Introductory Remarks for the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Honourable Dato’ Seri Anwar Bin Ibrahim - Gareth Evans Oration - Australian National University, Canberra - 7/03/2024

07 March 2024



I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending here today.

I acknowledge the many distinguished guests, including members of the diplomatic corps.

I acknowledge and thank Prime Minister Anwar and Dr Wan Azizah for being here.

I acknowledge my counterpart the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports.

It's a pleasure to be here today at the Gareth Evans Oration, and I acknowledge the man himself, as well his successor and my predecessor, Julie Bishop.

And if I can thank Julie very much for her generous introduction and for her service to this country.

I think on the list of the longest serving women in a Cabinet, she was second and I think is now third.

So myself, Amanda Vanstone and Julie Bishop. It’s a group of which I’m very proud to be part, alongside you.

Having two such esteemed previous foreign ministers here really does feel like being back at university, presenting to professors.

But luckily, the Prime Minister of Malaysia is the one who is presenting and he is more than equipped for this task.

And most importantly, Prime Minister – thank you very much for being here today to give the Gareth Evans Oration, and indeed thank you for being here in Australia for the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, which concluded in Melbourne yesterday – you honour us with your presence in our country.

I will introduce the Prime Minister to the stage in just a moment.

But first I wanted to say something about Gareth Evans.

Gareth has never seen any inherent limit to the potential for Australian influence in our region and around the world.

Australia isn’t one of the great powers, a country that has to be listened to and worked with because of the sheer size of population, economy or military or industrial weight.

But like our Southeast Asian neighbours, our size does not reflect how much we have to offer our region and the world.

Yet it does mean we have to be more clever about how we advance our interests, in peace, stability and prosperity.

We have to be more strategic in how we ensure our region enjoys a strategic balance where small and medium countries aren’t dominated by major powers and we can all decide our own destinies.

Gareth Evans was never limited by the assumption of a small Australia.

His capacity for influence is perhaps no more evident than in his work to develop the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements that helped bring peace to Cambodia.

Our creative role in those talks and our support for the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia is still spoken of in the highest terms – by the Cambodian government, by opposition groups, by citizens and civil society and so many others across our region and the world.

It was and remains one of Australia’s greatest diplomatic achievements.

It is a template for taking the world as it is and shaping it for the better.

And I hope you in this room will be part of your legacy in years to come.

Now, we have another great statesman here with us today – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

And I begin by recognising you join us on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of MH370.

While the searches have not been successful, and families continue to endure such heartache, the effort to find MH370 demonstrates the close cooperation between our countries through difficult times.

Prime Minister, as a proud Sabahan-Australian, it is a singular honour for me to introduce you today.

In doing so I want to recognise the profound influence you have had not only on Malaysia but more broadly on the development of democracy across the region.

You survived your own particular political purgatory.

But notwithstanding the political and personal difficulties you faced, you never lost your influence – indeed, you have only become more influential, and your ability to inspire has become ever greater.

Without taking anything away from your past, present and future achievements in office it is fair to describe you as one of that vanishingly rare species of politician who has been profoundly influential not only in office, but also in opposition.

Not only when you have held the levers of national power, but also when you most decidedly have not.

You’ve had the courage to live the life of a true democrat.

And you have shaped the character of the national and regional polity in profound ways.

Malaysia, Australia, all of the countries of our region have had their own paths.

Many nations have been shaped by powerful independence personalities whose lives will forever be tied to the struggle of their nations for freedom and self-rule.

You, though, have played a unique role in Malaysia’s history in the development of its democracy, its political practice, and the way it defines its own path in Southeast Asia.

As an advocate for respect and tolerance in troubling times – a message that we should emphasise today.

We both live in countries that have communities deeply affected by the conflict in the Middle East.

And while neither of our countries are in the Middle East, we both have voices that are respected there.

It is so important for us to continue to use our voices to advocate for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and humanitarian access, the release of hostages, and for the protection of civilians.

To use our voices for a pathway out of this conflict and an enduring peace, with an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.

Just as we continue to promote peaceful and respectful dialogue at home.

Regrettably, here in Australia, we see people who claim to champion human rights and justice behaving in ways that show little regard for either.

Shocking attempts at intimidation and character assassination.

Blatant antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Some are intent on reproducing hatred and social conflict here – pushing absolutist agendas ahead of respect for peaceful disagreement that healthy democracy demands.

This is not a country where you should be pushed to adopt an absolutist position of one side or another side.

We are a pluralist country, allowing for many different viewpoints, where we are united by respect for each other’s humanity and for each other’s right to live in peace.

Prime Minister, across the years, you have been a great friend to Australia and to Australians and I am hopeful that this next stage in Australia-Malaysia relations is one where we see further cooperation – across so many areas, not least to support your personal goal to strengthen Malaysia’s democratic institutions.

Democracy is always a work in progress – and progress comes with many setbacks, as you know better than anyone in this room.

But democracy’s enduring wisdom is in its ability to evolve to tackle new challenges, as human society itself continues to change.

So thank you for coming today, and for returning to Australia.

Please know the esteem with which you are held here, how welcome you are as a guest in our country, and how honoured we are to host you here today.

As the Malaysian saying goes: 'Ke bukit sama didaki, ke lurah sama dituruni'

So in that spirit of friendship and respect, Dato’ Seri, I invite you to the podium to deliver the 2024 Gareth Evans Oration.

Thank you.


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