In this exclusive interview with the ECSSR Website, Her Excellency Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia, discusses a range of issues including her country’s relations with the UAE and the Gulf region, climate change legislations, cooperation in education and Australia’s relations with the outside world. The interview was conducted on the sidelines of her lecture at the ECSSR – The UAE and Australia: A Roadmap for Future Cooperation. Following is the text of the interview:
Australia is a continent in itself and is unique in many ways. It has dominion status and is also a Commonwealth country. Amidst all these identities, how does the world look at Australia? And how do Australians want to be seen by the world?
I think Australians would like to be seen by the rest of the world as a peaceful, multicultural democracy. In terms of how we see the world, when I was Prime Minister I made sure that our nation issued a new Policy Paper called ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ recognizing that we live in the region of the world which will see such rapid transformation in this century. So our focus is on our region but we also want to be known and respected right around the world. This is why, for example, we pursued the campaign to be on the United Nations Security Council and we were so delighted to receive such strong support from the UAE.
Australia’s trade relations with the UAE in particular, and the Gulf region in general, have been on an upswing in recent years. What areas, according to you, need further improvement and what can be done to take this to another level?
I think there is a very great friendship between our countries and it keeps growing year by year. I also think there are dimensions for further growth. We have got a shared strategic outlook and so as we move beyond the current deployment in Afghanistan – both of our nations have had substantial numbers of troops there – as we see continuing change in the Middle East there would be plenty of opportunities to work together for peace and security in this region. On the economy front, we have a strong relationship but there is more that can be done. We would certainly like to see the completion of the free trade agreement (FTA) between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Australia. I think people to people links are growing. We have many Emiratis who come to Australia to study and we have got Australian educational institutions here. We have got airlines connecting us in a great way. But there is always more to build on the people to people link.
The GCC-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks commenced in 2007 but apparently haven’t gone very far. Are efforts being made to iron out issues that stand on the way?
As far as FTA is concerned the ball is in the court of the UAE and the other Gulf states. They have paused negotiations to do some internal discussions. Australia is standing ready to resume those negotiations when the GCC sees fit and I don’t see any major hurdles or obstacles that would prevent the agreement being concluded once negotiations are started again.
As Australian Prime Minister you signed a strategic partnership with China and you have been largely credited with stabilizing relations with Beijing. What is your assessment of the situation in this regard?
As Prime Minister I was very pleased that we came to an agreement with China for annual leaders’ meetings. We are one of the few nations of the world that have got a standing diplomatic architecture of that significance with China. China is important to our region, it is important to Australia and an important economic partner. But really the whole world has got an interest in seeing China peacefully rise and take its place as a global player in a rules-based system. So I am hoping that the government continues to work as I worked for a strong relationship with China.
Climate change has been on your agenda throughout your political life. Your views on carbon tax have been discussed at energy conferences here at the ECSSR and they find an echo in this part of the world where a lot of efforts are being made in these domains. How can the two sides benefit from each other’s experience in these areas?
I think we are both hot and dry places and as the world’s climate changes, then there is as much risk for us as for people around the world. The most efficient mechanism for reducing carbon pollution is to put a price on it, and have a market-based scheme and emissions-trading scheme. That is what I introduced in Australia. The current government was elected on a platform of repealing that carbon price but that legislation is yet to be considered by our Parliament. So it is out there in public debate.
In your assessment, would it pass the muster in the Parliament?
Certainly the government has command of the House of Representatives but not of our Senate. So we are yet to see what will happen with the legislation. I am certainly hoping that reason prevails and we keep the most efficient mechanism for reducing carbon pollution.
You mentioned a large number of students from this part of the world travel to Australia for studying. Clearly there is a lot of synergy that already exists in the field of education. What more would you expect on both sides to take this to another level?
I think we can focus more on exchange on education. Obviously we have students at university level going from one nation to another. There are a number of Emirati students in Australia we have got the university campuses here indeed. I think the oldest foreign university here is an Australian university. I would hope that we can not only build on those relationships but we can deepen our public policy exchange. In my new life, an aspect of which is being a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings, I am working with the Brookings team on education and quality of education, measuring and furthering it around the world. If there are things that we can do on the public policy sense, that will be quite exciting.
As someone who rose from the ranks to become the first woman Prime Minister of Australia, how would you sum up your journey as a politician? Where do you see yourself from now on?
Well I am writing a book, which will be about my time as Prime Minister. In the middle of writing that I have taken a short break to come to the UAE. The book will be published later this year and I am looking forward to that. I am very much enjoying the work with Brookings focused on education. I am getting the opportunity to come and speak at various locations around the world including here at the ECSSR. I am also going to be doing some guest lecturing in my home town university Adelaide University. So it is already a pretty full schedule. In terms of reflecting on the past I am very proud of a number of achievements the government that I led made. I have talked about some of the foreign affairs dimensions. The work we did on putting a price on carbon, in education, the work we did to ensure that people with disabilities in Australia get care and support. So there are a lot of things to be proud of and to be the first woman to serve as Australia’s as Prime Minister was a special honor.
Australia has gone through a long struggle to build a truly multicultural society. Are you happy with the way things stand at the moment and the way it is progressing?
Australia is a country we can really be proud of but one of the things we can be particularly proud of is the way our country has become a genuinely diverse, multicultural and peaceful society where diversity is the norm and is respected. I am a migrant to Australia. I migrated there as a child from the United Kingdom and rose to be Prime Minister. We see Australians from all sorts of origins taking their place in the Australian society. So there is a lot to be proud of. Of course when you are building a multicultural society you cannot ever say that the work is done. One has to make sure that tolerance and inclusion is a continuing project.
The dominion status has on some occasions become a contentious issue between Britain and Australia. What is the widespread Australian view on it?
I think ultimately Australia will become a republic and we will have our own Australian head of state. That is something that will inevitably happen in Australia’s future but it is not a hot topic of domestic debate at the moment. I think it will in the future return with more focus and it is at that point that Australia will probably make the decision to move toward being a republic. I think we have got a clear sense of our own identity even under current constitution arrangement.
What would be your message to the ECSSR in its 20th anniversary year?
I am really delighted to have been invited to speak at the ECSSR. I am very admiring of the Center’s work. I think this is going to be a fantastic year, the 20th anniversary year of the Center. So congratulations to all involved.