Australia is not a member of the G7, but we share much in common with the countries that are. None of us became the liberal democracies we are today without overcoming significant challenges and remaining true to the enduring principles that have underpinned our success.
For some of us, the path to individual liberty required revolution; for others, steps were more incremental. But whatever road we took, each of us reached the same place. We are all open and prosperous societies. This should hearten us all, since our shared values exist despite different cultural and historical backgrounds. Clearly, a liberal democratic future is open to all. But it can be taken for granted.
The liberal idea is always under challenge. The attacks of some calling it obsolete, that it has gone too far or it has run its race are motivated by the same old antipathy to liberal democracy that we have always resisted and overcome.
Others warn that the reflex to prosperous, open and secure societies is being undermined by the (mis)use of technologies that are the fruit of an open and liberal society. Some even argue that this trend cannot be reversed.
This is a defeatist view. Australians are never defeatist and we are always optimistic. It’s because we believe in the power of human agency. We should never lose confidence in the basic strengths and values that underpin our societies. But we do have to adapt and change. We must remain the masters of our destiny. We cannot allow the power and reach of new technologies or the rise of emerging countries to intimidate us into inaction. Instead, we need to be as open as we are robust in defending what is important to us.
A good example is the G20’s support for Australia’s initiative to remove terrorist and violent extremist content from the internet. Our efforts are not directed at the technology. They are directed at its misuse. Such content is a threat to all our freedoms; the Christchurch attacks happened while people were exercising their freedom of religion through prayer. We are not limiting our freedoms by stopping the spread of such vile content. Our efforts do not legitimise the efforts of those countries who put limits on the free flow of information to their citizens. Instead, by making the online world safe, we are letting people lead the lives they want – free of fear. If we leave ourselves open to the exploitation of others, we have only ourselves to blame.
Similarly, we should not be afraid to protect our institutions when our democracies are threatened by foreign interference. This is why my government is working to bolster electoral integrity, preserving the voice and freedoms of Australia’s citizens. There are clearly many reasons why we should work together in supporting democracy and openness in this digital age. Chief among them is the example we can set for the world. We need to demonstrate that freedom is compatible with security. The more of us that can achieve it, the more powerful that example.
But this does not mean we should close ourselves off to others. Foreign investment has been an indispensable part of Australia’s economic story. Our domestic and global economies will continue to thrive if we keep the channels of trade and investment open. And we know that, as a country of 25 million, Australia cannot be at the cutting edge in every technological domain. After all, Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage still applies in the technological age.
For Australia to prosper we must remain open to the best ideas and technologies the world has to offer. Many other nations agree. It is why nearly 80 economies are working together on creating a new framework of global rules for ecommerce at the World Trade Organization. Australia is pleased to be chairing these negotiations and we are hopeful of substantial progress towards an agreement by the WTO’s next ministerial meeting in mid-2020.
It is true, however, that our global trading system is under strain. In some ways our collective rules-based system has not adjusted to new challenges. Our response must be to repair, renovate and strengthen that system. If we fail, international commerce will be based less on competition and more on economic muscle.
Australia has thrived by being open to competition, and we continue to be one of the strongest advocates for trade liberalisation. The economic dividend of Australia’s openness has been substantial – 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth, a world record. That growth is both a function of and a contributor to the expansion of emerging economies in East and South Asia over the past four decades. We produce many of the raw materials and the modern services that help their growth, while we benefit from their imported goods in return.
The G7 remains one of the stewards of the open global economy that has benefited so many countries in every corner of the world. Australia is pleased to be able to participate in the G7’s 2019 gathering at Biarritz to share our economic story, to play our part in keeping global trade and investment flowing, and to help ensure modern technologies are harnessed for economic and individual liberty, not terrorism.