and stability – have made a resolution extraordinarily difficult.

Equally distressing is that the humanitarian crisis is getting worse.  The burden on Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey is immense.  Australia has contributed over $100 million to the relief effort and we keep pressing for access for humanitarian workers and supplies.

We must remain open and vigilant to opportunities and strategies that will end the suffering, end the Assad regime, and provide the path to a new Syria that that can focus on rebuilding and not on threatening its neighbours.

Second, Iran.  For over a decade, our two countries have expressed, in the strongest terms, that an Iran with nuclear weapons is a grave threat to the security and stability of this entire region – and, should Iran develop an intercontinental missile capability, a threat to virtually all nations.

This, we cannot accept.  We have both supported strong sanctions at the United Nations.  There is no doubt they have had an effect on Iran’s economy, that these sanctions are punitive and effective, and have wedged open a door for diplomacy.

But it must be recognized that you have paid a heavy price for it.  With the sanctions in effect, commerce between the UAE and Iran has plunged 83%  from $23 billion to just $4 billion.  The UAE is on the front lines and it is a big sacrifice.

The P5+1 interim agreement – whose implementation is just being finalized this week – is a first step but to make this sacrifice worth it. It is now imperative that Iran follow through in both the letter and the spirit of putting a halt to its nuclear programs.

So I want to propose a corollary to President Reagan’s famous dictum in reaching arms control agreements with the Soviets:

“Trust but verify,” he said.

But we can’t trust the Iranians – yet.  Compliance with the interim agreement and all the enforcement provisions will test whether there can be trust.

And so for now I say:

“Hope, but verify.”

There is no doubt that Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel.  But they also pose the same threat to Muslim nations on this side of the Gulf.  What is so interesting as we look at the interplay of forces and alignments is that all these countries –  Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Emirates, Turkey and Israel now share the same strategic interest –  an Iran that does not have a nuclear weapon.

Which brings me to a third major issue:  the nexus between Saudi Arabia and the United States. I think it is important to go beyond the headlines and the public expression of irritation and focus on the larger strategic picture:

Both nations want security and stability in the region.

Both nations oppose Iran’s having a nuclear weapon.

Both nations want a better outcome in Syria.

Both nations oppose corrosion and terrorism in Lebanon.

Both nations oppose the radical insurgency in Iraq and Syria.

Both nations want a resolution at long last between Israel and Palestine.

So I see these unfolding issues as ones of means – not ends.

The UAE is a direct player here in the region.  Australia is further away but has direct interests. And we have committed our young men and women to defending and securing those interests, too often at the price of ultimate sacrifice.

The best we can do is for friends to help friends advance their friendship and their alliance.

We know we want America and Saudi Arabia to act in greater concord with each other,  precisely in order to change the trajectory of the threats that continue to emanate from this region.  So let’s help our friends act more in concert, more in harmony.

Fourth, a few words on Israel and Palestine.  My message to you this evening is the same as I delivered to an audience in Melbourne in November:

I support a Palestinian State for the Palestinian people.  I want to see the dawn of Palestine Independence Day.  I want the Palestinian people to enjoy and pursue their destiny in full, and to have a prosperous and successful country of their own – a nation they call home at long last.

But I also want to see Israel continue to pursue its destiny as it was conceived – as a Jewish State and as a democracy.

Everyone talks about a “two-State solution.”  I did consistently as Prime Minister.  That is my view today.  There is – there can be – no other course. Everyone understands a State for Palestine.  But not everyone says there should be a State of Israel.

Indeed, some countries, some leaders, still want a world without Israel.

Those are the words that come out of the lips of the leaders in Tehran, and Gaza, and Southern Lebanon.

I am convinced that the key to peace for Israelis and Palestinians is a simple declarative statement by Palestinian leaders – that they accept Israel as a Jewish State.

Once that is stipulated, then virtually everything can be successfully negotiated — because Israel’s existential identity is successfully secured.

Once that is stipulated, two great peoples can finally begin working together to build themselves up as an economic powerhouse in the region, as a wellspring of science and innovation, as leaders in agriculture, water conservation, solar power and renewable energy.  Indeed the list of potential shared areas of achievement is without end.

This is an objective specifically endorsed by Secretary of State John Kerry in his marathon negotiations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

In New York in September, I visited with Martin Indyk – a son of Australia, and one of our most accomplished diplomats and strategic thinkers.

President Obama has entrusted him with the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

He outlined to me the very tough nature of the issues – and how they test the willingness and indeed the very ability of the principals to reach deeply into themselves, to reach out to their constituencies, and find the strength and the courage to make the hard decisions for peace at long last.

But I know this: the keys to these locks are well known.  They were lying on the table in President Clinton’s cabin at Camp David.

It’s not the final choices that are so hard – what the border can be, what the land swaps will be, what arrangements can even be made in Jerusalem itself.

No:  it’s not those decisions. It’s the decision to do the deal.  To do the deal which delivers two states for two people.

There are so many other issues that engage and trouble us.  The future for Egypt, violence in Libya, Al Qaeda in Yemen.

