Australia-United Kingdom FTA and relationship

"Australia and the United Kingdom have a shared vision for what our world looks like. It is a world which is peaceful, stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty, and one in which the rule of law, international law and norms, is protected. But the relationship between the UK and Australia runs deeper than just economic and security issues. The most important part of our relationship is its enduring value to both sides."

Address to the Federation Chamber, Committees - Treaties Joint Committee - Report

Thursday 9 March 2023

I also rise to speak on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties report on the UK free trade agreement. I do that both as a proud member of the Albanese Labor Party and in my capacity as chair of the United Kingdom parliamentary group.

The Australia-United Kingdom free trade agreement is the first full trade agreement the United Kingdom negotiated from scratch following Brexit. This agreement will deepen our already strong economic relationship with the United Kingdom and offer greater opportunities for our businesses to diversify their trade markets. The implementing legislation for the agreement has already passed our parliament, and we stand ready for implementation.

As the Prime Minister said, this agreement will strengthen our existing trade and economic relationships. This new agreement will create new opportunities for trade diversification and great outcomes for Australian business and Australian families. Beyond trade, we have the all-important AUKUS relationship. AUKUS applies our mature and trusted relationship to the geopolitical challenges we face in the region and further abroad. As we stand up for democracy and the rules-based international order here, closer to home, the task for Australia is much easier knowing that the United Kingdom will be standing alongside us.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, we have seen stronger collaboration between our nations. We have seen British and Australian armed forces training members of the Ukrainian armed forces to help them defend themselves against Russian aggression. In a powerful reflection, the Deputy Prime Minister, on a recent visit to the UK to attend AUKMIN meetings, said of our two nations' collaborations:

In Eastern Europe, in the Indo-Pacific. There is a very high degree of alignment in the way in which we see the world, and we are thinking about it, and thinking of what we need to do as two nations working together. A sense of shared mission is really what characterises the way in which Australia and United Kingdom are going about its work and there was no better example of that and what all of us here witnessed yesterday when we saw our Defence Force personnel working together to train Ukrainian forces.

Our two countries always have had shared interests. We share history and we share values. We have been shaped by each other and we shape each other today. The trust and openness with which we engage with each other, which is so important at this time, is critical to the challenges that we face. Australia and the United Kingdom have a shared vision for what our world looks like. It is a world which is peaceful, stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty, and one in which the rule of law, international law and norms, is protected. But the relationship between the UK and Australia runs deeper than just economic and security issues. The most important part of our relationship is its enduring value to both sides. The deepening of our relationship has withstood a change of government here and the turnover of prime ministers in the United Kingdom. In spite of these changes, the relationship continues to deepen, and the values which underpin it continue to endure.

At the heart of that relationship is a commitment to equality and fairness at home and abroad. It also involves, as the UK high commissioner Vicki Treadell said in a fine speech to the Press Club yesterday, understanding our own history and colonial past. A key to our shared relationship is projecting who we are today: nations that are both magnificently diverse, where we strive for inclusivity and we stand up for democracy and for fairness in a challenging world. As the high commissioner rightly put it:

We do not forget history but we must learn from it to inform our present and our future, to be a force for good we wish to be.

The Australian parliamentary UK country group has an important role to play in this regard. Like many Australians, I have strong family connections to the United Kingdom. On my mother's side, I have family links back to Wales, with my grandmother leaving as an infant during the rural depression in South Wales in the late 19th century. I lived and worked in the UK, in Slough, a place most of the people in the House might be more familiar with as the home of The Office. It's much better than in The Office, I should say.

On a personal level, I've found political inspiration from United Kingdom political figures such as John Smith, Roy Jenkins and Clem Attlee. Indeed, John Smith is a great reminder of the honour we have of serving in a democratic parliament such as our own. Understandably, the Australia-United Kingdom parliamentary group is a popular one. Its popularity stems from not only the relationship Australia historically enjoys with the United Kingdom but also our capacity to refresh it for today and the shared future we look forward to. The opportunity we have to work on the good work that has been achieved through this free trade agreement is the goal that we have over the rest of this parliament for that parliamentary group.

I was reminded of the closeness of the relationship between our countries last year as I hosted the Minister for State for Indo-Pacific, the Rt Hon. Anne-Marie Trevelyan. With Her Excellency the British High Commissioner, I took the minister on a tour of Parliament House. We looked at the relics from Westminster from the Blitz and she even got to meet and interact with a visiting school from South Australia, I think. The minister's visit here and the reception she received were an example that our relationship is far from being in a set-and-forget holding pattern; rather, it's at the forefront of foreign policy and the trade agenda for both governments.

This free trade agreement will be a gold standard trade agreement that will drive increased trade, two-way investment, economic growth and job creation. The agreement will enhance our already strong economic partnership with the United Kingdom and will contribute towards Australia's export diversification and economic recovery from COVID. The agreement represents substantially increased opportunities for market access for Australian exporters, particularly agricultural exporters. When it enters into force, over 99 per cent of Australian goods exports will enter the UK duty-free, including sheep meat, beef, dairy, sugar and wine. Building on our strong people-to-people links, the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement includes measures designed to increase the mobility of skilled workers and young people in both directions. It also includes commitments to liberalise access to all service sectors including professional, business, financial and telecommunications services. The agreement is innovative, as previous speakers have mentioned, with a world-first chapter dedicated to promoting innovation, and an Australian-first chapter to enhance women's access to the full benefits of trade and investment. It is the first wholly new free trade agreement the United Kingdom has completed since it left the European Union.

It's clear we are separated not only by geography. We are two independent nations with strong independent futures, but we share a rich history and rich values and now, thanks to this free trade agreement, we are deepening economic trade, further collaboration with industry and taking the Australia-United Kingdom relationship further. Outside of these parameters, I will continue the work of our interparliamentary union to further build our relationship for the remainder of this parliamentary term.

I thank the hard work of the joint standing committee and for their report, but I particularly thank the hard work of our trade officials from both countries on achieving this historic trade agreement.