For once, I agree with Paul Keating

September 6, 2008


On 4th June 2008, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd addressed the Asia Society in Sydney and announced the goal of forming an Asia Pacific Community by 2020.

Whilst he said "the European Union of course does not represent an identikit model", he also said "it is that spirit we need to capture in our hemisphere". The European Union (EU) allows the free movement of labour within the union, so an Asia Pacific Community (APC) has the potential to flood Australia with people from the Pacific Islands, Asia, India and the United States.

If the EU is any guide in what to expect for our region, then we can also expect that such profound changes to our nation will not be presented to the people for democratic approval. Did Mr Rudd mention the APC during the last election campaign? No. Rather, change will be slowly and incrementally enforced on the people of Australia without fanfare, without referendum - essentially without public approval.

Steps in this direction have begun, such as the announcement of a pilot program for seasonal guest workers from the Pacific Islands in the rural industry. Did the government mention this during the election campaign? No.

This blog will collect information on the Asia Pacific Community along with any relevant European Union experience. Feel free to leave comments if you wish to contribute.

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Address to the Asia Society AustralAsia Centre
4 June 2008:

... there is a brittleness in a foreign policy based only on bilateral relations.

To remove some of that brittleness, we need strong and effective regional institutions.

Strong institutions that will underpin an open, peaceful, stable, prosperous and sustainable region.

We need them because regional institutions are important in addressing collective challenges that no one country can address alone – and they help us develop a common idea of what those challenges are...

We need to have a vision for an Asia Pacific Community, a vision that embraces:

* A regional institution which spans the entire Asia-Pacific region – including the United States, Japan, China India, Indonesia and the other states of the region.

* A regional institution which is able to engage in the full spectrum of dialogue, cooperation and action on economic and political matters and future challenges related to security.

The purpose is to encourage the development of a genuine and comprehensive sense of community whose habitual operating principle is cooperation.

The danger in not acting is that we run the risk of succumbing to the perception that future conflict within our region may somehow be inevitable.

At present none of our existing regional mechanisms as currently configured are capable of achieving these purposes.

That is why the new Australian Government argues that we should now begin the regional debate about where we want to be in 2020...

I would also argue that an Asia Pacific Community by 2020 is consistent with President Bush’s call for the development of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific – an ambition we have consistently supported as a long-term goal.

The European Union of course does not represent an identikit model of what we would seek to develop in the Asia Pacific.

But what we can learn from Europe is this – it is necessary to take the first step.

In the 1950s, sceptics saw European integration as unrealistic.

But most people would now agree that the goal of the visionaries in Europe who sat down in the 1950s and resolved to build prosperity and a common sense of a security community has been achieved.

It is that spirit we need to capture in our hemisphere.

Our special challenge is that we face a region with greater diversity in political systems and economic structures, levels of development, religious beliefs, languages and cultures, than did our counterparts in Europe.

But that should not stop us from thinking big...

To take forward the vision for an Asia Pacific Community during the next six months, the Australian Government will dispatch a high-level envoy to the capitals of the wider region to discuss this proposal.

Subject to that further dialogue we would envisage the possibility of a further high-level conference of government and non-government representatives to advance this proposal.

I fully recognise that this will not be an easy process – just as the establishment of APEC was not easy 20 years ago.

But the speed and the scope of changes in our region means we need to act now.

That is why I am announcing tonight the appointment of Dick Woolcott as Australia’s envoy on this important matter of unfinished regional business – to continue and hopefully complete the work he began on Prime Minister Hawke’s behalf 20 years ago.

I said before that this is the Asia Pacific Century.

Ours must be an open region – we need to link into the world, not shut ourselves off from it.

And Australia has to be at the forefront of that challenge, helping to provide the ideas and drive to build new regional architecture – something we have not done for over a decade.

We also need to invest in our relationships with our partners around the region...

About 30 years ago I first set foot in the wider region.

That experience – and my study of Asian history, language and cultures at university – opened my eyes to the importance of the region for Australia.

And it has left me firmly of the view that Australia has to make itself the most Asia-literate country in the collective West.

Asia is a diverse continent and we have to put great effort into building and maintaining our engagement into the future.

Our businesses, our academic institutions and our government agencies need to understand Asia.

This Government will be investing more in this direction.

Because we in this nation have a unique requirement to fully comprehend and engage with the great new global dynamics of the Asia-Pacific century.

Australia must play its part in shaping the region’s future.

And that is what the new Australian Government intends to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the blog Reclaiming Australia:

"Excuse me, Mr. Rudd, but I do not recall this plan being put to the electorate in November 2007, and enunciated as a significant foreign policy initiative. I'm sure I would've remembered any proposal to thrust Australia into some kind of EU-style 'Asia-Pacific' union, thereby eroding our national sovereignty and dissolving our borders.

The truth, Mr. Rudd, is that you do not have a mandate to surrender Australia’s national sovereignty, especially not to a supranational body dominated by countries with which Australia has little in common. Australia is neither geographically nor culturally a part of Asia, and it would be a grave and irreversible mistake to erase the sovereignty and identity of our nation in some futile attempt to "fit in" to the region.

As incomprehensible as it may seem to you, the majority of Australians remain wedded to the idea of a sovereign Australian nation-state with control over its political, economic, cultural and demographic destiny. Unlike yourself, they're not prepared to relegate the Australian nation-state to a tired piece of history.

In short, Mr. Rudd, your vision for a less sovereign Australia enmeshed into an 'Asia-Pacific' union is anathema to most Australians. And, be warned, the vast majority of Australians don't like treasonous politicians much either."


"... it is clear that open borders with Asian countries would result in the prompt and complete submergence of our current population by Asian peoples, transforming our historically European-majority nation into an extension of Asia in the blink of an eye. Our nation would cease to exist in any recognisable form. It would not be the end of the world for the rest of the planet's inhabitants, but it would certainly be a shocking and grotesque act of national suicide on Australia's behalf."