My message tonight as we survey this region from this vantage is simply this: for all these issues let’s stay the course.  Let’s keep working together in a difficult and often dangerous world.  Let’s go the distance on diplomacy – vigorous and exacting diplomacy that keeps everyone honest, and that is dedicated to real solutions to the real issues:

*   An end to the civil war in Syria, the removal of Assad, and the emergence of a new Syria focused on rebuilding – and not terrorism or oppression;

*   The removal of Iran’s nuclear threat so that the entire region is safer and more stable and more secure;

*   A renewal of a dynamic partnership between America and Saudi Arabia

*   A real peace between Israel and Palestine, with a just, lasting and true two-State solution; and

*   A continuing joint commitment – by the UAE and Australia – to work towards these noble goals, towards greater peace and security.


Let me turn from the building of peace to the growth of prosperity.

As the year begins, there are encouraging signs, at long last, of real traction in economic growth in the United States and an improved outlook in Europe.

But there is much more than needs to be done to build global growth.

I was very proud as Prime Minister to secure this year’s G20 meeting in Australia.

The world will rightly expect real results from that meeting with a focus on jobs and growth.

Amongst a number of difficult issues to resolve is the renewal of the shared commitment to a standstill in protectionist measures.  When I made my first contribution to a G20, I said that the real pressure on political leaders to deliver protectionist measures would not be in the depths of the Global Financial Crisis but during the long, hard climb to recovery.  This is how it has proved to be and why a demonstration of global discipline in support of free trade is necessary at the G20.

Similarly, the completion of the Gulf Cooperation Council FTA with Australia is of the highest importance.  For both our countries, resources have been of immense importance but diversification is key to our futures.  For Australia, this means continuing our investment in infrastructure, innovation and productivity.  It means continuing to see our agricultural assets – our clean green food resources – together with the value add of food processing as a key way of generating wealth through trade into the Middle East and Asia.  It means more mass and bespoke tourism experiences.  It means more advanced manufacturing and a more sophisticated digital economy for the  interconnected world of the 21st century.

It also means that our two countries can join further together in cooperating on challenges like carbon and water scarcity.  We can share expertise and experience as hot, dry energy exporters.

Our people, our future

For tomorrow, the friendship between our two nations can be strengthened by working together to build peace and prosperity.  But as significant is working together as we invest in our people.

Last month, General David Petraeus and former Ambassador Michael Gfoeller, who served in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, wrote in Politico, a Washington newspaper, and I quote –

The social and political reforms taking place in the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf must rank with the significant overlooked developments in recent years.  Since the Arab Spring began, in fact, the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have launched numerous initiatives to open their societies to outside thinking and to improve the rights of women and religious minorities.

They specifically cited numerous educational links between the UAE and Western educational institutions.

How we invest in our people will determine our futures.

On that, I believe our nations can learn much from each other.

I am delighted there are two outstanding Australian schools in the UAE – Murdoch University and the University of Wollongong, together teaching around 4,000  students.  But I know that with your population’s demographics and the growing numbers of young people providing education of quality for all still looms as a key challenge.

In my post Prime Ministerial life, I have become a non-resident Senior Fellow at the global think tank, Brookings, working on education.  One of my colleagues, Ms Maysa Jalbout, who is present tonight, is in the process of completing a major piece of work that charts the quality of education in the Middle East, including here in the UAE.

Her results show us that despite current efforts, too many children leave primary and secondary school not having attained appropriate learning benchmarks.  Maysa’s work also shows that there is so much we do not know about the performance of schools, so many big gaps in the data.

As Prime Minister my central passion was improving Australian education and I know that passionate drives many here in the UAE.

A key element of my approach was recognising the force of the words that ‘you can’t fix what you can’t measure’.  In Australia this has led to a sophisticated and transparent system for measuring education outcomes, where results are available school by school to all and those results can be understood in the context of the levels of advantage and disadvantage of children attending a school and the levels of financing available for the education of the children in the school.

Brookings has been facilitating the work of a high level taskforce focused on this question of measuring the quality of learning globally.  I am confident that there will be ways for the UAE and Brookings to collaborate and build on the excellent work that has been done by the taskforce.  Imagine a future for school education here where the quality of what is happening in schools is transparent, best practice can be shared, underperformance identified and addressed, financing provided in a way that means need and drives quality up.


Friends, let me conclude with the following observation.  Whatever else 2014 brings us, it will bring us the 20th anniversary of the birth of this Centre.

Last month your Director General, Dr Sanad Al-Suwaidi, held a major media event to celebrate the Centre and its mission to, and I quote

“Support national decision-making and serve both the UAE and Gulf Co-operation Council societies in a manner that is mindful of tradition, yet embraces modernity.”

Twenty years young.  My congratulations to all.

Last year also brought  us the 20th anniversary of the University of Wollongong in Dubai, the oldest Western university in the UAE.

So twenty years that have seen a strengthening of the friendship between us.

A track record to be proud of and a future full of promise.

For your Centre, for our nations, for the friendship between us.

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