2017 Foreign Policy White Paper: advancing Australia’s interests

martin-parkinson  By Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Foreign Policy White Paper, the first comprehensive policy paper on Australia’s international engagement since 2003, will chart a clear course in a time of change and uncertainty. It will set out the Government’s strategy for engaging with the world, and in particular the Indo-Pacific region, over the next decade. Australia’s interests are global, but our priorities are increasingly centred in Asia and the Indian and Pacific oceans, from India in the West to North America in the East, from Antarctica in the South to China, Japan and neighbouring countries in the North.

Australia finds itself at the strategic and economic centre of the world. Unprecedented economic growth has brought increased strategic competition in our region, and elements of the world we’ve taken for granted – such as the rules-based order and economic openness – are now in flux. Our region also contains some of the world’s most precarious flashpoints: territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsula, and the return of foreign fighters from the Middle East to South East Asia. The economic and strategic world order that has prevailed since World War II is proving neither immutable nor as unassailable as it once seemed.

To maintain our influence in this changing environment, Australia needs a proactive, holistic approach to its international engagement. Our domestic and foreign policy agendas are interdependent; domestic reforms that ensure a strong economy, robust security capabilities and a cohesive society position us to project influence internationally.

To protect and advance our interests, Australia will take on a more active foreign policy stance, working with partners and allies in the region, and drawing on all resources at hand. In 2017, our international engagement is broader than the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – almost all government agencies now engage internationally. The development of the Foreign Policy White Paper reflects the breadth of that engagement, with an unprecedented level of public consultation drawing on the views of local communities, business, academics and thinktanks, and federal, state and local governments. The public service has an opportunity, and a professional obligation, to draw on these perspectives to develop domestic and foreign policies that are mutually reinforcing, uphold our values, and improve the wellbeing of all Australians.

We can only protect Australia’s interests if we are open to learning from external influences.  Wherever we look in the world, we observe disruption—to industry, to community, to government—and different approaches to accommodating these disruptions. We need to be open to learning how economies and societies around the world are changing and consider what domestic reforms we should undertake at home.

Doing so will reinforce both our hard and our soft power as we contend with a more contested region. It will strengthen our international reputation as a pragmatic and honest broker; as a nation that practices at home what it preaches abroad: respect for the rule of law, liberal democracy and economic openness.


Martin Parkinson commenced as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on 23 January 2016.

Prior to this Martin was a professional Non-Executive Director, serving on the boards of ORICA, O’Connell Street Associates, and the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce. He also served as a member of the Policy Committee of the Grattan Institute and on the Australian Federal Police Future Directions Advisory Board.


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