Values and principles form the basis of who we are as international actors, but the currency by which they are translated into overall global good is practical action that improves people’s lives. There is no sense in having people admire democracy and open economies as distant abstractions unless they can see the demonstrable improvements that they make to those people’s lives and those of their families.

Secretary of state Madeleine Albright described the US in 1998 as the “indispensable nation”. It was a fair description for those post-Cold War years. Today, we are thinking more of indispensable relationships. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the growing momentum towards deeper co-operation between liberal democracies across the globe.

For all the talk about the risks to democracy through internal exhaustion — talk that ranges from loose to sensationalist to tendentious — we should look at the enthusiasm of leading democracies to come together to address the world’s challenges. The benefits of our system of government, and the value in its long-term preservation, have never been clearer.

The G7 Plus, to whose Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting in London I will travel this week, is embracing additional contributors. It is to the credit of our host, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, that for this G7 Plus meeting he has invited outreach partners Australia, India, South Korea, South Africa and the chair and Secretary-General of ASEAN. And while the values that make us gravitate towards one another are foundational, our focus this week will be practical.

Values and principles form the basis of who we are as international actors, but the currency by which they are translated into overall global good is practical action that improves people’s lives. There is no sense in having people admire democracy and open economies as distant abstractions unless they can see the demonstrable improvements that they make to those people’s lives and those of their families.

Co-operation on development is therefore foremost in our minds as we gather to discuss our agenda. We will discuss issues including delivering equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, promoting human rights, food security and climate change. I am particularly appreciative of the emphasis that my friend and colleague Secretary Raab has placed on the education of women and girls as part of this meeting.

Our focus and our ability to solve practical problems stem from our understanding that these efforts create regional and global stability, not because by doing so we expect to achieve targeted influence in individual countries that we pick off as notches on our belts.

We share the positives of the valued outcomes among ourselves. We do not try to buy influence to advantage our individual countries; rather, we know that a stable, secure neighbourhood of sovereign states, in which we have networks of familiarity and trust, are good, safe places for our people to live and thrive.

If there is a spreading of influence here, it is the spreading of openness, freedom and trade that benefits everybody because we compete fairly based on rules. It is not a mercantilist approach, rather one that seeks to support a productive and peaceful inter­national community.

A nation whose people are healthy, socially cohesive, resilient to negative outside influence and open to international co-operation is a country with whom others can work with confidence.

The G7 Plus this week will be followed by the G7 Plus leaders’ meeting in June, which the Prime Minister will attend. The willingness of the traditional powers of the G7 — whose roots date back to 1975 — to expand the attendance list shows their appreciation that longstanding international groupings with historical roots must adapt to shifting political circumstances and interests, and emerging centres of power. Understanding and harnessing these new geopolitical realities are our best chance at sustaining these fundamental values and rejuvenating our processes for putting them to practical application.

The inclusion of ASEAN is positive and pleasing, a grouping that sits at the core of our vision for a free, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific. ASEAN’s role in seeking a peaceful return to civilian rule following the coup and appalling bloodshed in Myanmar shows the essential role it plays in the stability of Australia’s region.

After the G7 Plus, I will visit Geneva to promote our values and interests in a multilateral system grappling with a global health and economic problem that requires our leadership to ensure stability, prosperity and sovereignty. No friend of Australia’s is more central to this grand project than the US, which underscores the importance of my meetings with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials in Washington following Geneva.

When it comes to indispensable relationships, there is no keystone of the architecture I have described that is more indispensable than the Australia-US alliance. We welcome the Biden administration’s assurance that it will continue the US’s determination to lead globally — and to define leadership as bringing the rest of the world with it on key principles of international relations that seek to raise all standards of living and make all people’s lives safer and more secure.

We have much to discuss with the US, including the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Our discussions in London and Washington will lay the groundwork for efforts that can complement the work already being done by the Quad grouping of countries to facilitate access to vaccines in the Pacific and Southeast Asia and contribute to these countries’ economic recovery plans.

The spike in cases in India and the enormous human toll show how vigilant we must be and how ready to support each other we must remain. The Quad countries will continue working together in support of our respective and collective priorities.

Regional security, fighting disinformation and coercion, women’s empowerment, and promoting open societies and economies in the Indo-Pacific will be high on our agenda.

Strengthening and expanding these friendships — including through this vital face-to-face diplomacy — is critical to the interests of the Australian people. As the world becomes more competitive for our nation, our businesses and our people, governments around the world have come to appreciate more acutely that foreign policy starts at home and must demonstrably serve their people.

We are clear that the long-term fight for open, liberal democracy, free trade and freedom benefits the large majorities of families and businesses of our nations that form the critical mass of our successful economies.

We co-operate as friends but nonetheless each represents our own sovereign interests. Australia’s interests will, as always, be at the forefront of my mind. They will be well served by our having a seat at these tables where the global rules are being discussed, shaped and improved.

Published in The Australian.

Marise Payne
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women, Senator for New South Wales